Detective adventure AI: The Somnium Files released on Switch back in September 2019, one of a wave of excellent adventure games and visual novels to come to the system over the last few years. Written and directed by Kotaro Uchikoshi, creator of the excellent Zero Escape series, the game put you to work in a near-future Tokyo as detective Kaname Date chasing a serial killer using mind-delving technology that enables him to explore the psyches of potential suspects, unlock memories, and solve puzzles — and ultimately the crime.
The upcoming sequel, AI: The Somnium Files - nirvanA Initiative, sees scenario writer Kotaro Uchikoshi team up once again with character artist Yusuke Kozaki for an adventure that continues in the same mysterious vein, this time with newly-appointed Special Agent Mizuki and returning AI partner Aiba doing the detective-ing.
From what we've seen from last year's announcement trailer, it's shaping up to be another fine (and grisly) mystery. We spoke to Kotaro Uchikoshi to find out more about the upcoming game, its genesis, and his writing process...
Nintendo Life: How long has this sequel been in development? Were there sequel ideas/plans before the original AI: The Somnium Files launched?
Kotaro Uchikoshi: In December 2019, I was invited to an indie game event (Weplay) in Shanghai, with Spike Chunsoft also in attendance. During the event they demanded, "We want the logline to put on our AI2 planning document already! If you don't hurry up and submit it, we'll take your eyeballs out and screw 'em into Augusta National Golf Club's 18th hole!" while devouring Shanghai crab. I feel like we started the planning meeting right before that happened, in Fall. It was around the release of AI1.
I had a vague idea for the sequel, but no details were decided yet. It was only around Spring 2020 that I had a firm vision for it.
Were there any specific aspects or systems in the original game which you wanted to revise or refine in the sequel?
I feel like depth has been added to the story. Especially the interaction between Mizuki and Aiba, and how different it is from Date and Aiba's relationship
We of course wanted to revise the game systems, and I feel that most of them were improved in AI2. We took into account a lot of player feedback. Thank you!
You'll have to wait for more information about game features in the future, but in terms of scenario, I can say this title has dual protagonists. I feel like depth has been added to the story. Especially the interaction between Mizuki and Aiba, and how different it is from Date and Aiba's relationship, so please look forward to experiencing that.
What can you tell us about protagonist Agent Mizuki and how her character has changed since the first game?
In the previous title, Mizuki was 12. Six years have passed, so 18-year-old Mizuki is the protagonist. So, um, yeah...first of all, her height changed. Also, her hairstyle makes her seem a little more mature, and her left eye is now Aiba...
Frankly, there's basically no difference from when she was 12. She is the Mizuki you all know. She had a mature personality to begin with anyway. She had been through many tough and sad experiences by the time she was 12...
That being said, it's definitely not the case that nothing has happened over six years. A huge incident changed her life... You can learn what that is by playing the sequel, so please do.
Can you talk a little about your writing process? How do you approach a project like this and what tools do you use to write the story in the initial stages?
In the early stages, I use only three tools to write a story: paper, pen, and three gallons of tequila. That's all I need.
First, I think about the main theme which will be the core of the story. Then, I think about big juicy melons, shake that distraction off, and get to conceptualizing the storyline and the main gimmick or twist. My heart then prances off toward thoughts of nice, round coconuts, and then I blow away those impure thoughts and start setting up characters' backgrounds and the central drama. Finally, I purify my ears with an owl's hooting, wash the auditory hallucination down with the tequila I have left, and fit the characters' human drama and mystery into the plot.
In the early stages, I use only three tools to write a story: paper, pen, and three gallons of tequila. That's all I need.
Yusuke Kozaki has once again worked on the character designs for this game. Do you give strict direction over what a character should look like? Do the designs go through much discussion and/or iteration?
All the meetings with Kozaki were done remotely. Kozaki would draw the rough sketch in his studio, then share the art via screenshare and the staff would exchange opinions "like this, or like that."
I shared my character descriptions with him, and it was basically left to Kozaki and his artistic sense to draw the characters however he saw fit. However, if we left it entirely up to Kozaki, his "sense" would explode and become unmanageable, so Director Okada and I decided if it fit the story, Horio, the graphics chief, would determine if it was possible, and Producer Iizuka would suggest the character's charm points and interesting traits. That's how we did it.
Would new players who haven’t played the first game be okay starting with nirvanA Initiative?
No problem at all. The main plot of this game has no relation to the first game at all. Characters that are involved in the inciting incident are mainly new characters. With it being a "new case that needs to be solved," the new characters are on completely equal footing as the previous title's characters.
This game also does not spoil anything from the previous title. It's totally possible to play AI2 and then play AI1. There's even a special setting for "display information from the previous game for returning players" which you can use to enjoy the story in a deeper way.
Main characters from the previous game will appear, but their backstories and relationships are properly explained, so there aren't too many points that you'd need to understand from the previous game.
This game also does not spoil anything from the previous title. It's totally possible to play AI2 and then play AI1.
There's even a special setting for "display information from the previous game for returning players" which you can use to enjoy the story in a deeper way. Isn't that nice of us?
Obviously, you’ve had a lot of experience thinking up strange, unsettling scenarios and murder mysteries for your games – where do you get inspiration for these bizarre (and often grisly) stories?
I got the idea for this game from a dream, the kind of dream you get when you sleep at night (well, in my case, I sleep at noon...). When I was walking around town, pedestrians around me suddenly got split in half and started collapsing. It was a weird dream.
At that time, I was being hounded by Mr. Isobe of Spike Chunsoft, driven by the obsession that if I didn't submit that logline early I would get my eyeballs shoved into the 18th hole. So I decided to use the dream I had as the main theme. The AI series is all about dreams, so I couldn't help but think it was some mysterious destiny.
The first game launched in September 2019, and we've all experienced some dramatic world events in the intervening time. How have restrictions and revised work methods over the past two years affected the project, and your day-to-day approach? Has it had any impact on the story or themes of the game itself?
In terms of my work style, I've always been locked up in the office basement (right now as well), so there wasn't a huge impact. The big change is that meetings had to become remote. I feel like I haven't attended an in-person meeting since Spring 2020.
I think I intentionally strayed away from letting [COVID-19] influence the game at all. I believe Corona will subside one day, but games are forever.
Like mentioned above, all my meetings with Kozaki were over a screen as well. I think it was great that everyone was able to discuss the art while it was being worked on. For Kozaki, his workflow improved due to getting immediate feedback which completely eliminated him having to redraw anything, so work loss was kept to a minimum. The Corona disaster is obviously an unfortunate event, but I think meetings turning remote was not necessarily a bad thing.
COVID-19 did not influence the story or themes of AI2. The scenario was written from the Spring to Fall of 2020, but I wasn't able to predict how long this disaster would last... Even still, I think I intentionally strayed away from letting it influence the game at all. I believe Corona will subside one day, but games are forever. I wanted to make a universal work that could be enjoyed no matter when you play it.
It feels like over the past few years there’s been a real growth in the appreciation of adventure games. Do you agree? If so, why do you think that is?
That's true. Detroit: Become Human, Life Is Strange, Doki Doki Literature Club!, Coffee Talk, etc., many masterpieces have been released. Even indie games can provide as much fun as AAA games. Maybe that's why adventure games are becoming more popular. Anyway, I'm personally very happy that's the case.
But I will say the excitement for adventure games in Japan isn't really there... 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim was without a doubt an amazing work, but it's been years since a masterpiece has been released... Oh, sorry, I forgot about one. AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES! If you don't know about that game, you should run to Gamestop immediately. Or, like I mentioned before, AI2 does not require that you play AI1, so you could wait for AI2's release and then play AI1. That's one way to go about it.
Anyway, please try playing both AI1 and AI2. You'll think more highly of adventure games for sure, I guarantee it!
If you had to describe AI: The Somnium Files – nirvanA Initiative in just three words, what would they be?
Yin and Yang.
Our thanks to Mr. Uchikoshi for speaking with us. AI: The Somnium Files - nirvanA Initiative is scheduled for a Spring 2022 release.
Yes! The first one is one of my favourite games of all time. Definitely recommended to anyone who enjoys visual novels. Can’t wait for this!
One of my most anticipated games of 2022, I really enjoyed the first game. You usually don't get this level of production value in the adventure genre. Great voice acting, great art design.
@moodycat Zero Time Dilemma didn't destroy anything, it just wasn't as good. Still better than most games in the genre though.
I liked what I played of 999, but I can never play a game like this with enough focus to really get anything out of it.
I blame my ADHD, but I hope everyone who gets this game loves it.
This is the game that I'm looking forward to most this year despite all the other big releases on the way. The first one was so good. June 24 release date so just under five months to wait.
All that and no question like “Where is Zero Escape Trilogy for the Nintendo Switch?”
@moodycat Well, I don't mean that it is top 10 material, but it's certainly a good game. I quite enjoyed it to be honest, just nowhere near as much as the first two. There aren't tons of great mystery VNs with the level of interaction Zero Escape offers. I am a sucker for this genre and I've played most of the games in it, no joke.
Loved the first one, can't wait for this!
every game from this creator is a masterpiece to me (with the exception of world's end club)
Already pre-ordered. CAN'T WAIT!!
@valharian yea, World's End had a good heart, but just ultimately wasn't that interesting.
Can't wait for it, absolutely love the first one. Am kind of hoping though that Mizuki as the protagonist cuts down on some of the raunchier humor, not that I have anything against it and some of it (especially the receptionist) could be very funny but the first game had way too much of it often at awkward times.
I hope this sequel runs better than the first. In the near end, the game struggled to keep it together.
@moodycat A lot of people on this site hate Danganronpa V3. Feels like I'm the only one who has it as one of their favourite VN's.
@NF6429 I'll honestly never understand why on earth people dislike V3. It's not my favorite of the trilogy - probably my least favorite pound for pound, though it does definitely have the best gameplay - but still love it and think a lot of aspects of it are brilliant.
Now, Zero Time Dilemma I am perfectly willing to call terrible.
I love Uchikoshi and his work (hence the avatar choice).
I thought AI showcased his brilliance well but could definately do without the tonally jarring porno mag powered QuickTime event action scenes.
Hopefully the shift in protagonist cuts that out!
@Lizuka Zero Time Dilemma would've been far better received if the animation wasn't so terrible. A shame really, since it wasn't Kotaro's fault the budget was low.
@NF6429 You're definitely not the only fan of V3. It's not even a terribly unpopular entry so much as there's a vocal minority of people online who like to cry about it.
DR2 will likely always be my favorite, but I adore V3's complex trial writing, more coherent and meaningful themes, and its vast endgame content.
Zero Time Dilemma... look, I still liked it (platinumed it on Vita, and probably will again if I ever buy the PS4 port), but even if you overhauled the presentation, you'd still be left with a mediocre Zero Escape game with inconsistent characterizations, gimped puzzle rooms, and mind-bogglingly dumb 11th-hour plot twists that fully fails as a follow-up to VLR. But I do agree it didn't "ruin" the other games.
@MsJubilee This. I wish they would optimize it properly for Switch this time.. and I hope they would release a patch to optimize the first game as well.
I should go back to the first one. I got stuck in a puzzle for a few days, picked up some other game and never went back to AI. I did enjoy it, though.
I will buy the sequel right away, regardless. I waited to buy the first game and the price went way up by the time I panic-bought it.
More stickers, please!
I completely forgot about this game. I actually wanted to pick up the 1st game awhile ago and jus t forgot. This article was a reminder for me.
I'm very worried about Date now. What the heck happened?! Hopefully he just settled down with...you know who. Can't wait to find out.
If the zero escape games came to switch, I'd buy them immediately
I tried to get into these games. I have 999. So maybe I’ll try it again.. I’ll keep my eye out on this one. I might give it a go if I get into 999.
@Troll_Decimator could you give a small ranking? I no longer can be bothered to check a Visual Novel to then be dissapointed (I read most of World End club through its wiki page), but the Zero Escape trilogy still haunts me... What's the next best thing(s) in your opinion?
Hell yes.. Day effing one!
@Troll_Decimator Then you gotta check out World End Syndrome and Island.
@JustMonika Played both, and in fact own physical copies of both.
@Nanotex Have you played AI The Somnium Files? The sequel is coming out in a few months. It is not quite on the same level as 999 or Virtue's Last reward, but it's great.
@Troll_Decimator my problem there was the demo gave me the impression I would have to invest too much time+effort to get to the big twist Uchikoshi always uses in his work. I was very happy reading through all the Nonary games, but the AI didn't feel right initially... so I just read the synopsis on wikipedia. I'm sure I would have enjoyed the story if I'd played the game, but oh dear am I happy I didn't play through the game for that twist; I guarantee I would have felt immensely disappointed
Got anything else?
@Lizuka I agree with this view. I get in hindsight that the raunchy behavior Date showed was supposed to be hinting at something, but there really were much better ways that could've been shown.
The secretary ending is one of the funniest things I've ever seen in a game though. I was dying when I found that.
@Troll_Decimator Yeah me too.. that's awesome! I got Island from PlayAsia and the LE of World End Syndrome from eBay. I'm currently working on Island and love it. It's the funniest and most entertaining VN I've played thus far.
@JustMonika I usually buy from Bazaar-Bazaar, Play-Asia is too expensive most of the time in comparison if you are in Europe.
@Troll_Decimator Depends on the title. Some of them are cheaper on PlayAsia and some are cheaper on ebay.
I have this preordered already, I can’t wait as I loved the first. It’s a shame it’s coming later than I thought but that’ll give me time to play Zero Escape VLR.
I love the bonkers Uchikoshi responses to the straight-laced questions. He’s such a refreshing personality.
Really looking forward to this. Loved the first game, as well as 999/VLR (as with most post people here, ZTD was a big letdown).
I also hope he and Kodaka can eventually make a game which lives up to the potential of their dream collaboration. Could it be that each of them is too much to cram into one singular product?
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