AI: The Somnium Files - Nirvana Initiative
Time For The Next Contestant To Join The Stage
A while back we looked at Worlds End Club, a deceptively violent mystery game released on the Nintendo Switch. The scenario writer, Kotaro Uchikoshi, was best known for the Zero Escape series who would then go on to write AI: The Somnium Files. All the titles mentioned thus far centered around the player using clues and prior information to solve the mystery of several murder cases. AI was instantly a cult classic, centering around an adult protagonist as he struggled with being a good detective, a good father, and balancing his hedonism with his career. The success of the original AI led to the development of AI: The Somnium Files - Nirvana Initiative.
Despite the title being a sequel, the game ensures the player that they needn't have played the first game in order to enjoy Nirvana Initiative. It does this in one of the most unique opening segments I've seen in a video game. There's a game show in the very beginning that becomes an integral part of kicking off Nirvana Initiative. In this instance, all major characters aside from Boss are all blue silhouettes. The game host, also a blue figure, will ask the player directly if they are aware of the Original Cyclops Serial Killings. If the player has no idea what this is, then they have the option to answer "No." Answering "Yes" will give the game permission to openly express spoilers from the previous game.
No Prior Knowledge Needed, With A Catch
The Nirvana Initiative is very adamant about breaking the fourth wall on occasion, with the entire opening sequence addressing the player instead of Ryuki. Ryuki is one of two playable protagonists in Nirvana Initiative, the second being Mizuki from the first game. Both detectives can use their Eye AIs, Tama and Aiba respectively, to process and analyze clues. In the first case, a highly respected CEO is seen cut symmetrically in half. The kicker is that from Ryuki's perspective, only the right side is shown. For Mizuki, the left side reveals itself six years later yet the time of death was roughly 10 hours ago.
Mizuki returns from the original Somnium Files as a new entry to the same detective agency her adoptive father, Date, was a part of. While I hadn't played the original, I've watched a friend stream it several times. In the six-year span since the original title, Mizuki has matured to a soon-to-be high school graduate. While still a rookie in the agency, her sharp wit from the previous game is matched with her athleticism and determination. Other major characters from the first game is also included, with the protagonist's fate mentioned as a talking point. While not playing the first game isn't needed, this detail will get mentioned so slight spoilers are expected while playing.
Meet Ryuki, The Young Ace With The Sassy AI
Ryuki has been with the ABIS agency for a bit longer than Mizuki, having been there directly from college due to his smarts. He has a bit of an "anime protagonist" vibe to him, aloof while showing signs of not mentally being present at times. The hallucinations from the opening continue with a specific part as he looks at a video from a sign. This is where Nirvana Initiative kicks the "break the fourth wall" into overdrive. On the sign that says "Fray to Free," there's a QR code that, when attempting to scan, Tama will say that the connection is limited.
Players can actually scan the QR code themselves to see the video, which is unlisted. The same video plays after a while in-game, in which Tama will state that the uploader goes by an alias. Players can see the "alias" under the YouTube channel "db," further blurring the line between video games and real life. It's a neat little easter egg. Be wary of reading the comments, however, for potential spoilers. There is also a hilarious My Hero Academia reference by Ryuki, much to the chagrin of Tama. Whether it was coincidental or not, Anairis Quiñones, Tama's voice talent, also voices Mirko from the same series which makes the scene even more humorous.
The Somnium Files Were Always Based On Interrogation And Characterization
It's difficult to explain the gameplay of Nirvana Initiative as, like the prequel, it's a very narrative-driven game. Players will have to investigate the scene of the crime as well as anything else that appears out of the ordinary. Both protagonists have access to AI that will assist them in their crime data, with the ability to get closer to the AI. A cute little Tamogachi spinoff also exists in this game which serves as a way to decompress the player should they need a distraction.
Much like the prequel, the content in Nirvana Initiative can get heavy even though the protagonists are younger than Date himself. Suspects and characters from within the police force, the yakuza, and the wealthy all play a role in the greater scope of things. I hadn't gone too far in this game yet, but if it's anything like the first one, several playthroughs are needed to piece the entirety together. By the time I got to the intro title, I was convinced to play through the first game. It's not enough to watch others play, but I'd like to know more about the characters and their lore before jumping into a completely new experience.
AI: The Somnium Files - Nirvana Initiative is available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC.