Since its localization announcement in a Nintendo Direct at the end of last year, I’ve been pumped to play a somewhat obscure Switch port of an offbeat Japanese visual novel-esque puzzle thriller set in space. Or rather, a ” Sci-Fi Social Deduction RPG”, according to its description on Nintendo’s official website.
The game is called Gnosia, and before I knew anything more about it I already decided I had to try it out as soon as I saw its trailer in the Direct. I’m a simple man: I like sci-fi, I like retro manga art, and I like quirky Japanese games such as AI: The Somnium Files, Danganronpa, and Zero Escape. So I was sold based on the art style and setting alone before knowing anything else about Gnosia‘s actual gameplay.
Lo and behold, the game was a sleeper hit on the PS Vita in Japan, and even received a jawdroppingly perfect score of 10/10 from IGN Japan. The more I learned about Gnosia, the more I was intrigued beyond its aesthetics.
Some people likened it to trendy titles like Among Us, or compared it to the classic party game Werewolf (sometimes known as Mafia). I’m a big fan of all of the above, so my desire to get my hands on Gnosia was off the charts. I would go to its listing on Nintendo’s site every day and refresh the page, waiting to get an update on its official release date other than TBD or Early 2021.
And now, it’s been two weeks since I downloaded it on my Switch. I’ve played it. I’ve experienced it. I’ve soaked it all in. And yet, it’s taken me a couple of days to get around to writing this review.
So… how do I feel about it? Is it a 10/10 title? Does it deserve a perfect score? That’s the question I’ve been wrestling with. Because for a long time, I thought that no game deserved a perfect 10/10. Nothing is perfect, after all.
But then again, some games are so good and so well done, that it seems unfair to reward them with anything less than a perfect score for the amount of clear love and craftsmanship that went into the project, as well as how well it achieved its goals. And on that metric, it could be very reasonably argued that Gnosia deserves a perfect score.
Heck, had I written this review just a few days ago, I probably would’ve given it a perfect score. But after thinking it over, oddly enough, while I appreciate and respect the game more than ever, I also have had time to coalesce all of my thoughts on it and now realize there are areas it could improve.
There is one thing you should know before playing Gnosia, which is that it is very addictive. You very well could find yourself saying “just one more round” for an entire night. I have felt ashamed at myself for how often I was sucked into playing Gnosia for hours after swearing it was going to be my last round.
The beauty of it is, Gnosia operates in loops. You finish a loop and then start another loop at your own leisure. Each loop might last 15 minutes at most, and you can stop at any time. And it’s not the first game to do this (the aptly titled Raging Loop comes to mind). But my how times flies once you get going. And the thing is, with Gnosia you’re on a spaceship trying to figure out who in your crew is possessed by this mysterious entity, but it’s not like you just solve the mystery at the end of each loop. There’s an overarching story that connects everything makes each loop feel like more than the sum of its parts.
You’re going to want to come back and play again and again to not only progress the story and unearth answers to your ever-expanding list questions, but also to understand the other characters on a deeper level so you can get a better feel for how to successfully interact with them in future loops, and also to unlock more abilities, events, and roles.
And of course there are essentially multiple endings, some of which might leave you emotionally wrecked considering how much the game encourages you to get attached to the characters.
The fact that you really do immerse yourself in the story as you play loop after loop also adds some emotional weight to the proceedings as you are unwittingly investing time and energy into this world. And before you know it, you’re hooked.
You might start off simply wanting to rack up your experience so you can level up your abilities a bit (like your Intuition, Charm, Logic, Charisma, Stealth, Performance), but then inadvertently start to feel something for your fellow crew members as you work alongside them more and unlock more information about their individual backgrounds.
and trust me, you’ll want to learn their backstories, too. Gnosia has one of the most unique group of characters I’ve seen in a long while. I don’t want to spoil them all, but suffice to say I was impressed by more than a couple of the characters I encountered throughout the game.
Gnosia also has a lot of commands to master. All told, there is a list of 30 commands you can use in-game to help yourself get out of sticky situations, whether you’re playing as an actual Gnosia attempting to deceive your fellow players and systematically them out, or whether you’re merely an Engineer desperately trying to convince other crew members as to who is really a Gnosia onboard the ship.
Including being a Gnosia or Engineer, there are a total of seven roles available to play as – each with different strengths and weaknesses. Plus the option to randomly play as any role. There’s a surprising amount of freedom in being able to choose how many characters and roles are played and filled in each loop as well.
In the art department, the game’s art direction takes a very distinctive and appealing route. The colored sketchbook-like illustrations stand out in a world of ultra-realistic 4K graphics. There’s a personal human touch to these drawings that give them an extra layer of relatability even when you’re looking at a grey alien. It feels like a lot of creativity and thought went into these character designs.
The setting is also well-realized. It obviously invites comparisons to similar settings from films like 2001: A Space Odyssey or better yet Alien, but when you factor in the characters and dialogue, Gnosia feels like its own thing. And sure, there is a bleak darkness to it. The melancholy is palatable. But there are also moments of genuine warmth and humor throughout the game.
The music and sound design might be a mixed bag for some crowds. Personally, I enjoy the soundtrack. There’s not a whole lot of variety, but it matches the atmospheric tone of the game well. And there are certain audio cues that get my blood pumping like I’m in a Phoenix Wright courtroom. But I can reasonably see some people finding the looping ambient music to be irritating.
So at the end of the day we’ve got a fun, addictive indie title that successfully combines the best parts of multiple genres with appealing art, story, and characters. Sounds fantastic, right? What could I possibly complain about (other than the potentially limited appeal of the soundtrack)?
Well, for starters, by its very nature Gnosia was destined to feel at least a little repetitive. Your mileage may vary, but eventually no mater who you are, you will get tired of seeing the same dialogue repeated over and over again. If you sink more than 20 hours into it like I did in the span of 5 days, at bare minimum you’ll at least notice it to some degree. Granted, the writers still did an excellent job coming up with tons of text for these characters, and their personalities really shine through with each word. But, let’s be honest, it can feel monotonous at times.
And, maybe it’s just me, but by the nature of this game being entirely single player against computers, sometimes the logic just feels random. And in a game like this, random is not necessarily good. When you feel like your input as a player has little effect on the outcome of a game, there’s a risk you’ll lose interest.
Now, to be fair, I don’t feel like Gnosia is actually random. When you look back on interactions in the game you can usually see how and why certain things happened the way they did and how you could’ve changed the outcome by making different decisions. Still, there are moments where it can’t help but feel random in a negative way. Perhaps an online multiplayer feature with other human players could be added in a sequel or future spiritual successor?
Moreover, I have a tiny nitpick. The game allows you to peruse through discussion logs in each loop, which is great. But you start at the bottom and have to scroll up if you want to see the whole log. An option to immediately jump to the top or bottom of a log would’ve been nice. Just sayin’.
And those are my only criticisms, really. I won’t lie. I absolutely love Gnosia. And I’m very jealous of Japan for not only getting a physical release of the game on the Nintendo Switch, but also for receiving bonus goodies like Gnosia-themed earphones and reversible cover art.
In the West, it can only be purchased digitally through the eShop for $24.99. Is it worth $24.99? For me, it totally is. It’s in my top ten of games currently available on the Switch, and certainly in the top tier of games in this sort of niche genre.
That said, it is niche. I think it could have mass appeal, but I am so biased to liking this style of game that I am honestly not sure how a general audience would receive it.
Certainly if you like party games like Werewolf (and who doesn’t?), then you should go ahead and pick it up at full price. You won’t regret it. Same goes for if you also feel drawn in by its artwork or if you’re a major sci-fu nut like me. But if you’re none of the above, you might want to wait for a price drop. Regardless, if you own a Switch, you owe it to yourself to eventually experience Gnosia at least once in your lifetime. The entire game is like one big “you had to be there” moment that is difficult to put into words.