You're on a game show answering innocuous trivia questions from a man whose head is best described as "sharing-the-same-geometry-as-a-box" when suddenly the lights dim. When the studio lighting returns, half a body lies there, half of a tech tycoon everyone knows. Then after inspecting the body, it explodes. Depending on the person, it's either the most exciting or most horrifying episode of "Jeopardy!" ever made.
Thus opens "AI: The Somnium Files nirvanA Initiative". With a name that clunky and nonsensical, you know it's an anime game and you're absolutely correct. From the bizarre plot of cyberpunk detectives trying to discover the culprit behind the so-called "Half Body Murders" to the weird characters and waifu companions, this is anime through-and-through.
That will be for good or ill depending on the person. For me, these are the kind of nonsensical, over-the-top stories and characters I come to this type of game for. And it definitely delivers.
Your main characters are pretty normal, at least for anime. Ryuki is a drunk, quiet-type who is dealing with the trauma of his past. Mizuki is a former idol, now a high school student who is also a detective for the ABIS organization. Both are accompanied by an AI companion that is in their AI-ball, a pun that I am still reeling from. These AI are very provocative waifus that you can dress up in a variety of costumes as you progress through the game...or you can put them in the hot dog costumes that are free if you purchase the game within three weeks of release.
A game would be a movie if it didn't include gameplay — and "AI"'s gameplay is classic in a lot of ways. Visual novel-esque plot segments are interspersed with quick-time events and point-and-click sections that have you using various tools to investigate crime scenes, or just work through dialogue options with characters. When the game gets interesting is in the various Somnium portions. Here you psynch with the mind of another person and use your AI companion to unravel their memories and thoughts. Here you have six minutes to unlock so-called "mental locks" to go deeper and deeper into the subject's mind and uncover more details of the plot.
The characters and story will definitely pull you in, but I found the gameplay to be a little obtuse. Sometimes you won't have a clue what you haven't clicked on in an investigation sequence, leading you to I Spy style search out that tiny section of something you've already clicked on. Also as interesting as the Somnium parts can be, it can be difficult to wrap your head around how the rules work within these dreams. That's part of the fun of these segments, but at the same time, the time limit makes it stressful to unravel the dream world rules.
"AI: The Somnium Files nirvanA Initiative" has a lot of creative, weird, and downright nightmarish moments but will likely only appeal to a very niche crowd of gamers. The first game flew under my radar but I didn't feel like I was missing too much jumping into this sophomore offering. With memorable characters, a consistently weird plot, and fun if sometimes mildly frustrating gameplay, "AI" is well worth playing for those who can't get enough of "Danganronpa"-style games.
Studio Provided PS4 Review Code
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Sean Newgent is a producer for KGUN 9. Sean graduated from Illinois State University with a degree in broadcast journalism. While at ISU, Sean wrote movie reviews for the paper, anchored and produced student newscasts, and was nominated for a student Emmy for broadcast film reviews. Share your story ideas and important issues with Sean by emailing email@example.com or by connecting on Twitter.