PSYCHO-PASS: Mandatory Happiness

(1 customer review)


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Complete Review & Description

The Orwellian “dystopian utopia” setting isn’t exactly scarce, especially in the realm of science fiction, but I don’t think I’ve ever encountered such a nuanced and thought-provoking take as that of Psycho-Pass. The fundamental question in such stories is “Is it worth sacrificing freedom and privacy for safety and comfort?”, and instead of the heavy-handed moralising typically seen – “Of course it’s not!” – Psycho-Pass, in both the anime source material and this visual novel based on it, complicates the matter in fascinating ways.

Psycho-Pass’ vision of 2112 Tokyo is one in which citizens’ mental states are closely monitored by omnipresent sensors and cameras, with the resulting metrics being used for everything from employment to law enforcement. In the interests of an orderly and productive society, the Sybil System uses people’s measures to encourage behaviours that promote well-being and happiness, be it something as simple as helping choose an outfit, or as life-changing as a career decision. It also pre-emptively imprisons, rehabilitates, or outright kills “latent criminals” – those people who are yet to commit any crime, but show a high likelihood of doing so.

This is where the Ministry of Welfare’s Public Safety Bureau come in. Essentially a police force, the PSB’s task is to track down latent criminals and “enforce” them, with the form that enforcement takes being decided by Sybil’s cold algorithms. All the PSB’s officers have to do is aim their gun-like Dominators at the would-be perp, pull the trigger, and Sybil does the rest. A particularly dangerous latent criminal might be blown away on the spot, while someone with the potential for rehabilitation may just be stunned so they can be arrested. Someone deemed to not be a latent criminal at all can’t be shot, no matter how hard the officer squeezes the trigger. There’s no room for judgement or human error; everything is decided by Sybil.

It’s an authoritarian system to say the least, where you’re no longer innocent until proven guilty, and can be deemed guilty prior to the fact. At the same time, it’s one that works, at least to some extent. People can keep across their own mental states with publicly-available devices that give summarised readings called Hues – a light or clear hue is a sign of good mental health; a dark or cloudy one indicates some sort of stress or anxiety. Fluctuations are normal, but a persistently or excessively darkened Hue is cause for concerns, prompting the person in question to take mental health supplements or otherwise find a way to stabilise their well-being, lest they fall down the path of latent criminality.

That this is all just setting and backstory shows how much there is to take in – I haven’t even got to the meat of the plot within Mandatory Happiness. At first, it can be a daunting experience as people bang on about Hues, Criminal Coefficients, and the like, especially if you’re not familiar with the anime series. Though it’s not the most elegant of solutions, a glossary of terms is included to help you wrap your head around this world, but it’s worthwhile, because like I said, this is a fascinating and enthralling journey.

You play as either Takuma Tsurugi or Nadeshiko Kugatachi, two freshly-minted PSB officers who couldn’t be more different from one another. Tsurugi is brash, emotive, and wears his heart on his sleeve; once a latent criminal, he’s been rehabilitated and found work as a PBS Enforcer in the hopes of finding a long-lost childhood friend. Kugatachi, meanwhile, is cold, emotionless, logical to a fault – her colleagues refer to her as “Ms. Droid” – and having no memory of her past, she’s been brought on to put her skills to work as a detective..

It’s no coincidence that Tsurugi and Kugatachi represent extremes of the ideals that Psycho-Pass’ premise throws into conflict, and their relationship forms one of the cornerstones of the game’s philosophical musings. Tsurugi shows the strengths and weaknesses of that unbridled passion, Kugatachi shows the same of cold, hard reasoning, and as they work together, the difficulties and benefits of a compromise between the two emerges. Both characters play a significant role regardless of who you choose to play as, but it’s worth going through both approaches just to see how wildly their unique perspectives differ.

Perhaps the most interesting contrast between the two is the way their Hues change throughout the game. Kugatachi, in her robotic fashion, has an almost unwavering Hue; even something as stressful as killing someone makes it shift only a shade or two. She’s an image of ruthless efficiency, but also puts a spotlight on the Sybil System’s inability to deal with neuroatypical people. On the other hand, Tsurugi’s Hue is all over the place, and trying to manage it through the decisions that you make is a key part of his route – it’s very possible to get an early bad ending by letting your Hue get too cloudy. It’s a simple mechanic that’s mostly tangential to the visual novel core of the game, but it doubles as an intriguing metaphor for many of the themes explored.

The other pillar of Mandatory Happiness’ philosophising is the villain, Alpha. An AI built with the ability learn emotions, Alpha’s aim is to bring happiness to as many people as he can, but his very logical attempts to decipher something as illogical as happiness (or any human emotion, really) lead to disastrous results. After initial experiments around giving people whatever it is they desire go horribly wrong, he eventually comes to the conclusion that happiness is the absence of pain, sadness, and any other such negative emotions – a logical conclusion, to be sure, but one that misses the essence of emotion.

Alpha genuinely thinks that what he’s doing is for the best, even though few would agree with his determination of happiness, and that makes him a captivating villain who’s both creepy and sympathetic. Moreover, he complicates the Sybil System that’s at the heart of this society by showing what happens when algorithmic assessments of emotion are taken to their logical endpoint. Through Alpha, Kugatachi, Tsurugi, and a great cast of supporting characters, Mandatory Happiness weaves an engrossing tale.

The only letdown, really, is the quality of the localisation job – not in terms of the actual translation and English script work, which is fantastic, but the apparent lack of any sort of proof-reading. The text is rife with little typos and punctuation errors; nothing debilitating, but enough to be a distraction. Aside from that, the presentation is spot-on. A sleek, futuristic-looking UI and great character portraits make Mandatory Happiness look fantastic, but the real award goes to the soundtrack. In lieu of high-octane action scenes and clever camerawork, the stunning music does the heavy lifting in creating the sense of urgency and suspense that thriller like this requires.

The visual novel format is a perfect fit for the sorts of ideas that the Psycho-Pass anime explores, and Mandatory Happiness does a remarkable job with it. I can only assume this is mandatory playing for any fans of the series, but even if you’re a newcomer – as I am – this game is well worth taking the time to wrap your head around.


1 review for PSYCHO-PASS: Mandatory Happiness

  1. vietnamno1

    One word: Great game.

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