AI: The Somnium Files – nirvanA Initiative Review

AI: The Somnium Files - Nirvana Initiative by developer and publisher Spike ChunsoftNintendo Switch review written by Richard with a copy provided by the publisher.

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to take a trip into somebody's mind? To have a glimpse at what they're thinking, of how their mind works? Well, now you can with AI: the Somnium Files - Nirvana Initiative.

AI: The Somnium Files - Nirvana Initiative is a sequel to AI: The Somnium Files, a title I played on PS4 a while back and absolutely loved. It is a murder mystery adventure/visual novel style game that honestly doesn't feel all that much like a visual novel, considering how much you interact with it. I was super excited when I heard about Nirvana Initiative releasing, and hope you find it as entertaining as I did. Now that being said, if you have no knowledge of the first game you don't need to worry too much. There may be a minor spoiler-like tidbit here and there, but nothing big enough to ruin the first game, unless you do so yourself.

AI2 takes places after the events of the first game, and has Mizuki, who you may remember from the first game, as a now official member of ABIS, a special investigative branch of the Japanese police force. Members of ABIS take a bit of a more experimental approach to investigations, using what is called a Psync Machine in order to jump into people's dreams in order to find clues that may lead to the resolution of some tough cases. Unfortunately, this evidence in the mind can't be used in court, so they do still need to do real investigations. Coupled with an AI partner, Aiba, who takes the form of an eye in Mizuki's left eye socket, it is their goal to solve a series of murders that happened 6 years ago. Investigation is split between Mizuki and Ryuki, another ABIS agent, as you explore various locales, talk to people and gather evidence, recreate crime scenes, and explore people's minds.

As AI2 first starts out, you will be playing as Ryuki and Mizuki. Ryuki is part of a quiz show where the first half body in the half body serial killing case was discovered and has the AI partner of Tama. Here you are also given a quick quiz to see how much you know about the first AI: The Somnium Files title. You will then get control of Mizuki who has been called to a stadium in relation to a cold case from six years ago, the half body serial killings. Upon arriving she is fired at by a masked woman, after which she finds half a body in the centre of the stadium, the other half of a body that was discovered 6 years ago. So Mizuki calls in the inspector from that time, Ryuki. Unfortunately, he's become a bit of a drunkard since he couldn't solve the case six years ago. Thankfully you have a fully working Psync Machine, so off you go into his mind, which handily enough acts as your tutorial into Psyncing!

Psyncing is a weird and wonderful world where basically anything goes. You expect a normal landscape? Nope, you're now in a Psychedelic dreamscape lab. You think it's a good idea to smack a TV to get it to work? It might smack you back. In a Somnium, which is what the mental dreamscape is called, you have six minutes to find the evidence you need for your case. Each Somnium contains mental locks you must bypass by interacting with characters and objects within the Somnium. Interacting with anything will cause time to pass. If too much time passes, you are booted out of the Psync and fail. The first tutorial Somnium also introduces this to you, but there is more to a Somnium than just opening the mental locks.

First thing to note is that there are some Somniums that have branching paths. These paths are determined by a choice at some point in the Somnium, and may require information found later in the game in order to unlock the branch. The other aspect to Somniums are the bonuses you can get. Clearing a Somnium with time remaining on the clock, or collecting all the hidden eyeballs in Aiba's likeness, will unlock gallery options from the bonus menu, as well as earn you "eyeballies", which act as a currency for purchasing bonus content. Unlike in the first game, there are 5 hidden eyeballs per Somnium, and an indicator in the game flowchart will tell you whether you've met the time requirement and how many hidden eyeballs you've found.

While not inside a Somnium, most of your time in AI2 will be spent talking to other people and investigating objects in the areas you visit. As you talk to people and interact with objects, you may get entertaining dialogue between your character (either Mizuki or Ryuki) and their AI companions, or you may learn more about the people and their backgrounds. After you've finished doing footwork you will either Psync with a person of interest or you will perform a Virtual Reality recreation of a crime scene. Since we've already gone over the Psyncing, let's talk about the crime scene recreation.

Thanks to your handy eyeball AI, or "AI-ball" as they're called, you have a complete scan of the surroundings at the time you were at the scene, including thermal and x-ray data. Thank you handy technology! During this period, you will interact with different aspects of the area, learn new clues, and then proceed to piece together what happened. Fair warning though, the X-ray mode is a little buggy, as the floor is a nice neon blue that tends to obscure anything sitting on it, which is rather disappointing.

During the course of the game you may also encounter certain scenes requiring button inputs in a timely manner, or puzzles that you are tasked with solving. While neither of these are particularly difficult, there is a difficulty option that increases time allowed during the quick time events (also lowering time used in a Somnium), and providing an incorrect answer to a puzzle will usually have someone give you a helpful hint. There are usually only so many answer options anyway.

The game will follow this flow where you will be investigating over the course of a few days in both the past and the present. Generally each day will have three parts to it with a Psync in the middle and an investigation on either end, usually including a VR crime scene analysis segment. If you have already completed a segment and wish to return to a previous segment, just access your menu where you can pull up the game flowchart and return to that time and location. Additionally, each segment is further broken up into different locations and times as you've been investigating throughout the day.

Psyncs may also be replayed for the branching paths in order to unlock alternate endings and more info about the case. Other menu options include talking to your AI companion (Aiba as Mizuki and Tama as Ryuki) who will give life advice based on your inputs. But I haven't gotten to the best part: the Tamagotchi! Or at least AI2's equivalent. Every 20 minutes it will ask you a question, the answer to which gives you stats. After so many questions, the Tamagotchi will evolve, and if you hit the end of an evolution tree, you get a bonus number of eyeballies for purchasing bonus content.

Despite how much I really enjoy the series as a whole and both titles, there were a few points I was a little disappointed with in AI2, apart from the X-ray mode issues I mentioned earlier. First off, while I found the writing and storyline a lot more interesting than the first title, there aren't as many Somnium splits as in the first game, something I greatly enjoyed. In fact, the way the Somnium splits were handled in AI2 I found to be a little lacking compared to the first title. It just felt like there was so much different in the Somnium splits in the first title. This isn't to say it's handled poorly, just something to be aware of in terms of differences. I also felt like the graphic quality on Switch wasn't the same as in the first title on PS4, and handheld mode actually looked a little better. I know there is a difference in console processing power and ability, but it is kind of noticeable if you've played the first title recently.

Apart from basic comparison between the two titles in the series, there was one particular scene where you have to find something in a facility, and a guard keeps walking by. This scene took me about two hours. Pro tip, you need to find something on the right side of the screen, and then exhaust all of the dialogue for the character who came with you. I say this because the item on the right is small and hard to notice, and if you "get caught" by the guard, yes there are quick time events here, the dialogue resets and you need to go through it again.

AI2 had some great aspects that were improved upon from the first title, such as infinite Somnium time so you can explore and interact at your leisure, as well as what I felt to be a more engaging storyline. The crime scene recreations are a neat touch as well, and it's really cool to see a little more "detective" work rather than just talking with people all the time. There may be some issues here and there, some translation errors and the occasional graphical glitch, and framerate drop during a particularly intensive scene, but nothing truly deal breaking. It also helps that the English voice overs were really well done, and there are a LOT of voiced interactions, both bonus interactions and part of the main story.


AI: The Somnium Files - Nirvana Initiative is a great murder mystery adventure style visual novel with a lot going for it. For a visual novel, player interaction is very high, the storyline is very engaging, and the quips and gags are really funny. While not having played the first title won't really affect your experience, I highly suggest picking up both titles as they are really fun.

Score: 8.75 / 10



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