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Disco Elysium Review (Legolas_Katarn)

1 post in this topic

I am in a near dreamlike state where a mocking voice warns me of the condition I have left my body in. Ignoring the warnings and sudden intense pain, I awake to a terrible hangover with no memory of the past night or of any aspect of my life. After I slowly drag myself to the bathroom mirror and attempt to wipe the grime away I am again warned, this time hearing that I won't like the sight that will look back at me. "It can't be that bad," I think as I wipe the mirror, only become horrified at the sight of the swollen and ballooned face of a late stage alcoholic that I have no memory of, just staring back at me with a ridiculous grin. I fail to try to remember what events in my life would cause me to want to have my face frozen in such a ridiculous way, again I fail when I try try to stop it from happening, failure starting to seem a common theme in my life. After collecting my scattered clothes and leaving my room, with the sound of my jingling keys helping me to find them in my jacket pocket, a woman tells me that I'm a police officer that was supposed to be investigating a recent murder and describes the events she heard from my room last night that lead to my sorry state.

Downstairs I meet my new partner, telling him that it isn't time for names yet when I realize I can't even remember mine. Trying to remember causes me to consider the colors gold and orange for some reason. We go on to question the manager, the conversation leads me to declare my feminist agenda, the one that I suddenly remembered after becoming upset at his attempt to ask out one of employees and seeing it as a misuse of his power. This gives me a new idea that I choose to consider for the next few hours, my desire to undermine the tyrannical gender roles of society gives me a better understanding of the existing power structures of the society, of which I am still trying to fully remember. The manager is unimpressed and demands payment for my room stay, as well as payment for the window I smashed when I threw one of my shoes through it. A voice speaks up, a voice coming from the ugly tie around my neck, a voice that is both making a lot of sense at the moment and one I am willing to listen to, it tells me to sneak away to avoid paying my bill. Unfortunately, my gaudy shoes and pants have caused me to stand out a bit to much and I fail to make a clean escape. Realizing I have no chance of sneaking away I begin a mad dash, followed by a dive through the air while flipping the manager off with both hands. The voices in my head tell me to just savor the moment before the crash and enjoy that I showed the manger who was boss. Just look at the shock on his face, no idea how to react to my rejection of his authority. These thoughts come to me right before I crash into a woman in wheelchair. The resulting injury leads to a sudden pain in my left arm, followed by my chest, followed by all enveloping blackness as death takes me. Maybe I shouldn't have listened to my tie, maybe I should have taken better care of my body in my past life. The paper reports on a cop that suffered a fatal heart attack, I'm described as having been a heavy drinker that suffered from a broken heart long before a heart attack.

Existential, depressing, hilarious, political, cynical, hopeful, bleak, ugly, beautiful, and a commentary on detective stories. Disco Elysium does things that have been missing from the majority of RPGs. Set in a realistic setting that combines elements of different time periods and places to create a fairly grounded cast of characters and a story focused on the human condition and politics of the setting that mirrors real world elements, without a focus on being a chosen hero, forces of darkness, evil monster races, and what little combat there is governed through your skill checks. A focus on understanding, accepting, and letting go of the past to hopefully better yourself while finding hope in a depressing and cynical world. You are staying in a now destroyed room in the city of Revachol, a broken down city that experienced both a plague and a communist revolution before it was brutally put down by capitalists and then colonized by a neoliberal council in charge of much of the world. You have drank so much and taken so many drugs that you have effectively destroyed your personality and have no recollection of your past, you are told you are a cop and that there has been a body hanging outside for the last week likely connected to the current labor strike.

When starting the game you are given four stats to raise intellect, psyche, physique, and motorics with each governing six sub skills ranging from your ability to identify with the people you meet and their feelings, your reaction speed for physical reactions as well as witty comebacks, your attunement with the city around you, your ability to picture a crime scene, your ability to have informed hunches and gut feelings, etc. Every skill you have talks to you when you are dealing with people or noticing things in the environment, they can help you make informed decisions, clue you into hidden details, or cause you to make poor and ridiculous decisions. Your Physical Instrument skill might give you impressive muscles and the ability to use them but it also demands that you showcase your masculinity and to let nothing threaten it, Inland Empire might help you correctly see what isn't visible to the naked eye but as shown above it can be less than helpful when your clothing starts offering strange advice to you. Saying certain things or finding out information about people can lead you to having new thoughts, choosing to focus on a thought will give you temporary bonuses and/or penalties and when you have mulled it over long enough the thought will be locked into place with a new description and bonuses and/or penalties fitting your new understanding of the idea and what concepts you want to be important to your character as you rebuild his forgotten personality.

In most games you are rewarded for playing a certain way or for playing in completely different ways as the situation calls for it, giving your character no personality as you game the system. Disco Elyrium's frequently lore expanding or amusing skill anecdotes, the different options for playing your character different ways, and probably most importantly, your skills giving you an actual reason to want or understand the desire to do something you normally wouldn't do makes you want to play the game again as a character with an entirely different stat and skill focus. It is one of the rare games that can make your failure as interesting as your success. Some of the most amusing moments come from failure, some failure just leads to new logical paths to your goal, some failures might change a goal, seemingly minor choices or clothing items might lead to unexpected tasks or responses. Failing to find the cause of death during an autopsy can lead to a side activity to find a freezer big enough to store the body, succeeding in a Suggestion role might give you a task but play into the hands of the person that was hoping you would come up with such a suggestion, failing a Conceptualization role might lead someone to lend you her art supplies out of pity while succeeding causes her to think that you don't have the talent to create your masterpiece and that if you did you would be competition for her, failing to make a cool catch with your Hand Eye Coordination skill might lead to a loss of health buy an apology in the form of pity money. Unlike almost any other RPG, be it just because of how much combat there is or because some skills just have little or no real use, in Disco Elysium there is no right or wrong way to build your character because there is no push to succeed at everything, to do everything, to fix everything, or to help and save everyone, yourself included.

Disco Elyrium is a game that made finding my lost shoe a meaningful character moment. Multiple events make up some of the most memorable moments I've seen in a game. Your success or failure at singing karaoke leading to two entirely different styles of performance, a success gives you some applause and the satisfaction of the telling the manager that you knew you had it in you, a failure leads to a depressed wailing cover of the song drawing nothing but laughter and boos from the crowd, except for your partner who could genuinely understand the pain in your voice. One of the only instances of combat in the game having no positive outcome with a large amount of the text focusing on the fear you and your partner have towards being in a gunfight and the possibility of losing your new and possibly only friend. Helping to start a dance club and becoming completely lost in the moment while dancing brought on a vision where I spoke with the city itself. A dream of a lost love discusses the challenge of living with a man who sees the world in the way you know that your character does, arguing with himself and seeing a list of A, B, C, D questions that he wants to ask people at all times, a dream where a success at a skill check won't give you what you want but only inform you more clearly about what you no longer have.

It can often end up being one the darker games I've played, as well as one of the funniest, partly because it seems to understand that finding humor in the terrible situations that we find ourselves in or about the state of the world in general is how many people are able to survive. You are forced into choosing political stances as they are a major part of what people talk about, how you naturally react to them or things you see, and the game can't very well mock you for your mewling centrism if you weren't constantly choosing to refuse to endorse solutions or to take a stand on anything. No matter what you choose your positions will be questioned or outright mocked as absurdity or cowardice. How do you defend liberal capitalism and your foreign occupiers who put the city in the poor position it is in while getting rich off of its people hoping magical tech investors and the rich will generously create jobs for the people, how many lives would have been worth the victory of the communities and if they had won would you have just ended up with more corrupt unions like the one that seems to be protecting your main suspect, will you promote nationalistic ideas and fascism/patriotism/nationalism where your brethren are old miserable men rarely trusted by their peers or each other all longing for the good old days before radio signals corrupted the youths mind and destabilized traditional gender roles, or do you take the path of the centrist/moralist never standing up for anything and hoping things will slowly work themselves out? Well, it doesn't really make a huge difference anyway. Neoliberalism/moralism already won, they shelled the city, killed all the communists, and left the people you meet with little more than the crumbling ruins around them. The time for revolution has long past, and there's no money to be had in fascism and bringing back the king. Even the groups that would seem to be against or that actively dislike the powers that be know that they will be overthrowing nothing. The only people sharing your ideas are pathetic losers yelling at you from street corners, a couple college kids, and long since broken and dying old men and most of these people would never believe a cop working under the moralists who own the world would truly be on their side anyway.

The ruined city of Revachol is stitched together with tech, cultures, ideologies, and aesthetic choices taken from a variety of different times but often feels more real than areas in games directly created from real world places. A setting that can feel and become more magical than a typical fantasy setting as you attempt to explain how a glitch of an old recording playing long after its time seemed to be talking directly to you or as you consider the history of the city's landmarks and of the pronounced bullet holes and shelling damage still covering many of the buildings and walls, dried blood and bullet holes remain but no trace of who lined who up against the wall, residents that watch you out of closed windows in buildings covered by weather worn peeling signs with slogans promising a better tomorrow.

Characters often feel real with nuance given to every character you meet, most of all to your assigned partner, Kim Kitsuragi, who has almost as much to add to the situations you find yourselves in as you will. Your moral compass, possibly your only friend. In place of the party of NPCs following you around you have your own skills talking to you and giving you visions into the lives of others, instead of learning about the past of your party members you learn about your own through your conversations with yourself. The voice acting is typically well done and the music and unique oil painting style of art helps bring the city to life, successfully capturing the world and characters in either vibrant detail or by having a more grimy look fitting of your mental state, the city's history, present, and seeming lack of a future. A police game where finding a body won't lead to any autopsy or fight with the responsible criminals but instead just ends with you and your partner trying to find the right words to inform the deceased's wife and the question of what happens to her and her kids now. Ample attention is paid to the small details of the world and characters, even making one of best moments of the game near the end being when I check tells me that Kim trusts me, followed by a second telling me that after all of our often dark, often ridiculous, misadventures, a gunfight, and putting up with my amnesia that he does truly trust me even beyond surface level appearances.

One of the few complaints I can make that has a larger effect on the game is that your skills talking to you is based on events or the successful hidden roles relevant ones make causing them to chime in, but there is no difference in which is more meaningful to you based on how high or low each skill is. None are louder or pushing away the other thoughts, though they might naturally argue or point things out about one another, but having a high ranking in something doesn't mean that it will take control of you. It is also extremely difficult to actually run out of health or morale and almost any health loss tends to come from kicking random objects or failing to kick them well enough. I don't know if its because I didn't raise some of them high enough to get additional options or many passives but Endurance, Pain Threshold, Electrochemistry, Hand Eye Coordination, and Savoir Faire seemed to have much less use than the other skills. Even with those not doing much (or at least not seeming to in my playthrough) you still end up with a game that makes better use of a large number of skills than almost any other.

This is not only my game of the decade but is easily one of my favorite ever.

Screenshots and other thoughts

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