Psycho Pass: Mandatory Happiness – review

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  • Format: Vita (version reviewed), PS4
  • Unleashed: Out Now
  • Publisher: NIS America/Reef Entertainment
  • Developer: 5pb
  • Players: 1
  • Site: http://nisamerica.com/games/psycho-pass/
  • Game code provided by the publisher

Psycho Pass’s dystopian Japan has always been ripe for an interactive adventure. Crammed full of surveillance cameras and drones, your job here is decided for you via the automated “Sibyl System”. Sibyl also makes an ongoing assessment of the mental state of each and every citizen; if you’re deemed a threat to society, law enforcement is despatched to arrest or even kill you, regardless of whether or not you’ve committed a crime. Crime victims can be deemed to become “latent criminals” within seconds. Inevitably perhaps, this means a visual novel; a “proper” one, without any traditional gameplay elements.

Existing fans are very well served here. Though there are no animated sequences, all the characters look exactly as they do in the series, right down to the colouring and shading. The two new characters (your playable ones; Inspector Kugatachi and Enforcer Tsurugi) also look like they belong with the franchise favourites. The plot – which can veer down extremely different paths according to your choices – is also in keeping with the anime’s dark and thoughtful tone. A self-contained story taking place before the end of the first series, those unfamiliar with the anime can still easily get to grips with what’s going on; though they may struggle to keep up with talk of things such as hues, latent criminals, and crime coefficients. There’s an in-game glossary (filled in as you discover new elements) to help, which in honesty mostly isn’t needed. An important late-game twist involving Kugatachi, though, is arguably not explained well enough for newcomers.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Each character’s path tells the same story from different perspectives, with huge variations in dialogue and available situations that make it well worth playing both. Inspector Kugatachi has amnesia and no wait come back. It’s an extremely tired plot device, but the reason behind it (and how a certain somebody is observing the consequences) ties in perfectly to Psycho Pass’s world. New boy to the Enforcer crew Tsurugi, meanwhile, is an extremely driven individual with his own agenda bubbling under the criminal-catching surface.

Might seem a bit Norman Bates, but the truth is way weirder.

Might seem a bit Norman Bates, but the truth is way weirder.

Regardless of the license, Psycho Pass: Mandatory Happiness does several refreshing things with its storytelling (and you’ll only see them all through repeated playthroughs). Kugatachi ordinarily operates on an emotional flatline which, while eventually explained in a way that will make fans cry “of course!”, means that other people’s reactions to her tend to be more interesting than her actual character. Tsurugi on the other hand feels like a character of substance, and how he eventually develops depends on your choices in many subtle ways. Neither can be called a hero though, and the game is all the better for it.

As the story is quite literally the game, it’s hard to discuss without spoiling the experience. A perceived connection between Kugatachi and Tsurugi is established very early on, and the way in which it relates to the cases which quickly form an overall threat is a little more complex than you might think. Again, the writers refused to get comfortable in story conventions. Not only are the protagonists a far cry from squeaky clean Hollywood heroes, the antagonists – both major and minor – are not pantomime villains.

As the game is essentially no more than script and on-screen choices, a few issues are more important than they otherwise would have been. Audio is Japanese only for example, which may deter some non-fans. Also, there are a small number of typos to be found within the subtitles. While this is disappointing, it is at least understandable given that just two people worked on translating the labyrinthine script. The lack of English audio has an unintended side effect, whereby most English-speaking players will fly through the story each time much faster than their Japanese counterparts; the rhythm depends on your reading speed rather than the dialogue delivery of the actors. At a rough guess, one entire character playthrough took us 4-5 hours each time.

American police could do with guns like this with a non-lethal mode. OOOHH SOCIAL COMMENTARY

American police could do with guns like this with a non-lethal mode. OOOHH SOCIAL COMMENTARY

The writing in general is very good though and, while Psycho Pass fans will easily get the most out of it, a good script can be appreciated by anybody. One overall theme is the personal justification of harmful or socially unacceptable/controversial acts. One possible character arc explores this via obsession; another takes a surprising turn into atheistic territory, by pointing out that the only way the Christian god can allow people into heaven is by eradicating their free will (free will itself being another recurring theme).

The huge amount of possible endings, and the various paths which lead to them, put Telltale games to shame; especially as it’s not always clear which choices will set you down a different path. A large chunk of those are “bad” endings, where your character dies. Many are “true” ends; although that does mean that, if you’re determined to chase them all down, after the fourth ending or so your experience will feel less like playing the game and more like simply searching it for new threads to pull at. It’ll take a long time to reach that point though and, hey, there’s a puzzle minigame to play from the menu when you want a break from fast forwarding to the next choice segment. Just a shame that there’s no opportunity to walk around Psycho Pass’s world and soak it in.

critical score 8

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Written by Luke K

He plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. He doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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