Yes, Yes, YES! Murder-Mystery’s are some of the best stories ever told, when done right. In the gaming world, we have been spoiled with some of the greatest franchises that have perfected this genre, from the Capcom’s Ace Attorney series, right to Telltale’s The Wolf Among Us. However, when thinking of a leading franchise that has completely encapsulated gamers in the category, you cannot go past the Zero Escape series by legendary video games writer and director Kotaro Uchikoshi. Visual novel’s are risky business, and with how fast the gaming climate is moving in development these are the genre’s that cannot afford to take any missteps, or risk being overshadows, or completely ignored. AI: The Somnium Files, is an excellent example of how to pursue a murdery-mystery visual novel, with a compelling tale that will literally grip you to your chair and enthrall all gamers that are looking for an inclusive and expansive experience that deify’s logic, and takes you above and beyond expectation. Spike Chunsoft and Numskull Games aim to deliver an enthralling tale, full of intrigue and suspense, which undoubtedly was conveyed through this truly unforgettable title which may be my personal game of the year.
Taking place in Tokyo, Japan in the not to far off future, AI: The Somnium Files follows our protagonist Kaname Date, a Police Officer who suffers from long-term memory loss, only remembering the past six years of his life. He is guided by our secondary protagonist, and partner AIBA (or AI-Ball), and artificial intelligence that resides in Date’s left eye. AIBA has the ability to extract testimony’s and various memories within different character you meet throughout your time in the game. While AIBA may only be an artificial eyeball in the real world, in the Somnium world, she takes form of a young human girl. Her personality traits match partly those of Date’s, cold and calculating, however intelligently blunt when called for. While Date despises Otaku culture, she embraces is as a hobby, but labels it “research”. We’re also intriduced to “Boss“, the leader of the Advanced Brain Investigation squad within the Tokyo Police Department. Her personality retracts that of Date’s to keep him level headed in situations that may seem absurd or tense, which plays perfectly in part of this incredible story.
Date and Boss are called to a crime scene in Bloom Park, where a former acquaintance of his, Shoko Nadami has been murdered and bound against a carousel horse with her left eye removed. With the aid of AIBA, Date is able to find the daughter of the victim, Mizuki Nadami hidden within the central column of the carousel, holding onto the supposed murder weapon. Unfortunately Mizuki suffers from Aphonia, the inability to produce a voiced sound due to disruption of the laryngeal nerve which supplies all muscle movement in the larynx. This leads to Date investigating the mysterious phone call that lead police to the scene. All clue’s lead him to Lemniscate, a company owned by his close friend’s Renju, Ota and Iris. Date decides to psync his memories with Mizuki to seek more information about her condition. This is where the fun begins, and the title’s gameplay shows it’s incredible originality. AI: The Somnium Files’ unique gameplay mechanics falls in part of Date and AIBA working cohesively, along with his subconscious and AIBA’s artificial functionality. X-Ray vision, somnium scanning, and memory psyncing all play in part of refining your detective skills throughout the title’s incredible tale.
Using the Psync Machine enables you to extract memories of suspects or witnesses who refuse to share any vital information with you, but you may secretly do so within the dream realm known as Somnium, which will help solve any hurdles the game may present. Each puzzle put in front of you come in various forms, including object examination, and mental locks, both which do resonate puzzles seen from the Ace Attorney series, but present it in it’s own unique format. There is a time limit within the somnium realm, that only allows Date to extract these memories within a six minute time frame before the dream state collapses. Be cautious, or you could destroy your path in an instant. “Somnium’s” UI uses a similar point and click style format seen from many Telltale title’s that would sit perfectly for those playing on PC, with a keyboard and mouse. In saying this, I had no qualms with my interaction on the Nintendo Switch, it was a comfortable play, regardless. Choosing you character on-screen, with multiple prompts and interactions help lead your story, and choose different paths ala Steins;Gate.
The title nails it’s presentation, and in how beautifully designed it’s surroundings really are. Almost in vein of similarity between this title and Astral Chain, Tokyo’s futuristic vibe set’s the tone of the story’s dark and tumultuous nature. While we’re presented a bleak look into the future, it is definitely offset by Date and AIBA’s interactions that come off quite humorous at times. I loved the full English dialogue delivery that was maintained throughout the entire campaign. Something rarely seen from Anime based title’s. It definitely made it a whole lot easier for me to follow the intricacies the story delivered. It’s graphical fidelity looked incredible on the Nintendo Switch’s screen, while playing in handheld. It truly gave me old school Ace Attorney vibes, reminding me of how the classic landed on the NintendoDS and took the handheld scene by storm. If there was one fault I could give it, it was minor framerate issues that can easily be patched, and some font size issues in handheld mode, that pertain to UI more than dialogue.
While playing the title in handheld for most of the review, I did play some of the title in docked mode, and I can definitely say that the design of the game looks just as crisp and detailed, as it does on a smaller screen. While there may have been some minor imperfection with lip syncing, matching some of the amazing dialogue, the title’s writing and delivery truly present this as a slight oversight that can be evidently avoided by gamers that will truly appreciate this title for it’s utterly incredible experience. Greg Chun (Judgement, Code Vein) and Erika Harlacher (Persona 5, Violet Evergarden) play the part of co-protagonists perfectly, showing off their true value and range as two of the most talented voice actors within the Industry. We’re also treated to some of the best English dubbed Voice actors within Anime today, such as Sean Chiplock (Catherine: Full Body, Persona 5), Jackie Lastra (Sword Art Online, The Rising Shield Hero), and Kaiji Tang (Persona 5, Code Vein). A plethora of incredible talent that truly add a new depth and element towards this amazing game.
AI: The Somnium Files truly delivers one of the most unique experiences this year. A Sci-fi Murder-Mystery visual novel that compels, and grips players beyond the notion that an action-adventure genre is the only thrill seeking fix you need. This nullifies that, and puts players in the forefront of the story. Uchikoshi’s writing, lands us in this beautifully vibrant setting of a futuristic, crime ridden Tokyo, that leads us into a desolate environment that overtures itself with it’s quirky cast of alluring and fascinating characters, that help us through such thought-provoking conspiracies. The setting itself is utter eye-candy, that will enthrall players for hours and presents a gratifying feeling being able to play detective in such a grim climate. Date’s interactions with each character he confronts truly plays off in such dark humor at time’s you can’t tell whether to laugh, or cringe (not in a bad way). AIBA’s shining personality really helps in times of ominous footing. Boss’ guidance really sets a pace between her relationship with Date, and making sure he remember’s why he’s an officer in the first place. I love everything about AI: The Somnium Files. It’s story, it’s presentation, it’s sound design, and it’s characters. Spike Chunsoft and Numskull Games truly have themselves a Game of the Year contender on their hands.