It has been a cursed year so far, but I am slowly breaking that curse this summer and finally getting back to playing some games.
Gnosia is an extremely unconventional work that took a team of 4 people over 4 years to develop. The main concept is a game of single player werewolf, set in a stage fitting for a futuristic space opera, where you loop back to the beginning after every game of werewolf regardless of result. It’s also a download-only title released exclusively for the PS Vita in June 2019, a few months after the handheld’s end of production was announced. Worry not, the developers’ previous game Maison de Maou has been ported to every console available so I’m sure Gnosia will at the very least get a Switch or PS4 port. Far too much time and effort has been put into the game for it to be left alone on a handheld that has pretty much ended its life.
Edit: I forgot to mention the biggest gamebreaking flaw of the game. It has no backlog.
I picked up the game because it was marketed as a Werewolf x loop game, and I loved Raging Loop so much the mere concept was enough to draw me in. Unlike the extremely text heavy Raging Loop that features vivid characterization and extensive insight into the protagonist’s train of thought, Gnosia is actually a single-player Werewolf simulator featuring a silent protagonist with selectable gender and a cast of 14 other characters who will be assigned different Werewolf roles every game. Their in-game AI will generally perform actions to help achieve their assigned role’s goal, with recognizable action patterns according to their personality to simulate the feeling of playing werewolf with characters who will try to lie, speculate, or call out other people they think are suspicious.
The game is set in the far future where space has been colonized to the point where there exist many planets with human civilization that have developed their own cultures. There exists a threat known as Gnosia that infects people and puts them to the cause of murdering others. On a confined spaceship that had escaped with 15 people from planets taken over by Gnosia, the ship’s AI detects the existence of the very threat on the ship. It knows the total number of Gnosia amongst the people, but not their exact identities. Fortunately, the Gnosia only have time to kill one person a day during the time of warping where everyone else is asleep. A discussion is held each day to decide on one person to put into cold sleep, and continue until the ship’s AI detects that there is no more active Gnosia on its premises.
The story begins with you, an amnesiac, getting woken up by Setsu, who is also experiencing the looping phenomenon. You are tasked with information gathering and figuring a way out of this loop, which involves going through many rounds of this werewolf game to get rid of the Gnosia and finding out information about every member on the ship.
Gnosia is this game’s version of the werewolf role. They win the game if half or more of the people remaining on the ship (that are not in cold sleep) are Gnosia. The remaining roles are also identical to classic roles in a game of Werewolf : there’s the Engineer who is able to conduct an investigation on one person a day into whether they are infected by Gnosia or not, the Doctor who can verify whether the person who was voted to be put to cold sleep was a Gnosia or not, the Guardian Angel who can protect one person from being attacked each day, and two people who are able to provide alibis about each other to prove that they never got off the ship since getting on and thus cannot be the ones infected. There are also additional roles like a human who worships the Gnosia and will try to lie to cause confusion, and a Bug that will cause the space-time continuum to bug out if they survive until the end of the game (regardless of who wins) and will still activate if they are put to cold sleep but not if they are killed or investigated by the Engineer.
Each game of werewolf is around 15-20 minutes long, taking place over the course of a few days. After a certain point you are able to set the number of people total (5-15), the number of Gnosia (maximum of 6), and whether each of the other roles are present or not. Each day consists of a discussion part that is limited to 5 conversation to try and come to a conclusion on who to vote to cold sleep. If 2 or more people get the same number of votes, a revote occurs and the discussion continues for 2 more “conversations” about those people and the voting targets become limited to them. Each conversation is basically someone announcing their role, accusing someone else of being suspicious, or trying to claim that another person is trustworthy just can’t be infected by Gnosia. The player has a set of stats that determine their proficiency in the game, that gets carried over each loop since the protagonist retains their memory each loop. After each game, the player gets some experience (regardless of outcome) that will let them level up and distribute a stat point into one stat. Higher charisma makes it easier for people to agree with you, intuition will sometimes let you know when someone’s statement is a lie, logic makes rebuttals more effective, cuteness causes others to jump to your defense when someone suspects you, acting makes your lies more difficult to see through, and stealth makes you a less likely target for the Gnosia. Reaching a certain level in certain stats will unlock skills that you can use in the discussion. Early on in the game people may just all jump on you and put you to cold sleep for accusing someone, but in late game, the “look sad” skill accompanied by a sufficiently high cuteness stat will cause many people to jump to your defense the moment you get accused.
The fun thing about the game is that people will generally follow the proper logic for playing a game of werewolf, but the amount of each character’s personality also shines through quite a bit through their actions during the discussion. Racio is intelligent and great at logical thinking, but they have a tendency to look down on people and usually gets themselves voted into cold sleep on day one simply out of dislike from other characters. But if they survive until late game and are not a Gnosia, they become immensely helpful as they manage to nail down who is definitely human and definitely not (usually the player can figure this out too at that point if they do some thinking, but it just feels less mentally taxing when someone else is saying it, you know). Kukurshka’s 悲しむ will always get people jumping to her defense and suspecting you in return, even if you know that she is a Gnosia for that round and reported it as the Engineer (generally if someone comes out as the Engineer or Doctor, another person will too so your reports are not 100% trustworthy). Girls with high “cuteness” are always incredibly formidable foes when they are Gnosia, as getting others to vote them for cold sleep is difficult. Comet is almost always able to see through lies, but is terrible at lying and often gets herself killed or voted into cold sleep early on. Watching the action patterns of each character’s AI is pretty interesting as they end up saying a lot about the character, forming the player’s impression of them through not only the story scenes but also their implementation in gameplay.
At night after the discussion of who to put to sleep, you can visit another character to raise their affection (for that loop) or see an event, marked by a red exclamation mark. Events will either provide you with a new skill, unlock some information about a character on their character profile, or is someone trying to team up with you or tell you that they sensed someone else’s lie. This brings me to the goal of the game, which is to fill out every character’s profile page. That is the condition to advance into the final stretch of the game and complete the story. There will also be set loops that are hardcoded to be a story event instead of letting you play out the entire game of werewolf, but generally you will spend your time playing over 100 games of werewolf trying to hit the exact situation with the necessary characters alive to trigger events that reveal character details and backstory. Thankfully the game has an event searcher mode that automatically provides you with werewolf number and role configurations that have a high chance of triggering events, but I still had to do 30 loops of nothing while trying to get the last 2 profile details of one particular character in order for the story to advance. As addicting as I found the game overall (the One More Round syndrome is strong), it does get tiring when you have to go through 30 loops of no new information.
I’d say Gnosia is worth experiencing as an ADV for how it presents its story through its system. It’s strung together impressively well for a game that is designed for the user to have a lot of freedom in both dialogue choices and the combination of characters that are alive by a certain point each loop, utilizing every gameplay element to converge into some really cool story revelations. Generally ADV that emphasize freedom of choice end up with lots of repetitive or generic scenes sprinkled along an actually linear story. Gnosia is far from being free of those problems — there is huge amounts of repeated dialogue due to the nature of the gameplay (each character only has 1 variation of their generic farewell line when they get voted to go into cold sleep, and by the end of the game you will be able to predict what line each character will say in the current gameplay state due to the lack of variety), but even so the amount of unique scenes that occur when you survive with a certain combination of characters as either humans or Gnosia is quite impressive. They also managed to provide some differences in scenes depending on whether you chose your character to be male, female, or genderless. I finished the game but it feels like there is still a number of character combinations that would result in unique scenes that I haven’t seen, and apparently there are events and new dialogue choices that appear on a proper second playthrough of the game once the player has seen the full story. It succeeds in making it feel like a role playing game in the traditional sense, and had me more invested in its characters, setting, and story through the system. Gnosia makes skillful use of the “4th wall” that is always present between the game and the player, to borrow words from the glowing IGN Japan review.
Admittedly the gameplay does get repetitive. Perhaps “repetitive” is a massive understatement as I had to do 150 loops to actually get to the end, and that seems like an accurate ballpark according to the posts I’ve seen on threads. I’m definitely someone who prefers just reading interesting scenarios and fun banter over actually participating in ADV gameplay which usually tends to be either repetitive or just a huge chart of choices, and whatever interest I have towards the system is solely for the purposes of showing unique parts of the story. One of the reasons why I’m such a fan of games with rather “constrained” systems and stiff, structured game flow is because they almost always have to do something outside of the box of their system for the purposes of presenting their narrative in an impactful way. I definitely felt that with Gnosia, which is why I think the 150 games of werewolf were worth it. Plus, you get to feel in real time the mental fatigue and eventual apathy that hits the protagonist of loop stories!
Maybe my appreciation for the events in this game were just heightened by the amount of repetitive work I had to do, but I do think the characters and setting were interesting. It’s a cool loop game set in a crazy sci-fi setting with lots of eccentric characters whose revelations are hard to not at least take a passing interest in. The problem is that the the writing is too concise, which makes sense given its gameplay-focused nature and the fact that the protagonist is entirely silent and there is no narration, but I feel like certain scenes and characters could have been so much more if the game had just let me spend a little longer with them and not just end the scene when I was just getting ready for some deep lore diving and heavy conversation.
For my playthrough I chose to be the 汎 gender, which refers to people who decide to effectively become sexless and reduce reproductive instinct and ability for heightened logical processing ability. It’s implied to be quite a common and normalized thing in this distant future of humanity, and the main “heroine” of the game is actually 汎 but implied to be not aromantic, so their heroine-like scenes remain the same regardless of the player’s choice of gender. If the player chose to be Male they can choose to have more galge-like moments with a certain 2 female characters and a Female player will get special scenes with 2 of the male characters. It’s interesting seeing varying opinions based on different player demographics as women on twitter seem to really Sha-Ming, who never really stood out to me aside from when he taught me the dogeza skill (that never actually worked for me). Lemnan is also quite popular amongst women, and has possible romantic developments. Meanwhile, there’s quite a number of appreciation posts for Jina from dudes on 2ch, but even moreso for the 汎 main heroine Setsu. It’s probably because their design is quite feminine and their position is very obviously the main 相棒 and heroine, despite being defined to be a genderless army person. The choice in gender is a neat tidbit to have, especially in a sci-fi setting it’s cool to see that humanity has evolved to accept being genderless and focusing solely on the pursuit of knowledge to be a valid and common state. There was a scene in the shower with Racio that stood out to me because it was discovered that they have male genitalia, but they still identify as 汎 because gender is a matter state of mind. It especially makes sense in a setting with lots of neat sci-fi tidbits such as how uploading brain data after death onto the internet is a common thing, but having the money and resources to actually simulate back out the person using their brain data is not something that most people can do.
I actually liked the 汎 characters the best so my choice of gender worked out. ラキオにエロさに感じた時点で性別など要らぬ概念だと強く信じていた。セツはメインヒロインで「メインヒロイン」と言う役割は性別を超えてフラグだけでヒロインの本来の意味さえ覆すもの。
I’m getting quite disorganized here but I really liked the mechanics that you had to interact with for getting the true ending. It’s cool. The marriage of the scenario, system, art direction, music provided a refined experience that is effective because it was created by a small team of 4 people over the course of 4 years. Keeping the team small sometimes works wonders for consistency, and letting them take their time to develop enhances the quality. The care put into the game is something noteworthy, even if the 150 loops of werewolf really did become too much repetition. One point I wasn’t satisfied with was how quickly the ending went by — I wanted the game to actually show some epilogue scenes but all you get are short descriptions on what each character is up to afterwards as the credits scroll by. I know not every game can have Raging Loop’s amount of text, but I sure wished this game did at times. There is also no gallery mode or event viewer in the game, which should be a crime because of the amount of events and CGs in the game. The conditions for each event could really also have been less cryptic — and I mean less cryptic by actually giving you a hint for each one. Any hint. Please. How was I supposed to know how to trigger the event that fills out Lemnan’s second profile point? I tried all the things 2ch said and it didn’t trigger, I was on the verge of giving up until it somehow randomly happened under the same conditions I had been trying to keep. The event system feels random enough that I also managed to read most of the plot-important scenes with Racio including the one difficult part of the game where I had to become a Guardian Angel to actively keep them alive before filling out this one really obvious point in their profile that should have been basic knowledge.
If this game gets ported to PS4 or Switch, which I’m sure it would, I hope they add in clues for the unlock conditions of character profile points and also a gallery for when you clear the game. I also feel like having an event playback option when you get to set the protagonist’s gender would be a good option, but some may argue that it ruins the point of playing the game multiple times. I liked the game, but I’m not sure I want to play another 150 rounds of single player werewolf now that I am done the main story.
Edit: According to the development team’s interview, it seems like there being no CG or event gallery is intentional. I will respect their decision to try make your play through more unique and impactful, even if I do want to see events. It also seems like Jina has a hidden event that no one has seen yet, because the conditions are too difficult (because the programmer likes her too much). If anything it feels like the team really enjoyed and put their soul into making this game.
Gnosia is a unique game and I’m sure there’s nothing else like it. The concept is broken down into werewolf games with AI that take 15-20 minutes, making it perfect for a handheld but even moreso for smartphones in this day and age, but the care taken into constructing it makes me really glad that this was released for a proper console, even if it’s a console whose death was already set in stone. Aside from some moments of frustration I was basically glued to the game and had a blast playing it. Playing 150 rounds of single player werewolf might not sound attractive to people who tend to like to read instead of play novelge, but I do recommend giving Gnosia a try with the expectations for a single player werewolf simulator.
It has been a year since I wrote a post so I don’t remember how to structure a post or end a post. I’m a real normie now I leave the house every day.