Thanks to NIS America for providing the Dashing Nerds with a playable build of the game!
I won’t lie, visual novels are one of my favorite video game genres. I’ve played quite a few over the years, many of which are the typical romance visual novels where the player chooses one of many beautiful characters to be with. Even Steins;Gate, one of the best visual novels I’ve ever played, features a story with light romantic elements.
I have been craving a new visual novel to enjoy lately, one that isn’t the typical romance, and Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness might be the one to help fill that void. An original story set in the world of the Psycho-Pass anime, Mandatory Happiness seeks to add some new tactical decisions to the visual novel genre, but does that result in a great game?
What is a “Psycho-Pass?”
Before I tackle the game, I just want to take a little time to explain what a “Psycho-Pass” is for those who may be unfamiliar with the show. The show has been very popular upon its release, and has had 2 full length seasons as well a movie to date, so I’m not sure why you haven’t checked it out yet!
Anyway, the story is set in a 2012 dystopian cyberpunk society in a brutal authoritarian world where sensors rule. These sensors perform the Psycho-Pass—special scans on citizens that measure their mental state, personality, and the probability that they will commit crimes. When someone scanned exceeds the acceptable range of criminal likelihood, the authorities are automatically notified, much like the movie Minority Report.
To keep order, the officers of the Public Safety Bureau work in two man teams. One as an Insepctor, who investigates crimes, and the other as an Enforcer, a latent criminal given a second chance by the system. Both carry hand weapons called Dominators, and when said weapons are used, they tend to result in a very violent death.
A Limited Audience
Fans of the Psycho-Pass anime will feel right at home playing Mandatory Happiness. All the main characters from the anime are present, such as Inspector Akane Tsunemori and her Enforcer partner, Shinya Kogami. The game does require knowledge of the series to fully enjoy it, and I do recommend watching at least half of the series to fully enjoy playing Mandatory Happiness.
Luckily, all copies of the game will come with a voucher for a digital download of the first two episodes of the series so newbies will be able to get a little taste of things to come.
Inspector or Enforcer? You Decide
With that out of the way, let’s get back to the game. Mandatory Happiness follows an original side-story written by Gen Urobuchi set during the first eight episodes of the series. You can choose to play as one of two characters created specifically for the game—the beautiful Inspector Nadeshiko Kugatachi, who is missing a huge portion of her memories, or the hot-headed Enforcer Takuma Tsurugi, who is searching for his missing lover. Both Kugatachi and Tsurugi are new recruits to Unit One of Public Safety Bureau.
Once you select Inspector or Enforcer, you are temporarily relocated to the once great Sado Marine City in the pursuit of a rogue medical cyborg known as Alpha. Alpha is determined to follow his programming and bring “happiness” to the people of Sado Marine City, no matter the cost.
A Tactical Decision
The game features the typical visual novel mechanics, where you follow the story and occasionally have to make choices that change the flow and lead to unexpected circumstances. Where Mandatory Happiness differs from other visual novels is that the choices you make are tactical in nature. Each chapter features the characters going out on an assignment where they have to make several decisions on how to pursue and capture the suspect.
For example, the first chapter of the game features Unit One tracking down a high school girl who was kidnapped by her former classmate. How would you track her down? Would you ask her parents or her friends for information? Would you search the high school or the local library to find where the suspect is hiding out? These are all decisions you will have to make during the course of a case. And like in real life, your decisions could result in the perp getting away, or worse. This is one of the main points I like about Mandatory Happiness; it takes standard visual novel mechanics and puts a fresh twist on them with the pressure of a criminal investigation.
Mind the Hue
In addition to making tough tactical decisions during a case, you will also have to monitor your own Hue levels in a sort of mental health bar mechanic. Yes, not even the player is free from the judgement of the Psycho-Pass scans. The player’s Hue level can change depending on the emotional course the story takes and can either be lightened or darkened. Players have to be extremely careful in making their choices because emotions can betray you. Get too dark of a Hue level and you will find yourself being enforced by your fellow teammates. During the course of the story you are given several opportunities to take sedatives to lighten your Hue levels. You can even speak with a therapist to calm your characters down. Again, I love the visual novel twist on a mental health meter.
Mandatory Happiness is not a very long game. You will be able to easily finish one of the character’s story in a matter of 3 to 4 hours, but with multiple choices to make you can easily stretch it out to obtain all the endings. Want to take a break from the story? Mandatory Happiness also comes with a puzzle matching game where players can earn points to unlock hidden goodies like artwork.
Is Happiness Mandatory?
I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness. It was a fresh spin on of my favorite genre featuring an anime show you can’t go wrong with.
Both Mandatory Happiness and the Psycho-Pass anime tackle some heavy issues, such as the cost of living without stress and fear of crime. Humans are all capable of doing bad things at times, let’s be honest. Should we be be held accountable for thoughts of hurting someone before we act on it, even if the odds of doing so are next to nothing? Do the needs of the many override the needs of the few? Mandatory Happiness tactfully tackles such issues without talking down to gamers.
I don’t know if I would recommend a full-playthrough for players who have never seen Psycho-Pass, as the game builds off the anime’s world and storyline. But if you love visual novels like I do, it’s still worth checking just to see a new spin on familiar mechanics and an intriguing story.
- Tactical choices stand out despite genre
- Unique health bar mechanics
- Excellent story
- Strangers to the show won't get much out of this one.