Disco Elysium is one of the greatest RPGs ever made, and now it’s finally available on Nintendo Switch.
The RPG genre has been one of the most defining in the games industry since its inception. Look at even the most annualized sports and FPS franchises and there’s bound to be an element like the Create-a-Class system, which is effectively a diet RPG mechanic. However, for all of their influence, it’s not often that an RPG so rich and engaging comes along that its name is worth shouting from the rooftops. Disco Elysium is one of the few games that has earned that right, and now it has a new home on the Switch.
From the start, Disco Elysium pounds into the player’s head that this isn’t a traditional experience. It doesn’t open with a noble hero taking their first steps on an adventure, but instead plunks players into the shoes of a washed-up detective with substance abuse issues. The protagonist has no memory, is hideous, and has already damaged his relationship with the locales by the time the player takes their first steps.
Those are the fundamentals of the character, but Disco Elysium finds its footing in how it lets the player evolve from there. Players can choose to be physically imposing, highly intelligent, or a master of esoteric skills. Each archetype has its pros and cons, but they all ultimately serve the goal of solving the game’s major case: figuring out why there’s a body hanging from a tree, and arresting whoever put them there.
It’s that setup and freedom that gives Disco Elysium its flavor, and that flavor is totally unlike anything else in the genre, or even the medium. It isn’t a game that relies heavily on a combat system or realistic graphics. Instead, players are rolling their actions and taking in hyper-stylized visuals. In fact, the gameplay almost entirely hinges on exploration and the dialogue system. Disco Elysium’s edge is that it has some of the best writing to have ever been featured in a video game.
There’s a lot of appeal in how Disco Elysium presents scenarios to its protagonist. Even for those trying to play a “serious” character, they’ll be tossed into absurd situations frequently enough that they’ll start to break down, like one early segment where players are confronted with the loss of their gun by someone that seems to have ulterior motives. That, coupled with the player’s memory loss, makes for an original, memorable scenario.
Scenes like that one aren’t alone, either. In fact, they’re expertly woven together in a way that makes every snippet of Disco Elysium‘s dialog memorable. There’s not a forgettable setpiece in Disco Elysium, as all of its elements have been crafted so well in each moment that there’s bound to be something that sticks out. The game never just presents the player with a book on a table, it presents them with a nearly shredded tome placed haphazardly on a gueridon. It takes what could be barebones descriptions and paints an authentic picture, no matter how inconsequential the object or location is.
It certainly helps that the game’s world is as much of a character as the NPCs that inhabit it. Disco Elysium’s Revachol setting – a dilapidated city with a mix of cultures – has a long, vicious history. It has real struggles that mirror the condition of the world today, tackling racism, sexism, and class struggles. And, better yet, it lets the player engage with those issues in meaningful ways, approaching them both seriously and lightheartedly depending on the time and place. And even with the comical tone of some sensitive encounters, nothing ever feels tactless.
The NPCs are just as rich as the city they inhabit, too. Some are likable, others far less so, but nearly all of them feel unique and detailed. There’s an interconnectedness with many of them that genuinely makes the player feel like an outsider to the community, a feeling that each player archetype adapts to differently, which is where Disco Elysium gets its replayability. The same scenes will play out differently depending on who the player is.
All of this is backed up by one of the most magnificent soundtracks featured in a game in the last decade, or perhaps even ever. Disco Elysium’s soundtrack is well worth listening to outside of playing the game, fluctuating between melancholy and peppy depending on where a player is in the world. It makes an incredible dressing when players move throughout the city, exploring what each location has to offer.
From a mechanical perspective, Disco Elysium has just a few issues. The only severe one is how the game handles its life and morale systems, which are basically health. Depending on a player’s actions and the outcomes of their skill checks, those bars will occassioanlly drain, though they can be restored with healing items.. If either is emptied completely, it’s game over, and Disco Elysium doesn’t use its autosave function as frequently as it should.
This wouldn’t be an issue if certain conversations couldn’t kill the player almost instantly but that does happen from time to time, which can be a major annoyance. That’s especially true when players pass a check with low odds of success, only to have that win erased a short while later. It’s a disappointing element of the game, and one that might motivate players to put the controller down for a while if a setback feels too severe.
Outside of those game overs, though, Disco Elysium makes failing fun. It’s normal to completely bungle a conversation or physical action from time to time, and the players are rewarded with a situation that makes a fool out of them in a humorous way. It’s always a setback, but that feeling of frustration is mitigated by charming dialog.
For those looking to play it on its newest platform, Disco Elysium is a good fit for the Switch. The game occasionally has a few FPS hiccups when pulling back the camera and moving through the world, and the load times are longer than on other platforms, but the game still runs well. Those with other, more powerful systems will likely notice a difference in performance, so bear that in mind, but it’s the best way to play the game on the go except for perhaps a gaming laptop.
Notably, Disco Elysium is uniquely positioned to take advantage of the Switch’s Bluetooth update, as a decent pair of headphones makes the soundtrack sound even better, not to mention the other ambient sounds that decorate the city of Revachol.
Those that have been waiting to try Disco Elysium have no reason to hold out any longer. The game is available on pretty much every platform out there now, and it’s well worth playing. It’s unlike just about anything else, and it begs the question of what developer ZA/UM will manage to craft next.