Psycho Pass: Mandatory Happiness Review

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First things first, let’s make it clear. Psycho Pass: Mandatory Happiness is not a video game. Not a traditional game at any rate. It’s a Visual Novel. Now for those of you who haven’t played one before, it’s storytelling via dialogue and cutscenes, with the option to make a few choices here and there that will affect the outcomes of the storyline. It’s not an adventure game like anything Telltale games might make, which tends to be more interactive than a visual novel, this is more like an animated, visual form of a choose your own adventure novel, told via static dialogue boxes, artwork stills, and the occasional cutscene. As such, if you come into it expecting some gameplay, you’ll be disappointed. However if you have played visual novels, or are just interested in an intricate and darkly dramatic story, then you’ll have a well crafted bleak, dystopian thriller to enjoy.

For those who haven’t watched the Psycho Pass anime, imagine the setting from Minority Report, but make it even more awful. Rest assured though, the game itself does an excellent job of getting you up to speed. Psycho Pass: Mandatory Happiness is set in Japan, 2112. The entire country is a surveillance and welfare state on a terrifying level. Technology now exists that can instantly scan and measure the mental state of individuals. The Sibyl System, which constantly monitors the emotional and psychological state of people, has control. People are tested, assigned jobs, education, and activities according to the results, and have medication and therapy planned for them. Free will has eroded away, and people are more or less controlled by the system to ensure a mentally balanced people and a harmonious society run for the betterment of the greater good. Most forms of crime have been eliminated, unemployment is low, and prosperity is high.

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Of course, that “utopia” comes at a cost. Aside from an increasing lack of free will, humanity, and empathy, with the mental state of people being able to be measured and quantified instantly, the Sibyl system can also measure how likely a person is to become a criminal. With that comes preventative criminal punishment. Anyone whose Psycho Pass isn’t healthy, anyone whose “Criminal Coefficient” – a sign of their potential for criminality, is too high, is considered a latent criminal, and a threat to society. Even if they haven’t even had a violent or dangerous thought. Even if they’ve just had a really bad day. They’re either rehabilitated via medication and therapy, locked up and isolated from society to prevent them from becoming criminals, or if they’re sufficiently unbalanced, are designated kill on sight for the Public Safety Bureau, the police who investigate crimes and who are responsible for taking in and taking out latent criminals. It’s almost like Minority Report’s Pre-Crime policing but where people are brought in or taken down for being emotional. How messed up is this system? A notable scene in the anime has the main heroine Akane consoling a rape victim who was understandably traumatised by her attack. With her Psycho Pass so unhealthy and unstable due to her trauma, the police were well within their rights, and more or less expected to execute her on sight. Yes, a less empathetic officer would have, and would have been expected to gun down a victim without another thought, because she was mentally unwell. That’s the kind of crazy, ruthless, arbitrary system in place.

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You play as a member of the Public Safety Bureau, the protagonists of the franchise, which consists of Enforcers – latent criminals who are expected to hunt down their fellow latent criminals, and to see and do all the horrible, emotionally damaging things you’d expect from hunting down criminals, and the Inspectors – the no nonsense, by the book, emotionally stable handlers who are meant to watch and command the Enforcers at all times. You control either Nadeshiko Kugatachi, a seemingly emotionless and robotic woman who suffers from amnesia and yet was assigned to work as an Inspector, or Takuma Tsurugi, a wannabe hard boiled detective whose hunt for a missing friend caused him to raise his criminal coefficient and subsequently get drafted into the Enforcers. Together with the characters from season one of the anime, you’re on the hunt for a  mysterious Hacker named Alpha who, intent on spreading “happiness” to people, proceeds to assist a number of seemingly mentally unstable individuals to pursue their desires – with disastrous results as you can expect.

As a visual novel, the narrative is the key focus, and like most visual novels there are branching decisions that you can make which lead to different results and to different endings. It’s rather long, with enough branches and variations for plenty of replays. A rather amusing quirk of the visual novel genre is that the creators all too frequently put in bad endings, where your character either dies, some other character dies, your relationships crash and burn, or some eldritch abomination proceeds to destroy reality. It kind of depends on which kind of Visual Novel you’re playing. But for Mandatory Happiness, in such a horribly bleak and dystopian setting, and as par for the course for the rest of the Psycho Pass franchise- there are some real brutal results that can occur from your decisions, and they don’t qualify as bad endings, oh no. The hits just keep coming. In any other visual novel they might, but for Psycho Pass, it’s just the first stop on a whole train ride of unfortunate events.

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Psycho Pass Mandatory Happiness is rather devastating. It’s set in one of the most miserable fictional universes I’ve ever seen, and while the hunt for a criminal is thrilling, the often brutal results that occur from your actions is pretty confronting. While there’s no real gameplay to speak of, being a visual novel, the narrative is powerful and well written. Fans of Psycho Pass have plenty to enjoy here, while newcomers to the franchise, assuming they have patience and an appreciation for storytelling, can also enjoy it.

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