Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness continues a recent trend that establishes the Playstation Vita as a go-to platform for visual novels. It’s also available on the PS4, but here’s our review of the portable version.
Reviewing visual novels is tricky – there’s not too much in terms of gameplay to describe, and giving too much of the narrative away could ruin the experience. Talking about narrative-driven games like this is challenging, but we’ll try to keep spoilers to a minimum. If you’re already familiar with the Psycho-Pass franchise, then most of this will ring a bell anyway. You see – much like other visual novels, Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness is based on an existing story from another form of media. In this case, there is an anime/manga to watch as well as a book to read – yet none of these were familiar to me before starting the game.
Luckily, that isn’t a big issue. I’m sure the different elements and characters would have clicked into place a little sooner for me if I’d already been a fan, but after the first hour and a half or so I felt right at home in the game world. Part of that is the quality of the writing, and the other is an interesting premise that is part minority report and part Japanese sci-fi.
Taking place in the future, people have figured out a way to gauge the likeliness that someone will turn to crime in the near future (see the obvious Minority Report reference there), and it’s your unit’s responsibility to decide what to do once red flags start being raised. You can choose to intercept and prevent a crime from happening, or focus your attention elsewhere and see if there are bigger fish to fry. It’s decisions like this that determine which story branch you will follow, and they are never quite as black and white as they sometimes seem.
The outcome of your actions is also unclear when you decide – things might happen that you didn’t count on, leaving you thinking that you made the wrong decision. However, the story and game will continue – constantly keeping you engaged and on your toes. You can of course reload a saved game and pick differently, but since there’s no one way to go through the story it’s more enjoyable to stick with your choices for the duration of your playthrough – and explore other options afterwards.
The subject matter can get a little dark and depressing, with serious issues like child abuse being part of the plotlines. Being a visual novel and heavy on details and dialogue, that makes this a game that’s not for the faint of heart. The presentation isn’t quite as graphic in most cases, as the story is told through a series of stills with very little animation. Fully voiced Japanese characters with English subtitles are available though, and even though I don’t speak a word of Japanese the delivery is as emotional as ever.
The fact that the game also came out for PS4 seems to hold back the Vita version a little bit, since font size and text placement don’t seem optimized for the Vita’s smaller screen. Easily solved by using Playstation TV, but we prefer our novels in the palm of our hand. In this case, that means text can be a tad hard to read – and we’ve played plenty of visual novels over the past year to know that that doesn’t have to be the case on the Vita.
I can’t judge the game as an existing fan of the Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness franchise, but what I can say is that this is a story well worth exploring as long as the subject matter doesn’t put you off. Each story branch decision feels impactful, and I look forward to playing through the story again with different choices. It’s too bad the Vita version has some issues with the optimization for the platform, but it’s still an excellent addition to the platform’s visual novel library.