AI: The Somnium Files – Nirvana Initiative review: The best detective puzzle game this year

AI: The Somnium Files – Nirvana Initiative is a gripping, time-jumping murder mystery from the minute it begins to its final moments. Written by Kotaro Uchikoshi, who also wrote the excellent Zero Escape trilogy, Nirvana Initiative is just as effective as a singular story as it is a compelling sequel to 2019 AI: Somnium files. It’s a well-paced visual novel wrapped in detective vanities and filled with surprises around every corner.

The game follows two protagonists: returning character Mizuki Okiura and new guy Ryuki Kuruto. They are both special agents of ABIS, the Advanced Brain Investigation Squad. Members of this unit within the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department “synchronize” with suspects using a large machine in order to delve into their subconscious and uncover their secrets.

The game jumps between two different time periods, six years apart. When the right half of a corpse is discovered in the previous timeline, both Ryuki and Mizuki are sent down a bizarre rabbit hole – their search for the other half is fruitless until six years later, back in the past. current era. Mizuki and Ryuki each have AI-Balls equipped in their left eye sockets, named Aiba and Tama, respectively. These are autonomous AIs that assist investigations with X-ray vision or complex calculations.

Nirvana Initiative is primarily a visual novel in which either Ryuki or Mizuki travel to different locations in Tokyo to investigate crime scenes. Once at these locations, the player can switch between x-rays and heat vision to interact with pieces of evidence. After gathering all the evidence, Ryuki and Mizuki piece together the crime, while their partners AI-Ball comically pretend to record them as a TV show. During these segments, players will need to correctly select and place evidence in a timeline.

Image: Spike Chunsoft

At times, Aiba and Tama dive into “Somnium” dungeons, which are manifestations of a character’s psyche. You will learn more about the characters and their stories by solving Somnium puzzles about their past lives. For example, a selfish maniac obsessed with genetics (bordering on eugenics) has an entire dungeon dedicated to creating perfect human specimens.

All Somniums are extremely creative, even when the story requires entering the same character’s Somnium multiple times. One particular dungeon is called “Kusemon Go” which pays homage to the hugely popular Pokémon Go. Its aesthetics and mechanics also match the monster collecting game – you have to “catch” some of the main players and use them to “fight” monsters. Gym Leader-like NPCs. Even the dungeon music sounds like it was composed using the chiptune road songs you’d hear in the main Pokémon games.

Nirvana InitiativeThe storyline is loaded with references to real-world conspiracy theories (the main one being that the world is just a simulation). What makes them fascinating is that they use real scientific theories to try to explain them, like the holographic principle and the double slot experience. In this way, the story is both grounded and far-fetched – a tantalizing mix of logic and mystery. The way the characters justify these outlandish and conspiratorial beliefs is incredibly interesting and makes you wonder if maybe, just maybe, they could be right.

The narrative builds to a stunning climax, which comes in the form of a revelation that recontextualizes everything that came before. I was already glued to the screen, obsessed with trying to figure out the motivations and identity of the killer behind the half-body murders – but the plot twist made me change my way of thinking. interpret events in the future. In the final act of the game, I was pretty sure another curveball was heading my way. I won’t say if that was the case.

Character uses X-ray vision in AI: The Somnium Files - Nirvana Initiative

Image: Spike Chunsoft

It also helps that Nirvana InitiativeThe cast of characters is lovely. As a task force recruit, Ryuki wants nothing more than to impress his superiors. He stands in stark contrast to the first game’s protagonist, Kaname Date. The perversity of the date disabled some playersas he occasionally clashed at the game’s darkest moments.

Ryuki is much more docile, but he is surrounded by an air of mystery. Throughout the game, you get the sense, through his dialogue, that something is wrong with him. To compensate for Ryuki’s reluctance, Tama, her voluptuous AI-Ball, often makes sex jokes. Whereas AI: Somnium files‘ the frequent use of innuendo could trigger tense scenes, Nirvana Initiative is smarter when he deploys his comic relief. He knows when to lean on levity and when to let his horrific kills propel the action forward. In the first game, Mizuki was incredibly defiant of authority, and I’m glad they reinforced his rebellious personality even more in Nirvana Initiative. His lines are sarcastic and funny, often balancing the attitude more in keeping with Ryuki’s books.

Finally, the dialogue throughout, whether in its dark or light moments, is supported by the fantastic English dub of Corina Boettger and Erika Harlacher, who reprise their roles as Mizuki and Aiba. Newcomers Stephen Fu and Anairis Quiñones also do a fantastic job as Ryuki and Tama.

Inside a character's peak in Nirvana Initiative

Image: Spike Chunsoft

In terms of structure, Nirvana Initiative is extremely linear, and therefore constraining. In the first game and in the Zero Escape series, Uchikoshi and his teams provided exciting narrative flowcharts. Nirvana InitiativeThe flowchart doesn’t offer as many opportunities to explore events on your own terms. Instead, you’re almost entirely driven to play Ryuki’s part of the story along the way, and then Mizuki’s. Overall, it’s a more personalized storyline, and it may feel more manageable for players new to Uchikoshi scripting – but I found myself missing that overwhelming web of plot paths to navigate.

Another minor complaint is that load times can be unusually long, even when playing the PlayStation 4 version via backwards compatibility on PlayStation 5. The main menu is also a bit unresponsive, as it takes a few clicks before I can get to the save game button. But none of these issues hurt my overall experience, and I didn’t encounter any crashes or anything groundbreaking.

AI: The Somnium Files – Nirvana Initiative has a compelling story, as well as some great twists that completely caught me off guard. Its investigations are intriguing and its Somnium dungeons are both colorful and disturbing. Nirvana Initiative is an incredibly quirky game, brimming with vibrant characters, mind-bending puzzles, and an abundance of eerie sci-fi twists. And once it gets bigger, it doesn’t stop. It would not be an exaggeration to say that I love him.

AI: The Somnium Files – Nirvana Initiative was released on June 24 on Windows PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and Nintendo Switch. The game was reviewed on PS5 using a PS4 pre-release download code provided by Spike Chunsoft. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, although Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased through affiliate links. You can find additional information on Polygon’s ethics policy here.

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Raymond I. Langston