Every now and then a game appears that feels completely unique. Now, we know what you’re thinking – you’ve seen the same thing said about countless titles over the years. What makes this one so different? We understand; Most of the time, when a game is described as “unique”, you can probably identify at least some worn tropes, and the same can be said for Disco Elysium: The Final Cut. This is a game that certainly features familiar individual mechanics, but when taken as a whole, there’s really nothing quite like it in games at the moment.
Disco Elysium has been around for a while on other platforms and chances are, if you’ve already seen any gameplay or comments about the game, you’ll already know if it’s going to be on your way or not (which would also save us the unenviable work of explaining really what is the hell is about). This release on Switch carries the subtitle ‘The Final Cut’, which appears to be the definitive version of the game; but we will see what has been added a little later.
The story begins in the deep and endless nothingness of your subconscious. The voices begin to narrate your thoughts and eventually you wake up in a trashed apartment. Your clothes are strewn all over the place and you don’t remember the previous events or even who you are. It’s an intriguing though familiar setup, no doubt, and a strong opening to a game that only gets better and better.
The scruffy, ram-stung amnesiac you play is the star of the show. Despite severe memory loss, he quickly discovers that he is a detective tasked with investigating the death of a man hanging from a tree in the back of a cafeteria. You work closely with Lt. Kim Kitsuragi, who guides you as you navigate your investigation, but he’s also not afraid to scold you if you make questionable decisions. He is a wonderful character and we will protect him with our lives.
Disco Elysium is, at its core, an RPG. You can move your character directly and roam the isometric world of Elysium, interacting with objects and characters on your way. However, the true essence of the game lies in the conversational dialogue with the characters. To be clear, there is no real combat on Disco Elysium; All your stats and progress are tied to the branching dialogue options and the choices you make while you interrogate and chat with the inhabitants of the game.
Your character is endowed with four specific traits: intellect, psyche, physicality, and motor skills. At the beginning of the game, you can choose a default character setting to focus on a specific trait over the others, or you can customize your character from scratch. Each of these traits is divided into additional secondary abilities that you can level up as you progress through the game; With so many to juggle, it might seem a bit overwhelming at first, but it’s not really as complex as you might think.
As you work through the copious amounts of dialogue when talking to the NPCs, you will also hear the disembodied voices of your various traits, which can guide you with rational thoughts. and trick you down a wrong path. Eventually, the game will launch a dialogue or physical action option that is based directly on one of your core abilities; the probability of the option being successful depends on the levels of the traits. The game is pretty clear on how this works, displaying a percentage indicator that immediately informs you of the likely outcome. Whether or not you decide to proceed with the choice or investigate another possible way of thinking is entirely up to you.
A good example of how this works comes pretty early. In an effort to lower the hanged man from the tree, you must enlist the help of Measurehead, a huge, muscular, tattooed knight looking out over the harbor. During your conversation with him, the game gives you the option to give him a good hit. If his physical stats are too low, this is likely to fail, leaving him begging for mercy as Measurehead crushes his hand with his own giant fist. However, be successful and Measurehead will accept your request. All pretty standard, but satisfying nonetheless.
In addition to the usual stats, you also have equippable thoughts that are stored in the game’s inventory system known as the “thought cabinet.” You gain thoughts from conversing with the characters, and equipping the thoughts will unlock certain options that you can use to influence an NPC’s decision. Going back to Measurehead, for example, if you fail in a physical confrontation, you can converse with him further and unlock a thought that you can then internalize into the thought cabinet. Subsequently, new dialogue options are unlocked to convince Measurehead to help.
Even though the game expertly guides you through its many fascinating complexities, we would be lying if we said that Disco Elysium is for everyone, because it just isn’t. There is a hell a lot of dialogue to work with, and for some people, this may be too much. That’s perfectly fine, although we encourage anyone with a modicum of interest in strong narrative elements and RPGs to give this a try. When Disco Elysium is running full throttle (which, frankly, it is most of the time), then it’s a wild ride that will live free in your head for a long time.
So what has changed with the ‘Final Cut’ version? Well, as we’ve mentioned, the game includes a ton of dialogue, and the new version features voice acting for just about everything. This, in itself, is a ridiculous achievement given the sheer amount of dialogue involved, but the acting is also beautifully executed throughout. You’re supposed to be fond of characters like Lieutenant Kim, just as you’re supposed to dislike characters like Measurehead and Cuno (man, we hate Cuno …), and the voice acting does an amazing job of conveying this. Additionally, Final Cut also introduces new missions to bolster the already substantial 30-40 hour runtime.
For Switch specifically, Disco Elysium: The Final Cut unfortunately runs into some roadblocks when it comes to overall performance. In larger areas, the game stutters a bit as you wander; it’s not enough to completely break the dive, but it’s there nonetheless. Similarly, loading times are often too long for our liking, and even when the game is auto-saving, the action pauses while what you’re doing is figuring out. None of these issues affected our enjoyment of the game too much, but they are there. Fortunately, the ZA / UM developer is aware of the performance issues and is working to resolve them in the next patches.
Small text might not be addressed though, which isn’t a big deal if you’re playing docked mode, but can be a hassle if you’re playing handheld. The new OLED model could It alleviates this a bit, but that’s not much of a consolation if you’re playing on a Switch Lite.
One final note to finish. Disco Elysium is absolutely and unequivocally aimed at adults. Even with that in mind, topics that may make some players uncomfortable are discussed, including conversations about race, drug use, cruelty, and violence. These themes are always handled well and come up in ways that ultimately serve to drive the narrative forward, but it’s something you may want to consider independently.