Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness Review
My history with anime-turned-game titles, for the most part, is pretty grim. Regardless of genre, so many of them feel like an awkwardly shoehorned story into a timeline that they just don’t belong in. Going into Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness, I prepared myself for what I figured would be no better than a forgettable filler episode. Thankfully, that’s not what I got. Mandatory Happiness is a visual novel that fits perfectly into the world that established by the anime, and could easily pass for just another arc in that show.
For those unfamiliar with the anime world, Psycho-Pass takes place in a future run by the Sibyl System. It functions as a crime management agency in cooperation with the Public Safety Bureau in Japan. The system reads the 'hues' of all citizens, using this to determine what’s known as their Psycho-Pass. If the reading is unfavorable, the person is marked as a latent criminal. Some people are killed, some jailed, some marked for therapy. The degree of action taken against anyone with an elevated Psycho-Pass is contingent upon one’s mental state.
The state of this world leads to some very difficult situations for those charged with enforcing such extreme laws. Inspectors and Enforcers of the Public Safety Bureau use a unique firearm referred to as a Dominator. These guns can either paralyze individuals that need to be taken into custody, or execute those that Sibyl deems a dangerous criminal.
Inspectors and Enforcers work side by side, but they are not equals. Enforcers are subordinate to the Inspectors, latent criminals that have been assigned to the bureau to prevent their superiors from doing too much heavy lifting. Inspectors have what’s considered a normal psycho-pass, and are there to call the shots.
Mandatory Happiness follows this story, and even uses largely the same cast from the anime. Because of this, I’m still of the opinion that people should familiarize themselves with at least the first few episodes of season one before diving in. There’s a ton to take in as Psycho-Pass introduces its world, and the anime’s main cast wouldn’t have the same impact without some familiarity.
However, the main characters from the anime that fans are familiar with take a backseat as the game introduces a new Enforcer and Inspector. Nadeshiko Kugatachi takes the mantel of Inspector. She’s cold, straight to the point, and has even earned the nickname of ‘droid’ from teammates. Her character feels familiar, somewhat like the anime’s Enforcer Kogami Shinya, but with a reversed role.
Takuma Tsurugi is the second new character and the Enforcer of the duo. He’s my favorite of the two, but I enjoy interacting with him more from Kugatachi’s route. Again, he’s reminiscent of another main character from the anime, Akane Tsunemori. He’s emotional, impulsive, and has a difficult time hiding how he feels. It’s obvious the two have some sort of shared link from the beginning, but due to some extenuating circumstances, we don’t know what that connection is.
Subverting the dynamic between the anime’s main Enforcer and Inspector to what it is in Mandatory Happiness kept things a bit fresh, but maintained an appreciative nod from who I felt these characters stemmed from. Both have their own routes, and like most visual novels, there are multiple paths to take before reaching what’s considered the true ending.
Aside from mashing the same button over and over, there’s not any gameplay to speak of. The title maintains the classic visual novel approach, and only calls for the player to get involved when it’s time to make a decision. Abide by standard visual novel rules here, and save before choices. Mandatory Happiness can be a little unforgiving, and throw you into an unfortunate end-game scenario from one wrong choice.
And while sometimes brutal in reactions to player choice, the Psycho-Pass visual novel has a substantial story that fits in well within its anime established universe. These are outcomes that I would have expected being so familiar with it prior to going in, as I often picked choices I suspected were wrong but I still wanted to see the bad ends too.
The overarching plot against antagonist, Alpha, hit a few predictable points as Mandatory Happiness does fail at subtly. While that does take away from the rush of a new twist, I found that I enjoyed individual cases that the bureau investigated just as much as I did in the show. In one such case, the team must hunt down a mother with postpartum depression and let Sibyl pass judgment upon her. The events that transpire within that case is probably my favorite within the Psycho-Pass universe. Overall, writer Gen Urobuchi and Nitroplus make this new tale feel at home within the world he created in the animated series.
Despite the story more-than-delivering, there are a few areas where the game falls a little flat. The environments in Psycho-Pass are such an integral part of the story, as they serve to keep people happy and stable. Mandatory Happiness felt like it did little to illustrate that for most of the time, and so many of the same places in the background over and over felt like a disservice to what I was more familiar with.
The music and sound also left me a little conflicted. Initially, there was a little disappointment over the lack of engaging tracks playing in the background. Such a big part of watching Psycho-Pass for me was its incredible soundtrack, and that feels a little missed here. After all was said and done, I did find some tracks I loved, but nothing like I’ll remember when compared to its source material.
Mandatory Happiness also lacks dual audio. In this case, it’s the English dub that’s missing. Psycho-Pass was one of the rare instances that I watched a dubbed version instead of opting for the original Japanese cast. Once that familiarity with certain voices is established, it’s a little hard to separate that character from the actor. I realize it’s a tall order to ask for a fully voiced visual novel in English, but it’s something that I did miss. Regardless, the Japanese cast is still incredible, so that takes away from the sting of change.
Slight disappointments still do not take much away from what was an excellent addition to the Psycho-Pass series. It does both its genre and namesake justice, offering fans one more thrill in its dystopian society.