In a dystopian future, your life’s direction is decided for you. No longer do humans need to worry about things like their career, every person’s aptitude for different tasks benefiting society is decided by a central computer. This computer is constantly scanning and reassessing people, determining their likelihood to benefit society, or to worsen it. As a computer, it has limited means with which to physically affect the world though, and this is where we take on a role as an inspector or enforcer. Enacting the system’s will for the betterment of society.
Set in the same universe as the popular anime series, Mandatory Happiness joins the visual novel genre, one of niche popularity alongside games like Danganronpa, Zero Escape and Phoenix Wright. Mandatory Happiness sticks much closer to the traditional visual novel formula than those aforementioned series however. There are no logic puzzles, no trials, no action elements whatsoever. Instead, Mandatory Happiness plays much more like a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ novel. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but something worth knowing before going in.Told from the point of view of an Inspector or an Enforcer, depending on which character you choose at the outset, Mandatory Happiness delves into some fairly heavy themes during even it’s initial chapters and does so in a way that doesn’t feel cheap or tokenistic. The aforementioned AI system, Sybil, will judge the people you meet, and order that they be allowed to live, be forced into mental rehabilitation if they are not yet lost, or be Eliminated if they are deemed a threat to society and beyond recovery. The morality of offloading life or death decisions to an all-knowing computer is one of the most exciting elements of Psycho Pass’s story and will be familiar to fans of the show.
The game does throw a lot of terminology at players and to a degree assumes some familiarity with the world. It’s not obtuse enough that you won’t be able to make sense of things, but for people entering this world for the first time, a detailed reference is kept in the pause menu which will clarify any topics or entities mentioned during story scenes to make sure you’re not left in the dark.After opening strongly, I was disappointed with how the game’s main story progressed. The opening chapters present some incredibly interesting moral quandaries but the central plot that is revealed a little further in is far more predictable, cliche and shallow in comparison. It’s hard to explain my reasoning without discussing the plot and ruining it for anyone, but I found the major revelations in the storyline utterly predictable and painfully signposted. It might just be because things began in such a thought-provoking manner, but the central theme of ‘mandatory happiness’ just felt sterile.