‘AI: The Somnium Files’ is the latest work from the mystery game writer Kotaro Uchikoshi, perhaps best known for creating the puzzle-thriller series Zero Escape, and his staple wit and humour is present here in just as great a supply. Unfortunately, while the writing is strong, the gameplay, which manifests in several differing styles during the game, lacks the satisfying balance of its spiritual predecessor. ‘The Somnium Files’ stars Kaname Date, a ‘Psyncer’ (basically a hyper-invasive detective) working for the Advanced Brain Investigation Section of Tokyo’s near-future police department, solving crimes whilst being aided by the AI stored inside his cybernetic eye.
While investigations begin at a standard surface level, in which the player explores various areas talking to people and gathering evidence, things soon shift to a more technical side as Date makes use of his augmented functions to reach more conclusive ends of a case. These abilities range from the simple, like x-ray vision, to the far more curious, namely the titular Somnium’s. This is where the ‘AI’-ball, or Aiba, takes over. Control is switched over to Aiba in order to extract ‘testimonies’ by diving into people’s minds and viewing their memories. However, instead of just viewing potentially suspicious past events from a suspect’s perspective, their mind is instead depicted as an abstract area created by the subconscious.
This puts an incredibly unique graphical spin on past areas you may have visited in the real world investigation, as they are now warped both by real memories and dreams presenting both contextual and thematic puzzles. While entertaining to look at, the bizarre concept of the Somnium’s can prove to be a double-edged sword; solutions to certain puzzles within these sections can be downright nonsensical at times, often forcing the player to take random guesses at what might work, which in a game based around detective work is disappointing. This, coupled with the strict time-limit imposed during the Somnium’s in which every action deducts more time from the clock, makes for a far less tight experience than what would be expected of the genre.
Regardless, ‘The Somnium Files’ still serves a thrilling story set in many visually-appealing environments, both real and mindscape-based, and offers a very bizarre take on futuristic crime-solving. The originality and quality of writing are enough to recommend it to any fan of mystery fiction willing to put up with a little trial-and-error.