I do NOT like visual novel games. Not because they're not good - but because they're vastly overpriced for what you get. I would never pay $60 for a book, thus I don't ever plan to pay $60 for a bunch of static images with text. Period.
That said...while AI: The Somnium Files is quite clearly a visual novel, it takes it to a level that I really think more should, which is that there's at least some puzzle to it, but also full animations and segments where you're not just reading. That made all the difference here; which meant I could safely evaluate it not only as a visual novel, but also as a game.
What I Liked
✅ Story. Although there were some parts that had issues (see later), I overall felt it was well told and compelling. It's difficult to say more without spoiling things; but suffice to say, what you start with and the sense you get are more than what they seem.
✅ Characters. I can only recall a select few characters that were annoying or not well written. The vast majority were fairly well done and presented in a way that was entertaining as well as detailed into their personalities.
✅ Graphics. Again, as essentially a visual novel, you're not going to get amazing 3D stuff here, but what's done came across well and nothing was offensive. I especially enjoyed (though simplistic) things like light through windows and such. Obviously the Switch's graphics look quite a bit worse than other platforms.
✅ Voice Acting. One thing that annoys me in other games is when grown women have to do child voices (both boys and girls). But here, it's really difficult to tell that it's a grown person doing the voice. I thought almost everyone had a standout performance.
✅ SOME Of The Puzzles. By "puzzles" I refer to the Somnium, which is a dive into dreams that requires solving puzzles within 6 minutes. The 6 minutes is real-world time, but you can stand still and slow time's progression if you need to look around. There are penalties and situations where you definitely can "auto-fail", but with maybe two exceptions, these were unoffensive and well done.
What I DIDN'T Like
❌"Meta" Story. I can't say too much here without spoiling, but the concept of "meta" in a game's story is the idea that it's trying to get you to think outside of the boundaries of what's plausible in the "real" world. Bravely Default II basically had the same thing going on. I don't like it. The whole game is essentially this, as you'll eventually discover...what starts as a basic whodunit situation turns into a bunch of twisty turns that don't really resolve well at all because of what they were trying to do.
❌The Ending. Let me be clear; I had no problem with the resolution. I had an issue with what ended up being the true ending - because it didn't resolve the twists and turns that I mentioned otherwise. It tried to, but the logic behind what you're expected to believe is simply silly. I really wish I could explain, but even one sentence of explanation basically spoils the whole point of the game. Let me try it this way: what your character is experiencing, he isn't experiencing. I'll have to leave it at that. So given that extremely vague statement, the ending wants you to just accept this on surface as the explanation, and thus the reason you got to the happy ending (because you eventually piece it all together) - except that only happens in ONE thread yet the other threads are necessary to have any storyline reply to what you end up with. You're told that Somnium exploration is basically exploring dreams, which is why this doesn't matter, yet the resolution to the game also happens in Somnium. In other words, "it's only fake when it suits us". So then, the true ending loses all impact as a result (and why so many people were pissed off at the very ending sequence).
❌Plot Holes. Things like, you observe key characters talking at a distance but don't know what about and it never gets resolved. Worse, the characters in question shouldn't be talking based on the story you're told to that point. Again, trying not to spoil.
❌Half-Baked Plot Twists. At a point, you'll start seeing what appear to be traitorous characters. These are not in Somnium, they're in the "real" world, the problem is they're only traitorous when it suits the game flow at that point. You know that they're basically a traitor regardless, but the game only exposes this when it feels like doing so, and said traitorous characters are all-too-happy to..."participate" in the ending sequence that nobody liked. There are at least four that I can recall. Now, the game has an excuse for two of them, but the other two weren't part of this, so it made no sense whatsoever to see this.
❌Forced To Click "Next". Meaning, during a voiced cutscene, you'll listen for a few lines, then have to click the same element to continue the cutscene, presumably to break up the monotony. A better approach is to just do it as a single cutscene if it's around the exact same topic and just let it run. If you're concerned about people falling asleep, make that segment more interesting. Which matters because....
❌"Woke" Propaganda. There's are least two segments specifically that are horrible and have nothing to do with the game (but they do fit the context of kids talking) - one has to do with LGBT support (And that's certainly polarized gamers), the other has to do with occult/conspiracy/alien/etc. type things. Again, perfectly fits the context of what young people are consumed by in the modern era, but especially with the latter, it went on, and on, and on, forcing you to click through it, like some form of forced indoctrination or something. (Yes, I know the segment is "optional", but it's a visual novel. The point is to experience everything. There's also no warning for either.)
Fortunately, this isn't a game suitable for kids, so hopefully not a lot of them will end up being negatively influenced by this garbage.
One character is apparently gay, one character is apparently either bi-curious, bisexual or "in the closet", and another character is softly presented as transgender. Didn't get the sense of any lesbian characters (which actually WOULD have fit in at least one situation), but may not have been paying close enough attention. Regardless, I wasn't offended by the presence of these characters, rather in all but one, their sexual preference was directly tied to the case and their behavior. This caused contradictions in the flow as you went along - their actions made no sense when compared to the actual true ending. By the time it wraps up, it's obvious this narrative was shoehorned into the case flow as an excuse to have them there, and that is a problem. It just turns those characters into throwaway commodities rather than significant contributors (all three characters' impact is completely destroyed by the time the credits roll).
Summary - 6/10
It's not that I didn't like the game, quite the contrary. I was entertained, but there was too much that required suspension of belief, and they seemed afraid to go all-in with what they were initially trying to do, which is truly make you feel what was going on. If you played 40% of the paths, you would feel it, but if you go for completion, it's a big F-you when you get to that ending, and that's the big takeaway here. It could have been so much more than what it was.