Thursday, April 27, 2017

PSYCHO-PASS: Mandatory Happiness Review (Steam)

Written by: Alexander O. Cuaycong and Anthony L. Cuaycong

Title: PSYCHO-PASS: Mandatory Happiness
Developer: 5pb
Publisher: NIS America
Genre: Visual Novel
Price: $29.99
Also Available On: PS4, PS Vita, XB1

*screenshots from actual gameplay

At first glance, PSYCHO-PASS: Mandatory Happiness does very little to distinguish itself from other Visual Novels. Lacking English voices and sporting confusing default configurations, booting up PSYCHO-PASS did not leave a very good first impression. On PC, especially, playing around with the settings should be a player’s first priority in order to have a comfortable experience.

However, this is routine to any avid Visual Novel reader. Absent this initial hurdle, PSYCHO-PASS exceeds expectations.

Character Select Screen

In the dystopian world of PSYCHO-PASS, men and women run live off a state welfare system called “The Sibyl System.” This system, in coordination with what the game calls a “Psycho-Pass,” allows detectives to judge a person’s emotions, disposition, and behavior. If their Psycho-Pass goes off on the deep end, they are judged mentally unstable and liable to commit a crime, and are arrested or put down as needed.

Taking on the role of a newly hired detective, players must lead Nadeshiko Kugatachi or Takuma Tsurugi on a hunt for Alpha, a mysterious rogue AI on the run from the government. Guiding their chosen protagonist through various cases, players must make choices throughout the story. Bit by bit, depending on the outcome of each option taken, players will eventually hit one of multiple endings available in the game.

These all seem standard fare in terms of Visual Novel gameplay. Boiling down to what is essentially “read the text on the screen and make a choice on what you’ve read,” Visual Novels seem like a distant cousin to “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. It relies heavily on its story to make up for its lack of interactivity, and it’s here that it does not disappoint.

Written by the esteemed Gen Urobuchi, PSYCHO-PASSS takes and makes quite a number of twists and turns. Each case is unique and tests the players’ moral compass, and the choices undertaken not only affect the result of the case but also the characters themselves. Fail in the case, and the lead character’s Psycho-Pass takes a turn for the worse. Fail one time too many, and comrades turn against Kugatachi or Trurugi, viewing her or him as just a bit better than the criminals being hunted.

Psycho-Pass judging a criminal for execution

This is where PSYCHO-PASS’ strengths come in. With how sensitive the topics can get and how inflexible the world it crafts becomes, each choice has a huge impact on what happens in the game.

At times, it’s shocking how fast the story can turn on itself. Watching how a kidnap victim can turn into a potential criminal and be put down minutes after her initial rescue elicits strong emotions. Seeing how detectives judge an infant’s incarceration and execution can be all too sickening. The story does not pull any punches. It stays consistent to its tone and doesn’t lose its dark edge and grim atmosphere no matter what happens.

Granted, what serves as its greatest strength also becomes its biggest weakness. Its dreary, blunt way of storytelling can sometimes feel ham-fisted and forced. At its worst, it can seem utterly ridiculous. The effects of your choices, while lasting, also have no clear indication as to how right or wrong they are or how effective they’ll be. It’s almost like playing roulette; a single choice can make or break the case, but with very little information being conveyed to the player outside of the story’s narrative bits, it almost seems arbitrary as to how a good or a bad ending can be achieved.

For all its flaws, however, PSYCHO-PASS has a unique charm that cannot be denied. It’s able to tell its story, and extremely well. All in all, with the game constantly hammering down its bleak setting, PSYCHO-PASS is definitely not for the weak of heart, but is nonetheless highly recommended.

Defending an infant from execution

If you’re looking for an engaging sci-fi story dealing heavily with morality and precognition, and you’re not against the idea of heavy reading, PSYCHO-PASS is the perfect buy.

  • Deep and engaging story
  • Outstanding artwork
  • high replay value, with multiple endings and story branches depending on the choices made during the course of the game 

  • No English-dub option, the excellent Japanese voice acting notwithstanding 
  • Story will come off a bit strong sometimes
  • Entails a lot of reading
  • Very little input outside of choices 

RATING: 8.5/10