- Release date: 17th Sep 2019
- Version played: Xbox Series S
- Completion: All endings.
This really took me by surprise in quite a few ways. I went in only knowing that it was some kind of detective game and was extremely impressed with it by the end…well, mostly.
You play Date (pronounced something like “Dah-Tae”). He’s part of a special investigations team with extremely special tech that can dive into someone’s subconscious. Date is a “psyncher”, which means he is one of the people who explore people’s peoples minds to try and decipher the meaning to gain valuable clues to cases. He’s also accompanied by Aiba, an AI that lives in his prosthetic eye, an extremely useful asset.
It’s a “visual novel” game, where you pick dialogue options and ask questions, moving between different locations. It does a good job at making it feel like you’re doing the detective work and figuring out the mysteries. The sections where you are in people’s mind has you control Aiba in a “human avatar” form, as you try to figure out the twisted logic of the dream and solve the puzzles. You can only spend six minutes in a dream. Standing still will move time significantly, while interacting with objects will cost a set amount of time, but also unlock modifiers which can reduce this time (or in some cases, increase it). If you fail, you can restart from a checkpoint or the beginning. With the handy fast forward feature (which speeds you past cutscenes and dialogue), I found myself just starting these from the beginning when I failed, as you can pick the correct options without taking too much of your (real) time.
The game begins with a mysterious death, someone who is an old friend of Date’s, and the mother of the 12 year old girl that he’s unofficially adopted. The investigation will take you to meet a rather colorful cast of fun characters, as more deaths happen. I won’t go into many more details on the story (it’s best to find out for yourself), but there are a lot of shocking twists, turns and character moments. There’s a lot of silly stuff, but also some really deep, depressing and emotional moments.
As you play, you’ll either reach a “bad” ending or a “locked” route. The Somnium File features different choices, these send your investigation going off in different directions. This isn’t used to force you to play the game multiple times, as you simply go back to where the story branched. Instead, it leads to very different outcomes, all with different surprises and revelations. The mechanic becomes a really great way to keep the mystery flowing, while revealing information in different ways. This all then boils down to the “proper” ending. I found the mysteries to all make sense in the end, everything fit pretty nicely and was explained well.
One thing I did dislike about the game is one aspect of Date’s personality: he is very pervy. It ranges from amusing instances (such as the over the top nature of his excitement for porno mags being used in QTE combat moments, a trait which all the goons share), to hitting on receptionists, to making outright disturbing comments about girls much younger than he is. The worst moment of this is right at the very end of the “proper” ending, and gives the same a sour note to end on (although there is an amusing and over the top credits sequence after that).