Pressure from society often feels like it’s pouring in from all sides. The expectations that you should have a good job, a healthy social life and positive attitude can easily lead to feeling discontent. In Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness, the Sibyl System decides your future job, records every action and can send you to prison for poor mental health. Suddenly, real life doesn’t sound so bad.
Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness is a visual novel that uses the world and characters from the anime Psycho-Pass. References to previous cases are scattered throughout, though this is still a stand-alone story, with fresh-faced protagonists and a new antagonist.
Understanding the world, its systems and its jargon is integral to understanding the story. Characters naturally drop terms like “Hue,” “latent criminal,” and “Dominator” into conversations, making new players work hard to catch-up. All significant words can be found in the Tips menu with a lengthy explanation though. It’s useful, if frustrating, as the back and forth to read descriptions means pausing the story at odd moments. Those with prior knowledge will appreciate not sitting through walls of exposition.
What you need to know is that in 2112, the Sibyl System chooses how individuals should live based off their mental well-being, or “psycho-pass.” A person’s Hue and crime coefficient number is then created by their emotions, with a clear colour and low number being the goal. Obtaining a dark colour and high number suggests a significant likelihood of committing crime or having a poor impact on society. These people are branded as latent criminals. So the system aims to act before a crime takes place: offering counselling, throwing them into prison or blowing them to bits, whatever is necessary.
Police get tasked with dispensing justice. Much comes down to the Dominators that they carry. These guns naturally switch to an action appropriate for the crime coefficient number — safety locked-on, paralysis, etc. Dominators can only be wielded by Inspectors and Enforcers (as it’s linked to their personal DNA). Inspectors call the shots, and are calm people capable of dealing with stress. They also manage the Enforcers — latent criminals turned officers for their ability to understand how a criminal thinks.
The story follows CID Division 1 dealing with four diverse cases. Missions quickly get into heavy territory, moving straight from a missing person report, to child abuse. Nothing is overly graphic visually, although a number of descriptions are pretty uncomfortable. A lot of this comes from how realistic the writing is, forcing players to see from the point of view of those making tough decisions, and how devastating it feels when they fail to help.
The villain of Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness is Alpha, seeking to bend society to his will instead of Sibyl’s. He makes for an interesting antagonist, having just the right amount of depth to make me constantly question whether I felt fear or sympathy for him. On the path to achieve his goal, Alpha throws up questions concerning the reliance of technology, free will and what it means to be happy. Each protagonist comes to their own conclusions on these matters, but I enjoyed how the game dealt with the topics so fluidly that I was also able to come up with strong personal opinions.
Exactly how Alpha’s plans pan out is down to choices the player makes within the story. The first is the most impactful: choosing whether to see events through the eyes of Nadeshiko Kugatchi or Takuma Tsurugi. What’s great is how different the characters are, both in terms of their priorities and their polar-opposite personalities.
Nadeshiko is a new Inspector on the hunt for lost memories after suffering from amnesia. Unable to understand emotions, and overly logical in thinking, she gets the nickname Mrs. Droid for a reason. Takuma, meanwhile, is a passionate and kind Enforcer. His Hue went dark during the emotional search for a missing childhood friend, and he’s still determined to find out what happened to her.
Both protagonists follow the same basic story. Despite this, nothing ever gets too same-y due to how the characters’ personal inner thoughts, accessible information, interaction with others and even unique extra scenes all differ. Of course, there are also lots of moments that change based on in-game choices. I really enjoyed playing multiple times to fill in blanks, wanting to know as much about the people and situation as possible.
Every player decision has the potential to make a dramatic difference. Some have an immediate effect; for example, you know you’ve really mucked up if your character dies. Others create differing narrative pathways down the line, where it’s much harder to work out where you went wrong. Many of the choices will also be approved of by different colleagues. Shusei may think you’re cool for charging in headfirst, while Ginoza wants you to handle things by the book. These interactions add little extra scenes with affiliated characters at certain points within the plot.
Wrong choices extend to how situations resolve. Did you take too long investigating and arrive at the scene too late? Maybe you didn’t gather information from the right source, so now lack knowledge? Having this pressure for every choice adds a lot of juicy tension. The downside is that it becomes too much at points, as trying to see all the different results is pretty overwhelming.
Whatever you choose, the results will affect your character’s personal emotions, and Hue. It makes for a great on-going assessment of how the character is feeling, since it can be checked at any time. I really appreciated that while going for a clear Hue is obviously the goal of society (especially since a dark Hue can lead to your fellow officers enforcing you), the right decision often involves the willingness to get your hands dirty.
My favourite aspect of Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness was its unrelenting atmosphere. Anime style visuals, a tense soundtrack, and voice acting from the original Japanese anime cast all blend together to create a memorable experience. Having said this, a potential downside is that an English voice-over has not been included, which does seem odd since the dub of the anime is said to be pretty good. Those wanting more of the characters from the anime may also be disappointed by their backseat role. They are still of importance, but the focus is firmly on the new additions.
Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness was a thought-provoking visual novel that I’m really glad I got to experience. Having no prior knowledge of the anime did give me the feeling that I needed to catch up at the beginning, but it wasn’t enough to put me off. The different protagonists really help to keep replays fresh, as do the varying pathways branching out from multiple choices. As soon as a playthrough was over, I immediately jumped back in to experience more.
This review is based off a Vita copy of the game, which we were provided with.
Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness is a visual novel that kept me interested through its characters, world, and story, while constantly engaged by the player choices impacting on the plot. There’s a bit of information overload at times if you haven’t seen the anime, but that shouldn’t be enough to put anyone off.