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AI: The Somnium Files Switch Review

8 min read
Uchikoshi is back.

Uchikoshi is back.

What They Say:

In a near-future Tokyo, Special Agent Kaname Date is on the case of a mysterious serial killer. Date must investigate crime scenes as well as dreams on the hunt for clues.


Kotaro Uchikoshi is one of my favorite writers of all-time, crafting brilliant stories like Virtue’s Last Reward and my favorite story ever: 999. However, the stunning writer sort of lost it with the last couple of games, especially Zero Time Dilemma, but that’s a story for another time.

This is because I’m happy to reveal that AI: The Somnium Files is the writer’s triumphant return to form. If you loved the Zero Escape series or some of his earlier works like Ever17 and its sequels, you’ll be right at home with The Somnium Files; a game that feels like a more modern take on the classic style of games he is known for.

In AI: The Somnium Files, you play as the investigator Kaname Date and, at first, there is some clear influence not from Uchikoshi’s other works but games like Ace Attorney. One of the most surprising things about this game is how close it initially resembles that franchise, both in gameplay and tone.

For one, the gameplay of AI: The Somnium Files typically has you investigate a crime scene of a recent murder, talk to people, and deduce what you know. For the early portions of the game, it will feel familiar to anyone who has played a Phoenix Wright game before but without the constant pixel-searching.

The other similarity is in the writing. AI: The Somnium Files is a dark and gritty near-future style game but the writing is surprisingly goofy a lot of the time. Main character Date is a notable lover of ecchi magazines while his AI partner who lives in his fake eyeball, Aiba (just think about that name for a bit), is quick to reprimand him at a moment’s notice.

The game kicks off with the first murder in the game as you arrive on the scene. From there, you are quickly introduced to the core mechanic of the title, which is to enter the dreams of suspects, witnesses, and so on to figure out what they know and might be hiding from you.

Entering the subject’s dream world creates a unique puzzle level that is not dissimilar to the escape rooms in the Zero Escape series. These levels vary throughout the game and differ, depending on who you are entering the mind of.

The game does a great job of starting out with really simple puzzles and then gradually becomes harder as time goes on. Speaking of time, the gimmick about these puzzles is that you are timed in each one. You only have six minutes to complete the puzzle but standing still and not doing anything keeps the time decrease to a minimum.

It is an interesting mechanic alone to time you in each level but the crazy part is that time plays directly into the puzzles themselves. Every single thing you interact and every move you make will require time to complete.

For instance, one of the first puzzles in the game requires you to lift up a small object to lift up its corresponding object and unlock the next part. When you select the object, you’ll be given different options like investigating it, touching it, lifting it, kicking it, and so on.

Each of those options will take up time ranging from just a few seconds to whole minutes in some of the more important puzzles later on. As such, you really have to save the game and think long and hard about which action is the right one to do and when to do it.

This creates a sense of urgency in the game as you aren’t just able to stand there and think about what to do next like you could have in the Zero Escape series. In addition, it encourages you to perform perfectly as just a few too many mistakes and you will run out of time and have to start all over.

Needless to say but AI: The Somnium Files can be a very challenging game as time goes on. In fact, one of the latter puzzles is so intense that you basically have to do the entire thing in the correct order with no mistakes from start to finish to actually complete it.

For players who like a challenge, it will be a godsend but for those who aren’t as into difficult, time-based puzzles, you may need a walkthrough. However, regardless of your preference, this is one visual novel that you won’t want to miss out on.

The puzzles themselves are excellently designed with no two dream worlds feeling like one another. Without spoiling any of the awesome levels you’ll visit in the game, there is at least one that made me tear up and another that riffed on a popular video game in an extraordinary way.

At the end of the day, though, AI: The Somnium Files is all about the characters and the story. Starting with the characters, this game has a wide roster of characters that are equally complex and interesting.

From the well-written protagonist Date himself to the lovable idol girl A-set to the spunky girl who lives with Date, Mizuki, and more, there are a lot of unforgettable characters who rival that of Uchikoshi’s previous games. Like you would expect, each person has more to them than meets the eye and they could change depending on what route you are in.

Oh yeah, that’s right, this game does, in fact, have a flowchart which was surprising to me given the traditional murder mystery nature of the story. However, there is a flowchart here and it does offer several different endings based on the characters in the game.

How your choices affect which route you are on is, oddly enough, dependent on what you do in the puzzle dream worlds. Several of the dream worlds have branching puzzles where you could complete it by, say, unlocking a cage or by blowing it away entirely. Both of those will send you on a different path entirely.

The game does a solid job of telegraphing when you are about to branch off to a different ending with the exception of one particular dream world that was extremely frustrating as the game, basically, lies to you.

With the exception of that one level, it is an intriguing way of encouraging replayability and really requiring you to carefully think about your actions in each level. While some of the routes are far superior to the others, this is one game where you don’t really beat it until you’ve seen all of the endings.

This is because some endings have locks on them that require you to learn something elsewhere and then come back to unlock it a la Virtue’s Last Reward. The problems I had with AI: The Somnium Files had to do with the different routes in this game.

Though the characters are great, the game does have a hard time of juggling all of the cast throughout each of the routes and will many times ignore certain key characters in favor of others, depending on which route you are on.

While this is somewhat understandable for the supporting cast, it is quite bizarre how some of the main characters will be almost entirely absent in one half of the game while a central focus in the other. Also, not all routes are created equal so some are, unsurprisingly, weaker than others. Thankfully, though, there is little to no repetition between the routes.

Overall, though, the story is excellent with many twists and turns as I’ve come to expect from Uchikoshi. Though it is not quite the masterpiece that some of his earlier works are, it mostly sticks the landing in terms of the plot points and twists.

Unfortunately, many of the twists are predictable and you can know what’s going on rather easily but it is quite the ride trying to figure it all out for most of the game. Regardless, the execution and characters are done well enough that it more than makes up for the somewhat predictable nature. It is also fairly gory at times so be prepared for that.

The true ending of the game is solid enough, bringing together most of what you know about the story and resolving most of the lingering threads. However, another issue I have with the game is that it doesn’t tie up every loose end in the game or explain some of the finer points well, which would be fine if this gets a sequel but it is built in a way where it really doesn’t need one.

Regardless, AI: The Somnium Files offers a deep mystery that had me taking notes in my mind and keeping tabs of every single detail as I tried to figure out what was going on. It was a wonderful experience that I didn’t think I would have in a long time since the supposed conclusion of the Zero Escape and Danganronpa series.

As for the Switch version, in particular, it runs generally well and the same in both handheld and TV modes. However, it does have some technical issues that are worth mentioning. For one, the visuals of this game are a 3D anime style that is pleasing to the eyes but the resolution isn’t that great most of the time.

You are likely to constantly see fuzzy edges around the characters while the backgrounds will look pretty good. Occasionally, the game will zoom in on a far away person or object and it can look downright painful to look at but, otherwise, the resolution is passable.

There is also some considerable lag that will happen, particularly when the screen is overlaid with a flashback or object that a character is referring to. This can be annoying, especially when trying to skip already seen stuff, but the issues weren’t enough to break the game for me. I was so engaged from my first couple of hours of playing to easily finish it in just a couple of nights with around 25 hours of playtime in total as a fairly quick reader.

In Summary:

AI: The Somnium Files surprised me with a true return to form for scenario writer Kotaro Uchikoshi. With a great story, even greater characters, and several routes offering dozens of hours of play, there is quite a lot to love about The Somnium Files.

The puzzles are challenging, too, making time an integral mechanic that will actually require you to think and think fast no less. Though some of the routes are uneven and there are a good bit of technical issues with the game, this is a must-play visual novel for anyone who is a fan of Uchikoshi’s past works, Danganronpa, Ace Attorney, and so on. It is, without a doubt, the best visual novel this year.

Grade: A-

Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Publisher: Spike Chunsoft
Age Rating: Mature
Release Date: September 17, 2019
MSRP: $59.99
Platform: Switch (reviewed), PS4, PC

This review was done with a review copy provided by the publisher. We are grateful for their continued support.