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Thoughts on A.I.: The Somnium Files. A serious disappointment.

Content of the article: "Thoughts on A.I.: The Somnium Files. A serious disappointment."

It's an utter surprise at this, given its pedigree (the zero escape/999 team) and the rating it has. I mean positive ratings. It is well produced, but it has some of the most baffling design choices I have ever seen in one. I have yet to finish the game, but I've done all routes on the left side, and am at Hitomi's psync on the right. This is the Switch version, which has a single bad issue specific to it that i will mention later. Some spoilers, but not too major ones I think.

Basic synopsis:

In sort of a near future, a detective named Date works for a branch of the police that uses a technology called Psync to solve crimes. Psyncing links a person up to a suspect's mind, and lets them unlock the truth of things by manipulating their internal dreamscape to break down mental barriers. Date's "partner," an AI named Aiba, aids him there, and also in real life from her perch in his empty eye socket. Now it seems a killer who might be from his past has just killed someone he knows intimately, and he needs to use every tool he can to find out what happened.


The voice acting is wonderful. The voice acting in english is excellent, with the voices fitting very well. Given the amount of dialogue there is, it's something that not one voice ever reaches a grating point.

The beginning and some points have wonderful imagery. Some of the psyncs are really ethereal or creative. There's some surrealism in both the real life of Date and his dream adventures.

Date and Aiba have a great overall relationship. The two seem to really interact well, although the game's most jarring problem hampers this at times. Aiba especially though is an excellent character.

When the game is serious, the writing is excellent. But this leads into the problem.


The game has the most jarring tonal shifts in a story ever.

It's hard to state how bad it is. The main mystery is serious, but the game constantly does the equivalent of shitposting in the middle of it.

For example, this game has quick time events very rarely. Every single one that I have played shifts from a dramatic sequence to "Date uses the power of porno magazines to win a battle!"

I am not making this up. They get into a pickle, and Aiba tells him to throw porno magazines at the enemy to distract them to set up for the few shots to get them out of the way. And it works.

The game in generally has this weird problem of trying to be a serious neo-noir on the one hand (we are supposed to care about finding this Zodiac Killer as the case gets more and more convoluted) and will throw in comedy routines, perverted jokes, and just general weirdness now and then. This doesn't seem to be a case of them wanting to deconstruct the genre or anything; the absurdity never seems to be rooted in any themes or anything. It just gets weird and then serious and then weird again.

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This is a minor spoiler, but the young girl you care for (and who is traumatized because she was on the scene of the first murder and worse) is treated seriously in her route, and at points its incredibly touching when you find out about their relationship and how Date acts as kind of a father figure to her. But then you see this 12 year old bench press 500 pounds and act like Naruto in another scene down the road in the games real world. No in game justification. The game is futuristic, but not THAT futuristic, think of the old movie Dreamscape, but set in 2040 instead of 1980.

There's so many jarring notes like this. Like the devs feel like "oh, we are getting too serious! We better shitpost some." You will go from a character having a wonderfully serious arc about parents to seeing him be fed dinner in the shittiest maid cafe in the history of maid cafes while holding a trident. While Date uses his X-ray vision to perv over the maid's bone structure.

The actual Psync parts are pointless.

The psync parts where you enter the dreamscapes of whomever you need to question at the time can be nicely designed art-wise. But the way they work is a huge waste.

You have a level split into three or four mental locks. To unlock them, you need to interact with various item in the dreamscape in various ways. You may see mirror door somewhere, and you can inspect it, put your hand into it, etc. The right choice with the right interaction will lead to the world changing some, and two or three such things unlock a mental lock, moving deeper into the dream.

There are two problems that kill this system dead.

One is that there is a time limit. 6 minutes total. Every action you do uses time. You often get little items that let you reduce (or in bad cases curse you to use more) time, but there is no point to this even existing. While you try to discover the way to unlock the person's memories, you use time for every action, even walking to items in the environment. And its really easy in some to run out of time.

This is because they boil down to trial and error. Because this is a dreamscape, there is no real formal logic to what does what. A lot of the things really don't deduce naturally from the story or from the knowledge you have. So you just futz around till you run out of time and restart, or you give up after the 8th or so psync and use walkthroughs. You may get some funny text now and then, but its not worth having to restart a sync multiple times because there are 6 items with four options each in a set, and only two of them matter.

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The gameplay otherwise suffers from padding.

Generally this is what you do. When you aren't psyncing, you go to a location, and talk to people. You pretty much exhaust all of their meaningful dialogue options, to be allowed to move on. If there are no people, you need to find specific items and occasional use Aiba's enhanced senses.

This unlocks 3-6 areas which you need to talk to every person there, exhausting all the dialogue till you see the "press x to leave" button meaning you can go on to the next. Each person can say four things, one for each directional button, and you may have to click on buttons more than once to get all the story out of them, move to the next person, do the same, then go back to the original person.

Its incredibly tedious. There's very little variation to this, with only the occasional QTE and Psync breaking up the monotony. Or you need to click on every item in a room till you are done and get the "press x to leave" option.

The game repeats things way too much.

Do you like watching a 1960ish car drive down the same stretch of highway in one direction while Date talks the person in the passenger seat? And just how many times will Date get cold-cocked before he learns to watch his back? The first one was effective, the third not so much. Or Aiba's "Somnium scan activate!" thing she does before every psync…apart from one person, its just a light show.

Oh, and people love to turn their cellphones off. If they have a cellphone, its not getting used whenever it could be. They can make a machine that can read people's dreams, but if a cellphone is off, its dead to the world and cannot be tracked at all.

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Minor technical issues.

The Switch version for some weird reason freezes up slightly when loading certain picture-in picture flashbacks. Like for 5+ seconds it doesn't load, then it does. There's also an issue with certain qte's where you are supposed to press a button but there's no feedback to where it's registering, or if you are supposed to do so in time with something. Its good otherwise though as a port, and none of the save issues other platforms had mentioned showed up here.


Overall, the game became much more of a slog than I could have imagined.

I think really the tonal shifts is what got me. If you played this, and played Iris Sagan's routes, its a really good example. Both are pure WTF, especially if you did any other story parts first, and careen from serious drama to weirdness in a heartbeat. Both really don't seem to make any lasting sense storywise, with one route at the last minute hinting at a connection. Iris herself is kind of WTF, as if they needed to throw a japanese idol in the game because it's a requirement every game has one, im talking to you person 4 golden. But after awhile I started to roll my eyes when the game would do random things and just drop them. Like the polar bear.

I'll probably get some hear for this, but I'd love just to talk about this game to make sense of it. I'll probably get to the ending soon, but I'm really wondering how on earth it got such good reviews.


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