Header Ads

Let’s Play Anime! Psycho-Pass Mandatory Happiness

I have always found the visual novel genre of video games to be a curious one. Without delving much into the history of a near-40 year old Japanese-born video game genre, it certainly is one that has grown in both prominence and popularity in the west over the past couple of decades. Psycho-Pass Mandatory Happiness feels like a culmination of a genre that has struggled to find its footing across western shores.

Early attempts to introduce the visual novel remain notable. Snatcher on the Sega Mega-CD still resonates with many today (remaster/remake please), but it was the Nintendo DS that really turned western heads to the concept with the arrival of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney in 2005, closely followed by Hotel Dusk just a year later. The genre has since flourished somewhat with Telltale Games' The Walking Dead series, but these aren't visual novels in the strictest sense. The latter in particular is more of a living, breathing interactive comic book with controllable characters. Nevertheless their contribution, easing Western audiences into both the visual novel genre and in many cases anime itself, which by the mid-2000s had finally settled fully as an entertainment medium after the initial bubble of the 1990s burst at the turn of the millennium. 

Fast forward ten more years, and the once-only-imaginable happened: A traditional Japanese-developed visual novel, fully translated into English, based around a leading anime production, was released on Western shores across all video game platforms. Yes, even Xbox One, where it made its debut in Japan as a timed exclusive, which is surprising given Microsoft's machine amassed lifetime sales of under 115,000. Interestingly, the Xbox One version was never localised for the west, where it no doubt would have fared better.

And so Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness is indeed a visual novel in the true sense, given there is approximately fifteen hours worth of text and still images, with the only interactions being the choices you make at key junctures. With its various endings, both good and bad, plus all the different routes that can be taken throughout with varying effects on both main and supporting characters, PPMH is an extremely comprehensive affair. Absolute credit has to be given for the localisation which is for one great and secondly given a chance in the US and Europe to begin with. If this had been the 1990s (in the UK at least) it is likely this game would never have ever been heard of. 

Psycho-Pass Mandatory Happiness presents two original characters, Inspector Nadeshiko Kugatachi and Enforcer Takuma Tsurugi, in an extensive tale set in the anime's canon, in parallel with the hit Production I.G. series. Set in the year 2112, police work is completely different. The always-online system Sybil monitors the mental state of all citizens to calculate the possibility of them committing any criminal activity in the future. As a result the crime rate is pretty much zero, with even people classed as undesirable punished for crimes before they're even committed. Some of these people, who of course have a knack for thinking like criminals, becoming the police enforcement as the public face of Sybil, known as the Public Safety Bureau's Criminal Investigation Division. These 'enforcers' also need supervision by PSBCID Inspectors, which is where our characters come in.

Little is given away about Nadeshiko Kugatachi, having lost all of her memories in an accident (somehow qualifying as a police inspector?!) and Takuma Tsurugi, who became an enforcer for CID hoping to one day find his long-missing childhood friend. Interesting resumes for sure, but these original protagonists are the anchor to the game's story, and given the limited nature of interaction on offer (press 'button' to continue, read, and press 'button' again), it is thankfully a good one.

Facing potential criminals based solely on probability from a computer certainly raises debate, as does the decisions you make for each respective character; do you pick what you would do, or what they should do? The over-arching villain Alpha, PPMH's most interesting and intriguing character, raises plenty of ethical questions that spread doubt about the Sybil system and its purpose. He affects both characters in different ways throughout as they also begin to question their own purpose within the Public Safety Bureau.

The choices you make determine how much your character walk the line between, in Nadeshiko's case, keeping her mental instability enough to regain her memories but not enough to become a latent criminal herself. With these multiple outcomes on offer, the tightly written dialogue driving it forward, and even voiced by the anime's cast, PPMH serves as an introductory piece to the anime franchise, given it occurs around the first quarter of the first series. 


PPMH certainly won't appeal to everyone; don't expect any puzzles to solve a la Danganronpa or any quickfire movements that appear in The Walking Dead, instead PPMH is as much a novel as the graphic ones on your Kindle, with added visuals with limited animation. Without the story, deep characters to be empathised with (or not) and again true-to-the-franchise visuals, Psycho-Pass Mandatory Happiness would be an empty shell of a video game. Its just as well those are the very aspects that carry it through into many hours of entertainment.


Psycho-Pass Mandatory Happiness is available now for Playstation 4, Playstation Vita and Steam.
Developed by: 5pb (now Mages)  Director(s): Makoto Asada + Rumie Higashinaka