Reviews - Updated on June 29, 2022

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In the piggy bank of the best detective stories

As a fan of Kotaro Uchikoshi’s work, AI: The Somnium Files – Nirvana Initiative was the one I was most looking forward to this summer. The first part was one of the brightest and most memorable releases of 2019, but, unfortunately, not many people played it. But for those who understand the genius of the screenwriter of the Zero Escape trilogy, both the original and the recently released AI sequel are wonderful gifts that captivate for dozens of hours.

Possible crime

The developers took care of those who did not pass the first part, and did not connect the new story with the old one. But fans of the original were not left without numerous references. True, you have to prove that you remember the plot of the last game by answering two questions. It didn’t cause any problems for me, but I don’t see any shame in googling the answers if you really played and just forgot the names or events.

In the prologue, we control Mizuki, who has matured and turned from a pugnacious girl into a detective. She discovers something strange – the corpse of the CEO of an IT company, or rather, only the left half of it. It turns out that the other half was found as much as six years ago, and then the case was investigated by Ryuki, a new character who became another protagonist. The only problem is that, according to the medical examination, the difference of six years had no effect on the state of the second half – that she was “fresh” at the time of discovery that this one. And according to DNA analysis, the body parts belong to the same person.

Soon we learn that the villain already has a nickname (Tearer), and he cut the corpse far from alone – the antagonist is called a serial killer. The investigation starts over again, and Mizuki takes over, but she needs to find out from Ryuki what he managed to dig up during the time he was doing this case himself. But Riyuki survived some kind of explosion, drank himself drunk and almost went crazy – he can’t talk to him.

Pleasant company

So we spend the first half of the game with Ryuki (that is, we go back six years), and in the second we switch to Mizuki. It turns out a very interesting detective story in the style of Otikosi – with unexpected plot twists, ruthlessness to some characters and charming characters, both with acquaintances (Boss, Date, Iris, etc.) and with completely new ones.

Mizuki, like Date, gets along well with Boss.

Mizuki, like Date, gets along well with Boss.

In the first half of the story, the main emphasis is on new heroes, which allows you to immediately get to know them better. First of all, this concerns Ryuki and artificial intelligence nicknamed Tama – this, like Aiba from the original, is an artificial eye, when using which Ryuki sees a charming girl in front of him. Compared to Aiba, Tama is a much more sexy and buxom young lady who also carries a stack with her.

Otikosi masterfully combines the incongruous. Either a dialogue will begin with Date about his favorite erotic magazines, or the player will be told a lecture about the Philadelphia Experiment and the philosophy of Hinduism. Either the investigation into the death of a character will be turned into a comedy, then they will be bombarded with questions about relationships and the meaning of life, and sometimes they will make you shed a tear. This is the same amazing emotional attraction as the first part, in which you try not to miss a single dialogue – they are all brilliantly written and voiced.

Strange questions in this quiz of yours...

Strange questions in this quiz of yours…

The only problem is that the plot here is not as branched as in the original. This time, the whole story is at the forefront, in which there are very few forks, apparently due to the structure of the game and the division into two equal halves. If you liked to jump from one time period to another and observe the consequences of certain decisions, I have to disappoint you – the sequel will not be able to please you with this. On the other hand, the duration of the story has not decreased, and the interest of the local plot is just as strong.

Walking through memories

With all the merits of the first AI: The Somnium Files, the gameplay was not its strong point. The sequel decided to fix it. As before, the lion’s share of the timing is typical visual novel gameplay with conversations. But periodically, Riyuki and Mizuki, since they are detectives, invite suspects to the department and penetrate their minds on a special apparatus, reading thoughts and extracting information from there. It is still not entirely clear why people agree to this every time, although the police do not always have weighty arguments or evidence, but this is not so important.

When you first see these characters, you want to immediately get into their heads.

When you first see these characters, you want to immediately get into their heads.

Controlling Tama or Aiba, we walk through other people’s dreams and interact with objects, trying to get to deep memories and opening the so-called “soul locks”. The rules are the same: select the object, then select the action. You can spend no more than six minutes in someone else’s head, and each movement eats up seconds on the timer. It seemed to me that in the sequel there is more logic in these episodes than in the first part – they had to be restarted only a couple of times. Plus, now there are text hints that do not always help, but are useful.

The story in the Nirvana Initiative is itself psychedelic, and in these memories, the absurdity sometimes increases several times. And most importantly, all these episodes are very different. You have to swim and solve riddles, then participate in a role-playing game, collecting a squad of characters with different characteristics, then participate in a quiz. You never know what awaits you next time – this is true for the first AI, but there are more such moments here, and it is much more fun to go through them.

The main innovation was episodes in virtual reality, when artificial intelligence recreates a recently seen scene and we can carefully examine it in search of clues. This is more like the work of a detective: we interact with objects, use eye modes (including a thermal imager and X-ray), and then determine the chain of actions of the criminal, answering the questions correctly. Nothing complicated, and mistakes are not punished (rather, on the contrary – you can hear a lot of funny dialogues), but this brings additional variety.

There was a place for other entertainment hidden in the pause menu. There you can chat on various topics with Aiba and Tama, grow Tamagotchi, and open numerous bonuses. Actions in flashbacks reward you with points that you spend on concept art, posters, and even costumes and hats for the AI ​​girls. True, they will be able to see them only with repeated passages of memories.

There are enough costumes, and you can even change Aiba into Tama if you like.

There are enough costumes, and you can even change Aiba into Tama if you like.

As a result, if the Nirvana Initiative loses to the original in the branching of the story, then it wins significantly in the gameplay, and such an exchange seems to be equivalent. The same can be said about the main characters. Whatever new male protagonist takes the place of Date, he would not look so charismatic against his background, and Ryuki still falls short of him. On the other hand, in the second half of the game we control Mizuki, and I considered her the best character in the first part – and here she is still charming. Yes, and Aiba kept her company – it turned out to be an excellent duet.

There are also QTEs here, but there are very few of them, and it’s hard to fail them.

AI: The Somnium Files – Nirvana Initiative lived up to expectations, although it was not easy. The first part sunk into the soul due to likable characters and a fascinating story, but this did not mean that the sequel would give the same vivid impressions. Fortunately, everything worked out: the plot is still interesting, and the new characters are good in their own way, and the gameplay has become richer and got rid of some of the shortcomings of the original. Nothing is known about the sales of the predecessor, so there is hardly anything to brag about, and the sequel will certainly not become a hit either. But for those who try to get acquainted with this series, an exciting dilogy awaits, after passing which you hope for an early release of the triquel.

Pros: gripping and intriguing story; still charming characters – both familiar from the first part, and newcomers; brilliantly written and voiced dialogues in both English and Japanese versions; the gameplay has become more diverse, and the puzzles in the memories are more logical; new detective episodes in virtual reality fit perfectly into the plot; collectibles are a nice bonus.

Cons: the plot is not as branched as in the first part.

Screenshots of the game

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