There are a metric ton of fantastic games that have been released in 2021, but nothing has left a lasting impression on me more than a little title called Gnosia. The game first drew attention around its release in March 2021 as a single-player “imposter” game along the lines of Among Us, developed by a small Japanese indie studio named Petit Depotto. While Gnosia is something of an imposter game, if you dig a little bit deeper, you find an ingenious puzzle game that uses its absurd cast of characters in some fascinating ways.
You are trapped aboard a spaceship with a host of other individuals and deadly alien beings called Gnosia, which can infect and take over the body of its host. The experience is separated into visual novel-like story sections, as well as conversational sequences that have you deliberating with the rest of the crew. The goal is for the survivors to deduce who the Gnosia is and put that individual, or individuals, into cold sleep. After the first couple rounds, you find out the game’s major twist: Everyone is stuck in a time-loop that randomizes the Gnosia each loop.
The game uses this idea as both a gameplay mechanic and a narrative tool. Each round, players will fill a different role and try to “win.” Of course, you can also take on the role of the Gnosia, which means your goal is to destroy all of the human characters.
Where Gnosia really starts to show its uniqueness is in how it starts to use those characters. The game is filled with off-the-wall and downright insane designs. There’s Chipie, a man who’s implanted a cat through his neck so that his brain can link with the cats, preparing him to eventually turn into a cat. There’s the talking dolphin Otome, who wears a spacesuit and helmet filled with water. Then there’s Shigemichi, who following an accident grafted artificial skin onto his body that makes himself look like a grey alien.
Each of these characters sounds totally bonkers, but there’s a surprising amount of depth and development put into each of their characters, and the absurdity of each design is given an actual narrative reason. Past all that, you need to grow to understand each character, as knowing their personalities and tendencies will give you a better understanding of how their AI works in the deduction sequences.
Every single character has their own tendencies and quirks that you can learn to manipulate, especially later on when your options open up. Partway through the game, you unlock the option to edit the variables of each loop to your liking, choosing which roles appear, which characters participate, how many Gnosia are active, etc.
This degree of control lets you explore whichever characters you want to, piecing together more of their personal stories. Then that in turn ties into the overarching story. One of the most interesting aspects is how being a Gnosia changes a character’s personality, making them more cunning and ruthless while eschewing their more humane tendencies. Because of this, you oftentimes get to see other aspects of a character's personality when you unlock a scene with them as a Gnosia ... sinister traits they wouldn’t normally reveal.
There’s a rhythm that develops in Gnosia as you go proceed through loop after loop, which could easily grow stale after you play through 10, 20 different loops. However, the game does a great job of mixing things up by bringing that rhythm to a screeching halt with huge story moments interspersed throughout the experience. Gnosia feeds you something of a narrative bread-crumb trail, keeping you invested with little nibbles until the feast-sized grand finale.
The simple truth is that nothing in Gnosia would work if it didn’t have strong writing and characters, and that’s what really makes the game stand out. A single-player imposter game is an interesting experiment, but the way Petit Depotto goes about telling its story feels truly innovative.
Gaming moves forward by experimenting and taking chances, and I can’t think of any single game in 2021 that feels more exploratory and vibrant than Gnosia.
Year In Games 2021 is an Inverse celebration of the most unforgettable adventures, stories, innovations, and characters in interactive entertainment.