Psycho-Pass is easily one of the best anime series of the last few years. It’s dense plot, philosophical leanings and bleak cyberpunk setting, made for a slow burning police-procedural that sits somewhere between Ghost in the Shell and The Wire. It was also directed by the guy that made Cowboy Bebop, so you know it’s got a pedigree and a half. If you’ve got Netflix I would recommend checking it out right about…now
A popular anime getting a game tie-in is nothing new or particularly revolutionary, However what is refreshing about the release of Psycho-Pass Mandatory Happiness is that for once anime fans and gamers in the west, are getting something other than the usual fighting games based on the likes ,Naruto, One Piece or Dragon Ball Z: Brilliant as they are, there are a wealth of games based on other anime series that never get a release outside of Japan and I sincerely hope this is the start of a trend.
Despite that game’s subtitle promising ‘Mandatory Happiness’, the world of Psycho-Pass really isn’t a happy one at all. Set in a dystopian vision of an isolated 22nd-century Japan, ruled by the Sibyl System, which scans a citizen’s brain, grades their current stress levels and mental state by attributing a coloured “Hue,” then records the data in their titular “Psycho-Pass.”
Sibyl then uses this data to determine how a person can best live their life; tending to their medical needs, finding a job that best suits their personality, and, most notably, their potential for criminality, known as a person’s Crime Coefficient. People whose Crime Coefficient becomes too high are labelled as Latent Criminals, and at best detained by the state for ‘rehabilitation’ and at worst in cases when a person’s hue is irreversibly clouded, put to death, by the detectives of the Criminal Investigation Division.
Using a literal system of good cop Bad cop, the CID partners it’s clear hued Inspectors, with Latent Criminals known as Enforcers, in order to protect their detectives from the stresses of the job which could lead to them to also become latent criminals. The enforcers are chosen for their ability to understand and anticipate the actions of the criminally minded.
Members of the CID dispense justice down the barrel of transforming pistols called Dominators, linked to the Sybil system they either harmlessly stun a perp so they can be taken into custody if the system believes they can be rehabilitated, or hit a perp with a round that makes them explode in a shower of visera if it believes they are beyond redemption.
Psycho-Pass’s superbly constructed, deeply disturbing dystopia and rich cast of likeable characters are its best assets, and Mandatory Happiness focuses its efforts on immersing players within that world, as well as letting them play either as the good cop or bad cop, by giving them the option of either playing as Newbie Inspector, reserved and detached amnesiac Nadeshiko Kugatachi or the hot headed veteran Enforcer Takuma Tsurugi.
Set during the early part of the first season of the anime series, Mandatory Happiness is accessible to both newcomers and existing fans alike, as it allows the game to slide in nicely before a number of key developments have happened, which allows newcomers to go and enjoy the show afterwards without being spoiled, while existing fans can see some lovely foreshadowing and more than a few nods and winks to future events in the main series. The original Japanese voice cast from the show also reprises their roles, though sadly for philistines like me the game has no English dub.
It might disappoint some to find that Mandatory Happiness is a visual novel, so if you were expecting a game that recreated some of the series more intense action scenes, or gave you a 3D recreation of the Sibyl controlled Tokyo to explore, you may need your Psycho Pass adjusting. As a visual novel, the plot and story are at the forefront. There is very little gameplay to speak of, with players mostly just pressing a button to advance a scene or occasionally making a choice that effects the plot like, where to investigate next or how to handle a certain situation. But there aren’t any mini-games, Quick-tome Events, and little in the way of animation. It’s all about the story!
So it’s fortunate then that it’s a bloody good story! Written by the same scribe as the first season Gen Urobuchi, Mandatory Happiness, sees the CID investigate a series of seemingly unrelated cases that, all revolve around a larger mystery in which an AI begins to tryand emulate the Sibyl system by ensuring citizens are happy to the extreme. Each case demonstrates the same shades of grey the series so deftly, and the consequences of your actions are never clear from the outset, with no obvious “good” or “bad” path, though at times I definitely ended a case feeling that I could have got a better outcome.
Luckily the game lets you go back and change your choices at ‘Turning Points’ – key moments in case, where your decision will directly effect the outcome of the case and with it the overall ending you receive. You’ll want to do it as well because unlike most adventure games that claim your decisions will have an impact, before inevitably shoeing you towards one set conclusion regardless, Mandatory Happiness goes the extra mile to not only ensure that your character’s actions actually do have palpable consequences in both the short and long term, that are often difficult to predict. While the story branches that trying to figure out the path to unlock all of the game’s endings feels like a challenge rather than a binary afterthought.
Mandatory Happiness ‘s new player characters Nadeshiko and Tsurugi are generally well written, if a little bit odd, and it’s worth going through the game at least once with both of them as despite working on the same cases, their distinct personalities and backstories dramatically change the tone of narrative. Though Tsurugi is the much more relatable of the two, he does feel more like a bog standard male anime lead type 2 – regretful, hot-blooded brooding guy with an unfortunate past. Meanwhile Nadeshiko’s provides a more interesting lead, with her amnesia giving her a strangely naive outlook on the dystopian nightmare she’s found herself in, coupled with mild sociopathic tendencies because head trauma does this apparently, making her feel like a mad mix of Judge Dredd and the anime series female lead Akane Sunamore. That being said, both fit into the world of Psycho- Pass well and slot in among the wider cast from the original series quite well.
The one area that Mandatory Happiness falls short on though is its presentation, the series is superbly animated, and features plenty of tense fire fights, marvellous action sequences and some genuinely grizzly crime scenes. As a fan of the source material I can’t help but feel a little disappointed that the presentation is so bare bones. I know it’s a visual novel but the least they could have done was include animated cut scenes to punctuate the game’s more climatic moments, rather than make us scroll through reams of text. It’s not like the PS4, or even the Vita for that matte couldn’t handle it. Hell, Phoenix Wright now has animated sections and that’s only running on a 3DS.
Despite me wishing that the game part of Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness could have been so much more (here’s hoping to one day see a proper 3D adventure game), It’s narrative is spot on and for the most part captures what makes the source material so enjoyable. Though it doesn’t quite reach the same heights as the anime, it does do Psycho-Pass justice, which, considering how many awful games they’ve made of similarly pitched anime series (cough, Ghost in the Shell. Cough, splutter), is bound to keep fans Psycho Pass (and it’s subgenre) hues from clouding.