Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness is a thought provoking visual novel. It’s a dramatic experience intended to make you think critically about what makes someone a hero or villain. You’re supposed to wonder if it is really possible to truly define or label someone, and the dangers that can come from such snap judgments. Especially in situations where the people designed to protect and serve the community could be as dangerous and morally compromised as the criminals.
First, a bit of background. Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness takes place in 2112. The Sibyl System is constantly accessing everyone’s psycho-pass to see their mental state, stress levels and Crime Coefficient. People with an under 100% Crime Coefficient are fine, but ones over 100% are latent criminals who must be captured and held until their figures drop. If a latent criminal reaches 200%, he or she will be killed on sight.
The members of the Public Safety Bureau’s Criminal Investigation Division investigate, apprehend, and even murder anyone who could be considered a latent or actual criminal. This means the Inspectors are constantly at risk of their own psycho-pass reaching dangerous figures, and they must work with latent criminal Enforcers to attempt to keep their Crime Coefficients and Hue stress levels within safe guidelines. Each member of the team wields a Dominator, a gun that will only shoot at people with Crime Coefficients over 100%. These weapons will incapacitate ones over 100% and kill those over 200%, regardless of other circumstances. Since the Inspectors and Enforcers are constantly exposed to crime, they are just as likely to become criminals as the people they’re chasing.
Where Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness shines is in its ability to properly highlight the parallels between its heroes and villain. While visual novels and animes are both very story-driven forms of media, extra care has to be taken in the interactive experience to ensure people can contrast and compare. It isn’t as directed as an anime, and doesn’t have the freedom to build on adventures with additional seasons. From the very beginning, this game shows us the intentions and personalities of Nadeshiko Kugatachi, Takuma Tsurugi, and Alpha, three characters embodying various roles in the “system,” letting us see how circumstances shape situations.
The first person we meet in Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness is Alpha. He’s our antagonist, though there are times where he doesn’t seem exactly evil. His goal in each of the incidents the Public Safety Bureau is investigating is to try and make people happy. He’s giving someone near the edge, about to become a latent criminal or total criminal, a chance at the happiness they want. He has ulterior motives for his actions, he isn’t some altruistic benefactor, but also isn’t entirely malicious. His greatest sin is pushing his own ideals on people. He wants to make people happy. But, enabling their “happiness” is instead providing opportunities for them to turn into the worst versions of themselves. While the things he’s helping happen are dangerous, some actions don’t seem entirely immoral. Helping friends reconnect seems positive, in theory. So does helping a mother who doesn’t have the proper support system.
Nadeshiko Kugatachi is an Inspector, which means she’s a Criminal Investigation Division member whose Crime Coefficient falls within the acceptable levels. She’s an emotionless woman suffering from amnesia at Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness’ outset. As such, she’s completely driven and dedicated to her job. She is there to save the latent criminals. She must kill actual criminals. Following guidelines to a T will make her a blank slate that is essentially imposing her own will on people, just as Alpha is. She will meet all expectations, even if it means possibly killing an innocent victim who is currently at 200% because of the incredibly harrowing experiences she’s just survived. And, in so doing, she’ll be doing the “right” thing, even if the intent can come across as more malicious and dangerous than the ones the real villain, Alpha, was undertaking. Nadeshiko’s actions will be “good” and “condoned,” even if the results are heartbreaking, gory, and may even feel evil. Even when not giving into emotions or desires, she’s allowing herself to follow the whims of the system and impose other rules upon people.
Takuma Tsurugi is an Enforcer, which means he is a latent criminal. He’s already near the danger zone, with clouded stress levels. He’s joined the Criminal Investigation Division to find a childhood friend. Takuma is driven by his search. But, you have to wonder, is that the best course of action? Is going to such lengths, allowing his Hue stress levels and Crime Coefficient to rise, moral? I found him the most likeable and relatable of the three Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness characters. But, you also have to think about the path his wants and desires are leading him down. Would a truly good person be doing the things he’s doing? Are his actions enough to really make him a latent criminal?
It’s only in a world with Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness’s Sibyl System that these three characters could be assigned such roles. Nadeshiko, with her potential to remain an emotionless hand of justice, could very easily be the primary antagonist in another game. In the right circumstances, Alpha could be a wish-fulfilling hero. Takuma could go either way, being a devoted friend in one or a possibly obsessive creep in another. Assigning them to these roles here makes you pay closer attention to their intent and actions. The game manages to show off these three personalities, all of which have their kind and cruel moments, and make us question the system in a concise and engaging manner.
Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness is available for the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita.