Reviews// PSYCHO-PASS: Mandatory Happiness

Posted 12 Sep 2016 12:00 by
In fiction the idea of Pre-Crime, stopping a criminal action before it even happens, never leads to the utopia it was intended to create. The Japan in Psycho Pass: Mandatory Happiness is no different.

In the not too distant future Japan becomes an isolationist country and through heavy-handed mental health laws and practices strives for a completely happy and balanced populace. Every individual passes through the Sibyl System, a process that quantifies a person's merits and place in society, what vocations they would be best suited to and this is all combined in a colour coded Psycho Pass.

This pass is measured as a Hue. The clearer that hue the more mentally stable that person is considered to be - stress, fear and anxiety can cause the hue to become cloudy, the cloudier it becomes the more likely an individual is to become a Latent Criminal, someone who is likely to harm themselves or those around them.

Enter the Public Safety Bureau, a law enforcement agency in which Inspectors (public servants with clear psycho passes trained in criminology) are teamed up with Enforcers (latent criminals that are essentially used as tools to prevent their Inspectors' hues becoming cloudy during difficult cases). Both are armed with a sidearm called a Dominator, a gun that can scan an individual and calculate their crime coefficient. Depending on the state of this metric the gun will authorise the user to shoot - a paralyser for people with a low crime coefficient or a lethal shot for those deemed a risk to the public.

The anime asks some very difficult questions, as does the visual novel Mandatory Happiness. This game centres around two new characters who work alongside the stars of the anime but do not appear in it or are ever mentioned. The story focuses on a series of cases connected to a stolen cyborg body and an entity known as Alpha, which has a mission to bring everyone in the world unending happiness.

A most noble objective, which of course goes horribly wrong.

I find myself in a rare position, as a fan of the anime I really enjoyed this visual novel. The story fits well within the first eight episodes of the anime and serves to flesh out the dystopian vision of future Japan. But as a visual novel it is incredibly basic, almost insultingly so.

The show it is based on is action packed and doesn't shy away from the consequences of the characters' actions. This game shies away from showing anything that would require the art team to put any effort in to it. If an action sequence takes place the screen goes blank and you get a description of what is happening, it feels lazy and disappointing.

Everything takes place against static (but usually well done) backdrops designed to inform you of the location and nothing more. There are no people in these backdrops, giving the impression that the locations are completely deserted. On top of these backgrounds you get cut outs of the characters central to the scene, but they have very little in the way of animation and the majority of the lines are read in a borderline monotone most of the time. Extremely rarely the player is offered a choice and these choices combine to change the course of the narrative and open up the possibility of multiple endings - the three I have seen were all underwhelming.

The dialogue is also littered with spelling mistakes and grammatical errors that should not exist in a game whose main premise is reading. On top of this it can be plodding and bland and I found myself skim-reading and rapidly clicking through the dialogue just to move the plot along, not necessarily because the story was boring, but because it would reiterate plot points the player is already aware of.

There is a well hidden mini-game in the main menus. It is a tile matching game where you have to combine tiles with the same character's face on them to earn points. These points are then used to unlock extras - voice clips and scene layouts. This mini-game is arguably the most fun aspect of Mandatory Happiness.

I can recommend this to fans of the anime, but not at the launch price. There are far superior examples of this genre available at a much lower price and whilst Psycho Pass is a fascinating property it also deserved better than this. If you are not already a fan of the source material then I recommend opening up Netflix and finding the first season there, but don't bother with this visual novel unless you're more willing to put up with a barebones effort than I am.

Pros:
+ The story can be interesting
+ Resolutions to some of the cases are aligned with the shows morally questionable outcomes
+ Addictive tile matching mini-game

Cons:
- Lazy production values
- Poorly edited dialogue
- As barebones as a visual novel can be

SPOnG Score: 5/10

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