Kotaro Uchikoshi’s AI: The Somnium Files is the sort of adventure game that dances between levity and seriousness. We have the practical investigations in the real world, going over serial killer crime scenes, and the almost supernatural peeks into the minds of other people to unlock their mental locks in the Somnium. While these trips into the dream world don’t always make sense, that’s what makes them so brilliant. Especially as people get to see symbolism play out and understand how things begin to make sense.
Date isn’t just a detective. He’s a Psyncer. This means he can enter into a Psync Machine at the station to explore the mind of another person, with the activities shown on monitors so Boss and Pewter can watch. Though, it isn’t just Date exploring. Aiba, the AI that lives in Date’s left eye socket, is the one actually exploring this dream state. She communicates with him through the neural connection, and together the two of them overcome the series of Mental Locks present.
What’s great about these Somnium segments first and foremost is how well organized they are. Each one lasts six minutes, but time only passes when Aiba moves and you know exactly how much time each major action you perform will take. There’s a map that shows things you can interact with, so you can plot out moves without wasting time. On the left side of the screen, there’s a timeline always showing on the left side of the screen, displaying the mental lock and any branching paths you may be able to trigger. You can save at any time during these segments, and also return to the main menu if you need to restart and reload. Or, if you prefer, you could use the retry option to spend certain one, two, or three to go back one, two, or three mental locks and make different choices. There’s pressure to make the right decisions and not run out of time in the dream, but AI: The Somnium Files never penalizes you for experimenting.
Once you are able to jump into exploring this area, without any real fear of messing up, you can really start enjoying Somnium segments. While they can involve unsettling imagery or have serious undertones, it can be difficult to be too unnerved sometimes. Especially if you see things like Aiba inhaling so deeply that she sucks flowers up her nose or happen to spin an item so fast that it flies away. It also allows you to get more emotionally invested without fear. If you go down a path where you might not get a good result, you might feel heartbroken at the uncovered trauma and the negative effect it had on the person’s life. Or, if you made a more ideal choice, you might feel genuine relief and joy knowing that even though this is a virtual character, you made their life better.
For example, the earliest case involves dealing with Mizuki, who discovered her mother’s dead body and is suffering from aphonia as a result. (Conveniently enough, for the sake of the story, she’s the daughter of Date’s close friend and has been living with Date after her parents’ divorce.) There are two options for her Somnium experience, based on how you react to one of two items present in the area that will unlock the second Mental Lock. I went through both, to see what Aiba’s actions could do and the result after the segment was over. Each one elicits a different sort of emotional response.
Which brings up another element that helps make the Somnium moments freeing. AI: The Somnium Files has a flowchart that is constantly there for you in the menu. At any time you can access the menu, you can pull it up to reopen an old investigation or go through a Psync again. It really lets you make the most of the idea that these are supposed to be dreamlike states. Even though the stakes are high and we are going through major investigations, we have the opportunity to fall back and change our minds. We can stick with the consequences of our actions and find out how they turned out, but also rely on extra save files and this flowchart to go back and right anything we might have regretted.
AI: The Somnium Files lets its Somnium segments give players a degree of freedom. Things are well organized and, while there are limitations and consequences, it also doesn’t have intense pressure that means one wrong decision completely ruins your playthrough. Things like the ability to retry segments or head to the flowchart give you the opportunity to explore the dreamlike logic present in these areas and better appreciate what is going on with their symbolism and possible paths. It’s a rather cool complement to the other, more typical investigation elements found in the game.
AI: The Somnium Files is available for the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and PC.