Saturday 24 September 2016

Psycho Pass: Mandatory Happiness

The future’s a scary place, isn’t it? If all these movies and TV series are to be believed (and why would we doubt them?), something is going to go horribly, horribly wrong. Which number will fate stop the roulette at? Nuclear war? That ol’ favourite, zombie apocalypse? Or perhaps, as the Psycho Pass anime has it, we’ll all be assigned our place in society according to the whims of a mysterious automated system; a system which, incidentally, is also responsible for identifying people inclined toward criminal behaviour and ordering their punishment before they actually do anything.

The two seasons of the TV show are engaging and extremely clever, though complex enough to immediately raise the question “How the hell are newbies going to get into a visual novel set partway through the first series?”. The answer, it turns out, is “They’ll be okay. Who are you anyway, and how did you get into my house?” (but only the first bit is important). There’s no doubting that those unfamiliar with Psycho Pass’s world will feel a little lost at times, but on the whole it’s a self-contained story accessible to anybody.

You may be familiar with the term “visual novel”, but you may not be used to purebreds like this. Whereas something like the (excellent) Danganronpa games pepper the on-screen text with sequences more easily pigeonholed as gameplay, Psycho Pass never asks you to do more than read, press ‘X’, and sometimes make a choice (with no sort of time pressure). It leans with all its weight on the strength of the writing. Although there are a few fumbles such as the occasional missing word, the script holds things up nicely.

The story is a rabbit warren of alternate paths and possible dialogue sequences, but it all begins with a clear-cut character choice. You start off by choosing the path of Inspector Kugatachi, a woman who has somehow lost all of her long-term memories (good lord, when will the amnesia plot device go away!!), or new recruit Enforcer Tsurugi, one of her subordinates. The shape of the story remains identical whoever you choose; but the only way to get a complete understanding of what’s happening and how it all ties together is to play both perspectives beginning to end, and preferably reach more than one ending for each character. Pleasingly, each character path offers you almost completely unique dialogue; and a situation or location experienced by one character may not be an option at all for the other.

What starts off as a potential blackmail and/or kidnapping case soon escalates into something much more odd and, you discover, more wide-ranging and difficult to tackle. It’s important to stress though that for all the talk of inspectors and crimes, this is not an adventure or detective game. As I said, there’s no traditional gameplay at all. There’s no interactive examination of crime scenes, or interrogation of suspects. You don’t get an avatar to move around. It’s basically a ‘choose your own adventure’ book, but one where you can cheat by reloading a save instead of flicking back to the last page you were reading.

Just like those books of yore, there are times where you can die if you make a bad decision. If this happens, there’s no checkpoint; you’re going to have to reload a save, and hope that you were sensible enough to have at least one before the point of no return. This will mean going through text you’ve already seen, but there is a button to fast forward (be sure to set the speed to max in the menus).

It was quicker to get through one character’s story than I had expected – at a rough guess, four hours – but the two are easily different enough to warrant playing both. It would’ve been nice to wander around Psycho Pass’s world but, restricted though you are, It’s a trip worth taking.

Don’t Psycho Pass this one up, it’s pretty good. 4/5


Luke Kemp

Psycho Pass: Mandatory Happiness at CeX

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