Visual novels have rallied hard over the last few years, not only showing up in North America but also having moved from PC exclusives to showing up on consoles more readily. Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness is the latest such visual novel from NIS America and 5pb and it delivers exactly what you would hope for from the genre: stylish visuals, excellent voice acting and most importantly an engaging story.
Based on the popular anime, Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness lives somewhere in the first season. Its characters and narrative are drawn from the world established in the series, but similar to the Telltale Game of Thrones adventure game, the events here exist within the franchise without directly impacting it. Think of it as bonus content for fans of the anime as the game proudly displays many of the hallmarks that distinguish the series, but is not depending on it nor does it do anything to screw up the established storyline.
Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness takes place in Tokyo during the year 2112. Society has changed a great deal by then, relying on objective machine intelligence to try and take morality and even to a great extent choice out of daily activities. This also works its way into a Minority Report-like narrative where people are scanned for their 'Hue' - and as it clouds up and their predictability comes into question, the individual might be dealt with by what amounts to the police for the crime that they might but not yet necessarily committed.
All of these are common themes explored in different kinds of science fiction, but they blend together wonderfully in this series to create a narrative that often delves into dark places and challenges views to consider some interesting questions about themselves and to a broader extent, humanity and what it means to be human. Visual novels are tough to review - they are all about story, yet I dare not delve into the tale itself for fear of spoiling anything. I will say that the villain generally works because you can understand the reasoning if not the actions that result from that the rationale.
So, like most visual novels, there is not a lot of 'game' here. There is a lot of pressing one of a couple of buttons - primarily X to advance the text, as the majority of your time will be spent reading and listening to the voice acting and music. There are some decisions to be made, including right out of the gates when you have to choose between one of two detectives: Inspector Nadeshiko Kugatachi and Enforcer Takuma Tsurugi. The former is a very logical, almost robotic or 'Vulcan' personality that shows very little emotion. Conversely Tsurigi is a very outgoing person who tends to be much more open and unpredictable. Regardless of which character you choose to follow, the story plays out on the same basic path, but the ability to see the game through different sets of eyes ramps up the replay value immediately.
While there is a lot of reading to be done, there are some decisions to be made throughout the game as well, and they have a dynamic impact on certain events and more specifically on which of the various available endings you will see. The aforementioned Hue that serves as gauge of character stability is treated with medication, and you can play it straight and narrow and never veer too far off of the safe path, or you can neglect your medication and see things a little differently - but also potentially make yourself a risk to society according to the Sibyl System. It is a cool mechanic that wants you to straddle a sometimes fine line to get the most out of the story that you can. There are choices throughout the game as well anchored to plot points that can give your character varying insights to their case as well. All of this helps to assist the replay value that Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness has to offer, and thankfully you can use the R1 button to expedite future playthroughs as this causes things to fly by more quickly.
Because there is a lot to absorb here, Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness is probably not the best game to recommend to visual novel newcomers. It certainly helps to have some experience with the anime, but it is not a requirement. All the same, that initial playthrough could be pretty slow as a newcomer to the series or the genre (or both) finds themselves inundated with terminology and concepts they have to learn before all of the pieces start to fit together. Another small shortcoming takes me back to my earlier reference to the Telltale Game of Thrones adventure series. This story exists within the anime universe, but the focus is on the game's characters and not those from the original show. It is a comfortable fit within the narrative universe, but Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness is not exactly 'required reading' for fans, either.
Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness is an excellent visual novel with some pretty solid replay value. The presentation is solid, the story and themes explored are both dark but also truly thought provoking and I loved the fact my decisions had weight to them. Fans of the anime will get the most out of this game, and newcomers might find it something of a struggle at first to understand everything that is going on, but the overall experience is worth the investment.
Article by Nick