That’s right, you’re a *superstar cop*, you must be!
I honestly don’t have much experience with tabletop RPGs. I ran a campaign one time that still hasn’t finished, and this goes doubly for the games that have been heavily built on their foundations. Even without that experience, it’s kind of hard not to have noticed the heaping piles of praise that were being thrown on Disco Elysium back when it first released in 2019, and even harder not to be incredibly curious why. Disco Elysium is an isometric RPG with a focus on narrative and interactions rather than combat, which is a concept that could easily have been boring. However, the game is well worth all the praise it received back in the day, though its debut on Switch has a few problem areas you may need to look out for if you decide to make it your platform of choice.
Disco Elysium’s story begins with you waking up naked and feeling a severe hangover from the night before. At least you think it’s a hangover; you don’t actually remember what you did last night. In fact you don’t remember anything! Not your name, not your job, nor where you are: you are suffering from complete and total amnesia. As you slowly pull yourself together and get dressed, you quickly learn that you’re not just some dude with amnesia; you are actually a police detective with amnesia. You learn that you are in the city of Revachol, specifically the run down district of Martinaise, assigned to investigate a murder alongside your partner from another jurisdiction, Lieutenant Kim Kitsuragi. What follows is a rabbit hole of a case centered around a dock workers strike, and the potentially criminal schemes forming on both sides of the issue. Not only do you have to do your job and solve the murder case, you also have to figure out who you are and eventually choose a side in this growing conflict that could potentially engulf Martinaise in all out war.
The environments of Martinaise are lovely, painting the picture of a place that is almost entirely populated by people who are down on their luck and coping with that existence in whatever way they can. Some are like Cuno, a speed-addicted kid with a dirty mouth and a hobby of throwing rocks at corpses, while others are like Evrart Claire, the leader of the local dock workers union who is playing everybody around him for his own profit. As I stated before, Disco Elysium has a heavy emphasis on interaction as opposed to combat, with a majority of your stats being related to perceiving your surroundings or being able to talk to the people of Martinaise in specific ways. There are some physical stats, such as Physical Instrument, which is your ability to break things open or punch peoples’ lights out, but most of the time you’ll find yourself talking to people to get what you want, whether that be through the means of intimidation or pure persuasion. As you make your way through the narrative, each stat will talk to you, telling you things related to their purpose or sometimes trying to goad you into indulging them specifically. A good example of this is Electrochemistry, which represents your knowledge of and tolerance for ingesting drugs and alcohol. It will pretty constantly tell you that you should absolutely drink that entire bottle of vodka.
Because of this, every character in the game is memorable, and every interaction has the potential to lead to progression. These interactions are incredibly well written, whether they are asking important questions about how you perceive the world around you or are simply people looking on in horror at your very obvious mental decline. One of my favorite interactions was to tell every new person I met “I am the law,” which made Kim repeatedly (in an increasingly annoyed tone) implore me to not keep saying this, but I will never stop. In the end, that’s what I think is the most interesting thing in Disco Elysium; I have never felt so much like I got to choose exactly what kind of person I was and feeling encouraged to lean as hard into it as I could. For instance, I started the game with a physical build, basically a big meathead who’s good at breaking things, but as the game went on I built that personality up more, essentially becoming a dumb boy with a heart of bronze who also just sorta enjoys being a massive weirdo. This is not even close to being your only option, and the wealth of opportunities to make your own mark on the world is genuinely fun.
Sadly though, Disco Elysium’s move to the Switch is not flawless. The controls still feel very much like a game made for a mouse and keyboard with gamepad controls sort of tacked on. Movement is on the left analogue stick which always feels slightly clumsy, and you can cycle and select what you want to look at in a given scene using the right analogue stick, which itself could sometimes feel inconsistent. None of it feels bad overall, but it does feel at least a little bit compromised. Walking between areas will often dump you into an overly long loading screen, which is especially frustrating when walking between several small zones where each loading time is just as long as the big ones. There are also areas, such as out by the harbor where it is always snowing, where the game will start to drop frames as well as cause the audio to stutter. This one was rare but highly noticeable any time it happened. Lastly, and most unfortunately, Disco Elysium on Switch seems to be prone to crashes. I experienced three of these myself over the course of my time with the game, all of them happening during the previously mentioned long loading screens between areas. All these problems together make it difficult to suggest the Switch be your platform of choice, and I very much hope to see these issues patched out at a later date.
Overall, Disco Elysium is one of those games I feel like we’re still going to be talking about ten years from now. Technical issues aside, the writing and worldbuilding present in this game lift it high above a lot of the other entries in the genre. This is further helped by the fantastic voice acting and narration that was also recently added to all other versions of the game. The voice that narrates everything and also plays your different stats is really satisfying to listen to, keeping me around to hear it all even though I could personally read way faster than he could talk. If you enjoy games that lean heavily into their dice rolling foundations, you should absolutely put your time into Disco Elysium; you will not regret it. With its myriad of technical difficulties on the Switch, however, it may be a good idea to look elsewhere unless portability is your main concern.