While Ai: The Somnium Files has a lot of important characters who you’ll spend quite a bit of time building relationships with, none of them are as critical to it as Date and Aiba. You spend all your time with the two, watching them play off of each other while also exploring each crime scene and Somnium’s intricacies. Fortunately for everyone who opts into it, the two are incredibly watchable. Each of these protagonists is great, even if they do things that make you cringe a bit, due to how human it can make them feel.
Date is the detective, and we see he’s good at his job. He has no problem standing up to unsavory characters, like members of the yakuza, or interrogating individuals. He has good reflexes in dangerous situations. He also is able to pick up on hidden clues in the environment. While he is good at what he does and tends to have a knack for dealing with people, he also has abrasive and annoying tendencies. He cracks dad jokes and delights in bad puns, using them to “amuse” Aiba, Mizuki, and most importantly, himself. A running joke has him constantly asking the name of a fellow investigator he encounters on every crime scene. But, he’s also a mystery and even a tragic figure. We know he lost his left eye in an incident six years ago, and Aiba, his boss, and his coworkers won’t tell him what happened. He’s complex, but comes across as approachable due to his immaturity and sympathetic considering something serious happened to him in his past. Aiba calls him out on his more unprofessional conduct, offering a sense of balance. You could consider her the conscience and voice of reason.
Aiba is far more serious and composed, though she does have her moments where she might make geeky references. Which is fitting, considering she is an A.I. She was created to essentially be a perfect analytical partner for Date during investigations. There are times when she will anticipate his needs before he even voices them, due to their connection and her incredible intelligence. When she is on the job, she’ll be relatively no nonsense. But, she also is surprisingly human with her sense of humor. She jokes about self destructing if Date suggests Pewter should reprogram her. (Though, she does admit she couldn’t do that of her own volition.) She’ll joke about killing Date for his bad jokes. When she needs him to duck to save their lives, she’ll joke about a porno magazine being on the floor, because she knows that would get the quickest reaction. She also suggests she chose her human form for Somnium segments based on knowing his “preferences.” In a way, it almost feels like a big sister teasing and threatening her little brother, but in a way where you can tell it’s affectionate.
While Aiba tends to be the foil when Date cracks jokes or gets goofy, AI: The Somnium Files balances that by having moments where she can sometimes be just as silly. Due to the nature of their relationship and the neural connection they share, the full AI program isn’t transferred during a Psync. Since she isn’t at her full “power,” this reflects in her maturity levels here and how willing she is or isn’t to be a little more over-the-top when solving the dream world’s puzzles. She’ll use slang during these moments, forcing them to switch roles and Date to be the more analytical one. For example, in one session, Aiba will act like a cat after “waking up” in one dream, before agreeing to get serious about the investigation. When she happens upon a mysterious liquid, she might jump in, lick it, smell it, or stick her hand into it.
It’s also wonderful the way that AI: The Somnium Files teases bigger reveals even at the outset. When you select certain dialogue responses, perhaps when Date behaves in a goofy manner, Aiba will make some sort of reference to some kind of medication. These throwaway lines come up, and she doesn’t necessarily explain them. You have an idea that something happened to Date and perhaps he is recovering from an extraordinary event from the game’s earliest moments, and knowing Aiba has this kind of power adds another dimension to their relationship. Is she helping him? Could she be keeping him in line? It gets you thinking about how much he might really need her.
The characters are the most critical part of AI: The Somnium Files. If you don’t care about the leads in an adventure game, you may never find the motivation to complete it. Both Date and Aiba have these great personalities that make them likeable, but also believable and flawed individuals. They play well off of one another, thanks to their unique relationship and personalities. Discover the truth behind the murders is definitely a reason to keep playing, but equally important is continuing to see how the two interact with one another.
AI: The Somnium Files is available for the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and PC.