Title: Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness
Developer: 5pb. Inc.
Publisher: NIS America
So here's the deal, this is a choose your own adventure game and mechanically it is largely indistinct from those children's books you might have read as a youngster. There are a couple of extra bells and whistles which'll be detailed below, but the main point to take from this is that in the interest of avoiding spoilers, the game's core, it's plot, can't be talked about at length.
With that in mind, Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness (Herein PPMH), is set some time after the start of Season 1 of its anime precursor, but likely before the conclusion of that season. It is difficult to specifically call exactly when it's set because the "true ending" definitely screws with the TV show's cannon. There are two characters to choose from, both of whom are original to the game. Nadeshiko Kugatachi, an emotionless inspector who acts as the game's resident Vulcan capable only of logical thought, and enforcer Takuma Tsurugi who acts as the impulsive Captain Kirk. To the writer's credit both characters mesh well with the main characters of the Anime, all of whom are present in game, and their development over the course of the story is largely very good.
Those yet to watch the anime should probably stop reading and get watching; it is an incredibly good psychological drama about a futuristic Japan whose society is entirely governed by a Sybl system - an autonomous AI capable of discerning citizens who are in danger of becoming criminals, and advising state intervention, as well as those who are latent criminals with zero chance of being redeemed. This is all determined by a crime coefficient. If it's below 100, everything's rosey, above 100 and you're assigned into mandatory therapy. Above 200, you're a latent criminal and enforcement is necessary, and is to be dolled out by "dominators," guns connected to Sybl that only activate based on the crime coefficient of their targets. Enter our cast, a group of inspectors - those with a crime coefficient below 100 - who lead enforcers - selected latent criminals, who therefore understand criminal thought - in an effort to prevent crimes before they happen.
It's all very minority report, but also extremely good so you should check it out. Although the game provides a dictionary, giving players the option of looking up terms like Enforer, Sybl, and so on, the narrative doesn't pull any punches. There is a clear assumption that the player is already well informed and the dictionary feels like an afterthought. It's understandable, after all you are playing characters who've lived in the system their entire lives, and the memory impaired Kugatachi has only forgotten personal memories. The expectant familiarity extends to character names as well, given that the game frequently switches between using first and last names to refer to given characters, and so having familiarity with the crew from the anime is really the only way a player can put to bed the possibility that they don't know who the game is talking about at times.
What will undoubtedly disappoint some players is not the overall story, written by the creator of the anime and clearly given an equivalent level of care, but rather a distinct lack of player agency. Although choices ramp up as the game progresses, the first two chapters are seriously barren in terms of the choices they give players. This is a shame, given that picking a path is literally the only interactivity the user has with the game. What will frustrate more is the fact that, although ones decisions will influence their character over the course of the game, there are moments in the early chapter where they act according to the character's the writer intends them to be, which could differ to how the player views them.
Fortunately, the writing is very strong, and as the narrative proceeds player decisions are noted by way of their avatar's hue or crime coefficient. Playing things as the system would want you to leads to a clear conscience, but might hinder the user from uncovering answers that more reckless decisions could engender. Yet acting too recklessly can result in demotion, or death. Fortunately, like anyone whose ever made a poor choice and wants to start back where they were, the game enables the player to save at any point, so one ill-judged decision doesn't mean you have to start over. In turn, this encourages experimentation which is great because there are a variety of endings from bad - you died - to good - you didn't die, but it wasn't the "cannon" true-ending. This, and the fact there are two characters, allows for replayability even though the core of each chapter will largely pan out the same. That said, getting a "true" ending as either character, or even a good one, will absolutely spoil revelations of the anime so watching the show to fruition first is recommended. While the game is well paced, the revelations hit that much harder in the anime where the narrative, voice-acting and, critically, the animations mesh together that much better.
In game things largely centre around some nice, but not outstanding, artwork and reading. Lots and lots of reading, accompanied by some decent sound effects. Disappointingly, the only things animated are the mouths and eyes of characters talking directly to the protagonist. Given the high quality of the anime, it would have been welcome to see scenes of the same caliber. Happily however the Japanese voice acting is on point, and the localisation team seem to have done a good job. There are precious few typos, and those that are there don't mire the experience. The story remains as compelling as the show, thanks in large part to the game's excellent antagonist, to the point where I felt compelled to complete my first playthrough in one sitting. I won't spoil anything about the villain, save that they are motivated by misguided logic rather than pure evil, making them interesting.
In the end, PPMH, is a very good visual novel which offers a good amount of replayability. Managing the one's crime coefficient is works well as a means of giving feedback as to the players long-term decision making, and having the same lead creator behind the project as the anime served to ultimately create a plot that's not quite up to the lofty standards of the anime, but is nonetheless very compelling. It's just a shame that earlier chapters don't offer players much agency as the plot tries to establish the two newcomers. It's still worth picking up, just make sure you've been indoctrinated into the world of Pyscho-Pass via the anime first.