AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES (AI) was released on 9/19/2019 by Spike Chunsoft.The story and direction were done by Kotaro Uchikoshi, who had worked on the ZERO ESCAPE series while he was still at Spike Chunsoft, and the character design was done by Yusuke Kozaki, known for works such as Fire Emblem if. With these famous creators on the project, this title has been receiving hype from overseas from the day of announcement.
A month and a half has passed since release, and many users have been reporting on social media that they have reached the "true ending." The timeline has been very active. However, it seems like there are small details spread throughout the game that users cannot wrap their heads around. Kotaro Uchikoshi, Lead Planner Akira Okada, and the Lead Editor of Famitsu Tadashi Miyokawa have met up to talk about some of these mysteries while playing the game.
In this article, we will discover the ultimate truth. We are also planning to release an official video on Spike Chunsoft's YouTube channel.
By the way, this article contains many spoilers concerning the game's ending. It is highly recommended that you play through the game's true ending before reading this article.
Explaining the Secrets of Somnium
Firstly, we would like to talk about player reactions one month after release (when this group discussion was held). Uchikoshi wanted get a laugh commenting, "I am very grateful that we're getting really positive reactions. I'm having too much fun looking through Twitter, I can't even focus on work (laughs)." Player feedback seemed generally harsher in Japan than overseas.
Next, we will actually play the Somnium part and have Uchikoshi-san and Okada-san discuss the things that catch our attention.
Day 3: Sunday Subject: Iris Sagan PSYNCIN' IN THE VaiN
In the route where you successfully heal Mizuki's voice (she eventually gets her voice back in the other route as well) you enter Iris's Somnium. At this time, Saito is inside Iris, and the dream world is actually Saito's.
Taking a turn from the first Somnium (Mizuki's), this one is creepy and full of tricks to scare you. "To show that the story will take a major turn, I wanted to change it up from Mizuki's and create a scary tone," says Okada-san.
There are two possible routes: by picking the "Hit" option on the TV in the beginning, you get a glimpse of Saito's childhood days, and by picking the "Spin the Dial" option, you get to witness the Original Cyclops Killings. Let's spin the dial and find out about the Original Cyclops Killings.
During the part in which your objective is to "beat to death," you can push the cabinet to get the iron ball to drop, or you can punch the torso to move on with the story. "What I wanted to do for this objective is have both options get you the same result." (Okada-san)
In truth, there are several other objectives that have multiple "correct" answers. For example, in the "hit" route when you act out the surgery, you can move the story forward by performing the surgery again. In Somnia, some objects can only be inspected once, but many are able to be interacted with multiple times. Those are the "secret routes" that Okada-san designed. In comparison to the orthodox routes, these are designed to use less time.
Also, in the last "shot to death" scene, the victim in the yellow clothes getting stabbed multiple times by Saito was Boss's original design. Since they decided to use a different design for Boss, she became the victim. This is one of the sadder behind-the-scenes stories...
In the other route ("Hit"), the color tone changes to sepia, and you can observe scenes from Saito's childhood. At the end of this route, a person with the face of Saito's father, So, is shown with the body of the yellow-clothed woman. Uchikoshi explains: "That is [So] Sejima. However, Saito's crooked personality caused it to be presented that way." Saito's brain is unable to produce cortisol, but his personality is also the result of not having a mother and the lack of love he received from his father.
Day 4: Monday Subject: #89 PSYNCIN' IN THE CURTaiN
Next up is the Psync that happens during the interrogation of #89. In this Somnium, there isn’t a designated "correct" route. Instead, the stage progresses by causing the "green" to slowly recede. Why green? Because by moving forward in a Somnium, the screen starts to turn red to indicate danger. The green appears calm by comparison. Thus, as the Somnium progresses, more and more of the "calm" vanishes and is replaced with "danger."
By the way, Rohan and Falco (the real #89) are swapped in this Psync. That is why phone keeps ringing and someone looks inside the window. These were all caused by Falco inside of Rohan. From all the "swapping" occurring so many times in the game, the staff and even Uchikoshi-san himself would sometimes get confused. He shared a behind-the-scenes story: "It's even more confusing when giving written feedback. So, to work around it, we wrote it out like 'Date in Rohan'."
When Rohan's eyeball shows up outside the window, the Okada-san's recommended option is to use the lemon juice. This is not the correct answer, but Aiba's response is really funny, so give it a try.
Uchikoshi-san's favorite scene from this part is Aiba eating the green stuff in the pot. Aiba saying it tastes like elephant with a ridiculous expression is a must-see！
In this part, you are in a close battle with the time limit. The difficulty here was intentional, as this was meant to be one of the hardest parts of the game. You can relieve some of the stress by choosing to tear up the green books, which isn't as time-consuming as other options. However, by reading the books, you can get to see Falco from Rohan's perspective.
Day 6: Wednesday Subject: Kaname Date PSYNCIN' IN THE CAPTaiN
The Somnium we played next was from the last parts of the Mizuki route. It was heartwarming, and the "old" man Miyokawa confessed that it made him tear up.
In this level, eating the stew Date made is an important choice. Okada states that, "If you don't eat the stew the time cost of the options goes up." We found out that this can make the difficulty change drastically. For players who like to torture themselves, this might be the way to go.
Early in development, Somnium levels featured no TIMIEs and time still went down even when standing still. After a long period of trial and error, Somnium developed into what it is today.
Another behind-the-scenes story. The VA for Mizuki, Tomoyo Kurosawa, did an incredible job with her acting and was able to convey multiple emotions in one line, but because the acting was so good the visual design team had to design even more expressions for her. Literally a happy cry. Uchikoshi-san also praised the English version of Mizuki, saying that she has amazing acting talent and to take a listen if you get the chance.
As a bit of Mizuki trivia, the low kick she uses on Date was based on a popular fighting game.
Date's room was originally used to test the game's Somnium features early in development. That's why it’s completely square. This is also why the only door in the room (the one Date bangs on while begging to use the bathroom) is both the entrance and the bathroom door.
Let's dive into the characters！
Next, we want to talk about the characters. Uchikoshi-san and Okada-san answered questions from the fans, which of course yielded interesting results.
The most asked question was, "Why is Date so obsessed with porno mags?" Uchikoshi states, "In this world, porno mags are heavily regulated, so they are rare and getting them is tricky. That's the reasoning behind it." This is also why So's bodyguards and the hired gunmen react so dramatically as well.
In Yusuke Kozaki's earlier designs, Date had a eyepatch. "With that eyepatch on, he looks like a bad guy. In the end, you find out that he is the bad guy, so the design fits. However, I was afraid that people would guess the twist ending, so I had him remove it." (Uchikoshi-san).
The question we got most about Aiba was this: Is her appearance so similar to Boss because before Date lost his memory, he was in a close relationship with Boss? Uchikoshi responds, "I do think they were close, but I'll leave it to your imagination how close they were."
Shockingly enough, in early drafts of the script, Aiba did not exist. This was because originally the plan was to use VR to dive in to the dream worlds, so the Investigation segments in the game were traditional visual novel style but the gameplay itself during Somnia would be entirely VR. Thermo, x-ray, and other functions weren't used, so Aiba was not needed. But right before writing on the scenario commenced, the VR idea was scrapped. The team wanted to add a gameplay element to the Investigations and also some kind of "help" system for Date. Thus, the character Aiba was born.
But when she was fresh in Uchikoshi's mind, she was just a automated drone that flew around the crime scene. It was the input from Okada-san, "Why don't we have it speak in a Kansai dialect," the Producer Yasuhiro Iizuka-san, "Let's make her a girl, let's have her show up in the dream world" and other staff members that made her what she is now.
At Tokyo Game Show 2019, Kozaki-san was asked "What are those ears?" in regards to her cat-ear headband. This is revealed in the epilogue: it is actually a device that suppresses her brain tumor. Even after she is fully healed, she wears it out of habit.
In So's Somnium, the woman getting chased by Saito (the silhouette with a knife) was originally going to be her mother, Manaka. But then players would know the twist ending too early, so this was changed to be Iris.
In response to the question, "Is Naixatloz all in Iris's imagination?" Uchikoshi answers, "If you believe in Iris they do exist, and if you don’t they don’t. That's how it is."
In the Ota route, the story ends with So inside of Iris. The staff members joked that So in Iris then entered politics and used her looks to climb the ladder and become Prime Minister.
The most-asked question about Mizuki was, "Why is she so strong?" According to Uchikoshi, it is a result of "atavism." According to legend, Mizuki's grandpa was raised by dolphins. This sounds like a made-up story, but it's true. He had super powers that allowed him to live while being raised by dolphins.
Those genes live on in Mizuki, and she didn't realize her true potential until she started training... That's what happened.
Ota's original design was closer to his dad (Takero) and he was a lot smaller. However, the team discovered that this would cause problems for the player when trying to speak to Ota from Date's point of view, so his design was updated.
A common question was, "How did he make enough money to follow idols when his parents' restaurant is closed and his mother is sick?" The answer is...
Uchikoshi: That's how hard Mayumi-san worked.
Okada: So he was leeching off her...
Uchikoshi: He doesn’t even have a job, so.
Okada: How awful of him!
Uchikoshi: Before she (Mayumi) got sick, she worked hard to raise the money.
That question had a rather depressing answer.
To make Shizue Kuranushi, aka "Boss," a mysterious character, she was given an easygoing and laid back personality until the very end. The team wasn't intentionally trying to hide her real name, but because Date and Pewter only call her "Boss," her name wasn't revealed until the end.
Speaking of Pewter, that cyber suit... When the designs from Kozaki-san came in, it was so unexpectedly funny that I gave it the OK in one draft.
He is generally a nice guy, but depending on the route, he winds up backstabbing Date and others for the sake of his love, Renju.
Moma has some pretty intense scenes, such as the gunfight in the warehouse district and the scene when he saves Date. One of the popular questions concerning him was, "Why did he become of fan of Tesa?" There was no exact reason, but "maybe he had connections through Renju" (Okada-san).
This was not the original intention for his character. When the Investigations were being written, the team wanted Moma to be hiding something so the player could use the special vision modes. So, similar to Aiba's evolution, Moma became an A-set fan to explore more of the game's mechanics. The gunfight at the warehouse district was initially only Date, but it was expanded to include the three "Tesa fans," Moma, Ota, and Mizuki.
"I'm an old man, so I like women in their 30s" says Uchikoshi-san. It was his original intention to make Hitomi the heroine of the story. She is easy to empathize with, and he felt that an overseas audience would be more accepting of an older protagonist exploring themes of motherly love. However, when Kozaki-san delivered the design for Iris, his heart changed. Iris became the main heroine.
Also, in the grand finale, she's dancing while moving her right arm, but there's a bit of fantasy involved there so don't worry about it.
Receptionist (Ritsuko Enshu)
A shocking confession from Uchikoshi-san about how she was created: "I generally like panties, but I came to notice that 70-80% of men like titties. That's how I decided that there had to be a titty character in the game." She is a new generation of character created through a miraculous collaboration of panty-liking Uchikoshi-san and the titty lovers of the world.
"After saying 'titties' over and over, I became a titty lover too (laughs)." (Uchikoshi-san)
She calls herself a "reptilian" (a reptile-like alien), but it seems she's mistaking it with "vegetarian."
According to Uchikoshi-san, he planned for a dance to be in the game from the beginning. That was why they made Iris a YouTuber and thought that maybe the fans can upload their own versions of the "Iris dance" to YouTube.
In the early stages, the ending didn't have an epilogue (the "3 Months Later" part) and the credits started right after Aiba exploded at the abandoned factory. However, ending it just like that was kind of sad, so we added an epilogue to it. When we added the epilogue, a staff member asked, "Aren't the credits supposed to be after the epilogue?" He thought it was better like that, which is how it became what it is now.
When considering how to end things, Uchikoshi-san thought, "Iris's dance, I suppose." But because it couldn't hurt to ask, he requested, "Is it okay to have all of them dance?" Surprisingly, the team approved it, then made the fantastic ending for the game.
Okada-san initially thought it was "not cool," but after hearing the positive reception, started to think it wasn't so bad. Miyokawa was very surprised to hear Okada-san's honest opinion, but Uchikoshi-san laughed, saying "that kind of feeling is important."
Answering questions from the fans！
In the interview, Okada-san and Uchikoshi-san answered some questions from the fans. Let me share them with you.
Q. Why did Saito Psync into Rohan six years ago?
A. Saito was very curious and wanted to test it out. Saito has a crooked personality as well as an admiration of strong male bodies, which was part of that motivation.
Q. What happened after the Annihilation ending？
A. I think Date, now in Boss's body, will somehow punish Saito. However, Date will have to live inside Boss's body.
Q. Any connections to the ZERO ESCAPE series?
A. Setting-wise there are no connections between the two projects. But the world of ZERO ESCAPE has unlimited potential, and you could look at it like the world of AI exists in one of the multiple timelines.
Q. What does "chinchiko-ru!" mean？
A. The reference comes from the game Machi: Unmei no Kousaten. It is a password used by the members of the "Shichiyoukai." There never was an explanation given for what it really meant.
Q. Ota and Iris are active on their official Twitters and YouTube. What is the connection between social media and the game?
A. The timeline the characters inhabit differs depending on the tweet or video. Also, there are multiple accounts out there, but the only official ones are Ota's and Iris's.