Review: AI: The Somnium Files – The Nirvana Initative (Switch) ~ Let’s Dive Again

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One of my most favorite genres is an adventure visual novel. A game with a deep story with memorable characters and unique gameplay that draws you into the world of the game. Examples are Corpse Party where a cursed school plays tricks on your mind or Ace Attorney where you play as an attorney that takes on the strangest cases. I could list examples here for quite a while, like Time Hollow, where you get a pen that can mess with the past in certain circumstances. My favorite series in this genre are the Nonary games. I sometimes quote various moments to this day. I was beyond excited that after the trilogy ended, a new series by the same writer started in 2019. AI: The Somnium Files. Now, after I finished that game, I couldn’t wait to see what Kotaro Uchikoshi and his team were going to turn out next. And that is a sequel to AI: The Somnium Files, which picks up 6 years after the original game. But is it any good, or is this a sequel that we should avoid? Well, that’s what I want to talk about in this review. This review is spoiler free, so if you haven’t played the game… You shouldn’t worry about that. But in any case, let’s dive right into the game while I welcome you to leave a comment in the comment section with your thoughts and/or opinions on this game and/or the content of this article.

Editoral note: this game also released on all other major platforms. I chose to play this game on Switch since I played the original on Switch as well.

Have you played?

In the original game, you took on the role of Date. An investigator at ABIS with a special AI companion implanted in his eye. Now, in this game, that isn’t really the case anymore since the focus is more on daughter Mizuki. In this game, you also play as Ryuki who is another investigator at ABIS. Both these agents are involved in a cold case which they are trying to solve for their own reasons. After the case going cold, suddenly 6 years later a new clue is found that totally reopens the cold case. So, why did the case turn into a cold case and why suddenly after 6 years are there new clues found?

In terms of explaining the story, that’s all I’m willing to say to avoid spoilers. I know I might be cutting it a bit short or being extremely vague, but this is a sort of game where you should go in as blind as possible. The story in visual novel adventure games like this one are best experienced as blind as possible. At least, that’s the way how I enjoy it the best. And sidenote, to avoid spoilers I’m going to explain some things in this article with rather generic terms instead of the in game terms.

Something that really surprised me in the opening few minutes of the game is that there is something implemented that is something I think should become a standard in other visual novel games. A sort of check to avoid spoilers of the original game. Since this game is a sequel, there is a potential that people start with this game before the original. And if you won’t get yourself spoiled on the previous game, certain pieces of dialogue are changed if you are unable to answer the questions about the ending of the previous game. Then, it skips over the dialogue that spoils parts of the previous game. Apart from a few lines, it doesn’t change too much, so you won’t be missing out if you answer the question or not.

In terms of writing, this game really delivers. The new characters don’t feel out of place at all. I honestly sometimes felt that the new characters were background characters in the original game… The voice acting in this game is one of the strongest points of this game. They make the characters come to live and pull me in the game’s world so hard. There are some weaker moments in this story, but overall, these are far and few between. In general, this pacing and story of this game is good.

Something that’s really great in this game is that there is a sort of glossary. When you forgot who a certain character is or what a certain word means, you can easily look it up in your file. There is some amazing value in there as well. So, I highly recommend reading through it.

Explore the dreams

Just like in the previous game, in this game you have to explore people’s dreams to find answers and clues for your investigation. If you played the previous game, it’s very familiar. In these explorations, you have 6 minutes to unlock the mental locks of a person to find the big clue that’ll let you progress into the game. Each interaction costs a certain amount of time, so you have to be careful and really think your actions through.

You do have 3 “retry coins” you can spend to travel back to a previous checkpoint. So, if you mess up, and you want to restart a certain section with a bit more time, you can travel back. If you don’t have enough retry coins or game-over, you’ll have to restart from you’re the start of the exploration. Also, in these explorations, it’s possible that the story splits into two paths. Now, I highly recommend that you explore all paths to the end before going to another path.

There are some additional mechanics during these explorations that can influence the time used, but that mechanic is somewhat underused in this game compared to the original. I played this game on the highest difficulty setting and to be honest, while the puzzles are interesting and a blast to figure out… I found them a bit too easy. Furthermore, I have to admit that I had to write some puzzles down on a piece of paper, but rarely did I get stuck or didn’t know right away how to solve a puzzle. The original game was more challenging.

With that said, it doesn’t mean that with easier puzzles that this game is less fun. Maybe I got lucky in figuring them out, or the experience of solving these puzzles from the previous game helped me out here.

Something I really like is when you full beat one of these dives, you unlock that dive without any time limitations. So, I can find out what the dialogue is in the wrong options and enjoy more of the enjoyable writing of this game.

This game controls extremely well. I don’t have any complaints on how this game controls. There is one minor complaint I have. There is one mini-game in the pause menu, which you can’t select by going through the menu. For the longest time, I thought I was able to only play this in handheld mode, but you just have to press the minus button on the controller to enter it. But I’ll talk more in depth about the mini-games and such later in the article.

So, these explorations in people’s minds isn’t the only mechanic in this game. There are also reconstructions you have to do. This is where you have to search for clues in a crime scene to answer a question. These moments are a lot less punishing since they don’t have a time limit.

These moments are a nice distraction to the game. Since, they help to sell that there is actual investigation work going. Yet, some of the hardest puzzles are in these sections. But, if you get stuck, the biggest hint I can give is to write the puzzle down. In these sections, there were one or two puzzles that would work a lot better if you were able to look at the clues, so that’s why I highly recommend you to write them down.

Another gameplay section of this game are the moments with quick time events. These moments are easily the weakest link of this game. I found these moments a bit boring since they are basically an interactive cutscene. You know when they are coming and these moments would have been so much more fun if they weren’t quick time events since they slow the scene down when they happen and these scenes are supposed to be fast paced actually. I’m sorry, but the implementation of the quick time event scenes in this game isn’t the best in this game. All these moments blend in with each other a bit too well.

Now, you can change the difficulty of the quick time events and the exploration moments. So, if you want to focus more on the story instead of the gameplay, that’s totally possible. Lowering the difficulty makes the game easier since it has less penalties for you. The game doesn’t lock any content away from you by lowering the difficulty.

The final gameplay section you have in this game is the investigation section. Where you go from place to place, so you can talk to the various characters to gather more information. During these moments, you can look around and investigate the environment for additional world & character building, jokes and dialogues.

These moments are just the right length. I never really felt that the conversation went on for a bit too long. Also, you can save during at any time during these moments, so when you have to leave the game and want to come back, you can comeback to a save point. This game also saves automatically. But speaking about saving and loading, this game has only one save slot. So, don’t forget about that.

Costumes and such

The music and sound design in this game is quite enjoyable. The music fits this game as a glove. I have already added it to my playlist, so I can listen to it while I’m working.

In terms of sound effects, the high quality is there as well. I don’t have any complaints about them. Most of the sound effects are just like the previous game, and they worked extremely well there.

Visually, this game looks excellent. There are some very minor rough spots, especially in low lighting, but they didn’t bother me too much. Overall, the visuals fit the atmosphere of the game extremely well. The new locations created for this game fit extremely well in the world. The animations in this game are great as well. I did notice some minor animation flaws here and there, especially with the mouths not always closing after some dialogue. But on the other hand, they help put the expression of the character come to life.

Now, let me talk about the performance of this game. Overall, I noticed barely any performance problems during my playthrough. There was some minor slowdown here and there and I felt like some cutscenes ran at a bit lower framerate compared to the rest of the game but overall, nothing really major in that regard. The game did crash on me. Three times even. Thankfully on moments where I didn’t loose to much progress but it did happen.

This game took me around 35 hours to complete and also to see some of the additional content. So, I think that the price is totally worth it.

One of the last things I want to talk about are the mini-games and the DLC. There is DLC for this game in the forms of alternative customes for the AI assistants in this game. Overall, the additional content is quite cheap but it’s 100% costmetic. If you are a fan of silly alternative customs, they are the right fit for you.

Now, during the game you can unlock eyeballs. With these eyeballs you can purchase the unlocked costmetic items via the bonus menu in the main menu. You can also unlock concept art and other materials. Some of these items even have some easter eggs in them!

What you can buy with these eyeballs depend on your progress in the game. Now, something I really like is how you are unable to unlock everything when you have seen the true ending of this game. You’ll have to go back into the game to go in alternative routes and maybe try the wrong options to have a new evalution. There are in total 40 evaluations to unlock and completing the true ending, I still had 16/40 left to find.

The only dissapointing thing is that there are barely any hints in the game to find these remaining endings. I think it would be a nice feature if you are able to see on which day you can unlock that evalution after you have seen the true ending. This doesn’t take away the challenge of searching for the ending since each day has a lot of content to go through.

There are two “mini-games” in this game. One is a sort of advice room where the AI assistant of the character you are playing as plays a sort of shrink for you as the player. I rarely used this mode apart from it also being the dressing room of the costumes you bought. The combinations you can make with dressing up your AI ball are numerous. I just wish that there was a button to “sync” costumes between them.

Anyways, there is one other mini-game I have to talk about. This is a sort of Tamagochi where depending on how you answer the questions, your tamagochi AI-ball evovles into different AI-balls. Each 20 minutes you get a question. You have four different possible replies. Depending on your replies, a certain stat increases and you can get another creature. Since, it all depends on the stats you increase. You can also unlock a guide when you reach a certain type which can help you unlock all the others. It’s an enjoyable destraction to the game but apart from it being a nice source of eyeballs to purchase costumes, I found that there is nothing really to it. While I can totally see some people enjoying this, I’m not one of those.

Overall, in this article I have mostly praised this game. But, there are a few things that don’t work at all and can be improved in a patch or a sequel. The first big thing is the small font of the option menu. If you play this game in docked mode and sit a meter of two (which is +/- 6 feet), the option screen becomes close to unreadable. Thankfully, there is a zoom feature on the Switch and the top right infobox gives some hints… But still, that menu is too small. If they wanted to keep the same visual design, just make more pages with a bigger font.

A nitpick I have is that when something is added to the file, and it’s in the manual… The green dot is so close to the binder of the manual that you can barely see it. I think changing the color of the manual in the file would have been a great move.

Another nitpick I have is when you go to the bonus section from the main menu, you only see Aiba there. I have never seen the other AI-ball there. I found this a missed oppertunity. It would be kind of fun to have a random chance to see either Aiba or Tama there.

The final thing I dislike about this game is that there is no real run button in this game. You do have a skip button, that’s pretty close to the “auto” button, but you can’t run in explorations. I would even not mind it with having a run button and it costing twice as much time to move around… Since, the walking speed is a bit slow when you are playing again to find the other endings.

So, with that said, I have said everything I wanted to say about this game. So, I think it’s high time to wrap up this article in a nice conclusion so people who are looking at this article to know if this game is any good or not and don’t want to read everything have something to quickly read.

Conclusion

The good:

+ Enjoyable story where you can avoid spoilers of the original.

+ Amazing soundtrack.

+ Creative puzzles.

+ Great controls.

+ …

The bad:

-Some slowdowns/crashes can happen on the Switch version.

-Too small options menu.

-Missed chances with quick time events.

-Some minor issues in terms of polish like one of the mini-games being reachable with a button instead of it being highlighted when scrolling through.

Final thoughts:

To answer the question I posed in my introduction, I think that this game is a worthy sequel to the original game. The game is quite a lot of fun to play and I had a blast playing it. The game has it’s weaker moments but those overall are no big issue compared to the overall package. This sequel can also be a great entry point into the series and there are a lot of winks to veteran fans.

There are some issues for sure and the story has some weaker moments but I might repeat myself but the positive and fun moments far outweigh the negative moments. I enjoyed this game so much when it finally released here in Europe that I even pulled an all nighter during my summer break while playing this game. It’s so much fun.

Thanks to it releasing in my summer break, I have already beaten the game and now I’m looking for the things I missed but so far, it’s one of the best games I have played all year.

Personally, I highly recommend this game to everybody who enjoys adventure and/or visual novel games. This sci-fi thriller story is a blast to play through. This game comes also recommended if you enjoy playing mystery solving games. The original game now has a demo as well on the Switch eShop and if you enjoy that, this game or the original are going to be such an amazing time!

With that said, I really have said everything I wanted to say about this game. I want to thank you for reading this article and I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. I hope to welcome you in another article but until then, have a great rest of your day and take care.

Score: 90/100