When I got gifted Disco Elysium by a friend during the Holidays, I knew I had no other choice but to give it a go. However, it took me quite a while to actually get into it, even though it’s the kind of game I’d be into. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s the period of time in which I chose to start playing it. To be fair, I also haven’t managed to finish its spiritual predecessor, Planescape: Torment. It does take a good bit of effort to play these games.
When I decided to actually start a new game in Disco Elysium after several months of putting it off, that’s when the Omicron surge started. Everyone got sick, including myself. During my second ever stream of the game, I heard my mother vomiting in the bathroom. That same night, I noticed my temperature going past 37°C for the first time in two years. Two nights later, I was in hell at 39°C and palpitating with a 115+bpm heart rate.
Fortunately, I got past the fever and recovered, and my mother got better as well. Perhaps getting sick while trying to get into the game may not make my memories of it rather unpleasant, but it was still not easy to get into. Perhaps I feel that way because I tried playing it while streaming it. If I play it on my own, maybe it will click better. After all, this is supposedly my kind of game, so I should like it. Here’s to me trying to like it more.
NOTE: Here be minor spoilers. You’ve been warned.
Disco Elysium Character Creation
As with any good role-playing game, there’s no way to create a perfect character in Disco Elysium. That’s quite cliche to say at this point, especially since a lot of games miss the mark. For example, it’s quite easy to make an overpowered character in Cyberpunk 2077, as I found out when I was addicted to that game for a month.
But in the case of Disco Elysium, it’s not just done by restricting stat points. Each skill is a double-edged sword. Too low, and you’re blind as a bat in that department. Too high, and you become insufferable or unstable. But of course, if you’re really good at one thing, it can be beneficial when the need arises. As much as you want to be good at everything, that’s pretty much impossible unless you cheat, just like in life.
This also plays into the narrative. The protagonist is far from being a paragon. He is an alcoholic disaster, a shadow of his former self, if that even existed in the first place. He has no balance, no place of pride, no prospects or upside. You start this game with him waking up from a drunken stupor, almost completely naked on the floor of a dirty and dilapidated hotel room. You’re playing the opposite of a power fantasy.
You have to work not just from the ground up, but from practically six feet under. You have almost nothing to work from other than what your character comes with. Whatever you need to solve this case, you’ll have to work your way to it from scratch. You don’t get to create your own character, but have to control this gross middle-aged man.
Disco Elysium Skill System
These are your character’s skills. They’re also your party roster. Every one of them is voice-acted, and they talk to you whenever the situation arises. They’re different facets of the protagonist’s mind and body. They advise, antagonize, and agonize him throughout the game. Perhaps you can say the main selling point of the game.
Different voices speaking to you in your head? Dissociative Identity Disorder is how the DSM-V, the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, classifies what used to be called Multiple Personality Disorder. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice has been praised for having successfully depicted psychosis in a video game, so perhaps Disco Elysium does the same for DID?
Or perhaps it’s just a metaphorical representation of how we construct our own realities, drawing from multiple perspectives to consolidate our viewpoints. I don’t know about other people, but I do have a little bit of that as I have different sides of me that I struggle with on a daily basis. I fight with voices in my head all the time, and I don’t have chemicals to help.
This also reminds me a bit of Shinobu Sensui from Yu Yu Hakusho, wherein he’s an amalgamation of seven different personalities, which were formed due to his post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from having viewed the Black Tape and having it break his black-and-white view of the world while working as a spirit detective.
Disco Elysium Gameplay Impressions
This is where I got a bit of difficulty at first. In between the red checks and the passage of time, there was a good bit of anxiety for me in getting into the game. It’s quite silly to feel anxious about starting a new video game, but that’s how it usually is for me. I’m a grown-ass man who’s apprehensive about playing a game with lingering consequences for decisions, even though I’ve played such games for my entire life.
Perhaps it’s due to playing a protagonist who is obviously not me. My subconscious doesn’t want to cause this man any more grief. But of course, if I don’t play the game, I don’t move his story forward at all. Therefore, I should get over my own fear of virtual consequences and actually play the damn game. I need to get off my ass and make the effort to explore Revachol, which should then gradually make this game make more sense in my head.
Revachol isn’t exactly like Planescape; it’s not a multiverse. It’s more of an alternate condensed version of the real world. The more I look at the maps of Revachol and its different districts, the more I’m intrigued by the in-game world. Maybe worldbuilding and lore are where I should start with this game. While much of the game is about understanding the protagonist and whatever goes on in his head, I’m more interested in this fictional universe and its history.
But there’s one thing in the gameplay that intrigues me. Every now and then, something pops up in the protagonist’s head, and you then have to deal with whatever he sees, smells, or hears. Usually, it’s just a quip or a notable quirk. However, every now and then, it’s his brain bothering him with something and he can’t ignore it any longer. So far, they were addictions rearing their ugly heads, which was quite interesting to encounter in early parts of the game.
I remember passing by the bookstore and talking to the girl in front. She then asked the protagonist about his job as a cop and what he thinks of himself. As someone who engages a lot in self-deprecating humor, I picked the dialogue options that ended up making the guy feel really bad about himself. What ended up happening was that he got so depressed that he had a mental break and the game immediately ended. He wasn’t dead, but became worse than dead.
That was quite surprising, to say the least. What makes this game compelling for me, and why I want to keep trying to get into it, is how every dialogue option is consequential. You have to think about whatever you end up saying. On the other hand, you’ll want to see what happens when you pick the most ridiculous dialogue options to yield the most interesting results, even if that means your character gets shafted as a result.
It’s like the old point-and-click adventure games like King’s Quest, where you can see all the unique ways your character can die.
It’s going to take quite a while for me to be able to come up with a proper review of Disco Elysium. I think that includes replaying Planescape: Torment, its spiritual predecessor; as well as getting into a bit of Torment: Tides of Numenera, the supposed true successor of Planescape: Torment. Perhaps that’s a lot of tedium, but I do think I need to get into those games if I wish to actually do this game justice.
But first, I have to actually get more into this game. That may involve resisting the urge to play it on stream. I need some crucial “alone time” with this game, much like I did with my favorite game of all time, Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura. Perhaps given enough time, I’ll actually “get it.”
Have something to say? Do you agree or am I off-base? Did I miss a crucial detail or get something wrong? Please leave whatever reactions, questions, or suggestions you may have in the comment section below.
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