Nearly 3 years passed since the release of AI: The Somnium Files, the first title in a new mystery-adventure series developed by the Zero Escape team at Spike Chunsoft and director Kotaro Uchikoshi. The game became an instant cult-classic, earning a wealth of critical acclaim and praise. Following the success of the original title, a sequel would arrive to give players another mystery to tackle. A complex and immersive tale awaits in AI: The Somnium Files – nirvanA Initiative.
Half and Half
Following the events of AI: The Somnium Files, Mizuki becomes a new ABIS operative for the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department. Just like Kaname Date, she is assisted by the AI-ball named Aiba and takes orders from the whimsical Boss. Snow falls on a winter February evening and a new case is underway, leading to a local stadium. As Mizuki approaches the soccer field in the middle of the stadium, a mysterious figure makes their presence known with gunfire.
Mizuki locate the attacker with the help of Aiba and fires a round from her Evolver firearm in an attempt to incapacitate them. Unfortunately, the attacker escapes and Mizuki is unable to bring them into custody. Aiba redirects Mizuki’s attention to the middle of the field where something suspicious looms. Mizuki approaches the center and makes a truly bizarre discovery, the remaining half of a corpse with virtually no blood present at the scene. The Half Body Serial Killings case opens from one perspective…
Detective of Dreams
AI: The Somnium Files – nirvanA Initiative maintains gameplay elements present in the original title while introducing new elements. Players engage with the story through two characters, Mizuki and Ryuki, and two distinct sections, investigation and Somnium. During investigation, players go to various locations across Tokyo to gain clues, examine objects, talk to other characters, and progress the main story. AI-Balls such as Aiba and Tama may use various functions such as X-Ray, Thermo, and the new “Virtual Reality” feature. In VR mode, Aiba or Tama project a self-contained version of the crime scene to investigate without distractions.
Within key parts of the story, Mizuki and Ryuki must use the PSync machine at ABIS headquarters to enter the dreams and memories of sleep-induced suspects. Like the previous game, these dream-like sections are called Somnium and yield some of the biggest revelations throughout the story. Somnium are timed for roughly six minutes, but time slows down to a crawl if Aiba or Tama stand still. Each action in Somnium takes a certain amount of time to perform, but items such as Timies may reduce or increase time to do so. The main goal of Somnium levels are to unlock each Mental Lock containing a crucial piece of information. Certain Mental Locks in Somnium may even branch out into a different route to pursue. Once again, Somnium levels are a true highlight of the game just like in the original.
In With The New
The core of AI: The Somnium Files remains in the sequel, but many new elements are introduced for a refreshingly new adventure. Alongside the new VR capability, Wink PSync allows Mizuki or Ryuki to read the thoughts of others for a brief period, giving further insight. Additionally, Aiba and Tama have their own virtual rooms to share personal conversations with their respective ABIS operatives. Another new element is the ability to fly and traverse water portions to solve puzzles in Somnium, which adds more depth to such dream worlds. These elements allow for a greater sense of complexity within these ambiguous worlds. In addition, the new AI-Ball capabilities enhance investigative work across a multitude of scenes.
The most thorough of detectives are rewarded for their performance in Somnium levels thanks to the all-new PSyncer evaluation system. However, rewards must be purchased with eyeballs from the Bonus menu. Thankfully, these eyeballs are really easy to earn by progressing through Somnium levels. Rewards obtained from the Bonus menu include outfits for Aiba and Tama, concept art, and videos. Another new eye-themed feature is the Eyeballie, which is a fun reference to the classic Tamagotchi. In summary, these new elements and features provide a more gameplay-rich experience compared to the original title.
AI: The Somnium Files – nirvanA Initiative was a very stable experience with few performance issues encountered on PS4 and PC (Steam). These issues involved prolonged load times during certain story and Somnium sequences. The Switch version is also stable, but some performance issues may arise such as frame dips, sound bugs, and model blurring.
Fortunately, a day one patch arrives on June 24 across all platforms and aims to remedy multiple bugs found in-game. Minor bug fixes will be applied to the PS4, Xbox One, and PC versions to improve game stability. For the Switch version, the day one patch will improve the game’s performance and apply major bug fixes related to production (i.g. voice playback) and gameplay (i.g camera bugs). Overall, AI: The Somnium Files – nirvanA Initiative will be a more stable experience across all platforms on launch day.
With the pedigree of Kotaro Uchikoshi and the Zero Escape team, a sequel is expected to deliver on expectations. AI: The Somnium Files – nirvanA Initiative does so in spades, providing an unforgettable narrative and adventure with a glowing cast of characters. When faced with a daunting mystery, all stops were pulled out to create a cohesive, complex story that kept surprising to the end. At the same time, there’s plenty of humor that warms the heart. The puzzles and gameplay situations presented were heightened due to the stakes in the story.
AI: The Somnium Files was excellent for providing the exact same thing, but AI: The Somnium Files – nirvanA Initiative fulfills the tradition of building upon the original’s concepts for a more comprehensive experience. A well-executed mystery, a host of laughter inducing moments, and a memorable cast of characters round out a really satisfying single-player adventure game. AI: The Somnium Files – nirvanA Initiative is a worthy sequel and a must-buy for fans of mystery games and visual novels.