Ai: The Somnium Files: NirvanA Initiative sought to improve upon its predecessor by incorporating a wider variety of puzzles and challenges within the many Somnia throughout the game. Though mostly a murder-mystery visual novel, Ai: The Somnium Files – NirvanA Initiative, cleverly implements a series of logic-based puzzles in the form of Somnia, worlds that exist within the subconscious of an individual. By virtue of the Psync Machine, protagonists Ryuki and Mizuki traverse the many diverse dreams of the game’s cast to uncover additional information regarding the “AB Case,” a series of murders committed by the game’s primary antagonist, Tearer.
To uncover the location of Tearer’s operations, the player must traverse the Somnium of main character Iris, a popular video game streamer. Iris’ Somnium takes the form of “Kusemon Go” a clear nod to Niantic’s Pokémon GO. The developers even expertly integrated the mechanics of Pokémon GO within the traditional gameplay of NirvanA Initiative, providing players a unique gameplay experience while simultaneously giving longtime fans a bevy of Easter eggs and references.
Unlike most Somnia, which only require players to solve a series of logic-based puzzles to progress the narrative, Iris’ Somnium gives players the additional task of building a team of three Kusemon (represented by the main cast of the original Ai: The Somnium Files) to defeat the mansion leader in a battle. The open landscape of Iris’ Somnium generates a sense of exploration, encouraging the players to create the strongest lineup for the battle. Characters join the player’s party through negotiations, where the player must carefully select a specific dialogue prompt that resonates with their personality. Furthermore, each character posses unique moves indicative of their quirks and abilities, such as Mizuki smacking her opponents with a Metal Pipe and Mama using her refrigerator to chill the enemies.
Certain Kusemon battles contain hidden strategies that reward the player for their exploration and experimentation. For instance, the second battle sees the player against congressmen So Sejima, one of the primary antagonists of the first game. While the player can arduously brute-force their way through the battle, they can also one-hit-KO So using Boss and her exclusive move, “blackmail.”
Furthermore, players who are able to find the mysterious Kusemon “F” can defeat him in battle to obtain him as a full-time party member. Though the mansion leader, Tearer, may seem intimidating with his two distinct forms and devastating attacks, F’s primary attack (known as null) easily decimates both phases of the fight. The inclusion of these over-powered strategies not only keeps with Ai: The Somnium Files‘ tradition of logic-based puzzles, it also plays off of the Pokémon series’ type advantage mechanic, forcing players to consider the strengths and weaknesses of each character.
The many Easter eggs and references of Kusemon Go add to the over-abundance of charm and charisma found within Iris’ Somnium. While the Ai: The Somnium Files series always contained a great deal of diversity within its soundtrack, the overworld theme for Iris’ Somnium perfectly captures the adventurous tune of Pokémon. Additionally, the Kusemon Battle themes feature an eight-bit style of sound reminiscent of the Generation I Pokémon games.
Perhaps the best secret is the elusive “Kusemon Egg,” which players obtain after examining a specific hedge outside the battle mansion. After walking for several minutes, the egg will hatch to unveil the Kusemon known as “Black and White Bear.” Longtime fans of Spike Chunsoft will certainly recognize the Kusemon as, Monokuma, the mascot of the Danganronpa series. Monokuma’s incredibly high HP and his signature attack, “punishment,” allow him to single-handedly decimate all the battles within the Somnium.
With a greater focus on puzzles and brain-teasing challenges, Ai: The Somnium Files – NirvanA Initiative succeeds in the providing its players with an incredibly unique gameplay experience. Though Iris’ Somnium might seem like a cheap imitation at first, its natural implementation of logic-based puzzle solving alongside clever incorporation of Pokémon-style combat allow it to reign as the best Somnium in the entire series.