‘AI: The Somnium Files – nirvanA Initiative’ is a perverted and philosophical masterpiece

It’s the middle of the night and I’m investigating a murder.

I’m in someone’s dream, in a crumbling cathedral with a broken grip on reality. Sucking the flame from a torch could put it out instead. I tiptoe Indiana Jones style, careful not to disturb a hidden trap. Suddenly I’m sucked in by the memory of an empty apartment with a bowl of soup on the table.

A great question falls from an omniscient voice. Do you know the culprit? It all depends on how many alternate timelines you’ve already explored.

AI: The Somnium files – NirvanA Initiative tasks you with solving a mystery across multiple timelines, with each route containing an important piece of evidence waiting at the end. Director and screenwriter Kotaro Uchikoshi has done it time and time again with the zero escape series. This one is just his latest absurd, yet thought-provoking masterpiece. It’s also the sequel to 2019’s equally entertaining AI: Somnium files.

It’s the kind of story that sticks in your mind like a song that repeats itself. Even now, I’m thinking about twists and thinking about which characters should smooch. It’s a must-have game for visual novel and anime fans, especially those who love a complicated story that knows how to laugh at itself.

Our little girl is very big.Spike Chunsoft

A mystery that turns the page

AI Nirvana features special agents Mizuki and Ryuki, who work for a special police force called ABIS (Advanced Brain Investigation Squad). Both investigate the Half-Body Killings, a case where victims were killed after being cut in half vertically and exposed throughout the city. Just when it seemed like a dead end, another victim appears at the city stadium six years later. Mizuki and Ryuki must collect clues from crime scenes and navigate suspects’ dreams to solve the case. Luckily, they have the help of their AI eyeball partners, Aiba and Tama, to aid them with technologically advanced forensic tools.

AI NirvanaThe visual novel format of makes it easier to consume than the typical story-based game. It’s like a book you don’t want to put down. Each interaction advances the story or offers a clue, making it engaging to keep exploring and talking to people. The dialog is easy to navigate as all you need to do is press a button to click it. Most actions prompt you with an icon of the exact button to use. Sometimes you have to press buttons in real time for combat sequences, which is a little more difficult than the typical point-and-click investigation. However, you have unlimited times to try again if you mess up. (I know I did.)

Most of the gameplay revolves around examining the environment and solving puzzles. As the protagonist, you click on objects to inspect them and talk to others to gather clues. Eventually, you have to sync up with certain characters, which is to delve into their dreams using a special machine to find information they might not share in real life.

Spike Chunsoft

Psycncing with a person immerses the Psyncer in a dreamlike environment called “Somnium”. Somniums include interactive elements and unique logic that players must discover in order to continue. Some are harder than others, but they make sense depending on who you’re investigating. An incredibly suspicious culprit would probably have a more complicated dream than a pure-hearted loverboy. If you chose all the wrong answers, no worries. You can start from the beginning or retry from a specific checkpoint.

AI Nirvana gears up for newcomers, with plenty of options to make finding clues easier. If you get stuck, you can re-consult items in the Somnium with “think harder” and “epiphany” actions. Your AI partner might even offer to step in to help you. These are all optional, however, which is a nice addition for players looking for a meatier challenge. In another thoughtful addition, AI Nirvana gives players the option to turn off spoilers for the first game, in case you haven’t played it but are planning to.

These puzzles are no joke. They often need a pen and paper to follow. I enjoyed following numbers and drawing diagrams to unlock the next level, although some of them held me back longer than expected. Items in Somniums will prompt the player with different options on what to do to unlock “mental locks” and uncover the person’s deepest secrets. What you learn from Somniums can change how the story unfolds in a particular route, although this isn’t always the case. You can revisit any time in the timeline from the flowchart after completing it. There are five routes and a hidden bonus route after finding the “true ending”.

Spike Chunsoft

However, the five routes are not meant to be standalone endings. Completing most of them without the context of the others would leave many questions unanswered. It’s only after completing all of them, except for the true ending, that the overall picture comes together. Some routes are locked until you complete others, requiring you to go through the rest to learn the full story. The true ending needs the context of other timelines to pull off the grand finale.

Admittedly, it is not an artistic masterpiece. AI Nirvana might even look clunky to those used to the polished graphics of Elden Ring, Final Fantasy VII Remake, and other recent big budget Japanese games. It’s a VN, so most of the emotion comes from the facial expressions in the dialog boxes and the voice acting.

Expressive character models and portraits are an improvement over the original game. However, there were still a few hiccups like fluttering hair strands from time to time. Additionally, the running animation is oddly slow, even though the combat sequences hit the mark. There were also some annoying technical issues that showed up on the PlayStation 4 version. My game crashed twice during my playthrough, and I had to restart the entire console instead of just restarting the app.

Our male protagonist driven by justice.Spike Chunsoft

Kinky but emotionally convincing

AI Nirvana once again proves that Uchikoshi is a pro at setting up detective stories. A few twists caught me off guard, though I was also able to catch a few clues before the big reveal. I was as shocked as the main character by the final twist. Another plot twist initially disgusted me, but ended up interesting me because of how well it fit into the plot. Yet another puzzled me, but I moved on quickly because I was already too invested to care.

The story of AI Nirvana Confused me at times but ultimately left me satisfied. Even though it focuses on occult and sci-fi concepts, it also challenges your brain with challenging philosophical questions based on real life. Its thrill moments hit hard, especially with the stellar soundtrack and voice acting. A steady rhythm allows you to bond with AI Nirvanathe charming characters of before the biggest revelations. However, you have to be okay with the big “movie magic” moments to fully enjoy the trip.

Spike Chunsoft

It’s also full of wicked jokes, so those unfamiliar with anime humor will likely be confused by the shifts in tone. It’s like a friend nudging you every few minutes and asking, “Hey, wanna hear a penis joke?” And a boob joke? But somehow it works. It’s the only series filled with sex jokes that can emotionally invest me between light-hearted banter and porn-mag gags.

AI Nirvana is ridiculous, but not so much that someone’s breasts sag during a climax. He knows when to turn the jokes off and when to lean into them. I have never been so attached to a game as absurd as this one.

It’s not perfect, but it’s memorable in a way that will have me playing its ending song on repeat for weeks. This game gave me such an adrenaline rush that I was able to get through my first all-nighter in months with no problem. If Special Agent Date’s bonus is a porn magazine, this is mine.

9/10

AI Nirvana is available for PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and PC. Reverse reviewed the PS4 version.

INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: Every Inverse video game review answers two questions: Is this game worth your time? Do you get what you pay for? We have no tolerance for endless fetch quests, clunky mechanics, or experience-diluting bugs. We care deeply about game design, world building, character arcs, and storytelling. The reverse will never strike, but we are not afraid to strike. We love magic and science fiction in equal measure, and while we love experiencing rich stories and worlds through games, we won’t ignore the real context in which these games are made.

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