I’ve never been able to live out my life as an absolute disaster mess of a human being and still hold some form of societal respect.
Similarly, I’ve never solved a complex murder mystery that would in turn, earn me that same societal respect.
So, how can one possibly have it all you ask?
Well, the answer is not simple as both of these aforementioned lifestyles require deeply ingrained personas that usually do not gel together as easily as one may think – that is, until you play Disco Elysium: The Final Cut from iam8bit and Skybound Games. In what has to be a quintessential genre defining RPG masterpiece, Disco Elysium has allowed me to experience a unique blend of mesmerizing heroic feats and dismal harrowing narratives that prove the human condition is far from a stereotypical set of shallow personality traits.
For those not familiar with Disco Elysium, the game was initially released in 2019 by developer ZA/UM studios and (back then) had garnered a stellar response amongst fans of the CRPG class. In the game, you play a drunk, washed-up police detective who has unfortunately forsaken his own name at the bottom of many empty beer bottles. You awaken one morning from a self-annihilating binge session that wiped your mind of all memories – including your name. While you miserably attempt to piece your life together, you come across a huge murder scene – a brutal hanging in the yard behind your dingy roach motel. What seems to be a shameful bar story you tell your friends, the game slowly begins to tell a rather deep and intrinsic tale of people, poverty, memories and mistakes.
The game essentially revolves around you, an active thinker who has fouled up way too many times in the past. Too many drunken nights have made your passion for life pretty murky over the years, and while you’ve done your best to redeem yourself as a quasi-respectable man of the law, you still aren’t happy. However, you’ve found ways to hold yourself together.
Your primary goal in Disco Elysium is to find clues and leads on this aforementioned newly uncovered murder. This unexpected task essentially takes you all across the game’s upsetting yet dense urban setting, a city known as Revachol. The map itself isn’t massive, but it’s jam packed with secrets and a ton of interesting characters. It has now become your duty to question them, and work out how they fit into the mysterious puzzle at hand.
To do this, Disco Elysium offers quite a revolutionary and refreshing skill system! At the start of the game, you decide on your detective’s persona loadout consisting of four key specialties: intellect, psyche, physique, and motoric. These core traits allow you to determine other sub-traits / skills such as logic, suggestion, endurance, and reaction speed. You are able to spend experience points into these traits in order to start specializing. For example, you might choose to specialize in ‘drama’ which allows you to convincingly lie through your teeth while also being able to detect them the same way. ‘Savoir faire’ for instance impacts your ability to approach any situation with style and grace (versus lack thereof). Supporting the skill system is what the game describes as your ‘thought cabinet’. Think of this as a kind of mind map that charts your total understanding of the world.
While questioning suspects in conversation, skill checks are rolled to see if there’s something you should know or not know. (Think: traditional paper RPGs like DnD.) A roll could check against something as simple as checking whether your Perception means you notice a particular object. Perhaps you see or hear a word you don’t recognize and your Encyclopedia skill interrupts to provide a definition. These prompts pop up like typical dialogue boxes on the screen as you conduct conversations with each of your suspects. Your ingenious skills guide you along the way, digging for more information or telling them to pipe down. Think of a personification, or a little chorus in your head filling the gaps and poking you into saying something or reacting. This game gets amazing as these voices eventually begin to compete for your attention and remarkably begin to resemble how the mind works!
The beauty of this stat system is that it’s so easy to understand. Amazingly enough, you are never drowning in screens full of numbers or complex modifiers. Instead, stat checks will simply pop up in dialogue boxes in real-time, and they conveniently inform you of the percentage chance that you have to succeed. Interestingly enough, you don’t necessarily have to succeed in Disco Elysium. Crazy, right? That is, failing a stat check is an integral part of the story’s experience. As one branch of the investigation gets closed off due to mistakes or what have you, another opens and it’s up to you to figure it out! There are even some moments where a conversational blunder may lead to a completely different and ridiculous but viable scenario. This further makes for some amazing story telling.
When comparing the initial release of Disco Elysium to The Final Cut, the most notable change is the totally amped up voice acting. In the original release, only some characters were voiced, and even then, only some of their dialogue was audible. A total bummer to say the least. In The Final Cut, you can now hear every single character speak every single word of dialogue! The quality across the board is excellent. This game houses a superb range of accents and vocal cues reflecting the highly cosmopolitan-esc population of the game. (Massive kudos must also be paid to Mr. Lenval Brown, who completely outdoes himself in this game as he spoke 350,000 words to provide voice to the lead character’s inner thoughts.)
A fully voiced cast and new realms of content added to the original game are welcome additions to Disco Elysium’s initial repertoire. However, The Final Cut truly deserves a standing ovation for the deep amount of content and replayability that it will continually provide. Experienced RPG-ers will be kept busy for at least 30 hours or more, and that’s on one playthrough. The game offers an overwhelming amount of opportunity to fork your story, resulting in hundreds of varied storylines. This game definitely speaks to the high standards developer ZA/UM Studios set with Disco Elysium‘s original release, Put short, it is seriously some of the best and most engaging writing that you’ll find in modern gaming. Disco Elysium: The Final Cut from iam8bit and Skybound Games is an exceptional achievement in the RPG genre. It is an utterly engrossing detective drama at its core and its unique take on storytelling mechanics will have anyone thinking of it long after they’ve finished one of its many intricate storylines.
NOTE: I was incredibly lucky enough to review Disco Elysium: The Final Cut Disco Elysium: The Final Cut from iam8bit and Skybound Games (Physical Edition for PlayStation 4). This edition comes with some great swag including a wall poster of your Thought Cabinet and an access code to download a beautiful 190 page Disco Elysium Art book in PDF format. Check out a small sampling of these below!
Disco Elysium: The Final Cut Digital Art Book