Burned Into My Memory
High It’s a unique take on visual novel storytelling.
Low Significant amounts of oversexualization.
WTF 90% of the male characters are constantly horny.
For Kaname Date, the streets of Tokyo are a harsh place. One rainy night, a friend’s body is found in an abandoned section of town, her eye gouged out with an ice pick. While seeing the corpse of someone Date knows is disturbing enough, the MO matches that of a serial killer who’s been long gone…
AI: The Somnium Files is a visual novel detective game. Players will control Kaname Date as he investigates the most recent murder and similar killings that happened six years prior. He’s assisted by Aiba, an AI contruct that serves as his left eye.
AI:tSF is split up into two parts — investigations and Somnium.
Investigation has players going from place to place, talking with people and finding clues. As they look around an area, items and people will pop up in green if the player can interact with them, while those that have no information to provide will show in gray. Aiba will also occasionally provide Date with other tools to use like X-ray vision (to see inside items) and heat vision to tell if someone is lying from raised body temperature.
In dire circumstances, the Metro Police Department will put their suspects to sleep and use a machine to let Date enter their dream. This dream is called “Somnium“, and this is where AI:tSFgets a bit more interactive.
When Aiba is projected into a dream, the player will solve puzzles and break “mental locks”. They can only remain inside the Somnium for six minutes, and each action costs time. The amount of time consumed by actions can vary — some require half the normal time, but sometimes things can take ten times longer than expected. The goal is to break all of the mental locks before time is up, or risk being consumed by the subject’s dream.
While being in the Somnium is timed, I never felt rushed. Things move incredibly slowly if the player stands still, or stops completely if the player brings up a map of the area –players don’t have to waste precious seconds trying to find the next thing they can interact with. Additionally, AI:tSF gives three retry tokens that allow one to redo sections if things go south.
Players shouldn’t be too concerned about this part, as Somnium Files doesn’t have many choices overall, but occasionally there’s a decision between two puzzles determining which path the story will take. Regardless of what’s chosen, a flowchart allows players to choose where to restart from once they complete an ending. I loved not having to manage different save files to see all of the possible endings, and the devs have made sure that each big moment is worthwhile.
The cast is strong, with main characters being diverse and well-thought out. Date’s boss loves extreme sports and boy bands. There’s an internet pop-idol trying to trying to make it big, a bar owner who serves drinks and information, and more. These characters each have their own dreams and feelings, all with plenty of detail.
On the other hand, while the story kept me on the edge of my seat, the jokes often fell flat and Somnium Files makes many of the male characters too horny. For example, Date is a “pervert”, and AI:tSF not only makes this clear, but Aiba uses this fact to force him to react faster in situations of tense action.
For example, in one QTE sequence, Date is trapped by mercenaries. In the ensuing shootout, Aiba mentions that there is a porno magazine on the other side of the alleyway. This gives Date superhuman speed to run past every enemy and get in a better position before anyone shoots.
In a similar scenario, Aiba tells Date to throw a pair of used lingerie as a distraction. He does, and an entire group of mercenaries stops shooting to stare at the underwear, giving Date a free chance to strike. These situations are presented like jokes, but it saps the tension and takes away from the experience, not to mention it’s beyond the normal suspension of disbelief.
In another section there was a receptionist that Date could interact with. Not only does he comment on her breast size, but continued interaction with her devolves into Date commenting “there are huge breasts sitting behind a desk.” Since every item that can be interacted with will remain green if there’s something to learn from it, it can be hard to tell which items will actually provide story content and which ones deliver a crude joke.
While the oversexualization is disappointing and even distracts from the story at points, I’ll still sing the praises of AI: The Somnium Files because it respects the player’s time, offers interesting characters, and the Somnium sections are great to explore. It’s recommended with a slight caveat, but it’s still recommended.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Spike Chunsoft. It is currently available on PC, Switch, and PS4. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Switch. Approximately 28 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and all endings were completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and contains Suggestive themes, Strong Language, Intense violence, and Blood and Gore. Kids should not play this game. Deaths are brutal and bloody (see woman’s eye gouged out with an ice pick), there’s a lot of f***s said, and the level of sexually-oriented content here is high.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes .
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Characters are voiced, but there are also text boxes for each voice. While the text is not resizable, the game does allow players to have the text box stay on screen as long as possible, and also provides a log for each section if players that does increase the size of the text. (See above for examples.)
Remappable Controls: Controls are not remappable on Switch.
While Sonic and Street Fighter were great places to start, his first love was Final Fantasy X when his dad bought a PS2. Ever since, that love for gaming has evolved -- there are a number of game worlds out there, and he intends to explore them all. RPG to horror, platformers to casual and everything in between -- if it’s available, he’ll play it.
While his time is short between writing reviews, tabletop gaming, and attempting to start a cheesecake business, he has caught all 806 pokemon and can speedrun Star Fox 64 in less than 40 minutes. He’s always looking for new things to try and new challenges to conquer. You can find him on Twitter -- @eugene_sax.