AI: The Somnium Files Review
I had no idea what this game was about or even what kind of game it was but it looked interesting so I thought I'd try it out. Turns out to be a strange crime investigating, 3D visual novel by Spike Chunsoft the same company that made the Daganronpa games (which I also never played). In this case this was directed by Koutaro Uchikoshi who was responsible for other visual novels such as Zero Escape: Sigma Klim, 9 x 9 Doors and Steins;gate Phenogram.
Kaname Date is working for the Metropolitan Police as part of the ABIS (Advanced Brain Investigation Squad) investigating murders. His lost one eye is replaced by an AI robot in the shape of an eye, "AI-Ball (also a pun for the Japanese word aibou, partner)" which assists him during investigations. A new Psync machine allows him to probe another person's subconcious and find clues that can't be found the traditional way. One day, a woman is found murdered at an abandoned theme par that resembles the "Cyclops" serial murders that took place six years ago, nicknamed so due their victims missing an eye. The girl he had taken in Mizuki Okiura is caught up as a suspect. When the pair find both of her parents murdered, they decide to work together to find out who was behind the the new spree of serial murders.
When you think of crime related visual novels you'll probably think of Ace Attorney and it's similar in some ways.
As I mentioned, this is a 3D visual novel. You can move the camera around to view the scenes and inspect items while AI lets you use x-ray vision and zoom in on objects. Controls for the PC version works even though the keyboard key hints look crude compared to the console symbols. It plays better if you use a DualShock controller as one analogue stick controls the cursor while the other controls the camera. With a mouse you have to move the mouse back into position before you can shift the camera further while with the joystick, you just hold it in place. The keyboard does give you option of duing the directional keys to move the camera but even then you have to make use of the mouse to control the cursor.
The second part, you solve puzzles to break "mental locks" instead of finding clues before you can progress the story. They're not your usual puzzle too as they take place in the Somnium dream world; a twisted version of the crime scene in reality with everything working in different ways. Kind of like when you play an RPG and you have to figure out a puzzle but instead of running around dungeons you're reading until the next puzzle. They're also "timed" so you can actually lose just like Ace Attorney gives you a number of chances and have to restart the puzzle.
It can be annoying if you just happen to do things in the wrong order. Even though the game lets you restart from any of the mental locks you've solved you can still find yourself going further back because you don't have enough time. What's worse is you can go through the story and end up at a dead end, then you have to backtrack to find at what point you made the wrong choice to continue... Fortunately a flow chart shows you where your actions could have had a different outcome and let you jump straight to that part of the game. There's multiple endings to the game as with other visual novels with your usual bad, character based endings. Only difference is the game makes you play through them all to get to the one true ending.
For the most part it's like the traditional point-and-click Western adventure games and for those who played them in the 2D days you know how frustrating it is finding something to interact with. Somnium ends up with the same problem. When Western adventure games such as Monkey Island and Broken Sword evolved to 3D, they were aware of this problem and gave hints by making the characters look at objects. Here, that doesn't happen since the story parts aren't third person.
There's the odd QTE during fight scenes but they're really simple compared to other games such as Quantic Dream's "interactive movie" games. They're actually fun rather than your cool fight style.
The dialogue is hilarious to read, mostly Aiba and Date messing with each other. Date makes Alba do silly things while in the Somnium world while Alba often baits Date with porno mags. And you talk to yourself (no, really). Characters might not be as wacky and unique as Ace Attorney but they're good enough to stand out.
Graphics are well polished. They don't use cell shading but the 3D Anime style models look smooth and the game is supported by great soundtrack to boot (OST available as "Reveries in the Rain" with the LE or the complete standalone "Rainbow Affairs"). It's not a demanding game so you won't need a high end graphics card to run it on a PC. Facial expressions are good and there's English or Japanese voice options. There's a lot of twists and turns so don't let the cute visuals and dialogue fool you. The murders and crimes can be really graphic. One scene you watch someone ruthlessly get stabbed and murdered repeatedly in a loop until you solve the puzzle... Well, I guess it's why it's rated a Z (18+).
As you'd expect from drawn Anime fiction, there's plenty of male oriented fan service. No closet pervertedness here with plenty of lines focused on the female body. It's actually quite tame compared to most Anime shows as it's mostly women showing a lot of cleavage and your dirty jokes. There's also some dark humour based around the murders too.
As I mentioned, this is a visual novel so if you're not fond of reading stay well away from this game because you'll be doing plenty of it. If you don't mind male oriented fan service and enjoy fun, good writing like Ace Attorney then you'lll enjoy this. It's a compelling sci-fi crime story that'll keep you guessing with plenty of twists and turns.
- Great presentation, character models and music.
- Hilarious writing.
- Controls work quite smoothly.
- Compelling crime story.
- The brief flashback every time you start the game.
- Scanning the scenes for something to interact with.
- Some branches require you to have seen others to proceed.
- Some trial and error. Sometimes you have to backtrack very far.
- That idol song...