AI: The Somnium Files – nirvanA Initiative (from here on out we’ll just call it AI2) is the sequel to the cult favorite predecessor AI: The Somnium Files (AI1, natch). Creative director and writer Kotaro Uchikoshi mentions in an interview included in the special edition’s artbook that the game was designed with both new and returning players in mind. Me, a returning player who has put at least 20 or so hours into AI2, can confirm that a new player will have sufficient information from characters, new UI functions, and an updated appendix menu to stay afloat during their first encounter with the series.
As a longtime Uchikoshi fan who started with the Zero Escape series, I’m also aware of how quickly one can become overwhelmed with the amount of paranormal trivia, conspiracy theory, philosophical paradoxes and logic dilemmas as well as game theory the creator likes to layer into any of his titles. Indeed, another major theme quoted in the artbook’s interview was the significance of “‘half’ of a whole or ‘two is one’,” and while AI2 can be treated as a separate entity, its experience is made more complete with the context of its predecessor. The sequel’s murder case even features bodies that have been severed into perfect halves. Past games he has worked on have included concepts like morphogenetic fields, the Prisoner’s Dilemma and the Anthropic Principle. To be more succinct, Uchikoshi follows the tradition of creators like Hideo Kojima, Yoko Taro and Gen Urobuchi, who follow their bliss with regards to what philosophical or paranormal phenomena they are currently fixated on.
For AI2, Uchikoshi is hyperfocused on an element touched on by chief tinfoil-hat-wearer Iris Sagan (a fan-favorite idol character from the first game), alternate reality games (ARGs) and internet mysteries. If you are a player who is deciding to jump into the fray (pun-perhaps-intended) for the first time with AI2, firstly, welcome to this wonderful madness! Secondly, I thought it might be fun to offer a small primer for you of internet mysteries and possible references to ARGs that AI2 directly or obliquely references.This is meant not just to orient you, however, but give you a taste of what a typical gaming experience is like with any of Uchikoshi’s creations.
Related mysteries of note: A858, 11B-X-1371, Markovian Parallax Denigrate, Obey the Walrus
The AI series has very elaborate pre-release tie-in ARG events. The first game’s tie-in included YouTube channels, interviews featuring both Uchikoshi and Iris Sagan, and Twitter accounts for Iris and one of her super fans Ota Matsushita, who was also a significant character from the first game’s cast. The ARG for the first game was so detailed, in fact, that someone developed an unhealthy parasocial attachment to Iris and review-bombed AI1 on Metacritic to protest her treatment in the game’s plot. The social media accounts for this first ARG were utilized again alongside several new accounts for characters and a website for AI2’s ARG event which was even more intricate.
This second event, entitled “Hidden Bats,” centered on helping two kidnapped individuals solve codes which were connected to a mysterious and surreal video called Bats489. This video is connected to another similar video within AI2 called Bats490 which itself contains a complex code. If decoded, within the game’s lore, an individual will discover a “secret of the world,” and often that individual will also go missing shortly thereafter.
The internet mystery being directly referenced in this instance is most likely Cicada 3301. Going all the way to 2012 in the days of yore, Cicada 3301 is an anonymous post that appeared on 4chan’s /b/ message board which stated that the poster was “looking for highly intelligent individuals. To find them, we have devised a test. There is a message hidden in this image. Find it, and it will lead you on the road to finding us. We look forward to meeting the few that will make it all the way through. Good luck. 3301.” This set off a frenzy of internet users solving many intertwining puzzles (often featuring the image of a cicada) that led them to the dark net and even to locations in the physical world. People have speculated that top secret government agencies or cultish organizations who believe in a new world order were behind the original post. This strange challenge re-emerged twice more since its first appearance, on an annual basis and to this date, only two of the puzzles have been solved.
Erin Valenti’s Revelation
Related mysteries of note: Quadriga CEO’s Strange Death, Neurocam, Polybius
AI2 surprised returning players in one of its earliest trailers by including the character Tokiko, who is the leader of the Japan branch of a global cult called Naixatloz. Previously, Naixatloz was only mentioned by Iris and characterized as a very typical, Illuminati-styled organization that most likely did not exist. In the sequel it is revealed that Naixatloz not only exists, it specifically focuses on proving that simulation theory—the belief that we’re in a “false world” like The Matrix or a game—is true.
While this is more of a speculative reference, there is a strong possibility that part of Tokiko’s character is based off of Erin Valenti, the Utah tech entrepreneur who in 2019 uttered the enigmatic words during a phone call to her parents: “It’s all a game, it’s a thought experiment, we’re all in the Matrix” before dying an even more enigmatic death shortly afterward. Tokiko, while much more zealous in her beliefs than Valenti, who allegedly had no previous history of mental illness or substance abuse (which was why her last words were so unsettling), is just as cryptic as the late entrepreneur. And Uchikoshi has seemingly referenced Elon Musk, who is another proponent of simulation theory, with Jin Furue another significant CEO character in AI2’s cast. Furue is also connected to another eerie video in the game that can be accessed via a QR code, both in the game’s narrative and real life via the player’s smartphone.
Uchikoshi has already framed this entire series within the context of an extended ARG, which begs the question, is he implying that the player’s manipulation of the AI world proves Tokiko and Naixatloz’s theories? Or perhaps that by extension the player’s world is a simulation within a simulation? More likely, the creator is cleverly pointing to the fact that as game critics have become more aware of in recent years, a game is only half of its experience without the player to complete it.
Related Mysteries: Mandela Effect, Quantum Mysticism
Continuing off that last point, simulation theory or the simulation hypothesis is the largest thread running throughout the game. While this is a theory of sorts, there is enough uncertainty surrounding it that also makes it an ongoing internet era mystery. Several characters support this theory and cite phenomena like photos and videos of reality “glitching” to prove their point. Studio Dvaita, the location of the first murder scene of the Half-Body Serial Killings case, contains a reference to the Hindu spiritual path of Advaita Ved?nta in its name. That spiritual path believes that our world is an illusion. And of course there’s the aforementioned ARG framing of the game series. And as this is also a game series set in a futuristic world that has achieved AI detective partners that pass the Turing Test, it definitely plays into Nick Bostrom’s hypotheses that there’s a high probability that there are more simulated worlds than there are real ones.
One of AI2’s protagonists, Ryuki, goes into an intense trance-like state each time he initially encounters one of these videos and starts to spout what appears to be gibberish. But it appears to be a mix of East Asian characters, with some sort of coding language thrown in for good measure. These passages are translatable, although what they mean are difficult to decipher (if they are meant to be deciphered). During these trance-like states, Ryuki also seems to see the world come apart. I am not far enough in the game to tell what the truth of this whole matter is, but I am far enough into the game that I felt I needed to write this primer and out myself as a walking “Conspiracy Charlie” meme.
One thing is for sure is that Uchikoshi’s games both pay and play with close attention. If you want some mind-bending content in your gaming life, definitely seek out AI: The Somnium Files – nirvanA Initiative or play both games. Keep your phone and a notepad nearby and, if you can, play alongside someone else or stream this with some friends. You’ll be very rewarded by the experience!
Phoenix Simms is an Atlantic Canadian writer and indie game narrative designer. You can find her work at Unwinnable, Videodame, Third Person, and her portfolio. Her stream-of-consciousness can be found at @phoenixsimms.