What They Say:
The crew of a drifting spaceship, facing off against a mysterious and deadly threat known as the “Gnosia” and having no idea who among them is really the enemy, formulate a desperate plan for survival. The most suspicious among them will be put into “cold sleep” one by one, in an effort to rid the ship of Gnosia.
After 185 loops, or matches, I feel that my time with Gnosia is officially done, at least for now. I’ll be honest in admitting that this is an unusual experience for me where I am reviewing a game that I have not completely finished. I have almost reached the end and nearly maxed out all of my stats, but my time is simply done for now.
If I were to describe Gnosia, I would think of it as the kid with the most potential on the baseball team that you, the coach, is leading. You see the greatness in them and sometimes they show it to everyone, nailing that home run, while other times they fall flat, getting three strikes in a row without doing much at all.
In many ways, those associated emotions were how I felt with Gnosia while playing it. From a glance, it is best described as the Zero Escape/Danganronpa-style death game visual novel with a heavy Raging Loop and Among Us-like premise. You and up to 14 other characters are stuck on a ship together where Gnosia, or killers, are hiding among the crew, killing one of them every night.
Your job during the day is to vote out who you think the killers are using intuition, reports from the other crew roles, lies, and so on. While it is very much the Among Us visual novel it sounds like, it is lacking the one thing that makes that game what it is: multiplayer. This is a strictly single-player experience, even if it is more fun with others around.
How the gameplay works is that once you beat the opening segment of the game, everything is opened up to you. You can customize your own matches, known as loops, from the number of overall characters to the number of killers to your own role in the match. Each day, everyone will gather together to vote.
Gnosia has a really intuitive gameplay system for this where you have five rounds before you vote that works unbelievably well for such a random system. Each round, you basically select a single action that boils down to two main categories: doing something or just waiting and seeing. If you wait and see for that round, someone else will speak up and accuse someone, vouch for someone, crack a joke, team up, and so on.
During these statements while you wait, you can chime in as well, agreeing with an accusation, defending someone you believe is innocent, etc. Alternatively, you can make an action in each round first: doing a selection of items like accusing someone, covering for someone, setting up opponents to lie, and more that are unlocked as you progress through the loops. The AI is pretty good and sometimes surprising, responding to situations in complex ways, like recognizing that someone is suspicious now because they were doubted by a person and that person was then killed afterward.
When you beat a match, whether you win or lose, you will gain experience that can be then used to up your stats to get better at lying when you are the killer, getting people to agree with you, avoiding being voted out, and so on. When you start the game, it is a tough grind to try and raise stats so you are more likely to lose quite often. But I’ve gotten to the point now deep in the game where it is near impossible for me to lose a match since everyone is waiting on every word I say to agree with it.
The purpose of the loops is to not only have fun trying to figure out the randomly selected killers and other roles like the Engineer — who can pick one person a night to see if they’re human or not — and grinding stats, but also for the story and characters. Gnosia uses a Hades-like system where you can get random events to happen in the middle of matches, like learning more about a specific character or the backstory of what is really going on and why you are looping.
As you might guess, this messy nature of storytelling isn’t going to be as compelling as other visual novels but it does a pretty memorable job nonetheless, especially when it comes to the characters. Matches take anywhere from a minute to 30 minutes (but usually around 15 minutes) so you can imagine how much time I spent with the 14 other characters across nearly 200 loops.
Because of this, I grew to love and hate each of them in their own way. Chipie, the cat lover, and Shigemichi, the literal alien dude, are my best bros while Kukrushka is the little sister I want to protect, Setsu is my mega crush, and Sha-Ming and Yuriko are my sworn enemies even when we are on the same side.
Each character has their own backstory and mysteries surrounding them plus their own unique personalities that directly affect how they play the game. As for the main story itself, it does suffer from being told in this sporadic nature. Over the course of my many loops, I would only say that there were maybe six main events that felt meaningful and interesting plus dozens of other throwaway ones that didn’t add much.
This is contrary to the beginning of the game that is stunning, more tightly focused, and well-written as the game takes you on a stricter journey to introduce the characters and mechanics. I’d easily say that if the game ended after the first 30 loops or so, it would be an unequivocal masterpiece but that isn’t this game; in fact, that amazing section is basically just the tutorial. What the game is, instead, is grinding and grinding over and over until you reach the end.
No matter how well it ends, though, my enjoyment with the game has long since passed, hence, why I am ending it here. Just before stopping my time with Gnosia, I had a very special event happen that ushered in the near ending of the game and revealed a whole lot and was amazing. I loved it and it was one of my favorite parts of the game, coming at a time when I was just about to quit playing.
But then as soon as it was over, I was back to the grind and immediately uninterested once again. With a really good walkthrough, I could see someone finish it much sooner and probably have a better time overall but you also lose out on some of the experiences this way. Among the game, there are pseudo-missions of sorts that characters will give you that require you to do something like keep them alive until the end of the match and so on that will reveal more info if accomplished.
Some of these are more obscure and extremely hard to even understand, let alone complete, causing some frustration in the process. And to make matters worse, it felt like well over half of the games I played were a waste of time offering nothing new and just encouraging me to button mash and not even read what is going on. In many ways, it makes me wish for a sequel that has two distinct modes: a tightly focused story mode and another one that is freeform where you can create whatever matches you want to play because there is merit in both.
Ironically, part of the reason that I am done with Gnosia at this point is how solitary it is. I love visual novels and digging into them by myself but I would argue that Gnosia is not meant to be played by yourself. While it isn’t multiplayer like Among Us, it feels made for a community experience with family and friends on the couch together.
At around loop 115, I was already tired of the grind and was ready to end my experiences there before I became too annoyed with this game I both adore and get frustrated with at the same time. But then, my soon-to-be siblings-in-law visited and I showed them a round where I let them pick the customization options and we worked together.
Each round, we would take turns doubting someone and then work together to figure out who we thought the killers were, and voted together. It led to the longest and one of the strangest matches I’ve had in Gnosia to date (with a string of three-way ties at the end where we kept voting each other) but also the most fun one I ever had. It gave me a second wind that lasted me up until this point.
While I won’t continue playing Gnosia for now, I am having a good time having my roommate play it in front of me. Just going through the first few loops, we’ve already seen at least two events and lines that I’ve never seen happen before in my 185 loops. There is something really fascinating and special to Gnosia that is unlike any other visual novel I’ve played before. While my criticisms and frustrations remain with the grindy nature of its main story, it is an unforgettable experience that I will come back to in the future just for a round or two to see who the killer will be this time, or, who I’ll kill this time.
Gnosia is a stunning visual novel with gameplay and story that is unlike any other visual novel to date. Through looping randomly generated death games, players piece together a sci-fi tale of killers hiding aboard a ship in space using different deep mechanics and stats.
Though the story is a bit too shallow and spread out at times, and the grind to finish the game is absolutely frustrating, this is an unforgettable experience filled with instant fan-favorite characters that is best played with family and friends. Equally messy and magical, it reaches for the stars and falls just short of being a masterpiece.
Developer: Petit Depotto
Age Rating: 13+
Release Date: March 4, 2021
Platform: Switch (reviewed)
This review was done with a review copy provided by the publisher. We are grateful for their continued support.