Epic has been basking in the limelight for its Unreal Engine 5 demo, and the console on everyone’s minds right now is Sony’s PlayStation 5. Like most of tech culture, the mainstream gaming industry is constantly hungry for next-gen hardware, and for major studios like Epic Games, Blizzard and Ubisoft, there’s an ongoing competition to stay ahead.
Yet despite the technophilia that defines modern video games, some indie developers still embrace the old.
Last June, a small Japanese indie studio named Petit Depotto unveiled Gnosia -- a werewolf-style role-playing adventure -- on the aging PlayStation Vita, which Sony officially discontinued in March 2019. Adapted from the 1986 Russian social game Mafia, werewolf scenarios require ‘villagers’ to deduce the identity of a ‘werewolf’ hiding among them.
“I tried playing a ‘werewolf’-type mobile game and was pretty dissatisfied with the experience,” said Shigoto, Petit Depotto’s narrative designer, who only wanted to be identified by a nickname, the Japanese word for “work.” “Gnosia came about because we wanted to play our ‘ideal’ werewolf-simulation game.” With the exception of Petit Depotto’s producer and director Toru Kawakatsu, the rest of the four-person team declined to provide their full names out of privacy.
But releasing on an obsolete device wasn’t always the plan. Work on Gnosia began in 2015, the same year that Sony stopped making Vita games. “At the beginning, we didn’t even consider it,” admitted Kawakatsu.
According to Shigoto, Gnosia was initially developed for Playstation Mobile, Sony’s now-defunct platform for the Vita and Android smartphones. “I had actually finished the PS Vita port when Playstation Mobile was shut down, so there was really no other option,” he said. But launching on an old handheld -- albeit with a cult following -- actually helped the game stand out.
Gnosia on the Vita was a hit. IGN Japan gave it a perfect 10/10 score. Then, Petit Depotto landed a coveted spot on the March 2020 Nintendo Direct livestreamed showcase before Gnosia hit Japan’s Nintendo Switch e-store in late April. It was a tremendous win for the tiny Nagoya-based team.
Part visual novel and part role-playing game, Gnosia expands on the simple werewolf format through layers of complex elements like time loops, compelling non-playable characters, skill systems, verbal boss fights and different character classes.
It blends familiar mechanics seen in games like Minit (where players have one minute of time for each playthrough), The Complex (where players must build trust with others) and the award-winning Disco Elysium (an existential detective game where dynamic dialogue and emotion drive the story). Petit Depotto brought new dimensions to a tried-and-tested party-game narrative while Gnosia’s time-loop feature gave the game replayability. The game was a breath of fresh air to an otherwise monotonous genre.
But Gnosia isn’t alone. The Vita community, which patiently waited for Gnosia and whose enthusiastic response helped Petit Depotto grab Nintendo’s attention, is one small part of a vast, decades-old retro-game-fandom scene that keeps near-obsolete consoles alive.
Kawakatsu believes it is an “honor” to launch games for these storied consoles. It takes a village to raise a child, but also to extend the lifespan of a beloved elder.