Brilliant. Spike Chunsoft keeps it perfectly weird at all times with AI: The Somnium Files ($59.99), a visual novel/adventure that’s one of the best games of this type to date in terms of accessibility. Granted, it opens with a disturbing crime scene, but that gory mystery to solve (and a few others as the game goes on) becomes the starting point for Kaname Date’s adventures and every investigator needs a good mystery, right? Of course, Date soon realizes this case has ties to his past (you’ll see) and with some assistance from Aiba, his trusted partner who resides in his left eye socket (you’ll see), things get more or less cleared up (the AI’s have it, heh).
The victim, her husband, and whip-smart young daughter all have connections to Date and Date’s oddball (eyeball?) relationship with Aiba is part of the game’s pull. She’s necessary to solve a few puzzles both in the real world and the Sonmium dreamscapes you’ll dip into. Her real form is an oddly cute tiny cyclops bear thing, but in dreamscapes she takes on a more humanoid shape partly because she thinks Date’s tastes lean toward pretty women. His do, but Aiba’s form appearing outside of dreams is too distracting for him at certain points.
Gameplay combines a bit of thinking with plus trial and error in the timed Aiba segments, plus traditional point and click sections where Date investigates plot elements and clues. The latter are untimed sections where camera movement is confined to whichever location Date happens to be in while Aiba’s sections are limited to six minutes. Retrying Aiba’s more freeform portions can be done either from auto-saves, from certain spots by adding or subtracting time or by retrying if you get stuck on solutions and time expires.
There are also a few quick time events to tackle, but the game is meant to be enjoyable throughout (well, as enjoyable as a game with multiple murders as a focal point can be). As it’s a game from Zero Escape creator Kotaro Ushikoshi, expect things to get unexpected when you least expect it. No spoilers here (provided you skip the videos) other than saying Dangonronpa and Zero Escape fans will be pleased. Negatives for some may be replaying some of the more obtuse dream sequences, but they’re wisely crafted to NOT give out solutions as you need them. That and it’s somewhat amusing to see Date and Aiba sometimes argue as to what she should do, even if it solves a puzzle. There’s a film noir meets giallo vibe that works well here although the sci-fi setting means all but Date’s kind of 70’s car is about the only thing that sticks out with the weirdness of the dreamscapes.
The script is solid throughout (Date is the subject of a few jokes, let’s just say) although the Valley Girl dialog for one character was a bit too odd for my tastes. Otherwise, the English dub was fine and you can choose the original Japanese if you like. The game also has a number of paths to unlock if you expect to solve everything and yes, things get you curious enough that you’ll want to do do. Expect a good 20+ hours out of this, more if you get to unlocking stuff and watching every cutscene. Can certain outcomes be altered based on what you do in dreams? Let’s leave it at “Oh, you’ll find out” and let you see for yourselves.
For mystery fans who can deal with it’s M-rated content. AI: The Somnium Files comes very highly recommended as another winner from Spike Chunsoft. You’ll probably have a smile on your face despite some grim goings on here and there.
Score: A- (90%)
-Review code provided by the publisher