Review: PSYCHO-PASS: Mandatory Happiness (PS4)

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Title: PSYCHO-PASS: Mandatory Happiness
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (2.55 GB)
Release Date: September 13, 2016
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: 5pb.
Original MSRP: $49.99
ESRB Rating: T
PSYCHO-PASS: Mandatory Happiness is also available on PlayStation Vita, Xbox One (Japan only), and PC.
The PlayStation 4 download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Psycho-Pass Mandatory Happiness is a game based on the Psycho-Pass anime. Though the game is set early in the first season, it features a new story not seen in the anime.

The game is set in the future, where Japan has developed the Sibyl System, a computer capable of reading the mental state of humans. Expressed as a person’s “hue,” this indicator of mental state can become cloudy, indicating mental stress. Those exposed to extended metal stress may end up with a high crime coefficient and Sibyl classifies those people as “latent criminals.”

The main characters in both the anime and the game are members of the Public Safety Bureau’s Criminal Investigation Department whose goal is to maintain peace by bringing in latent criminals, regardless of whether they have committed a crime. They also investigate actual crimes as well as work towards creating a safe environment for the public to help avoid others from becoming latent criminals.

Gameplay:
This is one of those titles where the PS Nation review structure is a little misleading. Psycho-Pass Mandatory Happiness doesn’t really have gameplay. The game is strictly a visual novel, meaning the only “gameplay” is picking a response to a question every so often. Other than that, the experience is completely hands-off as the player reads along to see where their choices take them.

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In terms of a visual novel, this one is serviceable. There are two playable characters that the player can pick from at the start of the game, which give the player access to a lot of different actions though the general story beats are the same. Choices presented to the player run the range from small, only changing a few lines of dialogue, to changing a character’s motivation or outlook, to causing premature bad endings.

Story wise, it sees an Enforcer named Tsurugi and an Inspector named Nadeshiko joining Division 1 around the same time. This is of course the same division seen in the anime, so the two new characters spend the game interacting with Akane, Kogami, and the other familiar faces of Division 1.

… a pretty interesting story …
This approach is a double-edged sword. While I appreciated the familiar aspect, the game really doesn’t want to use the established characters to their fullest for fear of stepping on the anime’s toes. Because it’s set during a specific time in the anime, the developers really didn’t want to mess with those characters too much and as such the new characters have to carry the brunt of the character development.

By design, Tsurugi and Nadeshiko are polar opposites. Nadeshiko recently lost her memories is mostly devoid of emotion, with a strong internal logic that she follows almost religiously. Tsurugi on the other hand wears his heart on his sleeve and he explains in his prologue how his emotions lead him to a bad place once already. They’re interesting characters overall but the extremes to which they’ve been written can make them hard to relate to at times, especially Nadeshiko.

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Still, Mandatory Happiness manages to spin a pretty interesting story. The main antagonist is an interesting foil to the Sibyl System that governs the game’s world. While the anime has played around with this idea already, this antagonist does manage to set himself apart from those seen in the show.

My other complaint is that the story does heavily telegraph some of the “twists.” I generally prefer that to a completely pulled-out-of-the-ass plot twist but I felt like it could have been a little more subtle. Despite that, I was still interested in seeing where things went. And especially in seeing how my decisions would affect how the characters dealt with the situations they were in.

… a host of extras …
The player, of course, gets some agency over how the team deals with the antagonist through the choices they make. Going by the Trophies there seem to be roughly thirteen endings, not including bad endings, though I haven’t had enough time to explore all of them myself.

The game is not all that long, I believe it took me about five or six hours to get through once. Using save states and skipping previously read text cuts down on subsequent playthroughs for those who want to explore the different endings.

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Through the main menu, there are a host of extras which include a gallery of production art, voice samples from the characters, and the ability to view specific scenes from the game. Oddly though, the currency used to unlock gallery objects is gained through a 2048 clone, the phone game where the player slides like-numbers into one another to try to make 2048, rather than through the visual novel itself.

Finally, for those reading this who haven’t seen the anime, I do think this game is completely playable without watching it. Most things are explained well enough, either within the story or through an in-game TIP guide. I would suggest watching the first season of the anime though, partially to avoid needing to use that guide and partially because the game nonchalantly spoils one of the bigger moments from the show.

… the game is completely voiced …
Visuals:
The game gets by with very basic visuals. A good ninety percent consists of just the character’s portraits with a few variations for the emotion to go along with their dialogue. Other than some animation for their faces though, the visuals are static.

The other ten percent uses special images for key moments in the story to emphasize things happening. These are still usually static, though once or twice the game does use a series of a few static images to show some very, very basic animation. Still, the visual aspect of the game is generally pretty simple.

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Audio:
Unfortunately for fans of the dubbed version of the anime, Mandatory Happiness only has the Japanese voices. The nice thing though is that the game is completely voiced, save for the player character’s thoughts or lines describing things that are happening. The recurring characters all sound consistent with their anime counterparts as well, which helped ease me into the game’s story.

There is some background music at times but it’s very low-key for the most part. Some of the game’s more tense situations have more dramatic music but at other times there can be next to nothing playing as well.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is singleplayer only with no online component.

… lacking in a few places …
Conclusion:
On the whole I enjoyed Psycho-Pass Mandatory Happiness as a fan of the anime. The world is pretty interesting and I appreciated getting to experience it through a game. The new characters and cases in the game fit in well with the anime universe overall.

All that said, the game’s contrivances do leave it lacking in a few places. The adherence to the anime’s timeline means the game doesn’t get to fully explore the returning cast and the whole adventure is made to not rock the boat for them. The new characters carry some of that weight but it would have been nice to allow it to explore the entire cast’s psychology some more.

In general, I’d recommend it to those who enjoyed the anime. For those who haven’t, I think the game can be played without having seen the show but I’d still suggest doing so first. Especially for anyone who is intrigued by the world. The anime and game both play around in an interesting space, familiar from some other movies, and manage to offer their own unique takeaway from the concept.

Score:
7.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Elgato Game Capture HD Pro screen capture feature.

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