AI: The Somnium Files Switch Review – A Visual Novel Masterpiece


An equally emotional, funny, intriguing and suspense filled rollercoaster ride reaching new heights for the visual novel genre.

You arrive at a crime scene, there’s a dead girl tied to a merry-go-round missing her left eye. You are Kaname Date a detective of ABIS (advanced brain investigation squad), Metropolitan police, Tokyo with penchant for harmless violence. You have an artificial intelligence built into your eye called Aiba and are tasked with solving this mystery by diving into people’s minds and solving abstract puzzles in order to help them or discover withheld information.

Meet Aiba

AI: The Somnium Files is a visual novel by Spike Chunsoft from mind of Kotaro Uchikoshi who created the Zero Escape series so you know it’s going to be weird and mind blowingly entertaining. I can tell you straight away the production values, feel and immersion are a new high for visual novels, this is a game no visual novel fan should miss out on, absolutely filling the big old boots of the finished series Danganronpa and Zero Escape to the point of bursting at the seams.

Sensible.

Early in the game there is a slip of the tongue from your boss about a similar classified case six years ago. You don’t remember anything from before six years ago. I smell a coinkydink. 

Just like 6 years ago eh?

The story is so full of intrigue and mystery that it had me on the edge of my seat struggling to put the game down as I wanted to know what is going on and what will happen next.

How risqué in front of a 12 year old.

AI is played out in two forms of gameplay. There’s Investigation scenes with animated character models, so there’s no actual movement involved but you do have to move your line of sight left, right, up and down to explore everywhere as well as have Aiba use zoom, X-ray and thermal functions on some objects/people. What makes AI more immersive than other visual novels is that almost every object is searchable, not only the important ones, though sometimes the story won’t move on until you’ve probed seemingly inconsequential items. During these scenes is where the bulk of the story telling happens as you explore the environment your in with a pointer and converse with people by clicking on them and choosing an option to start the conversation with. It’s also where most of the time is spent as you go from scene to scene exploring with extremely fleshed out story in between.

Scooby Doo time!

The other form of gameplay has you “Psyncing’ with a subject to enter a Somnium, the dream world. In the Somnium you control Aiba in a 3D environment and have to solve abstract puzzles to help the subject with mental locks making them relive and come to terms with memories. As dreams are not bound by logic there will be some freaky awesome stuff going down and because Somniums all abide by different rules the game has given itself the go ahead for some nonsensical puzzles such as Aiba sniffing a regular sized plant, it shrinking and going up her nose being the trigger to remove some thorns covering a light switch. I absolutely love some of the options in the Somnium, tell Aiba to wear a pot of boiling mystery broth, she’s pour the broth away and spends the rest of the Somnium with a pot over her head. Sometimes you pick options just to see the hilarity that will ensue. 

Let’s ride the creepy panda!

When in a Somnium you have 6 minutes to clear all the mental blocks but time only moves while you move plus actions take up varying amounts of time. Most actions will give you a “TIMIE” an item that affects the amount of time needed to complete an action Sometimes you’ll investigate an object just to get a good TIMIE such as kicking some rocks, watching Aiba rive in pain and get 1/10 TIMIE, later in the Somnium use that to make an action that would take 2 minutes only take 12 seconds. To make time easier to manage there’s only some selectable items in the Somnium with more unlocking as you clear mental blocks.

The map is oh so handy in later Somniums.

The puzzles are almost unfathomable but the absolute weirdness is part of the charm, sometimes you can work out what to do next, sometimes it seems by random chance such as opening a locker a knife flies out at you, explodes a gas canister and sets off a series of events that leads to breaking the mental block. Eventually you come to understand the thought process involved with most puzzles and you might think “What the Donkey’s testicle do I have to do here?” But your first or second oddball choice is the right one.

Is Aiba really a skeleton?

Some Somniums have multiple routes leading the story down different paths, to uncover the truth of the murders you need to go down these different paths. Some the story even gets locked away until you’ve seen different ends (with mountain high cliffhangers). There’s a handy flow chart so you can jump back and forward in time and route with ease and read summaries of the events in that route. While the different routes will have some similar scenes the differences are large enough to keep it interesting and the routes have completely events take place, leaving me still sitting there was on the edge of my seat. 

What will you choose?

AI has a colourful cast of lovable characters and a whimsical sense of humour woven into almost every part of it from your boss being a former flag girl for remote control car racing with a mannequin police officer for a childhood friend called Mario with whom she shares all her woes, to Aiba liking the binary code for the number 20597 (yes I’m sad enough to Google it) and her hobby being sneaking out of Date’s eye when he sleeps to cause mischief. AI made me laugh out loud over and over again, there’s a lot of bad puns, innuendo and dad jokes that the characters actually call each other out on. These details help make the characters relatable so you really feel their anguish and heart ache when deaths happen. 

Lovavle right?

AI oozes style in a subtle way with menu changes being like blinking, loading the game is like being sucked into someone’s mind and Somniums being very stylish in a way that reminded me of Persona 5, but again more subtle with attention to stylish small details such as a faint comic book style overlay in one of the Somniums because the subject is an otaku. The character models look fantastic and little details add so much to the immersion, AI sets a new bar for visual novels as conversations are like animated scenes with characters being lip synced, heads moving, facial expressions changing, swapping folded legs when sitting and sticking hands out of car windows.

That’s one way to distract people.

If you like your games voice acted you’re in for a delectable treat as there’s an insane amount of expressive voice acting with every spoken line in game being voice acted in both English and Japanese depending on your preference. Characters have some comical small talk about the most mundane objects if you investigate them an example is Aiba getting excited to see ants on a plant, there can be different conversations about the same objects as you revisit locations too, making it worth the time and effort to investigate every nook and cranny of every scene. The sound effects mixed with trippy visual scenes are sublime, you really feel like you’re getting sucked into a dream. 

I think he has.

AI features a fantastic range of music, it goes from quirky and upbeat in your eccentric bosses office, chilled out in empty diner to obviously mysterious and dramatic at a crime scene. All helping to set the scenes and further absorb you into its already thoroughly engrossing world.

I want one!

Immersive is the best word to describe AI, it’s not only the funniest but also the most heart wrenching visual novel I’ve played as the characters are so relatable and down to Earth rather than the exaggerated personalities full of stereotypes found in most others. With the multiple endings AI is a lengthy game clocking out around 30hours, after 24hours I’d experienced one ending that left me with far more questions than answers, a joke end, a bad end and stuck on two huge plot twisting cliffhangers until I completed other story routes. It has honestly been one of, if not my favourite game this year. Kotaro Uchikoshi and Spike Chunsoft have created a worthy successor of the visual novel crown. Go buy it, love it and hope for a sequel.

A massive thank you to Spike Chunsoft for supplying the review code. AI: The Somnium Files is available both physically and digitally on the eShop 17th September in NA (with a week delay for physical) and 20th September in EU for £53.99/$59.99/€59.99 with 10% off if you pre-order but can be found cheaper physically.

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