Short Version: It’s really good! It’s a visual novel, so there really isn’t much in terms of gameplay. However, it’s world and story is engaging and interesting, which left me staying up super late just to see how a chapter would end. I didn’t know anything about Psycho-Pass prior to playing this, but now I’m a fan. If you want what is essentially Science Fiction CSI: The Anime, then go get this.
Long Version: I’m a Psycho-Pass fan thanks to playing this game. I had only seen a couple advertisements and some character appearances in other games, but I never really gave myself the time to sit down and figure out what it is. Because of that, I thought there was no better time to get into the series than by playing through this new visual novel, which doesn’t require too much previous knowledge in order to get into. It’s a pretty weird genre of game to talk about, considering how there is very little in terms of gameplay and I’ve never reviewed one before. However, that doesn’t mean that you’ll get bored simply because you can’t shoot stuff all the time. The story and characters are the prime focus of the game, and it does a great job at setting the stage for these people to shine, to the point that I was binging on this game as if it was someone’s favorite Netflix series.
Crime To Scale
I’ll try my best to not spoil some details related to the story, since it is the primary focus of the game. Instead I’ll give you a broad idea of what Psycho-Pass is all about. Basically, it takes place in the far future, where the Sibyl System, a supercomputer that can determine your potential to do either great or terrible things, decides everyone’s lives. You have things like a person’s Hue and a Crime Coefficient that will determine whether you get to live a good life or get incarcerated early, before you do anything bad. Some of these “latent criminals” get recruited to essentially become part of the police force and maintain the peace, which is where most of our story takes place. You can choose between one of two main characters, both with their own story to tell and personal struggles to get through. However, both are on the same team to fulfill the same objective as a problem arises where a series of cases directly correlate to a mysterious android that seems to be moving upon its own free will, which shouldn’t be happening.
With this set-up in mind, the story begins to unfold in the form of visual novel–style dialogue spoken in Japanese with English subtitles. There aren’t any voices dubbed in English, but it didn’t bother me at all, since I’m used to watching anime in its original language with subtitles anyway. However, I acknowledge that many people out there enjoy English dubs, so please be aware of what you’re getting when deciding to make the purchase. I don’t think a lack of a dub should stop you though, for I think that the performances in play here a top notch and are definitely worth listening to.
Pounding The Pavement
When playing the game, you’ll notice that it pretty much throws you into the action immediately, which is a double-edged sword in itself. I appreciated that I can just press start and simply begin getting into the story, but aside from pressing the X button to advance, I don’t know how anything works. During most of the introduction, I spent more time fiddling around with my controller, pressing everything in order to figure out what each button did rather than paying attention to what was going on. I wouldn’t be complaining if there was at least a static screen with a picture of the controller showing where everything is, but the game doesn’t even give you that. Instead, you are relegated to pressing whatever, which will inevitably end up with you pressing something that will skip over a bunch of dialogue or going into a menu you didn’t mean to access. There aren’t any menu options on screen during the dialogue either, so its not like I could just use the D-pad to select what I wanted. I literally had no choice but to press random buttons to find what I needed. I can only imagine how frustrating it would be for people that leave the game for a while, then come back and have to re-learn the layout all over again. Anyway, after you get used to the controls, it’s a pretty smooth ride all the way, so it’s not all bad.
Since the game is mostly dialogue, I recommend you use the automatic feature, where you can let the dialogue run on its own as if you were watching a show. However, that doesn’t mean that you won’t have to get your hands dirty once in a while. All across the game, there are important dialogue choices you’ll have to make, which will definitely affect the characters you get closer to and the outcome of the story. I won’t spoil how this happens, but there are many times where you can just flat-out die and the game ends if don’t make the right choices. Because of this, it is very important to save your game very often, in order to easily come back and make a different decision, making completing all the routes a much easier task. There are more than enough save files available, so don’t worry about running out of space.
Pills Make Everything Better
In my experience going through both character stories, I only obtained a handful of trophies out of the many more than I still had remaining. This means that the game is more than just seeing the story through to the end. It’s also about getting to know all the characters joining you and discovering every single possibility within the dialogue scenes. None of this even includes the management of your Hue, everyone’s color that measures one’s well-being. As you progress through the game, you are asked with you want to take some supplements in order to keep your Hue in check. I can only imagine that taking too much or too little will have some consequences in the future. I say that, since I always did my best to keep my Hue balanced throughout my experience, so I never suffered from any extremities. Still, I don’t think that mechanic would be there if it didn’t do anything, so I highly recommend you stock up on save files and start experimenting with that.
Whether you stay vigilant of all of these things or not, the story itself still carries a lot of interesting and very engaging scenes all on its own, with many of them asking interesting questions about over-reliance on technology and the gray area between a self aware AI and a real person. None of these story beats are things that haven’t been addressed before in other stories; and I would actually argue that those other stories pull it off better than Psycho-Pass. However, it doesn’t stop it from ever being exciting, like watching a slightly predictable, but very well made cop drama on TV. The art, background music and the character models are well made, combined with the different environments involved that make for an engaging story that made me want to follow through until the credits rolled.
Fighting Crime And Solving Puzzles
Whenever you are not spending time enjoying the Psycho-Pass story, there are a couple of things that you can do, like reading a database that gives more context and information about the world, and unlocking voice files and artwork through in-game money. The way to get this currency is by doing the most unexpected thing to see in a game like this: a Chibi Psycho-Pass version of the game 2048. As you keep solving more of these puzzles, you receive money that’ll allow purchasing fun extras to look at later. In a conventional sense, this is the closest the game ever gets to actual gameplay, which is pretty funny to think about, but I never saw that as a negative. The game bills itself as a visual novel, so I’m not complaining if it’s filled with dialogue, but I’m glad that they decided to add a few more things to mix it up once in a while, even if it the odd addition of a 2048 clone.
To summarize, I think this is a really cool game, but most of the reasons for why I like it involve me spoiling the game, so I’d rather not say them. The game could’ve benefitted from some sort of tutorial on the controls, and saving and loading files is way too slow to execute for a game like this, in which you do those two things constantly, but that’s pretty much the only thing I have a problem with. I love the art and the characters involved, along with their adult themes, decent writing and turning points that arise based on your own decisions as a player. Many might not consider going through a visual novel as “gameplay,” but managing your Hue, along with making choices and saving at the right time made it into a bit of a game of its own, even if it doesn’t look like it. The way that I see it, gameplay has evolved beyond just pushing buttons rapidly and receiving some instant gratification. I believe it is the act of simply experiencing a game, from the smallest menu to the biggest cutscene, in which all of it comes together as a singular, cohesive piece of meaning, which is something that Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness reflects in a competent manner. This is, in what I consider at the time of this writing, playing a video game.