There’s a good secret at the heart of Spike Chunsoft’s new (and awkwardly titled) visual novel AI: The Somnium Files – Nirvana Initiative, as is the core of most of the games by author Kotaro Uchikoshi. The author of titles how well-received escape room/visual novel hybrids 9 hours, nine people, nine doors; The final reward of virtue; and Zero Time DilemmaUchikoshi is always careful to weave an elaborate, but mostly fair, mystery into his games – “mainly” because he’s also a fan of incorporating bits of sophisticated sci-fi bullshit into his plans, which tend to complicate the locked room puzzles around which they revolve.
But Uchikoshi also has some consistent, shall we say, quirks to his writing style, all of which can also be seen in full Nirvana Initiative– most notable is his persistent desire to sexualize his often very young characters in ways that are sometimes just childish (this is a series where a main character’s acting skills canonically improve when he’s around porn) and is read as really skeptical at other times. To enjoy Uchikoshi’s work, there was always a degree of nose-holding involved with this stuff (and, to a lesser extent, his seemingly insatiable desire to write entire Wikipedia paragraphs on things like simulation theory, morphogenetic fields, and whatever other fringe topics in his field are to insert spirit this week in the text), but Nirvana Initiative takes this requirement to the extreme and possibly exceeds the breaking point.
As the name suggests, the game is a direct sequel from 2019 AI: The Somnium fileswith whom it shares a fundamental catch: you and your AI partners Attempt to solve the case of a serial killer with a bizarre MO – in this case, victims are cut in half and the halves left at various locations around the city – using a machine to destroy the dreams of a variety of informants and… explore subjects. The gameplay is broken up into basic point-and-click conversations, some quick-time event sections for action scenes, and, as the bulk of the gameplay, the Somnium sections, more traditional adventure gameplay sequences where you navigate the dreaming world and your own world unravel mental walls of the subject.
Credit where it’s due: Designer Akira Okada (who is now also taking on the role of directing Uchikoshi) greatly improved those Somnium sequences from the first game, where they could often stall story progression. Instead of a sometimes ambiguous and random series of dream logic puzzles, the Somnium sequences almost all now have a much stronger idea built into them. These include participating in an insane quiz show, battling in a metaphor-heavy cooking competition, or playing hide-and-seek with a deranged mad scientist. There’s still nothing quite like the psychedelic mindset of a game psychonautsbut it’s still a step up from the first game.
Meanwhile, Uchikoshi continues to explore many of the themes that have surfaced throughout his career: identity, duality, the relationship between the player and the virtual world, shifting timelines, and women’s breasts. And hello: Ifit the last bit felt like an unwanted and distracting intrusion into an otherwise interesting conversation, well, nYou have a feeling for what is being played Nirvana Initiative is like.
Even when he’s not distracted with a series of long tail or tit jokes, Uchikoshi can sometimes feel like he’s just playing the hits here; we will not say that we predicted Everyone Of course, the game twists its players as they navigate two murder sprees separated by a six-year gap, but those familiar with the author’s work will likely see at least some of his more regular tricks coming. Meanwhile, the lighter, more sitcom-esque tone from the start AI– still fiercely at odds with the game’s ghastly theme – continues to disrupt both the tone and any sense of potential bets. You must have a stomach for deeply unfunny comedy, extended dance numbers, and bizarre digressions the good stuff here; At least there’s a built-in fast-forward button to make some of this easier.
As we said above, there is a good crime story at its core here, even if its complications aren’t quite as compelling as those of the first game. (And if you get a taste MetaUchikoshi has you covered as always.) And those Somnium sequences really are a big step up from the original. But if Uchikoshi’s work has always been digging through the less savory or interesting elements to get at the treasure hidden beneath, then so be it Nirvana Initiative may be the largest such Stack of his career.