‘GNOSIA’S’ MASTERFUL GAMEPLAY LOOP IS IMPRESSIVELY ADDICTIVE
A lot has been made of Gnosia’s arrival on Nintendo Switch since it was announced back in December, particularly the game’s resemblance to titles like Among Us and party games such as Mafia and Werewolf. Those comparisons are apt, but Gnosia is much more than that, to the point where anyone who might dismiss the game after hearing those references is missing out on a gem. Gnosia, it turns out, is one of the most fascinating games I’ve ever played.
Gnosia tells a story set 1,000 years in the future, in a world plagued by an insidious race called the Gnosia trying to wipe out humanity via infection and erasure from existence. A small and eclectic group of spacefarers escape Gnosia attacks on a colonized planet, ranging from a space traffic controller to a “little gray” alien to a verbal beluga whale in a water suit riding a scooter.
The group learns the infection has joined them onboard, and as a group they must deduce who is infected, sentencing those voted as dangerous to “cold sleep” and removing them from the game. Eventually other roles are available to the crew, including Engineers who can scan members of the crew for Gnosia infection, Doctors that can analyze the person put into cold sleep and declare them Gnosia or not, or Guard Duty which guarantees the person is a human. The problem is, with the exception of Guard Duty, Gnosia or human loyalists called AC Followers can also declare these roles to throw off the scent.
Once a vote is complete there’s a brief interlude section where I can level up certain statistics based on experience gained from previous loops. Intuition makes me better at sniffing out lies, Logic makes it easier to convince other crewmates to my side, and Performance helps me get my point across to the group. There’s also Stealth, which lets me fly under the radar both during debates and the overnight elimination, Charm which lessens my chances of being the one chosen for cold sleep, and Charisma which boosts the chances of other crew following my lead.
After leveling up I can interact with one other member of the crew per in-game day before going to sleep, and overnight a randomly-selected non-Gnosia crew member is eliminated so long as one Gnosia is left standing after the vote. The cycle continues until either all Gnosia are removed from the game or the number of Gnosia remaining equals at least the number of survivors remaining, and once a game is completed the loop starts all over again.
What’s the endgame, you may be thinking, if the game just restarts? This is where Gnosia begins to up the intrigue: as loop after loop are completed, eventually parameters will arise that unlock specific in-game events, story beats pertaining to one or two of the characters on the ship. The game then provides a list of between four and seven facts to learn about each character, as well as full control on each loop’s “rules.” Once all the facts are discovered, the endgame begins and the story is completed.
In my playthrough it took 152 loops to see the end credits. In what is easily the largest hurdle to overcome in Gnosia, those loops were filled with monotony. The same dialogue pieces during discussions, the same voting system, the same interactions afterward, the same eliminations, everything is the same ad infinitum. That monotony is going to be what makes or breaks the experience for the majority of players, but sticking with it as it goes through the paces will highlight the brilliance on display here. See, Gnosia knows it’s monotonous. It’s fully aware of what it’s asking the player to do and uses this self-awareness to turn the repetition into its greatest weapon.
As I’m going through the paces of multiple loops without a new story beat I start to feel the wear, wondering how much longer I’ll last in this current session. The game gives me a way to search for the specific parameters needed to trigger an event, but even then the event doesn’t always trigger and the trial-and-error only heightened the frustration brought on by the repetitious gameplay.
Out of nowhere a new story branch begins to play out, the seemingly mindless repetition of the game shattered in an instant, and I’m completely engaged. It could be a small thing like learning a crewmate’s occupation, or it could be a monumental event like the one crew member who, if paired with a specific crewmate for Guard Duty, goes completely insane and murders everyone. Whatever it is, it’s broken the cycle of monotony, added another line or two to my list, and inched me closer to the end of the game. That sudden jolt is the brilliance of Gnosia at work, taking me from “eh, I’m done after this loop” to “oh man I need to find the next story piece NOW” in an instant.
It also helps that the story is well-written, each character having a very clear personality and moral code that can be used to my advantage. A few of my favorites are Shigemichi, the aforementioned “little gray” alien, the spunky Comet covered in colorful tattoos, and Chipie whose goal is to get surgery to transition into becoming a cat, a point heightened by the cat surgically attached to his neck seated on his shoulders like a scarf. As I mentioned earlier, this is a cast of characters I won’t soon forget.
I cannot deny the monotonous nature of Gnosia and its potential to be a massive turn-off. However, overcoming it and getting to experience the story and its wonderful writing, along with the jolts of story elements revealing themselves, will absolutely pay off in the end. Getting to experiment with different formats is also very fun, as I enjoyed stacking the deck against me as much as possible and trying to dig my way out. There’s a lot of game here, even if it seems like it’s the same thing over and over again. Gnosia fascinates me even after completing it, as I think back to everything I’d experienced during those 152 loops, and neither Among Us nor Mafia or Werewolf ever made me feel this way.
Photo courtesy of Petit Depotto