AI: The Somnium Files director and writer Kotaro Uchikoshi sat down with GameSpot at Anime Expo 2019 to discuss his upcoming mystery-driven adventure game. During the conversation, Uchikoshi explained that the title of the game is actually a bit of clever wordplay that hints at the different themes within the story.
AI: The Somnium Files sees you play as detective Kaname Date who has an artificial eye that houses his AI companion, Aiba. Date's eye gives him several abilities, such as X-ray vision, and Aiba provides assistance for more technical challenges. During difficult investigations, Date can use a machine called the Psync Device through Aiba, allowing them to enter the memories or dreams of suspects or witnesses. The visual representation of people's minds is called their somnium, and solving the mental locks in the space allow Date and Aiba to travel deeper into a person's subconscious and extract vital information. AI: The Somnium Files' story begins with Date and Aiba trying to figure out the identity of someone who's been gouging out people's eyes.
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The "AI" in AI: The Somnium Files is actually Japanese, making it pronounced like "eye." In Japanese, Uchikoshi explains, "ai" means "love." Thus AI: The Somnium Files is simultaneously in reference to the game's themes of finding life in artificial intelligence, the importance of the human eye, figuring out one's self (like "I"), and defining what love is. Though the game touches on all of these, it's that last one that Uchikoshi is focusing on in this game.
"There are many different aspects of love," Uchikoshi said. "There's family love, two strangers loving each other, there's love between partners, there's love between friends, and amongst all these different types of love there are twists as well." In AI: The Somnium Files, there are several different types of relationships that will evolve and change. Date and Aiba are partners, for example, but Date is also a sort of adoptive father to the daughter of one of his best friends. Iris, a YouTube star who's one of the victims that loses an eye, is idolized by one of her fans, Ota, and cared for by her lonely, single mother Hitomi.
"Love is a big theme for me," Uchikoshi joked, "because when I go home my wife treats me like dirt and makes me lick her toes, and wash the bathroom, and she makes me do everything, treats me like trash. I feel like I'm a little kid at an orphanage that just wants to be in a family that shows me love, and that's why that ai, love, is one of the important themes for this game."
Uchikoshi hopes players come to their own conclusions when it comes to defining the truth behind love. As such, AI: The Somnium Files has several different endings. "There is no wrong answer, the choices that you make will become the story's reality, its truth," he said. "What happens is, you make a choice, and it will steer you towards a certain ending, but if you make a different choice it can suddenly steer you in a completely different direction. But each of those endings is right and true, and none of it is technically wrong." When it comes to good and bad endings, Uchikoshi clarified that it will be up to the player to define what they believe to be morally right and wrong. What someone may think is a good ending could be perceived as a bad one by someone else. Uchikoshi did not want to divulge how many endings there are in AI: The Somnium Files, but he did confirm that each one does "go in different directions."
The choices in the story will all occur when you're invading a character's somnium and trying to piece together exactly what happened. When in someone's somnium, you have exactly six minutes to solve as many mental blocks as you can, discover new evidence, and come to your own conclusion. Each action you take will cost you, so you'll need to deduce how to overcome mental blocks as quickly as you can. You won't fail the game if you can't find enough evidence to make any conclusions within the six-minute time limit though, as failing to discover something will simply reset you back to the start of the somnium.
AI: The Somnium Files is scheduled to come to PS4, PC, and Nintendo Switch on September 17. If you're looking for more info on the game, we interviewed both Uchikoshi and A-set (the virtual YouTube idol featured in AI: The Somnium Files) at GDC 2019.