AI: The Somnium Files review – a bizarre story, masterfully told

September 17, 2019
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A gruesome crime scene, a woman mounted on a merry-go-round, her left eye gouged out. A broken down theme park, slicked with rain. It’s a perfectly noirish opening, introducing us to a future version of Tokyo and our hero, detective Kaname Date. Soon Date is interrupted by his partner, a – and there’s really no way to ease you into this – fully sentient AI who lives in his left eye socket and sometimes takes the form of a one-eyed transparent hamster or a young woman. Her name is Aiba, short for eyeball.

Date and Aiba travel from place to place, interrogating witnesses and suspects and searching for further clues. Through all this, Aiba is as much a snarky sidekick as she is a helpful tool. She checks the internet for information, creates heat maps of suspects to tell whether they’re lying and gives you x-ray vision. As one murder is followed by another, Aiba and Date use another special instrument in their arsenal to attain the information they need to find leads: a machine that allows them to enter another person’s subconscious and interact with it via a dreamscape called a Somnium.

These sections play out like small escape room puzzles. You take direct control of Aiba to interact with a handful of enigmatic items in order to break the dreamer’s mental locks which keep important secrets and traumas buried. Every action deducts time from a six minute time limit. Some actions allow you to conserve time via so-called TIMIES, but you can also collect negative TIMIES with can stack throughout a Somnium. Among the many aspects of The Somnium Files that are surprisingly difficult to describe, these rank at the very top, and puzzle solving is a very generous term for some trial and error kicking, tapping and poking each item.

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