Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness Review
Happiness Is Always Just Out Of Reach
Psycho-Pass is an anime that tried to be a callback to the vital sci-fi franchises of yesteryear, but fell flat on its face somewhere along the way. There was a lot to love, sure, but what was there to love was stuff that had been done before in Ghost in the Shell, Serial Experiments Lain, Technolyze, and plenty of other Debbie Downer science fiction anime. That said, I admired its willingness to try and make something unlike its contemporaries. In a year that gave us a steam shovel’s (ha!) worth of generic moe anime, Psycho-Pass tried something different. Did it do a good job? Not really. But it tried. E for Effort!
Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness Steam Page
Release: April 24, 2017
Rig: Intel i7-6700K @ 4.0 GHz 64 GB RAM NVIDIA GeForce 1080 Founder’s Edition
Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness falls in the same boat. It tries to expand on the franchise’s lore by focusing on new characters doing their own thing parallel to the first twelve episodes of the original series (leaving the godawful second season off the table, thank Christ.) One protagonist is an amnesiac, the other is somebody looking for their lover. They’re going up against an evil AI whose master plan involves forcing happiness upon citizens to keep them docile, which in turns allows him to carry out a long-term goal of societal control and an overall reduction of the human population. It’s honestly pretty cool stuff, all told, and way better than anything the original’s paltry twelve episodes offered. But… I’m really not sure it necessitated a whole game. It feels weird to say this as a fan of visual novels, but more so than many other examples of the genre, Mandatory Happiness made me very aware that I was reading walls and walls and walls of text. Twelve episodes of anime is about 4-5 hours, give or take. This game is about that long, but somehow feels like more of a drag than Nitroplus’ longer titles, such as Steins:Gate. Simply put, the game does a pretty poor job of translating Psycho-Pass’ cyberpunk action with brooding philosophy on the side into game form. I honestly question why this wasn’t just an OVA or companion film, really, because it’s kind of not the most engaging thing to play through. Sure, the story is pretty interesting, but a pretty interesting story can be undone by uninteresting delivery, and this game is the very definition of uninteresting delivery – especially considering the high-octane territory the original show often delved into.
That’s really all there is to this game, too – scroll through text and read the story. While some of my favorite games could be classified as that, from Ace Attorney to Jake Hunter to Lux-Pain, I really think visual novels just aren’t the best form of game for this franchise. Scrolling through text and looking at pictures strips away a key element of the franchise – suspense. While suspense can indeed be captured in visual novel format, as Corpse Party has proven time and time again, Nitroplus really isn’t the best developer for that. The result is a game that brings the Philosophy 101 bits of Psycho-Pass and leaves the rest on the cutting room floor. That’s a problem, because it’s that blend of action and philosophy that made the anime work (when it worked.) One without the other is bland and watered-down.
“A compelling story told in one of the least compelling ways imaginable.”
None of this is to say Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness is a particularly bad game. It’s short enough to blast through in a sitting (I chose to play through both routes and make all the possible choices,) and if you’re a diehard fan of the original, there’s definitely some stuff to love here. I would daresay I liked the game’s narrative better than the first twelve episodes of the source material, in fact. That said, it’s not delivered in the most compelling package, leaving us with a compelling story told in one of the least compelling ways imaginable.
[A copy of the game was provided by the developer or publisher for the purpose of this review.]