On May 6th, Saitama Prefecture students Aine Ichirai and Binato Sotobara were reported missing. At 10pm EST on May 7th, Aine’s Twitter account shared a chilling account: on her way home from cram school, she blacked out, and then woke up in a dark room with no windows. The only things of note in the room? A box with a series of numbered buttons, and a piece of paper saying “Solve the Puzzle”. Twenty minutes later, her account went silent. The same pattern repeated for Binato at 10pm EST on May 8th. After blacking out on his way home from college, he woke up in a room with a box with a number lock, a note instructing him to “Solve the Puzzle”, and a smartphone that only connects to the internet for 21 minutes, every other day. This is players’ introduction to Hidden Bats, an alternate reality game teasing Japanese game developer Spike Chunsoft’s upcoming game, AI: The Somnium Files – nirvanA Initiative.
A Brief Introduction to Hidden Bats’ Gameplay
During the game’s first week, the mechanics of the game have been relatively simple: as Spike Chunsoft explains in their press release, every day, the smartphone belonging to one of the two missing students will activate for 21 minutes, and they will share a note through their Twitter account. Players then have two days to decode the message, using the surreal images contained within a video called “Bats489” as a guide. Then, they would enter that “Nirvana Spell” into an online tool to generate the nine-digit combination allowing the students to move on.
For instance, Aine Ichirai’s first note featured an image of a blue snake, a yellow penguin, and a gray giraffe. Each of these images appeared in the video, associated with letters spelling out the word “PAN”.
Entering that keyword into the Answer box on the Hidden Bats website as a “Nirvana Spell” triggers a congratulatory message, along with the first 9-digit code needed to proceed – . Two days later, when Aine’s internet access was restored, she reported that the box opened up, exposing yet another layer to solve. Puzzles have gotten progressively complex over the past week as players progressed (requiring players to get more creative in identifying the referenced symbols and introducing shift ciphers), but the core mechanic has remained the same. Find the puzzle, get the word, transform the word into the necessary number sequence.
Hidden Bats‘ design made a somewhat novel choice for the alternate reality gaming space: the entire experience is delivered with near-simultaneous posting in both English and Japanese, across the game’s websites and social accounts. While other games like McDonalds’ The Lost Ring and Star Trek’s Alert Vulcan have integrated multiple languages into gameplay, those games typically turn global communication into a puzzle of its own, leaving it as an exercise for fans to translate the often expansive texts driving gameplay. By making the conscious choice to limit communications to 21 minutes a day, Hidden Bats manages to more seamlessly engage with English and Japanese speakers in tandem.
The daily scheduling (starting at 10pm EST and alternating between Aine and Binato) also introduces some welcome regularity in updates.Continue reading