Social deduction games have become increasingly popular since the award winning Among Us appeared on Steam; that game quickly became a fixture on streaming platforms as a popular multiplayer game, and is still going strong today.
It seems, then, that Gnosia could not have come at a better time. And as a visual novel/RPG hybrid, it has not only stood out as another social deduction game, but as an extremely engaging single-player experience akin to being a part of the immensely tense The Thing.
The social deduction game is nothing new as a party game, with titles such as Mafia and Werewolf being great icebreakers at parties. But it’s also nothing new to the visual novel medium.
Raging Loop did a terrific job all on its own with an intriguing story unraveling through multiple playthroughs, making those “loops” necessary to understand the full picture. Meanwhile, the Zero Escape series sometimes feels like it will never be bettered due to its twisting narrative of alliances with different characters to seek answers to its many mysteries across multiple runs.
But thanks to developer Petit Depotto and publisher Playism, Gnosia has proven to be a must-have visual novel and is deserving of the perfect scores it has already received from some outlets as of the time of writing. And what else does it have going for it on top of this? Randomness. Lots and lots of endearing oddities as characters, and unexpected twists to be discovered in its non-linear narrative.
A setup that commands attention
The setup for Gnosia initially asks you for basic information, including an icon to represent your presence in the visual novel segments, plus your name and preferred pronoun. You can tell this is a thoroughly modern game thanks to the inclusion of a non-binary player option, as well as several characters who identify as such. It’s a good fit for a representation of the far future; it feels highly appropriate and graciously executed rather than forced in for the sake of appearing progressive.
The objective of the game is to discuss which crewmate should be placed in “cold sleep”, as an alien threat — the titular Gnosia — has been detected on board your spaceship. Depending on majority vote, the suspected and accused will be put into cold sleep, and if any Gnosia still live, they pick a target to eliminate during the night. The humans are victorious if all the Gnosia are eliminated, while the Gnosia will win if their numbers make up half or more of the remaining humans at any given point.
The setup of the game itself is incredibly effective. You’ll hardly meet any characters on your first few playthroughs, with the first having no roles other than Gnosia and Crew present. You also have very ineffective beginning stats, since you start the game with amnesia. Compared to some previous examples of this trope, its usage in Gnosia is effective once the mystery starts to unravel — so keep playing to find out more.
Gnosia’s deduction game runs like the aforementioned party game Werewolf, and similar to Raging Loop. For example, the latter’s two “monkeys” have a rough analogue in Gnosia’s two “guard duty” characters; they are confirmed human right off the bat since they never left the spaceship. Raging Loop’s Crow corresponds to Gnosia’s Doctor — they’re a character who can determine the accused’s bodies of being either human or Gnosia — and Raging Loop’s Spider corresponds to Gnosia’s Guardian Angel, who will protect an individual of their choosing in the night, potentially saving a human from a Gnosia attack.
The “good” roles in Gnosia include the aforementioned crew member, doctor, Guardian Angel, guard duty, plus an engineer who can investigate an individual at night. The “bad” characters, meanwhile, include the Gnosia themselves, plus the AC Follower — a human who supports the Gnosia — and the Bug. The latter is a bit of a wild card; if the Bug is still alive at the conclusion of the game, they win alone. All of the “bad” characters will lie, and can even pose as other roles to falsely report one another.
This is a perfect, shorter title to get into before attempting more ambitious non-linear narrative in this style such as the aforementioned Raging Loop — and if you’ve already played Raging Loop, you should definitely not turn down the experience of playing Gnosia. As you can hopefully see, Gnosia keeps adding more to the experience in order to amp up the challenge and tension with exclusive roles for its deadly game.
An always unwinding mystery, or an engaging, short deduction game
Gnosia’s narrative is appealing no matter how little or how much time you sink into it. While the story unravels the more loops you experience, it’s at a rewarding pace; the title continues to feel mysterious becomes increasingly intriguing with each revelation revealed.
Even if you play the title at a slower, more irregular pace, getting a win in a round with all the Gnosia plus the AC Follower and Bug discovered and executed is always satisfying. You can play the game at your own pace, but by the time your questions are being answered or merely being hinted at, you’ll be hooked onto its story.
Gnosia not only has a gorgeous aesthetic with stunning artwork, but its unique and diverse cast has the substance to back up its style. Not a single character is one-dimensional or stereotypical — and you’ll need to fill in the extensive cast notes in order to advance plot points.
That style goes a long way, though; whether it’s the tender, delicate and youthful beauty of the character Kuruskha or the expressive sprites and the horrifying Gnosia portraits, the game certainly leaves an impact.
A perfect hybrid
The RPG aspect of the game comes in the form of the player character’s customisable stats, presented to you at the beginning of the game. These can be increased or changed during your run.
You should always try and increase them when you can, since you can discover new skills by interacting with other characters. These skills will benefit you in the long run and enable you to make better judgement calls when assessing if people are lying. You’ll also be able to use a commanding presence to deflect accusations off yourself onto an accuser, or the ability to beg your way out of being put into cold sleep. The skills add a welcome customisation option to this single-player social deduction game, and help flesh out the cast through the way you discover each skill.
Players can also customise loops by selecting up to 15 number of participants in total, up to 6 Gnosia, the role you’re assigned, and what roles are available. Which character shows up as which role is always randomised, and this offers so many possibilities to discover, and increases the play-time enormously.
The unexpected nature of Gnosia may be offputting to some players because of the time it can take to find the right combination of options to move the mysteries on. This can be due to particular conditions not being met because certain characters are in the “wrong” positions to fulfil the story objective, or are simply voted out too soon in the loop.
While you can exit the game back to the setup at any time, it is always worthwhile to go through another full playthrough for more points to add to your character’s stats. In the long run, it provides a massive benefit as you’ll be able to complete loops at rapid speed and with more ease.
And despite these loops being just 5-10 minutes each, the game can easily take up to over 200 loops to fully finish, with my own play time clocking in at almost 14 hours. But I actually didn’t want to leave the looping, because the cast is so damn charismatic.
A cast of characters to die for
Speaking outside of the main character, Gnosia’s characters are well defined no matter the loop. Alliances will start to make sense and become more noticeable the more loops experienced because they are in line with their behavioural traits and hidden or discovered relationships.
For example, Yuriko and Raqio will often your biggest threats due to Raqio’s logical mind and Yuriko’s strong influence in the group due to her high performance. Raqio is often the most suspicious as they’re so loud and confident in their judgements — and they often get their accusations right on the money, even if it’s you as the Gnosia. Yuriko’s effortless commanding nature, meanwhile, makes her a challenge to vote out or encourage to side with you.
You have other characters like Shigemichi, Jonas, and SQ whose links to other characters will indicate biases during voting. Meanwhile, Sha-Ming barely speaks at all due to having the highest Stealth, and Remnan’s shy personality always keeps him in the background no matter his role. There are a variety of personalities and characters on the spaceship, but are consistent no matter their role, making it difficult not to feel for everyone by the time we’ve come to understand them.
The characters are surprisingly “human” for a game centred on the idea of impostors and alien invasion. The hidden truths and revelations are not only shocking, but add a necessary amount of sympathy and morality to the crewmates who end up deserving to see the light of day, despite what our first impressions might have been of them.
Not only is this feeling of empathy absolutely essential for a social deduction game as a single-player experience, but it is also highly effective for its gameplay, as we agonise over the choice of who to kill off. In the end, our own allegiances will be shifting all over the place until we finally reach the “true” ending. And what a brilliant true ending it is.
Gnosia excels at being whatever you want it to be. As a single-player deduction game, or as a slowly revealing, spine-chilling story with amazing characters in the forefront and lore behind it, Gnosia has immediately become a must-play title for 2021. Just as I had hoped.
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