Appraising My Hype for AI: The Somnium Files

Riding the hype for an upcoming video game can be quite like a rollercoaster ride. It is an exercise in building anticipation and managing expectations all the way up to that final hill of actually playing and experiencing the game for yourself. Sometimes the trailers and creator interviews serve as steep climbs that build immense hype as they promise a satisfying payoff when the drop finally comes. Other times, it’s a series of underwhelming hills that leave you anxious to get off the ride. (As someone who doesn’t actually ride rollercoasters, I’m suddenly regretting this simile. #fakecoasterboy) I’ve ridden the ride many times for many different games, and today I thought it would be fun to shove all of the ups and downs into a single article. Because as it turns out, I’ve completely missed the bulk of the hype cycle for a game I think I’ll be pretty excited about – AI: The Somnium Files.

I know almost nothing about this game, but that almost nothing is just enough to have me intrigued. I know that the game is about a detective investigating a serial killer. I know that the creator of Zero Escape and the character designer from Fire Emblem Awakening are involved in the project. I think it’s set in the future. And last I heard, it comes out in July. That sums up the full breadth of my knowledge about AI: The Somnium Files, but even that is enough to have me anticipating this title. I want to take some time to look into the game more, but rather than do research and then put together a well-organized article with my thoughts, I decided to change things up and to show my “live” reactions to news about the game as I read about it. In essence, by the end of this post you will have watched me ride the hype coaster all the way to the end, at which point I’ll share my final impressions of the game. I figure the most “objective” way to measure hype is according to the following scale (based on the portfolio grading scale used by my childhood school system):

Zero Hype: I have no interest in this game.
Novice Hype: I’m curious but will wait for reviews before making a decision.
Apprentice Hype: I’d put this game on a holiday list but wouldn’t buy it myself.
Proficient Hype: I’d buy this game on my own but wouldn’t prioritize it.
Distinguished Hype: This is a day one purchase for me.

With that in mind, let’s do a quick check on my current hype level and then find some articles to read!

AI The Somnium Files Pink Hair Girl

I like to think of myself as a practical fellow, and I don’t want to go in too hard before I even know anything about this game. I’m a big fan of Zero Escape but wouldn’t rank it in my top series of all time, particularly after some of the more questionable decisions in Zero Time Dilemma (if you want more details on that, I have spoiler-free and spoiler-filled reviews you can check out based on your preference). And while it’s cool that the Fire Emblem Awakening character designer is involved in the project, just the look of the characters is not enough to draw me to a particular video game. The things I know give me just enough to be intrigued but not enough to put this game on my must-have list yet, which is a nice middle place for me to be starting out – it gives us plenty of room to move as we make our way through articles today. So let’s start off with the very first article that popped up when I began to search for today’s featured image:

AI: The Somnium Files Gets Delayed A Couple Months To September 17 In North America
Oh, well so much for that July release date I mentioned before! Siliconera posted this beauty just a few hours before I started working on this article, revealing that the game has been delayed for the purpose of improving the game’s quality. While this might be a disappointment to some, this actually works out really well for me personally because of another big July release: Fire Emblem Three Houses. I’ve already pre-ordered a day one copy of Three Houses and that game will absolutely be my priority from the end of July until I finish it (likely some time in August), so this means that AI: The Somnium Files will now no longer overlap one of my most hyped games of the year. That’s good news for me, but until I know more about this game I’m not necessarily willing to push my hype to a new level.

AI: The Somnium Files Announcement Trailer
This little teaser popped up in my image search just after the article about the delay, so it seemed like a great way to truly dive in and learn a little something about the game. Posted on Spike Chunsoft’s YouTube channel, this fifty second video apparently dropped July of last year and I somehow missed it for all this time.

The trailer doesn’t give us much to work with. We get the names of the creator and character designer, some lovely music, the name of the protagonist, and then a short scene focused on a carousel in a park. The protagonist is named Kaname Date, and we learn that he is a detective. We then see Kaname standing by a carousel that appears to be in a park surrounding by skyscrapers, suggesting that the park is within the boundaries of a city. What’s weird about this carousel is that it is surrounded by posts with upside-down horses upon them. The horses seem to be carousel horses until a flash of red that appears to be in the shape of an eye alters the scene. The sky becomes red and the carousel horses upside down on the posts come to life, flailing their legs and heads as a small girl rises to her feet in front of the carousel. We then get the title and a symbol, which seems to feature the red eye which changed the scenery in the trailer.

I’m certainly intrigued and my excitement did go up, but not enough just yet to push me to a new level – maybe I should add some kind of gradient between hype levels?

Spike Chunsoft’s Official Website
What better way to learn about a game than to visit it at its source, amiright? Once I sailed past all the articles about the game delay, I found this site and gave it the old double-click. I was prompted to enter my birthday and then found myself on the homepage of AI, which looked a little something like this:

AI The Somnium Files Home Website
Guess no one told them about the delay.

Quite a few interesting things to check out here well before we start to dive further down the page. The tagline for the game appears to be “the mind never lies,” which of course implies that we’re going to be finding ourselves in situations where it appears that the mind is in fact lying and we’ve got to do something to rectify that. Above the title we have three character portraits: Kaname, our protagonist who appears to have a left eye that is either mechanical or magical, along with two young women. The woman on the left (his right) looks an awful lot like the girl in front of the carousel in the teaser, while the woman on the right (his left) is a character I’ve only seen in pictures. We learn that her name is Iris, and she apparently has her own YouTube channel, displayed on the right side. Above that is a link for a trailer, and not knowing whether it’s the same teaser I just watched or something a little more detailed I decide to click it. One last thing before we jump to that, though – we see next to the center image the word eye to the left and then AI on the right side. I’ve been pronouncing this in my head as two separate letters, A then I, as in artificial intelligence, but perhaps the the AI in the title is actually meant to be pronounced like the word “eye”? With that question in mind I turn to the trailer.

It’s definitely something new – almost a full minute longer, this trailer apparently was shown at the 2019 Game Developer’s Conference. The trailer opens on a woman lying on a table in front of a large and clearly deadly machine. The woman’s most notable feature is the lack of a left eye, with dried blood on her face seeming to indicate that the eye had been removed somewhat recently. It’s the same eye missing as Kaname, so perhaps there’s a connection there? At any rate, things get weird real quick when a polar bear walks in and turns on the machine, slowly moving a whirring saw blade toward’s the woman’s vulnerable belly. Just as the blade looks as if it will cut into her flesh, we get some distortions that look like blood spray and then a high-pitched squealing as the screen seems to go static. Some words flash by rapidly, some white, some red, and I catch glimpses of things such as “I killed her for” and “despair,” but the words are changing so rapidly it is hard to read them. Watching the video at quarter speed makes it easier to say that the same few phrases are repeating:

I killed her for ai. All that remains. Is despair.

The letters AI are doing some hard labor, staying in the same place and operating in each separate phrase. They also change from time to time to “eye” and also to a Japanese kanji. After this we get a series of scenes with dialogue over top, with the scenes and dialogue not seeming to overlap in any way. The dialogue snippets feel truly random, conveying the general idea of being a detective between bits of conversations that appear to be interrogations, news stories, panicked reactions from citizens, and heavy conversations with superiors. The scenes vary in nature as well but many focus on the carousel in both its normal and its more disturbing forms, as well as showing the young woman near it crackling with lightning and apparently summoning lightning to strike the carousel.

AI The Somnium Files Lightning

Once the scenes play through, we get one final quote before seeing the title card once again. The text says “the helix of consciousness, where dreams and reality intertwine.” This in all likelihood refers to the phenomenon which causes us to see the carousel both as a normal location and as a place where living horses are speared and writhe in agony or where a girl can summon lightning. The intersection of dreams and reality is likely a significant theme here, and that along with “the mind never lies” suggests that we may be dealing with a situation in which our detective is discerning the truth of crimes from this place where dreams mix with reality.

I decide to ignore Iris’s YouTube channel for the immediate moment and instead scroll down Spike Chunsoft’s webpage. There are four categories to explore: the top where the trailer plays, then story, characters, and specs. The story tab explains the premise of the game: a woman is found dead on the carousel (which is apparently in an abandoned theme park), stabbed multiple times and with her left eye removed. Kaname seems to know or at least recognize the woman, and he and his partner take the case. Their investigation will take them through both dreams and reality, just as the trailer seems to suggest.

The characters page allows us to see the artwork for some of the characters in the game, as well as their name and voice actors in both English and Japanese. It also gives us a vague idea of character roles. For example, the girl with the lightning is known as AI-Ball or Aiba for short, and she seems to have two distinct forms – perhaps one for reality and one for dreams. My guess is that with her multiple forms, she serves as Kaname’s partner. We learn that Iris is a “net idol” and we meet her friend Mizuki and her obsessed fan Ota. We also get to see an engineer named Pewter and someone simply called the Boss, the leader of ABIS. I’m guessing that Pewter may have some connection with Aiba, and Boss is probably in charge of Kaname and his investigation. Finally, the specs section shows the platforms the game will be available on and shares details about the game’s limited edition.

All of this information hasn’t necessarily added a lot to what I already knew. The basic premise is still a detective story in the future, right? Still, getting to hear the game’s music and see it in action definitely adds some excitement. One of the big problems with Zero Time Dilemma was its weak graphical presentation – Spike Chunsoft seems to have gotten some more practice in this regard, as the animations on the characters definitely seemed better in the trailers for AI. The various snippets of dialogue also gave me some Zero Escape vibes, which certainly doesn’t hurt my hype level. Overall, I think exploring this definitely helped me to feel more excited for the game!

AI The Somnium Files Iris YouTube

I decided to finish my exploration of AI: The Somnium Files by heading over to Iris’s YouTube channel to see what that’s all about. This is naturally a promotional site meant to hype the game, and I found myself curious what kinds of videos might be posted here. I went first to check out the description and was not disappointed, as we learn a few new details about Iris. She’s an eighteen year old girl from Tokyo who performs on YouTube as A-Set under the management of Lemniscate Entertainment. She likes to sing and dance but also does Let’s Play videos. Her dream is to win a Grammy. Now how much of this will transfer into the game is certainly left open to interpretation, but scanning over the videos promises some moments with characters we’ve barely met, such as Ota the obsessed fan.

Rather than reacting to each video individually, I took a break from writing for a bit to work my way through all of the current videos. They’re actually a lot of fun – from the perspective of Iris, also known as Tesa or A-Set, we learn some of the lore of the game world. ABIS (pronounced like the word “abyss”) is a group within the police that uses a process called Psync to investigate dreams and prevent crimes before they happen. Kaname is a member of this group and has been an amnesiac for six years – a timeline which lines up coincidentally with the work of a serial killer called “Cyclops” who removed the right eye of their victims. Perhaps Kaname’s apparently mechanical left eye is actually his natural one! The videos on A-Sets channel reveal some great details about the world and really bring director Uchikoshi’s trademark blend of silly and creepy to the forefront. Iris’s channel certainly increased my excitement for the game, so I’ll be updating my final hype level to reflect the change.

Now it turns out that the day I’m writing this article is the evening when the next video will be posted, and the most recent video as well as A-Set’s Twitter account both promise gameplay footage from AI: The Somnium Files. Because of how late it will be playing in my time zone, I’m not going to be including my reactions to that video in this post, but I’m quite excited about it and I’ll do my best to share my thoughts at a later date! For now, I’m curious where you are sitting at, adventurers. Had you heard of Somnium before today? How excited were you before versus your excitement after the trailers? Have you watched Iris’s videos on YouTube? I’d love to hear whether or not you’re excited for this game, so let me know in the comments below!

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