6th February 2023: AI, AI, Captain
So, AI: The Somnium Files is a game I've recently played through. I'm not really sure how in the world I'm going to write about it though, as it was freakin' nuts. Oh well, here goes...
A few years back, I was watching a gaming podcast where this somewhat fascinating game got mentioned. It seemed like something I would like to play, being a murder mystery where the main character has a fake eye which contains an artificial intelligence. This AI helps the protagonist investigate crime scenes by offering suggestions and bestowing different vision modes such as heat and x-ray.
So when I saw it cheap-ish a couple of years back, I picked it up, only for it to promptly get lost somewhere in my mountain of other games.
After that, maybe about a year ago now, I watched a couple of different streamers play a game called 999. This game was also bonkers, with strange puzzles and a host of alternate timeline wibbly-wobbliness. It seemed like a game that would be hell to play, but as something to put on in the background while doing other things, it was quite fun to experience through someone else's eyes.
Something I didn't know going into this, was that AI is made by the same devs that made 999. There was a slightly painful realisation, when I heard some familiar sound effects, and saw that there was a flowchart that was going to keep track of the alternate timelines. I really didn't want to play a game where I had to finish it multiple times to get the true ending. But I sighed, and plodded on.
And plodded on is an accurate way to describe my actions in this game. I simply can not understand how it was such a drag to play a game where so much crazy shit happens.
The protagonist of the game is Kaname Date (pronounced Kanarmay Dartay), a cop who lost his memory and left eye six years ago. Instead of a normal prosthetic, Date's eye socket instead houses an eyeball-shaped artificial intelligence named Aiba, who can telepathically talk to him and assist him on his missions.
Most of the game's narrative is told through very lengthy visual novel segments, while what little gameplay there is happens in sections called "psyncs". In a psync, Date and Aiba enter the mind of a suspect or witness in order to search for clues to the case. These sections involve wondering around the other person's subconscious in a dream-like landscape, where "puzzles" must be solved in order to progress. It is in these psync sections that different actions can be performed that will split the story off into its different timelines.
As I've alluded to above, I didn't really like playing this game. I would have much preferred to do something else while having footage of it from Youtube or Twitch playing in the background, like I did with 999.
The number one issue with it was that it is simply too long. If you want to do everything in the game, and also depending on how long you spend in the psync sections, the game can easily last 25-30 hours. And here's the thing - it could have easily been half that.
Because of the way the narrative is structured, a great deal of the dialogue and events are repeated in alternate timelines. In addition, many conversations contain at least one moment where a character will remind you of something that was said earlier. Then the game will flash back and show you when that earlier conversation happened. These recaps were happening all the time, and it was annoying. It was like talking to an elderly relative, who tells you the same story they've already told you a dozen times.
The gameplay itself didn't help. While it was always refreshing to get to freely move around an environment after listening to characters talk for an hour, the setting of the puzzle sections ruined them completely. This was because the puzzle sections are set in what are essentially people's dreams. And dreams don't make sense. This made the puzzles less about logic and more about trial and error, hit and hope, suck it and see. Key word here being suck.
While the basic idea of the game is an interesting one, I didn't find it was executed in a good enough way to really recommend the game to anyone else. Maybe they were rushed, or didn't have enough money, or whatever. But with more care and attention, and maybe if it was any other genre except visual novel, the game could have been really good.
There are a few things that I was more positive about, though. Yes, some of the characters are annoying as hell, this being an anime game after all. But some of the characters were actually pretty cool and fun. In typical fashion for me, I would say the best character was actually Aiba, the AI, who was quirky and an absolute sweetie pie.
The voice acting in the game varied quite wildly in both quality and volume, for some reason. While most of it was pretty good, there were a few really cringe moments, and the actress that voiced Hitomi should never do a crying scene again. Oh dear.
The humour in the game also helps it be less boring, but the constant tone shifting between really silly and really serious is enough to give you whiplash at times.
Overall, the basic plot of the game was quite interesting. However, take a step back and you will see a million and one plot holes and other things that don't make sense.
Minor spoiler here, but for example, there is a dead body hidden in a warehouse. This body has not only been there the entire game, it has actually been there for years. At the point of its discovery, we have already been to this warehouse several times earlier in the game. But because that the plot now demands it, Aiba can now somehow detect it with her fancy detecting skills, when she couldn't earlier. It was so dumb.
I think it's safe to say I won't be touching this ever again. I was hoping for so much more.