Visual novels are an interesting genre, since the stories they tell tend to be pretty out there. Instead of a journey to find and defeat an enemy or ending a threat, the average visual novel is more cerebral. They follow crazy murderous girlfriends, playing horrific games to escape a grim fate and things of the like. Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness has a lot to say, especially given its unique take on the future, but is that enough to warrant playing or is it a good idea dragged down by poor choices?
Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness starts by introducing you to a hacker that you quickly learn is not all there. The scene itself is interesting, to the point of wanting to learn the context, but shortly after that you meet the main characters. You start by picking which character you want to follow. One is Nadeshiko Kugatachi, a young woman who lost her memory and approaches situations with logic and reason. The other character is Takuma Tsurugi, a latent criminal who lost a lot on his quest to locate his close friend.
Once you select your character, you’re given some brief background on them and then proceed to learn a lot about the world of Psycho-Pass. Since Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness is looking at the big picture, you’re introduced to most of the characters and concepts at the start. This choice results in a story that feels natural, but it makes for a very boring and long opening.
Between an introduction to your story arc, you learn what your job entails, are introduced to multiple characters and are thrown into a bunch of weird and different concepts. These concepts are also lightly touched on, likely because you’re expected to be familiar with the anime this is based on, so you’ll need to take a moment and read the background on the items. Needless to say, this is a lot to take in and can be overwhelming, especially if you don’t know if the story itself is worth the investment in these details.
For those who put in the time, Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness starts to craft a disturbing and thought provoking story. Because of how the psycho-pass itself works, the idea of what makes someone a criminal or law abiding citizen is much different than what we would consider legal and illegal, leading to legitimately questionable and haunting choices. This much is evident when you’re introduced to the first case and Nadeshiko forgets/overlooks the fact that the boy wasn’t technically a criminal yet and it was their job to help him before it was too late.
Other cases take the concept to further extremes and a huge part of the journey is the characters questioning right and wrong, ethical and unethical and things of that nature. The choices you make also have an impact on where the story goes, with there being a number of different endings and results you can achieve. This is where the bulk of your time will be spent, redoing cases/situations, handling them differently and seeing how the story plays out under those circumstances.
If there is one problem with Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness, it’s that the story can feel cliché. There is nothing wrong with using established tropes or relying on common story elements, but it undercuts the impact the story has. Like the first case, which is not as exciting or thought provoking as the others, uses a fairly run of the mill story. Boy loves girl, girl moves away, boy attempts to maintain their friendship, girl breaks it off, boy is hurt and chases after her and problems arise. Even the twist is the type of thing we’ve seen hundreds of other times, causing the story to drag.
Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness has an interesting voice with a lot for people to experience, but that experience is held back by a terrible opening. Between the exposition dump, bland starting case and tired storytelling elements, it’s easy to lose interest long before you get somewhere interesting. For those willing to invest an hour or two into the story should be happy, especially since it asks some interesting questions and does a fairly good job at making your choices feel like they have impact.
[Editor’s Note: Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness was reviewed on PS4 platform. The game was provided to us by the publisher for review purposes.]Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness Review,