A-Set, You Bet!

I’ve been a fan of Uchikoshi’s work ever since 1999—since the very first time I held my copy of Pepsiman for the PlayStation One in my hands. Naturally, I didn’t know who the developer of the game was, let alone who the 3D modeler of the game was, all I thought was “Pepsi made this game.” It wasn’t until 2009 where I encountered his work again, given that most of his previous work where never localized outside of Japan then.

This game was Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors. I heard a few things about the game enough for me to pick It up, but I wasn’t really aware that Uchikoshi was involved, let alone being aware of any of his previous work. I popped the game into my DS and hours later I realized I played the game non-stop. I really loved the game and the sequels to come over the years. I watched Punch Line as well knowing that he was involved too. I love his work and I was fortunate to have the opportunity to interview him (in which you can read here.) and meet him in person at Anime Expo and was very much looking forward to playing his upcoming game—AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES.

The game was originally teased as an image showing an eyeball with the words Project PSYNC during GDC 2017, with the game being revealed as AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES the following year. The Eye itself is a major theme. Uchikoshi brought up that the word 'Eye' is a homophone for the Japanese word for love, which is 'Ai'—which was brought up a few times during the game, too.

AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES (PlayStation 4, Windows, Nintendo Switch)
Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Publisher: Spike Chunsoft (NA), Numskull Games (EU/AUS/NZ)
Released: September 17, 2019
MSRP: $59.99

AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES is a mystery-adventure game introducing Kaname Date, a Special Agent of a secret law enforcement agency known as ABIS (Advanced Brain Investigation Squad). Date takes advantage of a technology known as “Psync” and with the help of his advanced AI partner called Aiba, he can enter the subconscious mind (Somnium) of a suspect or person of interest in order to further his investigation. From the story to the characters, you can tell is an Uchikoshi game right off the bat.

You begin the game with the investigation of Shoko Nadami—the first victim of the new Cyclops Serial Killing murder cases. She was found dead by her own daughter on a Friday evening on November of 2019. With the help of Aiba, you check out the investigation scene until you find Mizuki Okiura, the daughter of Shoko Nadami and Renju Okiura—Shoko’s ex-husband and character introduced later in the game.

During these investigations, Date will be standing in a fixed position but allowing you to move the camera around the environment. You’ll be able to interact with different people, prompting a conversation wheel with up to four options, as well as different objects. You are free to select any option you want in whatever order, but sometimes one option will move the game forward without the need to select the other conversation options. Throughout the game, you’ll also have three tools to facilitate your investigation—zoom, thermo, and X-ray.

While searching for clues, Date found Mizuki inside the merry-go-round’s column. She was found holding an ice pick, but terrified of what happened, she was unable to speak. Trying to get clues out of her, she becomes the first suspect that the player uses the Psync technology on, serving as a tutorial for the game mechanic.

When Date Psyncs, his partner Aiba is manifested as a female humanoid figure inside the subject’s dream world, called a Somnium. Somnia are often bizarre, esoteric, and shrouded in symbolism and mystery which reveals the subject’s subconscious mind. Unlike investigations in the real world, you can explore the subject’s Somnium freely and must interact with objects. By the selecting the correct actions you unlock “Mental Locks” within the subject’s mind, allowing you to advance in your investigation. However, while you’re allowed to roam freely, you only have 6 minutes in a Somnium and performing actions takes time. 

Depending on the action, it could eat 10 seconds or even 60 seconds of your time too, so it’s important to be mindful of that. Movement also eats your time slowly but thanks fully standing still doesn’t. Some actions will reward you with TIMIEs, allowing you to decrease the amount of time actions take. Unfortunately, you might pick up a TIMIE that INCREASES the amount of time as well, and those are forced on you by default. 

While the sense of challenging puzzles isn’t present in this game compared to the Zero Escape games, there’s still a sense of strategy you must follow as well to make the most of your TIMIEs. If you get a negative TIMIE that increases an action’s time by x10, for example. There might be some actions that only take 1 second of your time normally, but with the negative TIMIE, it would make 10 seconds instead. It’s important to get rid of those with actions that takes the least amount of time normally. The same goes for positive TIMIEs. 

It’s important to use those in actions that will take the most normally so you can decrease them as low as possible. While there’s some trial and error and some thinking, this part of the game isn’t too challenging once you get the hang of it. While it was disappointing it wasn’t very challenging, it was still a fun concept. 

Most of the game’s conversations will be in-game, especially the ones done during investigations, but the game will also feature CGI Cutscenes and sometimes alongside QTE (Quick Time Events) in which will lead to a game over if you fail like any other game with the mechanic. It doesn’t add much to the game, but it’s a good device for tense events of the story. 

The game starts off from one path, but it will branch out to different routes as your progress through the story, each route with its own ending, either happy or sad, involving one of the side characters. Usually the story will branch out into two paths while you’re in Somnium. Depending on the mental locks that you choose to unlock, you’ll get a whole different outcome. In one of them, you either choose to believe the non-sense of a character or not while investigating inside their Somnium.

When booting up the game for the very first time, you are given the option to choose the text language to be in Japanese, English or Chinese—and while that’s permanent, possibly deleting the game save file being the only way to change it one again, you can change the audio language between English and Japanese at any time. Comparing both the original audio and the English dub is something I love to do. 

There were times I played it in English nonstop and sometimes in Japanese. Sometimes I played the chat logs and re-listened to the same dialogue just to compare. While leaning a bit more to the original Japanese as that has always been my preference, there were many moments they outshine each other. The delivery in the English dub for certain scenes were much better and felt more realistic to the presented scene.

Both Tarusuke Shingaki and Akari Kito who voiced Kaname Date and Aiba in the Japanese dub respectively, and Greg Chu and Erika Harlacher who voiced the characters in the English dub have great chemistry with each other and it really shows when Kaname and Aiba interact with each other throughout the game.

Yusuke Kozaki, known for his work in No More Heroes and the Fire Emblem series, worked on the character designs for the game, which are all done well, with many of the characters sporting their own unique look. I really love his style. A lot of the background designs are well done as well. With these types of games, investing through boring environments can be a chore, but this game is far from that.

AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES was a good experience that exceeded my expectations. You can tell the entire team poured their heart into this project, from the writing, the character design, and the overall gameplay. While Zero Escape fans shouldn’t expect a lot of similarities, the game’s writing and direction still screams Uchikoshi at its very core. Anyone desiring a new thrilling neo-noir detective adventure to play should play Somnium files.

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AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES reviewed by Christian Chiok



Impressive effort with a few noticeable problems holding it back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.
How we score:  The Japanator reviews guide


Christian Chiok
Christian ChiokContributor   gamer profile

Christian has been a gamer since his early childhood. He's a big fan of the King of Fighters and the Metal Slug series. Additionally, Christian enjoys cooking, listening to music, watching anime ... more + disclosures



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