AI: The Somnium Files (Review)
Where To Get It: Steam
Content Warning: Although the article has no representations of this, be aware that this is a murder mystery game while the murders are ongoing, so there are bloody scenes of violent death, and several themes including parental abuse, obsessional behaviour and stalking, and the like are involved.
Spike Chunsoft make wild rides. Pseudoscience made real in the fiction, murder, heartbreaking moments, and time being… Fluid are all hallmarks, and AI: The Somnium Files is definitely no different. And oh, boy, it is indeed a wild ride. And one that may annoy, if you don’t take the old adventure game adage of “Save Early, Save Often.”
The general premise, then. You are Date, a Psyncer (someone who can enter someone’s dreams), working for a relatively secret agency called ABIS (Pronounced Abyss, or maybe… Apis? There’s a lot of egyptian deities mentioned, y’see), and a serial killer is on the loose… Perhaps a copycat killer from six years ago. And a lot of things aren’t right. With the case. With your boss. With Date himself. And with Aiba, your AI eyeball friend who’s also… Seems to have the hots for Dante, in the oddest way.
Oh, and hidden collectibles and branching paths in a flowchart. Mustn’t forget those. So, anyway: The game is mostly split into two parts: Investigating a scene and talking to people, and the Somnium, the dreamworld of either Date, or… Whoever you’re ordered to PSYNC with, for information relating to the case. And yes, it uses dream logic. The tutorial example has a light switch covered by thorns, and a Winter Iris that cannot be moved nearby, but can still be interacted with because… It’s lit. So you don’t move it. You… Inhale it. Dream logic. But, from this point on, there’s a big catch: You have 6 minutes. The upside is that it only goes down when you’re moving or interacting in the dream world (through your partner, Aiba.) The downside is that understanding the logic of that particular dream may well take a lot of tries, and often, there are multiple solutions that lead to different results.
Aesthetically, apart from some awkward animations, and pink text for Aiba ([check for colourblind options]), the game has a solid visual style, great music, and some good voice acting. The writing is colourful, with a mix of silly references to a variety of things (including other Spike Chunsoft games, The Terminator, and The X-Files), and it drew me in, even when I knew what would come from previous experience with Spike Chunsoft titles, and some solid, foreboding foreshadowing. The humour does fall flat sometimes, and Date’s horniness is… It’s groan inducing a fair bit of the time.
There is a rather sudden shift later in the game, and some paths in the story (Yes, there are branching paths you want to explore to get the honest to goodness ending) are blocked by things you need to get further in the story than I perhaps would have liked, but, overall, I like Spike Chunsoft’s interesting takes on the formulae they work with, and this game is no exception.
The Mad Welshman A unlocked! [Picture of TMW drawn in crayon]