Every now and then, a game comes along 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 get it; more often than not, when a game is described as ‘unique’, you can probably identify at least a few well-worn tropes, and the same can be said with 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 else like it in gaming right now.
Disco Elysium has been around for a while on other platforms and chances are by now if you’ve seen any gameplay or commentary around the game, then you already know whether or not it’s going to be up your alley (which would also save us the unenviable job of actually explaining what the heck it’s all about). This release on Switch carries the subtitle ‘The Final Cut’, delivering what appears to be the definitive version of the game; but we’ll get into what’s been added a bit later.
The story starts off in the deep, unending nothingness of your subconscious. Voices begin to narrate your thoughts and eventually you awaken in a trashed apartment room. Your clothes are strewn about the place and you’ve no memory of the preceding events or even who you are. It’s an intriguing if familiar set-up, to be sure, and a strong opening to a game that only gets better and better.
The disheveled, mutton-chopped amnesiac you play as is the star of the show. Despite the severe loss of memory, you quickly discover that you’re a detective tasked with investigating the death of a man hanging from a tree at the rear of a cafeteria. You work closely with the straight-laced Lieutenant Kim Kitsuragi, who guides you as you navigate your investigation, but is also not afraid to scold you should you make any questionable decisions. He’s a wonderful character, and we will protect him with our lives.
Disco Elysium is, at its heart, a role-playing game. You can move your character directly and wander around the isometric world of Elysium, interacting with objects and characters along your way. The real meat of the gameplay, however, lies within the conversational dialogue with characters. To be clear, there’s no actual combat in Disco Elysium; all of your stats and progress is tied to branching dialogue options and the choices you make as you interrogate and chat with the game’s inhabitants.
Your character is endowed with four specific traits: Intellect, Psyche, Physique, and Motorics. At the start of the game, you can choose a predetermined character build to focus on one specific trait over the others, or you can customise your character from scratch. Each of these traits then splinter off into additional secondary abilities which you can level up as you go through the game; with so many to juggle, it might feel a bit daunting at first, but it’s actually not as complex as you might think.
As you work through the copious amounts of dialogue when talking to NPCs, you’ll also hear the disembodied voices of your various traits, who can both guide you with rational thoughts and mislead you down an incorrect path. Eventually, the game will throw up a dialogue option or physical action that directly draws on one of your core abilities; how likely it is that the option will be successful is dependent on the traits’ levels. The game is pretty clear on how this works, displaying a percentage indicator which immediately informs you of the likely outcome. Whether or not you decide to continue with the choice or investigate another potential avenue of thought is entirely up to you.
A good example of how this works comes fairly early on. In an effort to get the hanged man down from the tree, you must enlist the help of Measurehead, a huge, muscular, tattooed gentleman who looks over the harbour. During your conversation with him, the game gives you the option to give him a good wallop. Should your physical stats be too low, it’s likely this will fail, leaving you begging for mercy as Measurehead crushes your hand with his own giant fist. Succeed, however, and Measurehead will agree to your request. All pretty standard, but satisfying nonetheless.
In addition to the usual stats, you also have equipable thoughts that are stored in the game’s inventory system known as the ‘thought cabinet’. You gain thoughts by conversing with characters, and equipping the thoughts will unlock certain options that you can utilise to sway an NPC’s decision. Going back to Measurehead, for example, should you fail in a physical confrontation, you can converse with him further and unlock a thought which you can then internalise in the thought cabinet. New dialogue options are subsequently unlocked to convince Measurehead to assist.
Despite the game expertly guiding you into its many fascinating intricacies, we’d be lying if we said that Disco Elysium is for everyone, because it’s simply not. There’s a heck of a lot of dialogue to work through, and for some people, this might be too much. That’s perfectly fine, though we’d encourage everybody who has even just a modicum of interest in strong narrative and RPG elements to give this one a go. When Disco Elysium is firing on all cylinders (which, quite frankly, is most of the time), then it’s a wild ride that will live rent-free in your head for a long time.
So what’s changed with the ‘Final Cut’ version, then? Well, as we’ve mentioned, the game includes a ton of dialogue, and the new version introduces voice acting for pretty much all of it. This, in itself, is a ridiculous achievement given the sheer amount of dialogue involved, but the acting is also wonderfully executed throughout. You’re meant to grow fond of characters like Lieutenant Kim, just as you’re meant to dislike characters like Measurehead and Cuno (man, we hate Cuno…), and the voice acting does an incredible job at conveying this. In addition, the Final Cut also introduces new quests to beef out the already substantial 30-40 hour runtime.
For the Switch specifically, Disco Elysium: The Final Cut does unfortunately run into a few roadblocks when it comes to overall performance. In larger areas, the game stutters slightly as you wander around; it’s not enough to completely break immersion, but it’s there nonetheless. Similarly, load times are often a bit too long for our liking, and even when the game autosaves, the action just screeches to a halt whilst it works out what it’s doing. None of these issues affected our enjoyment of the game too much, but they're there. Thankfully, developer ZA/UM is well aware of the performance issues, and is working to resolve these in upcoming patches.
Something that might not be addressed, however, is the small text, which isn’t so much of an issue if you’re playing in docked mode, but might be an annoyance if you’re playing in handheld mode. The new OLED model might alleviate this somewhat, but that's not much consolation if you're playing on a Switch Lite.
One final note to end on. Disco Elysium is absolutely, unequivocally aimed towards adults. Even with that in mind, there are themes discussed that may bring discomfort to some players, including conversations around race, drug use, cruelty, and violence. These themes are always handled well, and crop up in ways that ultimately serve to drive the narrative, but it’s something you may want to consider regardless.
Disco Elysium: The Final Cut is an absolute triumph. The narrative and dialogue, which is already wonderfully compelling on its own, has been given a massive boost thanks to the excellent voice acting introduced for the Final Cut. The gameplay features a host of branching paths for you to explore, and while the slow, methodical approach may turn a few people off, this is nevertheless one of the most well-told stories in any medium from the last few years. The performance issues at the time of writing slightly took the shine off things — and we hope they're ironed out soon via updates — but even with them present, Disco Elysium: The Final Cut stands as one of the best RPGs available on Switch.