Throughout gaming history, licensed games have had somewhat of a poor reputation. While there are a few outliers, more often than not games that feature intellectual property from other media have a tendency to be, well…total crap. In plain obnoxious fashion, these games tend to use beloved characters and worlds to bait fans into purchasing it, yet they lack the passion and ingenuity that essentially created the fandom in the first place. Now, it isn’t to be assumed that the creators of Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness had less than noble motivations for making this game. Nevertheless, the result was a buggy, nonsensical, restrictive, and tiresome experience, one that completely misunderstood the things that made the original anime so fantastic.
Starting with the gameplay, Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness is plentiful when it comes to decisions. In addition to your choices shaping the way the story plays out, they also will affect your hue. For those unfamiliar with Psycho-Pass, your hue is essentially a color tracker of your mental state. The cloudier your hue is, the more likely it is you’ll have criminal tendencies. If you’re unlucky enough to have criminal tendencies, the government will capture you and put you through rehabilitation, assuming that you’re not so far gone as to call for containment or elimination. In short, your choices will change your manifested mental state, and so you will want to make the right ones in order to avoid a less than happy ending.
Anyway, the quality of these decisions are more reflective of the games overall writing, and I’ll get to that later. For now, let’s talk about performance issues. It shouldn’t be hard to run a visual novel on PS Vita. Many games that don’t even tie itself to one genre have already optimized their visual novel aspects, ensuring that image quality is high and load times are near non-existent. Sadly, that is not the case for Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness. When other characters appear on screen to say something, their voice lines and character art must be loaded which causes a minor delay. This becomes extremely annoying in scenes where every character is given lines despite the fact that the same group conversation could’ve easily been held by two people. The dialogue is often just the entire cast chiming in for no apparent reason other than to remind us that they exist. The game is also buggy, and I found myself reloading saves because of freezes on more than one occasion. And if all that wasn’t embarrassing enough, the character art is quite low in resolution. This might not seem like a big deal, but it’s made painfully obvious with the close-ups in the game that focus on the eyes to evoke a sense of determination, and is consequently undermined by the fact that it looks like a lazy Photoshop. Oh, and I would’ve liked to share with you an example, but the game doesn’t allow screenshots to be taken.
The aesthetics of this game are much like its writing: completely oblivious to the tone, boundaries, scenery, and emotions that were purposely conveyed in the anime. Every crime in Mandatory Happiness is committed in broad daylight, in the most mundane of locations. An abandoned library, an abandoned apartment, and an abandoned high school, all of which are fairly clean, well-lit, and hiding no deep, dark secrets. This is in direct contrast with the locations in Psycho-Pass the anime, which for the most part are grandiose and dark. Even when a case does take them to a private school in the show, the building and surroundings aren’t given such a bright and cheerful color palette because that would be antithetical to the themes of which the show is working with. The color palette that the game uses also makes the characters stick out in an uncomplimentary way. See, most characters in Psycho-Pass have a corpse-gray skin color, and this of course signifies in a sort of ambiguous way that there is a lack of life in these people due to the Sybil system of which they serve under. But now they just look weird and out of place because of the brightly mundane backgrounds they stand in front of.
As for the soundtrack, the game borrows some music from the original series but mostly consists of new songs that are pretty unmemorable, except for the ones that feature an obnoxious and repetitive chorus. Those are hard to forget just because of how annoying they can be.
Before delving into the narrative, let me first address newcomers to the series. This is not the place to start. Mandatory Happiness focuses on three new characters rather than the entire supporting cast that surrounds them. It’s hard to gather any appreciation for these characters because they’re given such basic depth and motivation. As for the main focus characters, they’re story and “secret” connection with each other is obvious and laughable. There are many holes that can be poked through this plot, and overall the game is not worth your time and money if you’re looking for something with smart and precise plotting, deep and fascinating characters, a compelling and philosophical narrative, or just pretty pictures and voices.
It’s a bit surprising just how off-based this story is when portraying its already established characters. Especially in the case of the Enforcers, who are the essential hounds of the police department. All of the supporting cast is given virtually no depth and only exists as a visual touchstone to the original series. What’s really objectionable is their inconsistencies as characters in comparison to the anime, as displayed by their few emotional reactions within the game. One example in particular is when the group is examining the crime scene of a suspected child abuse. This of course causes everyone, including the latent criminal Enforcers, to clench their fists in disgust. Now, I’m not going to argue that child abuse isn’t disturbing. However, it should be expected that the Enforcers would not be troubled by this small incident. Why? Because these are people that have seen horrors beyond any average person’s dreams, people that hunt and kill criminals like beasts. And “kill” is putting it lightly. They annihilate perpetrators, using brutal weaponry to explode their targets from the inside out, leaving nothing left of the human being but an assortment of widely spread blood and chunks. And you’re telling me a little child abuse is going to dampen their spirits?
Anyway, the protagonists newly added to the series are put in a position that makes no sense. Nadeshiko is an emotionless new recruit that suffers from amnesia, and that’s about as deep as her character gets for a while. Her hidden backstory is excruciatingly obvious, as her ties from a past life are abundantly and clumsily hinted at throughout the entire game. Her head hurts and her heart rate becomes abnormal whenever she’s around two specific characters. Huh. What a weird coincidence. The other new character is named Tsurugi, and he’s a more brawn than brains kind of Enforcer. These two are given all the power for no good reason as soon as they join the force, and are relied upon to make every important decision they come across. It makes virtually no sense from a narrative standpoint, but it fits the confines of a visual novel easily. Taking an easy approach like this is just another way Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness confines itself from being remarkable or worthwhile.
Speaking of unremarkable, it’s time to bring to light the main antagonist and the spree of lackluster crimes that branch from him. Alpha is a rogue Artificial Intelligence programmed with the goal of obtaining happiness for all humans. This is of course incredibly ironic, considering he leaves nothing but pain and despair in his wake. His first conclusion is that drugs make people happy and unleash their pent up inhibitions. Then after his first couple experiments fail, he decides free will is the problem and stripping it from humanity is the proper solution. So he relies on more drugs as his solution.
Before I finish, I want to delve a bit into the individual crimes that occur in this story. All the cases are pathetically weak, and none of them even hold a candle to the most banal case you can find in the anime series. This goes back to the game not understanding the things that made the original anime so great, and in this case it’s the utterly heinous crimes being committed. In Psycho-Pass, the criminals aren’t just criminals. They’re villains, and they’re capable of some truly monstrous acts, ones that I will probably never forget for as long as I live. One great example I can think of in the anime is the girl who creates art from the bodies of her mutilated classmates and hides them in public parks for pedestrians to eventually uncover. Psycho-Pass is supposed to be dark, and in comparison Mandatory Happiness might as well be about friendship and rainbows and puppies.
The game is about happiness. It’s about the pseudo-philosophical pursuit of happiness and understanding where it comes from. Alpha, the AI bent on bringing happiness to the world, struggles to find this meaning and only in the end finds a very simple and contrived answer. His path is a nonsensical one for multiple reason. One reason is that if real AI were to exist and go rogue, theoretically they could very well dominate humanity in a matter of days. Considering this is essentially what Alpha trying to accomplish, because he wants to ensure happiness and the only way to ensure that is to control everything, Alpha’s reign would be almost a foregone conclusion. But for some reason, Alpha is not an entirely logical entity. Alpha is given emotions, which is somewhat of an oxymoron considering that emotionalism is supposed to be the dividing factor between man and machine. Still, somehow Alpha finds himself having these emotions, and he allows himself to be controlled by them in a way that should be unbecoming for a theoretical being of super-intelligence. He allows himself to be swept up in rage, clouding his judgement and fueling his not entirely thought-out desires. In the end, he just makes for a brash and unintelligent villain. While it’s okay (if not encouraged) to stray from the beaten path of AI narratives, Alpha is just not in any way a compelling example of the possibility of Artificial Intelligence with emotion.
Newcomers should probably just watch the anime instead, considering that this game doesn’t provide a compelling narrative, enticing visuals, interesting dialogue, or plausible character depth. Longtime fans of the series should be especially displeased with this display of ineptitude in storytelling and design. Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness understands absolutely nothing of what made the original series so beloved, and should not be subjected upon those with even the cloudiest of hues.