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Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness Visual Novel Review

6 min read

Happiness that comes at a price.key-art

What They Say:
In the near future, advanced technological developments have allowed one’s mental state and disposition to be quantified and profiled. For the public’s welfare, all emotions and thoughts are documented and managed by the Sibyl System. This system measures the quality of each person’s life by what is known as the Psycho-Pass, a reading of an individual’s mind. Broken down into two main components is the Hue, which is a visual representation of the Psycho-Pass that conveys a person’s stress level. The other is the Crime Coefficient, which is a numerical value that represents a person’s criminal capacity. This number determines whether an individual requires enforcement by the detectives of the Public Safety Bureau. Detectives are divided into two groups: Enforcers, who are tasked with the investigation of crimes and the apprehension of criminals, and Inspectors, who are charged with managing the Enforcers.

The Review:
Audio:
Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness features full Japanese voiceover for the entire game, including the original voice actors from the hit anime. Along with the the three new characters, every cast member is vibrant and executed well, giving a great range of emotion and realism to each character. Unfortunately, that same depth can’t be said for the soundtrack. Being a visual novel, the audio and visual sides of things are a big part of what differentiate the genre from a standard novel, and the music for this game failed to add to the overall experience. While there are a few different tracks for all the various scenes, almost none of them stand out in any way. In fact, for a while, I forgot there was even any music in the background and it wasn’t because the volume was too low. The music is there and it gets the job done, but it did little to immerse me in the futuristic dystopian setting.

Graphics:
The problems continue in the graphics portion. First of all, let me start with the positives: each character is faithfully reconstructed and portrayed in 2D format in full HD. They really pop on the TV (reviewed on PSTV) and look almost identical to their anime counterparts. Each character also has a diverse and numerous set of facial expressions that are cycled throughout the game. They are varied enough that I never felt like I was getting a constant repeat of the same expression and the level of detail given to each individual animation is impressive.

There isn’t much detail given to the environments, though. Like a lot of visual novels, the same set of backgrounds are recycled throughout the entire game, which makes sense considering it takes place mostly in the same city. But, the problem is that those places are just too bland and sterile to look at over and over. The game’s environments lack the same level of detail and style that the anime accentuates. Also, the transitions during dialogue can be a serious pain. Each time a character switches offscreen with another character, it takes about 3-4 seconds to transition and have their line then pop up on the screen. This may seem trivial, but when you have about 9 main characters on the same team that are constantly talking back and forth, it can add a lot of unnecessary time and kill your reading momentum.

Content: (warning as some parts of this section may contain very light spoilers)
Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness is a standalone story that takes place during the first 8 episodes of the anime overseen by the original writer, Gen Urobuchi. Let me say right off the bat that you can indeed play this without ever diving into the anime, however, you will get way more out of it already knowing the returning characters. The story introduces two new and playable members to the Division 1 team, as well as an original villain. From the very start, you pick between the amnesiac investigator, Nadeshiko Kugatachi, and the emotionally-driven enforcer, Takuma Tsurugi. The game then follows a series of cases all connected by the same villain in Psycho-Pass’ signature cyberpunkish, dystopian world.

The overall story and cases stay the same regardless of who you pick, but the results of each case and the ending you get are determined by the choices you make, of which there are a lot. The typical “spend time with such and such” choices (though there are a couple of them) are replaced by more fitting ones like “throw a stun grenade” or “negotiate”. You never really know which choice is the right one to make and that unpredictability creates some excitement and adrenaline unique to Mandatory Happiness. The game handles each scenario and all of its outcomes really well. On my initial play-through, I ended up with a pretty “safe” ending. I then went back and tried a different approach to one of the same cases and received a vastly different outcome. Someone that had lived my first time around didn’t make it this time. When crap hits the fan in Mandatory Happiness, it hits it in some seriously crazy and despairing ways.

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This is in large part due to the extremely well-written characters.  Both Nadeshiko and Tsurugi have their own dark and mysterious pasts that drive them. Even Nadeshiko, who is meant to be an emotionless, almost robotic person, has more depth to her than the majority of anime and video game characters I’ve seen in a long while. This applies to not only the new additions to the cast, but the existing characters as well. The writers did a good job of devoting some finer details to the characters from the anime that made me look at them in a new light, especially some of the enforcers like Kagari and Kunizuka that I felt never really got a ton of development dedicated to them in the anime.

From beginning to end, it always feels like there is some eerie connection between everyone and everything going on. While it is easy to guess a lot of the twists even fairly early on, that doesn’t subtract from the emotional weight that comes when they are revealed, all because of the writing. Fans might be shocked, though, to find out that Mandatory Happiness is a very short visual novel. This is both a huge strength and weakness for the game. Each chapter is nonstop, feeding you only the best of the best without any unnecessary filler. On the other hand, it is gone and over far too quickly, and some of the endings are very abrupt. Without spoiling too much, the endings themselves are handled in a very unique way. I won’t say anything else about them, other than it is a refreshing take that is most welcome, especially for VN veterans. The multiple endings do add to replayability, but only so much. However, there are a few extras that will add some to your playtime. Along with unlockables like scenes and images, there is a 2048-inspired minigame that has dozens and dozens of levels as well as a freeplay mode to give you something to do long after you’ve completed the story.

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In Summary:
Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness is short, sweet, and to the point. While it does suffer from some technical hindrances, the story and characters more than make up for it. It is recommended to have watched at least the first few episodes of the anime, but it still does a good job of ushering in newcomers and veterans alike. If you are craving more Psycho-Pass or just want a different type of visual novel, Mandatory Happiness might just be mandatory for you.

Grade: C+

Released By: NIS America
Developer: 5pb. Games
MSRP: $49.99 (PS4), $39.99 (PSVita)
Release Date: 9/13/2016
Platforms: PS4, PS Vita, Steam (coming 2017)

This review was done with a review code of the game provided by NIS America. We are grateful for their support.

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