AI: The Somnium Files – nirvanA Initiative on PlayStation 4
There’s no debate that sequels can be a tricky beast to handle. This is especially true when the first game provided a pretty convoluted plot that makes it a tough act to follow. However, Nirvana Initiative (there’s simply no way I am using the whole title throughout the review) meets and succeeds any expectations I had for a sequel.
I do want to say regarding this sequel, there is truly no need to have played the first game in the series to enjoy everything Nirvana Initiative has to offer. While it absolutely helps to come in with advanced knowledge of the characters, even the game itself makes the case that you don’t need to know prior events.
To add to that, at the very beginning you are even given a tiny quiz to make sure you know what happened in the previous game. It’s not a multiple choice test with the chance of getting it right, either. You have to type out your answers to guarantee that only those who truly know can pass. Seeing as I did know the answer, I’m unsure what would actually be the result for those coming in blind.
The story itself already has a major hook immediately, and definitely wants you to forget the extremely normal opening of the first game. In the past, half of a body appeared. Now, six years later, the other half has been discovered. Except, the time of death is only several hours before being found, not years. The story plays out in both sides of this six-year case, in the past and present.
Six years ago, ABIS (Advanced Brain Investigation Squad) detective Ryuki and his AI partner Tama were assigned to the so-called HB (Half Body) case. At present, Mizuki and Aiba are investigating the emergence of the other half. Tama and Aiba both regularly take the form of an eyeball to replace the left eye that both Ryuki and Mizuki are missing. A missing left eye is kind of a series staple for main characters at this point.
The beginning sets up that Ryuki is in bad shape after the previous six years, and the first half of the game shows you everything that went down so you get a better feel on how mysterious it is that half of a body can reappear after a span of six years and still be a fresh corpse.
The majority of the experience plays out similar to a visual novel where the player has control over a cursor to select people or objects in the environment. There are branching paths in the story, but they don’t truly affect the story, as the game ensures you have to see everything to progress to the end. There are several moments that require you (like the beginning) to know exactly what the answer is and have to type it in with an on-screen keyboard.
This game isn’t all detective work, though. There are sequences of actual action and QTEs that provide a nice break from simply talking to person after person. The fact that the QTEs can also be augmented by the game’s difficulty choices honestly help sell the season, rather than forcing lightning fast reflexes that lessen the action scene’s impact. Though, there is a problem I have with certain game scenes and the action scenes: you can’t pause. It might sound minor, but it never once made sense that I couldn’t
There are two main tools when it comes to investigations: VR recreations of crime scenes and Somniums. The VR recreations have you looking over all possible points on a map. There are a few vision modes to help scan the environment. In most cases you get to utilize both X-ray and thermal vision to see what isn’t visible to the naked eye. Once you have found every point, you must give correct answers to the sequence of events so that there can be a recreation. The recreations are always the Tama or Aiba “filming” as the controlled character plays the role of the culprit. These scenes are always played for laughs, especially with Ryuki or Mizuki’s exaggerated behavior during them.
The Somnium are much deeper and work roughly the same as the original. All ABIS detectives are trained to be able to “Psync”, which is the ability to venture into the mind of a suspect or individual to explore their subconscious in a Somnium. Somnium segments range from rummaging through a house to something slightly more insane like a quiz show or a Pokemon Go parody.
Within a Somnium you are only allowed six minutes (360 seconds) to explore. The whole sequence is made up of objects to interact with, and then you have to choose a specific action to take with whatever it may be. This could be, for example, inspecting a mirror or trying to break it. When in the Somnium, there is also a clear indication of what can be interacted with, and this was a much-needed change.
However, you are limited in how much you can explore each and every item. No matter what action you choose, it will cost you a certain amount of seconds. This can be offset by the game’s incorporated difficulty choices, which was amazing in letting me actually enjoy the Somnium I was doing instead of adding the stress of a time limit.
It was during select Somnium sequences that the game’s story can branch off, but you’re not supposed to know to which ones ahead of time. Only when you get near the choice that breaks off does the game show you, and I appreciated this.
Speaking of things being played for laughs, I enjoyed the game’s silly sense of humor. That said, it’s possible that anyone who doesn’t have the same appreciation of immature innuendo and sex jokes might not find the game as funny. That’s not to say sex jokes are all the game has to offer, but you kind of have to decide for yourself if you’re going to buy in to a character powering up in the presence of a porno mag.
This was among the things that I was glad to see, because Nirvana Initiative had plenty of callback jokes and little returning elements from the first game that put a smile on my face. I do believe this works best because anyone who would go from this game back to the first would still be able to appreciate them.
When it comes to navigating the complex story, Nirvana Initiative offers a permanently available chapter select in the form of a flowchart. This is incredibly user-friendly because it allows the player to move between whatever chapter of their choosing at just about any point and return to where they were just as easily.
Ultimately, AI: The Somnium Files – nirvanA Initiative is a detective story that needs to be experienced. If you’re a fan of Japanese mystery games such as the Zero Escape series or the Danganronpa games (by the same developer/publisher), Nirvana Initiative is definitely something you shouldn’t pass up. The only thing better is that if you haven’t experienced the first game in the series, you get to go back and experience another terrific detective tale.
Reviewer: Cameron Waldrop | Award: Editor’s Choice | Copy provided by Publisher.
- Fun investigation sequences.
- Engaging mystery plot.
- Interesting characters.
- Very helpful difficulty choices.
- Innuendo heavy sense of humor might not be for everyone.
- Can’t pause at all during certain scenes.
June 24, 2022
PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC