I honestly don’t have a lot of experience with tabletop RPGs. I ran a campaign once that is still ongoing, and that goes double for the games that are heavily built on their foundations. Even without that experience, it’s hard not to have noticed the heaps of praise that Disco Elysium received when it first released in 2019, and even harder not to be incredibly curious as to why. Disco Elysium is an isometric RPG with a focus on narration and interaction rather than fighting, a concept that could easily have been boring. However, the game is worth all the praise it received back then, although its debut on Switch has some problem areas that you may need to look out for if you decide to make it your platform of choice.
The story of Disco Elysium begins when you wake up naked and feel a bad hangover from the night before. At least you think it’s a hangover; You don’t really remember what you did last night. In fact, you don’t remember anything! Neither your name, nor your job, nor where you are: you have complete amnesia. As you slowly pull yourself together and get dressed, you will quickly learn that you are not just an amnesic guy; You are actually a police detective with amnesia. You learn that you are in the town of Revachol, more precisely in the rundown district of Martinaise, and that you are to investigate a murder with your partner from another jurisdiction, Lieutenant Kim Kitsuragi. What follows is a rabbit hole of a case revolving around a dock workers’ strike and the potentially criminal schemes on both sides of the problem. In addition to doing your job solving the murder case, you need to find out who you are and ultimately choose your side in this growing conflict that could potentially embroil Martinaise in an entire war.
The surroundings of Martinaise are beautiful and paint the picture of a place that is populated almost exclusively by people who are lucky enough to cope with this existence in every possible way. Some are like Cuno, a speed addict boy with a dirty mouth and a hobby of throwing stones at corpses, while others are like Evrart Claire, the leader of the local dockers union, who picks everyone around him to his own advantage. As I said earlier, Disco Elysium puts a heavy emphasis on interaction as opposed to fighting, with most of your stats being related to perceiving your surroundings or speaking in certain ways to the people of Martinaise. There are some physical statistics such as means of intimidation or sheer persuasion. As you move through the narrative, each statistic will talk to you, tell you things related to its purpose, or at times try to get you to indulge in it specifically. A good example of this is electrochemistry, which is your knowledge of, and your tolerance for, drug and alcohol use. It will tell you pretty much all the time that you should definitely drink the whole bottle of vodka.
Because of this, every character in the game is memorable and every interaction has the potential to lead to progress. These interactions are incredibly well-written, whether asking important questions about how you perceive the world around you or just being people watching in horror at your very obvious mental decline. One of my favorite interactions was telling every new person I met, “I am the law,” which made Kim repeatedly (in an increasingly annoyed tone) begging me not to say this further, but I never will stop. In the end, that’s the most interesting thing about Disco Elysium in my opinion; Never have I felt so much like I could choose exactly what kind of person I was and felt encouraged to lean on it as much as possible. For example, I started the game with a physical build, basically a tall meathead who is good at destroying things, but as the game progressed I built on that personality and essentially became a stupid boy with a heart Bronze, which is also just plain fun to be a massive weirdo. This is far from your only option, and the plethora of ways you can put your own stamp on the world is really fun.
Unfortunately, the change from Disco Elysium to the Switch is not error-free. The controls still feel a lot like a game made for a mouse and keyboard with gamepad controls attached. The movement is done on the left analog stick which always feels a bit clumsy, and you can switch with the right analog stick and choose what you want to see in a given scene, which can sometimes feel inconsistent. None of this feels bad overall, but it does feel a little compromised at least. Often times, walking between areas will end up with a loading screen that is too long, which is especially frustrating when walking between multiple small zones where each loading time is as long as the large ones. There are also areas, like out at the harbor, where it always snows, where the game starts to lose frames and the sound stutters. This was rare, but very noticeable every time it happened. Finally, and most unfortunately, Disco Elysium appears to be prone to crashes on Switch. I’ve witnessed three of these myself over the course of my time with the game, all of them during the aforementioned long loading screens between areas. All of these issues together make it difficult to suggest the Switch as your platform of choice, and I very much hope that these issues will be addressed at a later date.
Overall, Disco Elysium is one of those games that I think we’ll be talking about in ten years. Technical issues aside, the writing and creating of worlds in this game sets it apart from many other entries in the genre. Contributing to this are the fantastic voice overs and narration recently added to all other versions of the game. The voice that tells everything and also plays your various stats is really satisfying, it keeps me close to hear everything, although personally I could read much faster than he could speak. If you like games that relate heavily to their cube-shaped fundamentals, then you should definitely invest your time in Disco Elysium. You will not regret it. However, with its myriad of technical difficulties on the switch, it can be a good idea to look elsewhere unless portability is your primary concern.