Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness PS4 Review
Most hardcore anime fans should be familiar with the name Gen Urobuchi; in the last few years, the screenwriter/author has quickly joined the pantheon of talented anime creators with hit after consecutive hit (including Madoka Magica, which has gained such critical acclaim that it has often been called as “the next Evangelion”). Despite his attempts to branch out his writing, including the currently running all-puppet series Thunderbolt Fantasy, Urobuchi is often infamous for writing dark storylines featuring tragic, often horrifying fates for his characters. Unlike other writers who tend to plunge deep into grimdark territory that they tend to stumble under their own feet (*cough*zacksnyder*cough*), Urobuchi tends to excel in creating compelling characters and depressing storylines that never feel truly hopeless.
One of Urobuchi’s more notable works is Psycho-Pass, a cyberpunk series that took influence from Minority Report, Equilibrium and a whole heap of writings about moral ambiguity and human nature. The series ran for a full season of critical acclaim, a follow-up movie, and an absolutely terrible second season that few will dare speak of or even acknowledge (Urobuchi didn’t write that one). Mandatory Happiness, the Visual Novel from developer 5pb., thankfully takes place during the first season, reuniting the entire cast as well as a few newcomers created for this original story.
The backdrop of Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness is that of a dystopian future Tokyo, where society is governed by the Sibyl System, a Big Brother-like security system that measures the mental state of every citizen. Those who end up with a Psycho-Pass (measured by the color of their own personal hues) that exceeds the regulated standards are labeled as “Latent Criminals”, and must immediately be apprehended to avoid the probable danger they can inflict on society. Enter the Public Safety Bureau, a police force that catches Latent Criminals with Latent Criminals, who are known as “Enforcers” who obey the commands of their handlers (“Inspectors”) while never being allowed to interact with the outside world.
If that paragraph of terminology was a bit confusing, the series does an adequate job of laying it all out in an easy-to-digest manner while also putting its two principle characters in the role of both Inspector (newcomer Akane, who tries to obey the law while maintaining her own sense of justice) and Enforcer (former detective Kogami, whose obsession with catching the most dangerous criminals caused him to be imprisoned like one thanks to a clouded hue). The season 1 duo as well as the rest of the cast reprise their roles in Mandatory Happiness, though players will instead take on the role of two new additions, the newest Inspector Kugatachi (an amnesiac with a cold, almost robotic demeanor) and Enforcer Tsurugi (a laid-back Latent Criminal who is seeking out a lost friend). Each of these two characters make up two separate scenarios in Mandatory Happiness, which have their own branching paths based on the critical decisions players will make during each character’s story. Anyone who hasn’t dabbled with Visual Novels before will quickly learn of the large time investment and multiple playthroughs required to experience the complete story.
Much like the first season, Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness deals with a series of cases that revolve around a mysterious individual who is causing people to break past their hues to become dangerous criminals. While season 1’s antagonist was determined to bring down the Sibyl system and allow Latent Criminals to freely express their murderous desires, the main villain’s motivation in this game is somewhat the opposite: using his hacking abilities, the mysterious individual known as “Alpha” is assisting people with borderline hues to accomplish their own personal desires, in the hopes that by attaining perfect happiness they can keep from going over the edge. Naturally, this backfires, resulting in violent skirmishes where the player-controlled character will be faced with making decisions throughout each case that could determine the fate of each victim, as well as the lasting effects on the character’s Psycho-Pass (represented as a color meter in the game’s interface).
The decisions players will have to make not only affect the people they’re trying to save, but the members of the Public Safety Bureau as well. In a team filled with officers trying to maintain a clear outlook that conforms to the Sibyl System while working alongside open-minded criminals who have been rejected by society, there are bound to be lots of ideologies clashing against each other. This is especially apparent with the two main characters, where one’s cold and logical demeanor may win some characters over but not others. In typical VN fashion, this can lead to future situations where higher-affinity characters can assist and spend time with you while others are less likely to trust in your decisions. Unlike Visual Novels that love to coin the phrase “Bad End”, Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness typically does not beat players over the head over “wrong” decisions; not everyone can be saved, nor can everyone be appeased, which are statements that work nicely with the kind of stories Urobuchi likes to tell.
Though Mandatory Happiness follows the typical VN presentation with still portraits and backgrounds, the visuals and music still put it above most of the genre’s budgeted releases. The artwork comes across very beautifully thanks to the HD drawings and backgrounds, the music is a combination of the original anime’s soundtrack as well as new tracks, and the Japanese voice actors are all on point. The localization is solid as well, minus some odd translation choices. The overall presentation will be appreciated the most by fans of the series, as it all comes together like a new story starring their favorite characters.
Typically, the biggest weakness of any videogame based off an anime series is how they tend to cater to the fanbase first, while doing little to introduce newbies to the story and characters. For the most part, Mandatory Happiness avoids this problem, thanks to its VN-based narrative as well as a database that collects all the necessary terminology. That said, it would be much more recommended to start the game through Tsurugi’s point of view, as his introduction serves as a better entry point to how the world of Psycho-Pass works.
In the end, Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness is a worthy companion to the original series and one of the better Visual Novels available on consoles. It doesn’t quite have the narrative force that can hook people in like Steins;Gate or Danganronpa, but it is definitely the best possible medium for adapting the cyberpunk setting of the original series while letting fans spend more time with Akane and her team.