Adrift in space, a ship faces a terrifying crisis: Some of its members are no longer human, and plan to take over the vessel to offer it to an otherworldly being known only as the Gnos. To succeed, these beings--the Gnosia--must kill the other crew members, one by one, and deceive the others into thinking that innocent crew are the enemy. Trapped in a terrifying time loop that only you and another crew member are aware of, you must protect the ship from the threat of the Gnosia--or, as fate might dictate, eagerly destroy everything for your sinister overlord.
If you're thinking that this concept sounds a lot like a certain multiplayer game that's become extremely popular over the last year, you're not wrong--the similarities in concept between Gnosia and Among Us are undeniable. But Gnosia, which released a few years back on the PS Vita and only recently came to Switch in English, takes that concept and puts a very different spin on it. By utilizing a visual novel-like presentation, RPG-like mechanics, a great cast of characters, and a multi-layered story, Gnosia presents you with a very different take on the social deduction game--one that, despite some stumbles, succeeds quite admirably.
When you begin Gnosia, you meet Setsu, an unassuming green-haired crewmember who briefs you on what's going on. Besides yourself, Setsu is the only other person on board who is fully aware of what's happening: that everyone on the ship is trapped in a horrifying time loop where one or more of the crew--including you--have been infected by the Gnosia. Unfortunately, Gnosia infection can't be determined visually, so each day, the crew votes on someone to send to cold sleep until all Gnosia are eliminated. With each loop, things change dramatically: the crew members on board, the amount of Gnosia, and what roles everyone plays. And sometimes, completely unexpected things happen beyond the control of even the humans or the Gnosia. With Setsu as your aide--and sometimes Gnosia-infected enemy--you must figure out a way to escape from this eternal hell by looping as many times as it takes to solve the mystery.
Gnosia's loop is a simple one. Each day, a vote is taken to send a member of the ship into cold sleep. During five rounds of arguing, crew members--yourself included--use varied debate tactics to both draw and deflect criticism to and from certain crew members. Knowing when to speak up and when to simply let others talk is important; being too much of a loudmouth can bring unwanted attention and suspicion, as can trying too hard to defend yourself and others. After five rounds of debate have passed, a vote is taken, and a crew member gets sent off to the freezer beds for the rest of the loop. Afterward, you can interact with the remaining crew, getting a sense of their feelings toward you and sometimes observing special event scenes that reveal more about their histories and motivations. But when the next ship warp comes, someone will be killed, and the process begins again until either the Gnosia are all put on ice or until the humans are outnumbered.
It's rough going at first. For the first couple dozen loops, you're going to get killed and sent to the freezer a lot, sometimes on day one. If you argue too much, you'll be unceremoniously told to shut up. It's a harsh learning experience, but one that pays off through both gameplay lessons learned and beneficial abilities gained. After each loop, no matter if you win or lose (by getting killed, put into cold sleep, or outnumbered), you earn EXP to level up various stats like charm, logic, charisma, intuition, stealth, and performance. After a good number of loops, you'll have built up the stats and skills necessary to explore a wealth of new and fun ways to bicker amongst your peers.
Increasing these stats helps you out in various ways; high intuition can sometimes set off an alarm when someone is lying to you, while a strong charm stat can help keep you out of the crosshairs of suspicion by being generally affable. Increasing these stats also opens up new skills to use during debates, such as pressuring others to vote (or not vote) for a certain person, turning suspicion back on a person accusing you, or even pleading your innocence after you've been voted off--but several other crewmates have these skills, too, which turn the simple act of pointing fingers into an intense war of wits and words to try and win over your peers.
Paying attention to dialogue lets you catch on to contradictions and odd behavior--you'll unfortunately see a lot of the same argument dialogue over the course of many loops, which you'll want to skip, but mashing through could leave you missing an important point or a key opportunity to jump into the conversation. Few things are more satisfying than completely cornering a guilty party by pointing out their logical fallacies and leaving them utterly unable to retaliate--and few things are as painfully numbing as witnessing a detractor completely wreck your flimsy defense and watching every one of your crewmates lay into you while you're unable to respond. And when your Hail Mary strategy of looking pathetic and emphatically pointing the finger at the quiet guy to take all of the heat off of yourself by some miracle actually works? You'll want to give yourself the highest of high-fives.
Things get more complex when the game introduces more roles for the crew members (and the player) than simply "human" and "Gnosia." Engineers can choose a character from the crew to analyze each night for signs of Gnosia infection, while Doctors can check if an already-frozen character is Gnosia. However, Gnosia can also falsely claim these roles to spread suspicion and disinformation. Two characters may have been on guard duty during the time of Gnosia infiltration, clearing them from the pool of suspicion. A Guardian Angel operates in secret and can protect one character from Gnosia attack each night--except themselves. The cultist AC Followers are human, but covertly work to benefit the Gnosia and can lie about their true intentions. The ultra-destructive Bugs, if left unfrozen or alive by loop's end, will destroy the fabric of the universe no matter which side comes out victorious, resulting in a victory for nobody but themselves.
The roles you assume can have a dramatic effect on gameplay. You could play a big part in swaying the course of the game if you've got a special role--but by revealing yourself, you also put crosshairs on your forehead, making every debate and overnight warp far more nerve-wracking. If you're playing as a Gnosia who is falsely claiming to be a Doctor or Engineer, you obviously want to get rid of the human who actually has that role--but killing them outright will expose you as a fraud, so you're challenged to find a way to make them look like the faker. If you're an AC Follower, you're in for a real trial: you have to ensure a Gnosia victory while carefully avoiding being targeted by both Gnosia and the humans--no small feat, given that both sides are very, very suspicious of you--but pulling it off makes you feel like the most slimy, grimy chameleon in the universe. There are lots of factors at play at all times, and even though you're playing against computer AI, you always feel like you're up against a group of very astute individuals who will not hesitate to tear you apart at the slightest mistake, which is a delight.
While the social-deduction gameplay loop itself is great, what makes Gnosia truly unique is the way it weaves story and character development in with the ever-repeating cycles. When certain conditions are met during a loop, you'll sometimes see an event scene that reveals more about a particular character. Everyone on the ship is eccentric in their own way, and throughout the gameplay cycles, you'll learn more and more about these characters' quirks: why Comet has what looks like a full-body tattoo, how resident goofball Shigemichi came to look like a stereotypical little gray alien, and why the cowboy-hat-wearing Jonas seems to not be entirely living in reality. Not only do these events make the characters more likable--it's hard to hate this ragtag mess of charming weirdos thrown together by circumstance, even at their worst--the events also reveal key clues about the nature of the Gnosia and why everyone's caught in this ever-looping hell. Plus, you can use information learned from these events to your advantage in later loops; if you know somebody is a bad liar, placing them in a situation where they're forced to lie might be clutch in securing your victory.
But this element of Gnosia is also one of its biggest problems. In order to trigger key story events, conditions--such as one or more specific crew members staying alive for several days--must be met, and you'll find the person you need to stick around getting killed off early (or, alternatively, someone you need to eliminate getting ignored). Even figuring out specific conditions to make events trigger can be a bit of a pain--though a handy “event search” that eventually unlocks in the setup screen helps somewhat, there are still elements of randomness needed to make important things happen that it can't account for. Trial and error makes up a lot of Gnosia, and while the process does eventually reward you, it can be a little tedious to get to that point.
But even with its flaws, Gnosia remains a fascinating and engrossing experience. Its short gameplay loop makes for a unique presentation different from other visual novel and adventure games, and adds a hard-to-resist “just one more game!” quality that keeps you eager to find out what will happen on the next go-around. The varied roles and options also make each attempt a unique experience, and even when the game isn't fully cooperative in giving you the event scenes you want to see, it's still a fun time to try to eke out a victory over either the humans or the Gnosia--or possibly both. If you're looking for a different spin on social deduction games, Gnosia is one time loop you'll be eager to get sucked up in.