AI: The Somnium Files – nirvanA Initiative Review

Gaming
9

Amazing

AI: The Somnium Files – nirvanA Initiative

Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Publisher: Spike Chunsoft
Platforms: Xbox One (Reviewed), PlayStation 4SwitchPC
Release Date: June 24, 2022 (NA), July 8, 2022 (EU)
Price: $59.99 USD – Available Here

Overview

Crafting a satisfying mystery story can be incredibly difficult. This is especially true when it comes to video games as the genre not only requires players to feel like they have accomplished something by solving puzzles and feeling like they are actually part of an investigation rather than simply spectacting. That is where Kotaro Uchikoshi has almost always proven himself as a strong director with the Zero Escape series and the original AI: The Somnium Files game. Now with an unexpected sequel, AI: The Somnium Files – nirvanA Initiative, arriving in the West, is this murder mystery as well crafted as fans of the genre and Uchikoshi’s work could hope for?

Story

Now while it is worth noting that AI: The Somnium Files – nirvanA Initiative takes place both six years after the events of the first game as well as just after the events of the first game, prior knowledge of the game is not actually required to enjoy this one. There are in fact multiple checks in place to make sure that players avoid spoiling themselves on the events that happened in the original game while also mentioning multiple times that the events happening in nirvanA Initiative have nothing to do with the previous game’s events. That being said, proving players have played the original will provide a bit of extra dialogue here and there as well as of course having a stronger connection to the many returning characters that appear throughout nirvanA Initiative.

Six years after the events of the previous game, Mizuki, a fresh member of the secretive police organization ABIS, arrives at an empty stadium to find that half of a body has appeared out of nowhere in the middle of the field. Nothing where the body may have came from, but it is immediatly clear who the body is because it happens to be the other half of a murder victim that appeared right before Mizuki’s eyes six years ago to the date and triggered the beginning of the Half-Body killings. To follow up on this investigation, Mizuki tracks down the previous investigator who was placed in charge of investigating the series of murders only to fail to solve them prior, a once up-and-coming investigator by the name of Ryuki. With Ryuki fallen into shambles but being the only one who knows most of what happened in the original HB killings, it will be up to Mizuki in the present and Ryuki six years prior to try and find a solution to the ever growing mysteries that surround them.

To go too much further into detail beyond this point would be spoiling various elements surrounding the case but also numerous reveals and twists that are best experienced first hand as some of them are quite honestly jaw-dropping. It takes a certain level of skill in writing to craft a storyline that drops little hints and clues early on only for them to become major revelations later on and that is handled perfectly here. Sure, many twists can be a bit on the nose and over explained once they are revealed but this proves just how effective and interesting the writing is. These elements can run the risk of having a player figure something out earlier than intended but thanks to how skillfully nirvanA Initiative is written, players will find that this detective mystery will keep stringing them along long after they think that they’ve figured everything out. In fact, even as of this writing it becomes clear how many little hints and clues fall into place in retrospect.

Of course, the mystery itself isn’t the only thing that is handled with care in nirvanA Initiative as the new and returning characters are mostly written in a strong and satisfying manner. Both Ryuki and Mizuki work as ABIS members and have AI eyeball companions like the previous game, with Ryuki’s being the newly introduced Tama and Mizuki having AIba as her returning assistant. Ryuki’s storyline may not be as interesting as a core character compared to the first game but it is far darker than one may expect given his initial outgoing personality as he tries his best to live up to Date’s expectations while also bantering heavily with Tama. Tama is a far more domineering and, well… horny AI than some may be familiar with and isn’t afraid to make plenty of lewd jokes or sexual suggestions when investigating objects in the environment. As for Mizuki, she truly shines as a lead character this time around and feels like a perfect fit with Aiba’s wit matching hers.

The rest of the side characters are a bit hit and miss unfortunately with a large portion of the returning cast taking more of a back-seat this time around in order to focus more on showing off the new characters. Players will still interact with them here and there but this sequel primarily focuses on the newer cast as a result and comes off a bit odd at times as a result. This is mostly due to the fact that even among these side characters a few are given far more focus than others which can be a bit disappointing.

Thankfully nirvanA Initiative has kept the tradition of Uchikoshi’s games being incredibly wild when it comes to tone. This may be a bit off putting to some but is something that can be expected by longtime fans by now and this remains true here as one minute players will be looking through a murder scene only to be treated to a J-pop dance number or having the tension in a scene broken by Tama mentioning how sexual a table is or erotic an object in the environemnt might be. As mentioned, this can be a bit of a mood breaker at times but rarely does it actually get in the way of important or serious moments.

Gameplay

In most ways, AI: The Somnium Files – nirvanA Initiative plays similar to the first as players will find themselves experiencing most of the game through a visual novel with characters that they can speak to and objects in the environment that can be inspected either for clues or simply for flavor text. The visual novel segments are satisfyingly portrayed thanks to the detailed character models and use of 3D environment rather than static pictures and while there is a bit too much generic flavor text to accompany basic objects such as a plant or television you never know when Aiba may chime in about a bug or an obscure horror reference instead. 

When talking with characters and examining scenes players will often be prompted to make use of Aiba or Tama’s X-Ray or Thermal functions to discover a new hidden clue or perhaps find that someone is lying. A new aspect introduced in this sequel is the “Wink Psync” that allows either Ryuki or Mizuki to catch a six second glimpse into the psyche of whoever they are targeting. Sometimes this can be relevant to the case or simply something random the character may have been thinking about at the time.

The other half of the gameplay comes in the form of the Somniums. These Somniums are sequences that occur when the player must dive into the mind of a character to learn something that they either may be withholding or simply cannot say due to various circumstances. Each Somnium is different though they all play roughly by the same rules, players will only have six minutes of time inside of a Somnium and walking around or interacting with objects will take away portions of that time frame. Players can modify the difficulty of these Somniums slightly by drastically lowering the amount of time actions and movement take to allow for an easier time investigating and looking at everything possible should they wish. 

These Somniums feature a wide variety of puzzles that vary in difficulty from character to character though they tend to follow a similar theme within a character. Actually solving these puzzles can be quite difficult at times and, between these and another puzzle aspect that we will go into in a moment, there were times that a notebook was required for notes and some extra visual representation of what needed to be solved. Other puzzles appear during a new investigation sequence that happens outside of the Somniums and allow for Aiba and Tama to pull up a VR sequence of a crime scene where characters must once again find various clues and try to put together a timeline of events. Here there are also a number of puzzles that are a bit easier but, especially in one case, stopped us cold for hours.

Another new addition to nirvanA Initiative are some heavier quick time event moments that appear during action sequences. These, once again, can be adjusted for difficulty and often involve lengthy cinematic sequences of combat or avoiding potential danger. These quick time events are fewer in nature than anything else in the game but also can suffer a bit from the fact that a single failure requires the replay of most of a sequence which can be a bit annoying at times.

Outside of the investigation, Somniums, and action there is some extra side content that players can enjoy as well. This includes a tamagotchi style “AI” ball raiser where players can answer a question every twenty minutes to raise their own AI ball creature that will change depending on the answers. These are pretty basic but a fun little distraction and also reward the player with eyeballs that can then be used to purchase additional bonus content such as concept art, modified screenshots, and even bonus costumes for Aiba and Tama. These bonus costumes must be unlocked by obtaining Achievements in the game and can only actually be seen in previously cleared Somniums but it is a nice addition, especially since many Somniums are worth revisiting just to see how many unique interactions most of them offer.

Visuals & Audio

As a 3D styled visual novel/mystery game AI: The Somnium Files – nirvanA Initiative is fittingly detailed with a decent amount of variety of places to see as well as nicely detailed character models for the cast of characters. It is worth noting that despite being a murder mystery game, the level of actual gore is kept to an incredibly tame level and the action sequences are nicely handled. It is worth noting that there is a certain level of fan-service in the game primarily through Tama but even this is kept to a minimum.

Players can have the choice between playing with either the original Japanese voice cast or the English dub that has seen the reprisal of nearly every character that has returned in the game outside of a touching tribute to one actor’s passing. The newly introduced characters are voiced fittingly enough and the game even features a fairly prominent songwriter to perform a new main song for the game in a similar fashion to the first entry.

Overall

It can be hard to top something that many fans already considered an amazing game but AI: The Somnium Files – nirvanA Initiative manages to pull it off quite well. Not only does it manage to offer a fairly painless entry to those new to the series, longer fans of The Somnium Files will be eager to see what has happened with their favorite characters and what new developments they will undergo. Although Ryuki may not quite live up to Date, Mizuki more than makes up for this in a new complex storyline filled with challenging puzzles and a resolution that will satisfy those that make it to the end.

Capsule Computers review guidelines can be found here.

Summary

AI: The Somnium Files – nirvanA Initiative tells a satisfying tale with a great cast of characters, challenging puzzles, and a mystery that will keep players guessing with unique twists.
9

Amazing

After playing games since a young age and getting into anime a bit later on its been time to write about a little bit of everything.

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