riostarwind's AI: The Somnium Files (Nintendo Switch) review

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A mix of silliness and drama makes this a enjoyable visual novel

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Really the main reason I’m interested in this game is because it was written by the same creator of the Zero Escape series. While that series of games had it’s high and low points the storyline never failed to entertain. So I was hoping that trend would continue with this game too. Time to find out if that is true or not by giving a quick synopsis of what seems to be going on in the world.

A grisly crime scene reveals itself to Detective Date who takes the time to look around the scene as his Boss gives him the rundown of what has occurred. Someone has murdered a friend and for some reason has taken one of their eyes as well. With the help of his partner Aiba (Who happens to be an AI fitted in his eye.) he finds out the scene has a bit more to it than expected. A girl he also knows is hidden nearby and because she seems traumatized the only way to find out what really happened is to look into her dreams. Luckily this dynamic duo has that ability but it quickly turns out that solving this crime will not be an easy task at all.

Everything is just great. No crazy back story going on at all.
Everything is just great. No crazy back story going on at all.

As a video game this is almost entirely a visual novel. You’ll be watching characters talk about whatever is going on in the storyline and trying to figure out what the heck is going on since it is crafted in a way that slowly gives out more details for the player to piece together some sort of logical conclusion. Yet it does throw some curveballs that made me think one way before clearing that misconception up with another hint. Wanting to see the mystery unfold is what you are here for so it’s a good thing that it is done very well. But all you get to do isn’t just talking to everyone.

Going into their dreams is a key mechanic. Aiba gets to be the star of these sections as she is quite the quirky AI. After scanning the environment of the dream it tasks her to unlock the mental blocks that stand in the way of hopefully finding something new about the most recent murder. Which just consists of her wandering around trying different actions on objects in the environment to hopefully cause something good to happen. A time limit of six minutes is always an issue too and each action has a different time cost too. It is possible to lessen the cost via time savers gained by doing certain actions. Using these effectively is key to solving some of the tougher dreams later on in the storyline. Yet knowing what the player has to do is kind of left up to trial and error most of the time. After all, the world of dreams isn’t always going to do what you imagine might happen. Being able to start from a checkpoint is fairly key to making these sections not frustrate the player.

The game is really clear about when the story branches off into a different direction.
The game is really clear about when the story branches off into a different direction.

Additionally these sections contain the main branching points in the narrative. Finding one clue will lead down one path while the other heads in an entirely different direction. Every path is unique and must be seen if you want to solve the mystery. Each path also focuses on different characters and why they do what they do in each scenario. Getting to know what makes each person tick is part of the experience. You’ll have a very clear picture of everyone by the time the credits roll for the final time 27ish hours later.

Since I didn’t bring them up yet a few other minor gameplay sections show up occasionally. One being QTE battle sections that tend to show off just how dumb this game can be. The old MGS trick of lewd magazines being a weakness and an advantage is used most effectively. A few interrogation scenes require pointing out flaws in the suspects testimony too. Yet it doesn’t have any stakes since you can make as many mistakes as you want.

As a full product this game succeeds in crafting a narrative that’ll likely get anyone hooked once it lays all the cards on the table for the player to see. Buffered by a cel shaded look and really good English performances this is one visual novel that is worth listening to. Which could be a problem if you like to read faster than the spoken dialogue. Just know that going in if you like to skip dialogue. Overall if you're in the mood for a good mysterious adventure featuring a bunch of silly flawed characters this is a game worth playing.

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