Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness Review
Popular media has a habit of crossing artistic styles: a Star Wars book will be released and considered canon with the movies. An anime may continue the story in a manga or vice versa. This gives people a new perspective on their favorite media in a new medium.
While not really mainstream in America, the visual novel has quite a following. A few games that have the mechanic in them, like the Phoenix Wright series, have garnered a group of diehard fans, mixing a good story with some basic gameplay. The popular anime Psycho-Pass has crossed over from anime to visual novel with the title Mandatory Happiness.
Taking place alongside the original series, Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness follows two new characters as they interact with faces familiar to fans of the anime to take down a new foe. In this universe, there is a program that can determine the odds that someone will commit a crime before they actually get a chance to, kind of like Minority Report. The Investigators and Enforcers on your team carry a special weapon that can determine the Psycho-Pass level of anyone they are pointed at, and if the person is deemed a danger to humanity, it will unlock and allow the appropriate level of discipline, from a simple shock to a full on blast that entirely decimates the subject. Our two new characters join the team to take down a new foe who is closer to them than you can imagine.
Psycho-Pass plays much like an intense Choose Your Own Adventure book. You choose which protagonist to follow, and every once in a while you get to choose between a couple of options. This leads you down further story paths. Characters are almost entirely voiced by the Japanese artists. As you progress, you have chances to change the story based on your decisions. It's less of a "game" in the traditional sense, though, and more of a stylized way to tell you a potentially branching new episode of the series. While enjoyable for a fan of the series, it feels odd for such a game to be on a powerhouse gaming system. It reminds me of how they released Dragon's Lair on DVD, allowing you to use your remote control to play the game. It may not feel right, but it works.
Even dropping past that, though, I had a few problems with how the game is set up. You can save any time, but you never really know WHEN to save. I spent a solid 45 minutes pressing X to continue reading/listening, only to come to a decision point that led to an end game. When I received the "bad end," the only choice was to boot back out to the menu and start from my save. There is a fast-forward option, but even at top speed it took me three minutes of watching the characters flash back and forth to get back to my choice moment. Think of it like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, but you can't sneak a peek at a page to see if you want to take option B. Add on to there the confusion: without spoiling much, there is a point where someone throws a Molotov Cocktail. I can choose to try to smother it (get burnt), try to catch it (get burnt and die), or "lunge" at it, where it turned out that the bottle wasn't really breakable and it hit my chest then bounced to the ground and everyone's fine. I have no idea why or how I would have known that was the winning combination. Other times, there were choices to which direction to travel, and it turned out that one of the ways was toward the enemies, but again there was no known way to go the right way. Going the wrong way finds your cohorts calling you over, so it doesn't feel like there is much of a choice, though it may unlock a different scene or two. You are still pushing toward the same end game.
During four or so hours with the game, I reached a positive end that warranted credits, and two "bad ends" on my way there. I really only saw six to ten choice moments on my way to the end. The rest was clicking the X button to hear more dialogue. The character images are mostly static, with facial expression changes. While a few characters glance at a watch or reach out a hand, quite a few go through the entire game with that one hand stuck firmly in their pocket. No animated cutscenes, either. In fact, when an action scene happened, most times this resulted in a black screen with a few flashing lights and a (well described) text block describing what is going on. You really have to use your imagination at times. Upon completion of the game, I noted an options menu that showed I maybe have a third to half of the scenes opened, but the game doesn't give me strong impetus to go back through and see the rest, given I have to sit through the old stuff AND remember what I chose before, along with the vagueness of some of those choices (down the hall? to the first floor? Catch it? Run into it? Take a pill? Don't?) makes me wonder how I'd ever find every combination. I've seen other games offer a map of sorts, where you can go back to the turning point and try option #2, but there doesn't appear to be much more than an unlock screen.
There is a silly sliding bonus game that was mildly addictive, matching squares by sliding them around on a grid until you get the optimum point score, but it too seemed rushed. I noticed that once I got the patterns down and was able to defeat a level faster, I actually ended up with less points than if I had fumbled around until I reached my goal. Points are used to unlock sketches, gallery pictures, and voice samples.
If you are a fan of Psycho-Pass (and, mind you, watch the subtitled edition, as your dubbed voices aren't here), want to see more of the universe, and enjoy a truly thrilling story, then this game is right up your alley. This "choose your own adventure" digital novel doesn't offer much in core "gameplay" and some of the choice options leave me confused, but I will say that it gives a great representation of what the anime itself is like. Reviewing this compelled me to head over to Funimation and check out the series. What I've seen so far fits perfectly with the feel of the game, and I'll be finishing the series, which might compel me enough to pick up the game again. As is, I've seen a positive ending. Even Phoenix Wright is hard to go back to after you know the story. Any further branches aren't pulling me in, but it was a great ride for what it was worth. I was able to play the game on PS4. If I had the choice, I may have opted to purchase it on Vita, where it would fit as a good "book" rather than static images on my nice big TV screen. And while I got to try the digital edition, it looks like true fans of the series can get their hands on a rather hefty Limited Edition.
Thanks to the developers for offering a code for review.
Final review: 3.25/5