Friday, September 9, 2016

PSYCHO-PASS: Mandatory Happiness (PS4)

Modeled after the anime series of the same name NISA's, MAGES', and 5pb's addition to the ongoing plot that is "PSYCHO-PASS" takes place somewhere in the midst of season one with two new playable characters, and a new villain the likes of which fans of said series will not yet have seen. All of which is presented in an interactive visual novel style experience with exceptional attention to detail abound. For those of you have never heard of the anime, or it's story you'll be surprised to know that it's not quite as far fetched an idea as anime usually is. In fact, dare I say it, it kind of mirrors the direction our own society is currently taking with the secretive collection, and assessment of private data tied to persons of interest by corporate entities. The premise in the anime series, like our own real world plight, revolves wholly around a managed society where enforcers operating under an AI judicial system known as the "Sibyl System" track down latent, or potentially latent criminals through their personal "Psycho-Pass". The 'Psycho-Pass', as it were is an accessible psychological evaluation that takes into account a person's stress level (Hue), and criminal capacity (Crime Coefficient) for the sake of maintaining a peaceful society. Criminals found with a certain Hue will either be counseled, enforced by the Inspectors/Enforcers via a non-lethal paralysis shot, or will be executed on site with a Dominator pistol which evaluates the criminal status of the individual before firing the fatal shot through one of the Enforcer's or leading Inspector's handling of said weapon. Inspectors, and Enforcers of the Public Safety Bureau (MWPSB), as a result of the use of this system are effectively judge, jury, and executioner of anyone deemed suspect. Even latent criminals found among themselves. Of course this game picks up on that base story element, and builds greatly upon it in a case by case, and chapter by chapter basis where three main characters' involvement intertwines through their unusually connected circumstances.

In this new story arch appropriately titled, "Mandatory Happiness" The developer delves deep into the morals of humanity through the eyes of Inspector Nadeshiko, Enforcer Tsurugi, and a hacked medical cyborg come to life called Alpha. At the start of the game Alpha (at the time unnamed) is brought to life by an unknown source for unknown purposes. After his animated, and enigmatic introduction comes to pass the player is forced to then choose between one of two playable characters via their digitally represented bureau ID. Nothing is really explained or shown about either character other than their displayed name, and appearance. Choosing either character (Nadeshiko, Tsurugi) will immediately take you into that characters' perspective of the intertwining events that have already begun to unfold prior to you having learned of them. It's a sort of account where each contributing character gives their take on things while sharing their (your) choices made throughout the various cases centered around the mysterious Alpha, and his pursuit of "Happiness".

When it comes to Nadeshiko, for example you will find that she enters the scene with no prior knowledge except that which surrounds her civil duty at the Public Safety Bureau. Her amnesia, and her role as an Inspector plays a pivotal part in her understanding of the case she willing, and unemotionally takes on at the start of her given account of events. Through multiple choices revolving around case facts, and the moral dilemma within you will guide Nadeshiko's actions as she comes to terms with the reality of her situation, and her life as an individual within the heavily governed society. As the gamer you'll find that the cases Nadeshiko encounters, which all come circling back to Alpha, Tsurugi, and herself at times encompass a variety of human situations where right, and wrong are blurred shades of grey. Where choosing at the moment to act, or react a certain way will be the deciding factor of how Nadeshiko, and her partners' Hue will be affected, and ultimately decide through the Sibyl System how their fate plays out. Thus giving you one of multiple endings which come at the conclusion of the tale being told. Of course the same goes for Tsurugi as well, but his story will be somewhat different than Nadeshiko's while sharing that similar joint connection which will not be made completely clear until you finish the game in it's entirety.

The automated novelization, and path choices that make up "PSYCHO-PASS: Mandatory Happiness" play out in tandem. As you read through the visual novel's content, and listen to the Japanese voice-overs which include individual characters' thoughts, and assessments of given situations you will reach turning points within the plot as well as experience story elements tied to both bureau and criminal activities. As a bureau Inspector, or Enforcer you will also be prompted to do such things as take your mental medicine to stabilize your deteriorating Hue, or even (in Nadeshiko's case) undergo hypnotherapy to try, and recover your lost memories. In some cases the prompted multiple choice questions only offer two options while at other times said options are more plentiful, and more confusing in a shades of grey type of way. All choices impact how the story plays out after the choice has been made. There are negative, neutral, and positive paths to each prompted circumstance, respectfully. Aside from that you'll also be choosing the fate of others indirectly involved in the main plot scenario, as well as the main antagonist himself. In a lot of ways "PSYCHO-PASS: Mandatory Happiness" is in effect like a proper detective, and law enforcement job where snap decisions must be made on the spot. Using the story's information, and case elements embedded within the character driven conversations will help you to more easily understand the most morally correct path to take when it comes to the prompted choices provided, supposing that is the route you wish to take.

Visually, audibly, and textually "PSYCHO-PASS: Mandatory Happiness", like it's anime inspiration, is more perfect than I expected it to be. In it's combined presentation the game seems more like an anime than the traditional visual novel gaming experiences I've played through in the past. While there's plenty of textual dialogue to read, and a sort of still life displaying of character involvement it's animated character depictions, and subject matter more than make sitting through the lengthy chapters of content worth the hassle. I have personally never watched an anime, or played an anime visual novel based game that is so in tune with human emotions, and human conflict as this is. You'll encounter some very serious circumstances that revolve around things like loving relationships gone astray, parenting gone wrong, and hostage dilemmas among other things. Circumstances that will no doubt make you question what it is to be human, and what it is to be happy. As Sir Isaac Newton said so long ago, "For every action there is an equal, and opposite reaction". This visual novel, and the anime itself play heavily on that very law of nature.

The Verdict ...

Let me start by saying I had never seen "PSYCHO-PASS" the anime at the start of my playthrough. I was told I should by NISA's PR, and after playing this visual novel I am very inclined to see the series through to it's end. This game alone oozes genius, and I can only imagine how Awesome the anime is. It delves often into sensitive, and telling subject matter that we all on some level can relate to as human beings. In it's own way it makes you question society's standards of happiness, and whether or not we'll ever know true happiness as a collective society. It also begs to question the idea as to whether or not our own real world societies will ever reach a point where we are emotionally governed by a similar automated system as Sibyl. In hindsight, thinking over everything I've encountered in this game I cannot recommend it enough. It is beyond brilliant, and highly engaging throughout. Scenes, and situations are never really the same twice, and the displayed elements that make up the game keep the story fresh with new approaches to visualization. The only flaw if any is that controls aren't readily explained, and even the save menu function is not made clear to the gamer. I actually encountered a flaw with said menu system that kept me from properly saving my progress, and properly exiting my current place within the story. The game does have an auto-save feature, but to be unable to back out or access the all of the menu options including the extras, or configuration is a bothersome problem. Speaking of which the "L1" menu contains it's own sort of mini textual Wikipedia where characters, terms, and places/people of interest are fleshed out through descriptive words.

For those of you interested in the collector's edition I saw it listed on the Gamestop website for $69.99. I also assume NISA has their own collector's edition on their official website. Whichever choice you choose to go with (the standard edition or collector's) do not miss out on "PSYCHO-PASS: Mandatory Happiness"!!! It gets the Inferno's seal of approval! 

NOTE: "The fault with the menu could be to do with my controller, or the digital copy of the game I was given. NISA talked with the devs, and they can't replicate the problem I'm having."

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