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.

AI2 Storytrailer (3)
Image: Spike Chunsoft

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.

AI2 Characters
A look at some of the characters, as designed by Yusuke Kozaki (Image: Spike Chunsoft)

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.