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AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES – nirvanA Initiative (PS5) Review | via PS4 BC

It’s been almost three years since I played and reviewed AI: The Somnium Files, a fantastic mystery puzzle game from the brilliant Kotaro Uchikoshi (The Nonary Games, Punch Line, Pepsiman). The game blew me away with its humour, engaging narrative, intuitive gameplay, and seamlessly branching story, it was my GOTY back in 2019. This week I’ve had the privilege to play the long-awaited sequel, AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES – nirvanA Initiative, which I’ve been unable to put down until I claimed the platinum trophy yesterday.

The series was initially released on the Playstation 4, PC and Nintendo Switch, later launching on Xbox consoles in 2021. AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES – nirvanA Initiative is, therefore, releasing on all four platforms at the same time… well, it releases on PC and North American console territories on the 24th of June and European console territories on the 8th of July (after a short delay). For the purpose of the review, I’ve been playing the PlayStation 4 version via Backwards Compatability on my PlayStation 5 console, there is no native current-gen version on either platform (despite all listings for the game saying ‘Xbox Series’, it’s the Xbox One version in BC mode).

So, after clocking up over 100 hours according to the in-game clock (possibly wrong as I left it on in the background to listen to the music for a number of hours), finding every collectable and earning the platinum, and replaying many scenes just to play as a differently dressed Aiba and Tama, what are my final thoughts? Is the story and gameplay better than the original masterpiece or doesn’t it deliver the same exciting and memorable experience? Here’s a hint – AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES – nirvanA Initiative is high up on my 2022 GOTY list…

AI THE SOMNIUM FILES NirvanA Initiative 1

That’s gotta hurt!

First things first, you don’t need to play the original AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES game to understand AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES – nirvanA Initiative, it’s an original story that’s disconnected from the previous story. However, I personally recommend you play both of them as the first game is brilliant and introduces you to characters and their relationships which are re-introduced in the sequel. However, if this is your first title in the series, you shouldn’t have any issues following along.

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Previously, the story was focused on a series of unusual and horrific murders, victims with their left eye gouged out. This time, the serial killer on the loose has a thing for slicing people in half – not horizontally but vertically down the middle – ouch! However, that’s not the only strange thing about this case, the mystery aspect is that both halves are found six years apart, one side six years ago and the other present-day – although there is no sign of decomposition in the latter halves, and the time of death is merely a few hours prior to being discovered?!?

You must investigate this paranormal situation as two experienced ABIS (Advanced Brain Investigations Squad) agents, Mizuki and Ryuki. Mizuki will be familiar to those who have played the first game, she was twelve years old when the first body half was found, appearing during a TV show she was a part of, yet she picks up the investigation once the second half appears in the present, now aged 18 years old. Ryuki is a new character, working under the legendary pervert Kasumi Date six years ago. Both agents have AI partners, Aiba and Tama, which embed themselves within the left eye socket to deliver enhanced information about your surroundings and perform VR reconstructions of crime scenes.

Aside from investigating the real world, we see the return of the titular ‘Somnium’ interrogation process – delving into the mind of various characters in order to uncover the truth and hidden secrets. There are also a bunch of ‘mini-games’ and parody events that further expand the gameplay, leaving you constantly wondering what’s going to happen next. If you’re like me, you’ll probably find the whole experience rather confusing at times, my only advice for that is to keep playing and it’ll all become clear later on. 

AI THE SOMNIUM FILES NirvanA Initiative 2

Erm…

Gameplay
AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES – nirvanA Initiative contains three main gameplay elements, Exploration and Investigation, VR reconstruction, and Somnium interrogation. Each chapter will often utilise two or three of these elements, here’s a brief explanation of them:

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Exploration and Investigation.
Just like the first game, AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES – nirvanA Initiative is quite linear in its design, with no deviation from the main storyline. That’s not to say there’s nothing to explore or interact with as every scene contains many clickable objects that don’t impact the story yet are very enjoyable to discover what witty commentary you’re about to experience. You can technically enter a scene, talk to the people there, and then move on to the next, but I personally found myself obsessed with clicking on everything – that’s probably why my in-game timer is so high!

Fans of the first game will spot a number of returning jokes throughout the game, one of which stars our lovely big-breasted secretary. Just like before, if you continuously click on her you’ll find that our protagonist goes from seeing a “receptionist sitting behind the desk” to “there are huge breasts sitting behind the desk”, with many combinations in between! Also, we see the glorious return of the forgettable Kagami, an inspector who gets annoyed every time you ask for his name – I would too considering you can ask over and over again until he eventually forgets himself and lets you give him a new name! 

There are also a few puzzles thrown into these segments, often with clues or the answer somewhere within the same scene. I found myself stumped by two of these, sitting there staring at the screen for a while until I found the answer (as it’s pre-release and literally no help anywhere online). My only advice for this, without giving spoilers, is to simply type in what you see and think the answer is, even if it doesn’t make sense – one of the solutions was very silly as the answer is literally a shorthand abbreviated phrase which means nothing if you just read it as it appears. 

AI THE SOMNIUM FILES NirvanA Initiative 3

Tama, the new AI, is just as forceful as Aiba, only with bigger boobs…

Although there isn’t a lot, there are some QTE moments within AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES – nirvanA Initiative. There’s usually plenty of notice for these and they aren’t hard to pull off – although some require you to push multiple buttons/sticks at the same time. If you do have issues, there are a few difficulty options which can give you more time to react and limit the amount of ‘button mashing’ you have to do in certain situations. I’d recommend sticking to ‘Normal’ and then lowering it if you find it affects you, as the default setting offers a decent amount of tension without being unfair.

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VR reconstruction
If you’ve played games like Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One or The Sinking City, the VR reconstruction segments are similar to the ‘Sherlock Vision’ modes within those games. Once you’ve entered a crime scene and collected all the evidence, your AI companion recreates the scene digitally so you can reconstruct the events that happened in hopes of discovering a lead or seeing what actually took place. This is a fairly simple process of searching for clues using normal, thermal, and x-ray vision.

Once you’re ready to reenact the scene, Aiba or Tama jumps into director mode, hurling abuse at you as they try to get the perfect shot on film (these scenes are quite hilarious). This acts as a puzzle, you have to choose the next step correctly to complete the chain of events and unlock a trophy. Thankfully, if you do make a mistake then you can simply load up the flowchart and restart the scene – it’s much easier once you’ve done it once and now know the answers!

AI THE SOMNIUM FILES NirvanA Initiative 4

These Somnium stages are quite strange…

Somnium: the Psync Machine
It’s back and it’s just as brilliant as the first time! Throughout the game, you’ll find yourself needing more information from people that aren’t willing to talk – so instead, you cart them off to the ABIS HQ and jump into their minds via the use of the Psync Machine. My only issue with this is that everyone comes without any restraint, nobody refuses to come and those who may have an issue simply appear in the chair after a fade-to-black without any explanation of how they got there (this felt a little strange and unrealistic). Once within the creative imagination of your victim subject, you must explore and choose your actions wisely as you only have six minutes before you’re unable to return and effectively die. 

So, how does it work? The ‘world’ is comprised of memories and/or thoughts from the subject, often relating to the situation you’re currently investigating or whatever’s on their mind at the time. For example, when trying to gain help from Ryuki to gain info on events from six years ago, you find him haunted by hallucinations of a traumatic event he can’t let go of. You must enter his mind and free him from these thoughts by helping him overcome them and discover the truth. A later Somnium has you playing a large-scale game of ‘Pokemon-GO’ with characters from the game being the ‘Pokemon’ you collect and battle with! This was a fun and a rather unusual segment of the game…

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In terms of the six-minute timer, this is a fun yet challenging mechanic. Just like Superhot, time only moves when you do, so you can stand and look around all you want and not a second will tick by. However, looking at things or performing an action also comes with a time-based deduction. For example, it may cost you five seconds to look at an object or 30 seconds to open a box. To help with this, performing some actions gives you a ‘timie’, a usable token that can reduce the time it takes to do an action by a fraction or limit it to a set amount – such as 1/2 off or you’ll only use 1 second despite the original value. You also get a number of eyeballs for each action, which you spend in the bonus menu later.

If you’re struggling to complete a Somnium, there are three difficulty settings this time around. You can play with six minutes, make it count down at half speed (so essentially 12 minutes), or at a quarter speed (so 24 minutes). Each of these also changes how many times you can rewind to a previous checkpoint – 3, 6, and unlimited respectively. Also, once you’ve fully completed a chapter, you can replay any of these with unlimited time – perfect if looking for the collectables.

AI THE SOMNIUM FILES NirvanA Initiative 5

If you say/do the right thing then the timeline can deviate.

Branching story?
A few of the Somnium segments have multiple endings, requiring you to figure out how to trigger the alternative route. Some of them are easy, such as picking one action over another, yet others will be impossible to deviate from unless you’ve played more of the game and heard a character say a name or word which you can use by travelling back to a previous point in the timeline and providing that info. This is similar to the previous game yet you may like to keep a pen and paper handy to take notes as once you’ve heard the word it doesn’t record it anywhere, so you need to remember it. 

There aren’t as many branches as I’d have liked in AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES – nirvanA Initiative, but the ones it has managed to create very different timelines and events that contrast the ‘real’ timeline. Just like before though, some of these did confuse me until much later into the story when some things were explained – although I am still a little confused with some things that happen yet I’m going to ignore them as they often occurred in the smaller branched side timelines – so they probably aren’t real. 

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This is very similar to the previous game, in that I often became confused as I always forgot who was alive and who was dead, due to all the timelines you unlocked. This one isn’t anywhere near as confusing, thankfully, but I still found myself questioning certain events fairly often.

AI THE SOMNIUM FILES NirvanA Initiative 6

Mama loves her big milky white balls…

The writing and the characters
I LOVE the dialogue, the story, and the characters within AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES – nirvanA Initiative. There are a lot of returning favourites from the previous game as well as some new quirky characters to interact with. Date is here, in all his glorious pervy nature – gaining superhuman powers by simply glancing at a porno mag! The aforementioned busty receptionist is back, which you can actually run away with and cause a premature ending to the game, as is Mama, the voluptuous bar owner who loves seeking advice from her two big “milky balls” which she massages whilst speaking in sexual innuendos (they’re crystal balls). 

If you’re easily offended and/or don’t like sexual innuendo and pervy comments, then you may not like the writing here. Tama constantly thinks Ryuki is a pervert, sniffing and licking school girls’ chairs, activating statues by fondling their ding-dongs, quite a lot of talk about porno mags and porn in general, and quite a lot of rude banter between you and your AI. I personally thought it was all very funny, but it is a little childish at times – my kind of humour!

Pervy stuff aside, the actual dialogue is so funny. I found myself laughing for the majority of the game, even tearing up in certain scenes when the situation went from being fun and light-hearted to heavy and sad. you really never know what the next scene is going to hold and how the story will develop. This was one of the reasons I found myself obsessed with clicking on everything in every scene until there was nothing left to do – I just HAD to hear every recorded line for the game – and yes, every conversation is recorded in English and Japanese with only your ‘thoughts’ being text-only.

AI THE SOMNIUM FILES NirvanA Initiative 7

Discovering all twelve Eyeballie ‘pets’ is quite tricky

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In regards to the characters, you can’t help but become deeply invested with each of them due to the events that happened within the game and their distressing pasts. Take Gen, for example. He’s the owner of Brahman World Cuisine and runs the Brahman in Golden Yokocho. He’s a big burly fellow that constantly wears a creepy smiling mask/scooped-out teddy head to hide his deformed face from the public in fear that it’ll scare and disgust them. We also have the Minecraft Steve-a-like Komeji, an unfunny failing comedian who was once the “Quiz King” before losing all popularity and becoming the reason his son is getting bullied in school. 

However, the best character, aside from Date and his endless supply of porno mags, has to be the investigations officer…. damn, what was his name again!?

Tama-gotchi
There’s a bonus mini-game in AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES – nirvanA Initiative, you can nurture and grow your very own ‘Eyeballie’ ala Tamagotchi style. Simply go to the menu and push the touchpad and you’ll be presented with your very own virtual eyeball. By answering its question, then waiting 20 minutes (real-time), you’ll eventually have it grow from an infant to a child, then an adult, finally leaving your device and being replaced with a new baby.

There are twelve Eyeballies to discover, each one developing based upon the answers you give – you get a trophy if you’re able to discover all of them at least once. Thankfully, so you don’t forget, you’ll get an irritating pop-up every time the 20 minutes is up, so you know you need to return and answer your next question. However, it will take literally hours to unlock them all like this, so once you’ve completed the game the 20 minute time limit is removed, allowing you to quickly experiment and find the final adults you’ve not yet unlocked.

AI THE SOMNIUM FILES NirvanA Initiative 8+1

Find all the eyeballs and unlock the whole concept art gallery.

Bonuses
AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES – nirvanA Initiative has a few unlockable bonuses in the form of costumes and images. These are unlocked in two ways, one is intuitive and should be in every single game, and the other is via a frustrating hide-and-seek collectable process…

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First up, the annoying one – okay, maybe it’s not fair to call it annoying but it took me literally hours to find these – I even had to take a few breaks as I was becoming so frustrated. There are five eyeballs hidden within each Somnium segment, often invisible unless you walk near to them and either see the ball or a trail of sparks. These were really, really hard to find in some instances as they require you to do something that’s not required to progress so that they appear. For example, one Somnium involves you being within a lab – here, you have to pick two different body parts to enhance you so you can open a door (not required to complete this level), then another two different parts to ride a boat without sinking so you can get the eyeball at the end of the track. 

Other eyeballs may be hidden down an alternative pathway choice within a Somnium or behind an object which triggers the end of the level if you approach it from the front. I was stuck on one for hours simply because it was right in a corner and didn’t appear unless you were stood literally on top of it – these balls are really hard to find and I’m so proud of myself for being able to find every single one of them with literally no help from anyone. I’ve not had to do that since pre-internet days!

Eyeballs unlock the images you can buy within the bonus menu.

AI THE SOMNIUM FILES NirvanA Initiative 9+1

Hmmm, this looks familiar…

To unlock the costumes, which you use to dress up both Aiba and Tama, it’s a much easier process – you have to raise your rank as a detective. This is performed in a brilliant way, you unlock trophies. That’s right, there’s an ‘Evaluation’ menu within the game that simply lists all the trophies you can unlock. As you unlock these, your rank increases and you unlock new costume pieces which you can play with in the ‘AI Room’. You can don cat ears, wear glasses, have a chibi AI sat on your shoulder, or place puppets on your hands.

Alternatively, there’s a bunch of cross-over items such as a K and Q mask from Zero Escape, a Wanderer hat from Shiren the Wanderer, and even a glorious Monokuma head from Danganronpa! Not to mention, there’s even a bracelet from Zero Escape as well!

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The only downside to these fantastic costumes is that you can only wear them in previous chapters you’ve fully completed – which doesn’t make any sense. I’d understand it if the story required your AI to dress a certain way for the story, but it doesn’t. However, you’ll only see these appear on your character when returning to find the pesky hidden collectables – which is a shame.

Speaking of Zero Escape, once you’ve completed the game you’ll unlock a bonus mission which fans of the Zero Escape games will love!

AI THE SOMNIUM FILES NirvanA Initiative 10

This song is catchy, but not as much as Iris’ from the first game.

Music and vocals
The first game focused on music a lot throughout the story as Iris was an aspiring YouTuber that enjoyed singing. AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES – nirvanA Initiative counters that with the regularly dancing Kizuna. The new song that plays many times is fun and catchy but it’s not as memorable as Invincible Rainbow Arrow (which is also performed briefly!). Just like the first game, upon completion, you can watch any of the characters (living, dead, good or bad) dancing along to the song with a selection of backgrounds. Although, sadly, the final dance scene is a video and not real-time, so the quality is poor and there’s no custom character placement (which I think is in the first game – I’ve not played in a while).

Aside from the vocal songs, the rest of the music is brilliant. As stated above, the game is showing I’ve played over 100 hours (it stops at 99:99:59), this is probably because I’ve had the game open in certain scenes just so I can listen to the music whilst cleaning and browsing on my iPad. The soundtrack is releasing on Steam for $19.99 – or as part of a Digital Deluxe – but there’s no word of it coming to PSN, which is a shame! It’s 68 tracks long and lasts almost four hours! Hopefully it’ll be a soundtrack you DON’T need the base game to buy, if so then I’ll be picking it up.

In terms of voice acting, *chefs kiss*! I adore the vocal talent within the game – Everyone plays their part perfectly and I loved the English vocals, people usually hate English for some reason yet I’d advise you to try it out as it’s performed excellently. It appears all of the original voice actors are back, including the talented Greg Chun as Date – I simply couldn’t have asked for a better line-up of voice actors. 

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AI THE SOMNIUM FILES NirvanA Initiative 11

QTE Master Chef!

Technical
Okay, let’s begin with what I didn’t like and don’t understand why this was a thing… AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES – nirvanA Initiative is a PlayStation 4 game. The PS5 has been out for over 18 months, why are we still getting last-gen titles with no enhancements or upgrades for the current-gen systems? As I said above, all Press Releases also state the game is on Xbox Series X, but it’s not, it’s the Xbox One version that’s running through Backwards Compatability – Microsoft is just labelling everything as ‘Series’ even if it’s just a BC game. But, why is this an issue?

The game, running on a 4K TV, looks pretty bad. It could be worse, but it’s clearly a 1080p (max) image being upscaled by the TV to 4K, creating lots of shimmer, breakup in lines, blurry assets, and a not very attractive image. The art style saves it a little, as the anime look is fine no matter what resolution it is, but the outlines and fine detail suffer from the low resolution. As the game is all CG-created backgrounds and assets (no hand-drawn images), I don’t know why the publisher couldn’t have created a 4K native app PS5 version or even had it look for the PS5 flag and force the game to switch to a 4K resolution version. It’s rather upsetting.

Also. which I also stated above, the final credit scene is a video that runs at a rather low quality compared to the sharper live-action we’ve seen within the whole game up until that point. I have no idea why this is the case.

Aside from the disappointing visual aspects, the game ran smooth and I had no issues throughout the entire playthrough. However, the loading times aren’t great – sometimes reaching 10-15 seconds to load the next location. The adjustable difficulty options will also help people adjust the game to their own liking – although there’s no skip or hint function for the puzzles which can be a little cryptic. There are some hints given if you keep getting it wrong, but they’re not enough in my opinion as it still left me confused a few times.

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Official Trailer:

Final Conclusion
So far we’re six months in 2022 and AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES – nirvanA Initiative is already at the top of my GOTY list for this year. The story is very funny, mysterious, and exciting, the gameplay is intuitive, there are a lot of things to look out for and unlock, and there’s a great balance of serious and immaturely pervy humour throughout. If you liked the first game, you’re going to love the sequel – although they aren’t related so prior knowledge isn’t required. My only disappointment is that there’s no current-gen version, the loading times and low-resolution visuals would have really benefited from it.

A copy of the game was kindly provided for review purposes

AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES - nirvanA Initiative

10

Final Score

10.0/10

The Good:

  • Brilliant story and very funny dialogue
  • Branching pathways with alternative timelines
  • Confusing but well-thought out narrative
  • Great puzzles within the Somnium segments
  • A bunch of difficulty options so anyone can play

The Bad:

  • There's no current-gen version, so the visuals and loading times aren't the best
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