Disco Elysium - The Final Cut on Switch: Existential brilliance on the go
In the time I’ve had to play Disco Elysium - The Final Cut on Switch, my biggest takeaway is that it truly has lived up to the mountains of hype piled upon it in the last two years. A modern RPG masterpiece with some of the best writing I’ve ever seen.
Saying a game has “good writing” is such a loaded, yet vague blanket statement. Does that mean the work in question explores interesting concepts? Is the dialogue written in wonderful prose, giving each character a unique voice? Do the plot twists effectively shock the audience, leading to a story rich with drama. I’ve heavily simplified “good writing” for brevity, but most of us accept it to be an overall subjective phrase.
It’s fair to say that those hypothetical questions are ways games may appeal to one audience or another. In my many years playing games at an analytical level, I’ve come to terms with an unfortunate reality. It’s rare for games to fill more than one of these categories. That might sound like a harsh and unfair dismissal of storytelling in this medium, but I understand that each title should be approached by its own merits. The reason I bring this up is because Disco Elysium is one of the only games I’ve ever played that seems to be all-encompassing in every facet of “good writing”. It’s phenomenal all-around.
Regular readers of RPG Site will undoubtedly know we love this game. Adam and George both loved it in their reviews, and I’d highly recommend reading their pieces to get a good understanding of what you should expect of Disco Elysium as a whole. I’ll refrain from offering half-baked takes on the story, but I truly love what I’ve experienced so far of the nuanced and political mystery. Maybe that’ll be for another piece, but at the moment I don’t have much else to say that hasn’t already been said. I’m here to do what I always do: play catch up.
I’ve been eagerly waiting for this Switch port for the same reason I do for any delayed Switch port - because I have ADHD and have been unmedicated for years. Games like Disco Elysium require the player to fully immerse themself in the world, and that can be difficult for me on console or PC. The Switch is my console of choice for story-heavy experiences, and it has seen quite a few CRPGs grace it in the last few years. Disco Elysium offers a full 3D presentation, being apparently so ambitious that it gave PS5 players some grief with its performance. So, how does it hold up on Switch?
The visual presentation is truly a work of art. As I walked the drab streets of Revachol, I felt as if I entered a macabre painting. There’s been a constant overcast during my time investigating; the coldness of the world truly is conveyed by a thick and ever-present atmosphere. The texture of said atmosphere is the same as walking from your urban college’s commuter parking garage to your first class by yourself on the off chance it happened to rain during winter. Cold, lonely, grey, wet, and with enough inner monologue to fill a book titled “How’d I Get Here?”.
To some, this might seem miserable, but to fellow enjoyers of rainy weather: congratulations. You’ve just found your new favorite game. If this port had needed to make the concessions of many others, that art style and all the feelings associated with it would have been ruined. The writing and story certainly hold up on their own, but Disco Elysium’s full package wouldn’t be complete without its striking visuals. The 3D models are crisp, and everything looked quite good on each of the four ways I tested it.
I initially downloaded it on my Switch Lite, finding it to be quite comfortable. Then I moved over to my second revision Animal Crossing Switch, preferring the larger screen to get a good view of the environment. Many small objects are strewn across the many environments you’ll investigate in the city, and might be harder to see on the Lite’s smaller screen. It certainly was for me. Plugging it into my dock, I found the parity between both modes commendable. Less impressive are the frame drops, but they aren’t nearly common enough in this game where you mostly spend your time reading text and hearing dialogue, so it gets a pass. Finally, I settled on my favorite way when I bought the recently released Switch OLED. I’ll spare you the details about Nintendo’s latest revision’s screen, but the vivid colors made Disco pop. There are no improvements outside of the colors, so overall that just playing undocked on an OLED or regular Switch.
Audio sounds outstanding, and if compression needed to be made, I certainly didn’t notice. Disco Elysium - The Final Cut has to have the most voice acting I’ve ever heard in a game. Every line of dialogue is voiced, and there is a ridiculous amount of text. What’s more is the music, which intentionally drones and gets under your skin to wonderful effect. If you can play this in a dark room with high-quality headphones on, you’ll get an audio-visual experience that’ll make you ascend. Each line of dialogue has presence to it, and magnificent voice direction made each line stick with me. The introduction and dream situations are so well done that I found myself hanging on each and every word. Skipping voice lines in these segments is not allowed, I’m mandating it.
Controls are a mixed bag, but one that feels acceptable given Disco Elysium’s roots. The Switch port attempts to combine the control style of the PC and console release. I will forever be disappointed that so many Switch devs ignore its touch screen. Even visual novels, a genre consisting of mostly reading, can make the mistake of not utilizing it. Disco on the other hand offers full touch screen support. From clicking on the map to have Harry and Kim run to it, to dialogue choices and menus, you can essentially play the whole thing in tablet mode. I like that this is here, but I think I prefer the sometimes clunky Joycon controls. It seems like this was about the same controller style on the PlayStation versions, so if you’re double-dipping you’re unlikely to have any issues if you grew used to it. It certainly took me a bit to get a grasp at how to interact with the world. Before you start really diving in, I’d say take a good look at the controls and truly experiment in the first area.
At the moment, the biggest glaring issue with the port is the loading times. They’re pretty bad. The flow of Disco Elysium often requires you to often go between several spaces in quick succession, all existing in a massive hub world. Loading a new area or save could take up to around 30 seconds. There are two segments where the tedious waiting bothered me the most (so far). There’s an office building and apartment complex that involves small locations where you’ll need to move from one separate area to another, so the loading times stacked on top of each other felt annoying.
I’ve been told that the developers are continuing to optimize the experience, so I’m hoping this is addressed at launch or shortly after. I can only guess, but I imagine the visual fidelity being mostly retained on the Switch’s hardware is probably the culprit. If you wanted a more seamless experience, you’d probably already have bought it on one of the more powerful consoles. For those reading like me, you can forgive it overall… but still groan on occasion when having to stare at back-to-back loading screens.
I could conclude with a statement that tries to boil down my time playing into a catchy zinger, like “Disco Elysium on Switch radicalized me.” I’m sure titling this port review with that sentence would stick out, but it would be cheap and untrue. You can thank the pandemic for stealing Disco Elysium’s thunder. My time with the experience as a whole has truly been outstanding, however.
I try to avoid explicit calls to action now, but you really need to play Disco Elysium. Platform doesn’t matter, do so on whatever system you prefer because it seems no bad version exists. It’s a testament to how detailed world-building and dialogue need to be valued in every RPG. Dialogue-focused RPGs have existed before, but never to this extent and never as well designed. What we’re left with on Switch is a solid port that could even iron out some of the rough spots in the next few weeks. Now if you excuse me, I have a mystery to get back to… and a shoe to find.