AI: The Somnium Files—Nirvana Initiative: Good mystery, embarrassing baggage

AI: The Somnium Files—Nirvana Initiative

AI: The Somnium Files—Nirvana Initiative
ImageSpike Chunsoft

There’s a good mystery at the heart of Spike Chunsoft’s new (and awkwardly titled) visual novel AI: The Somnium Files—Nirvana Initiative, as it is at the heart of most of writer Kotaro Uchikoshi’s games. The author of titles like the well-received escape room/visual novel hybrids 9 o’clock, nine people, nine doorsThe last reward of virtue† and Zero-time dilemmaUchikoshi is always careful to weave an elaborate but mostly honest mystery into his games – “usually” because he’s also a fan of incorporating bits and pieces of elaborate sci-fi bullshit in his plots that often complicate the riddles in the confined space they revolve around.

But Uchikoshi also has some consistent, shall we say, quirks to his writing style, all of which are also fully rendered in Nirvana Initiative– especially his lingering desire to sexualize his often very young characters in ways that are sometimes just childish (this is a series where a main character’s action abilities canonically improve when he’s around porn) and at other times like being genuinely skeevy read. Enjoying Uchikoshi’s work has always involved a certain amount of nose-holding on this stuff (and, to a lesser extent, his seemingly insatiable desire to inject entire Wikipedia paragraphs on things like simulation theory, morphogenetic fields, and whatever other fringe topic on his note this week in the text), but Nirvana Initiative pushes that requirement to its limits, and possibly past the breaking point.

As the name suggests, the game is a direct sequel to 2019 AI: The Somnium Fileswith which it shares a basic hook: you and your AI partners attempting to solve a serial killer’s case with a bizarre MO – in this case cutting the victims in half and leaving the halves at different points in the city – by using a machine to fulfill the dreams of a wide variety of informants and subjects. to research . The gameplay is split into simple point-and-click conversations, a few Quick Time Event sections for action scenes, and, like most of the game’s gameplay, the Somnium sections, which are more traditional adventure game sequences in which you move through the dreaming world navigates and your mental walls of the subject.

Image for article titled AI: The Somnium Files—Nirvana Initiative hides a good mystery game under too much embarrassing baggage

ImageSpike Chunsoft

Credits where it should be: Designer Akira Okada (who now also takes over as director from Uchikoshi) greatly improved these Somnium series from the first game, where they were often able to bring the story to a halt. Instead of a sometimes ambiguous and arbitrary series of dream logic puzzles, the Somnium series now almost all have a much stronger idea built in. This could be taking part in a demented quiz show, battling it out in a metaphorical cooking contest, or playing hide-and-seek with a mad scientist. There’s still nothing quite like the psychedelic mental worlds of a game like psychonautsbut it’s still a step up from the first game.

Meanwhile, Uchikoshi continues to explore many of the themes that have emerged during his career: identity, duality, the relationship between the player and the virtual world, shifting timelines, and female breasts. And hey: lfit that last bit felt like an unwanted and distracting interference in an otherwise interesting conversation, Well noow you have an idea of ​​what to play Nirvana Initiative is like.

Even when he’s not distracted by a series of long dick or chest jokes, Uchikoshi can sometimes feel like he’s just playing the hits here; we won’t say we predicted all of the plot twists the game throwing at its players as they navigate two series of kills six years apart, but those familiar with the writer’s work will likely see at least a few of his more mainstream tricks coming . Meanwhile, the lighter, more sitcom-like tone of the first AI– still strenuously at odds with the game’s eerie subject matter – continues to distort both the tone and any sense of potential stakes. You have to have a stomach for deeply unfunny comedy, elaborate dance numbers and bizarre digressions to recover the good stuff here; at least there’s a built-in fast-forward button to make some of it go down more easily.

As we said above, there is a good mystery story at its core here, even if the complications aren’t quite as compelling as those of the first game. (And if you feel like the metaUchikoshi has you covered, as always.) And those Somnium series really are a big step up from the original. But if Uchikoshi’s work always involved digging through the less savory or interesting elements to get to the treasure buried beneath, then Nirvana Initiative might be the biggest pile of his career.

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