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Codex Review RPG Codex Review: Disco Elysium

Infinitron

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Tags: Disco Elysium; ZA/UM

There was only a single review of Disco Elysium up on Metacritic when the game was released. Now there are many of them, nearly all glowingly positive. It's time the Codex joined its voice to that chorus, and I can think of no better person to do the singing than blessed bataille, our expert on all things literary and post-Soviet. Get ready, because things are about to get deep:

Instead of giving us the usual freedom to become a soon-heroic, god-chosen nobody, Disco Elysium puts the player in the tear-and-alcohol-soaked shoes of a particular *somebody*. That somebody has a name, a face (sort of), a semblance of life, and a long history of destructive self-abuse, all of which slowly resurface during the course of the game.

While it may seem somewhat restrictive to disallow self-insertion in a cRPG, it helps the story to focus on the inner turmoil of our character as much as on the people and events that surround him. After all, the game’s original title used to be No Truce With The Furies, and that alone illustrates pretty well how important it must have been for the authors to have a singular ruined soul at the epicenter of the narrative. Since one obviously cannot construct effective personal drama for all possible player avatars (the only guaranteed common trait being player agency), the authors made the furies torment our hero through his prior life. It’s one of the instances where Disco Elysium’s PC-centric pen-and-paper origins shine through and affect the standard cRPG conventions. The scope is narrower but more focused, intimate, intense. A bit like that other text-heavy RPG with a set protagonist.

To dial it back a little and return us to the dimension of *computer* role-playing games and their freedom to play as whomever thou wilt, ZA/UM employs an obscure literary trope known as “total retrograde amnesia.” Or was it a selective memory wipe? A mere pretense fueled by shame? Repressed memories? Something more supra-natural? The reason for blanking out is up to the player to establish later down the line. Whatever the cause, only our past is set in stone, and it is for us to decide what kind of person we will become by the time all hell inevitably breaks loose.

The first step on the path of self-discovery is to distribute 8 points between the four main attributes: intelligence, psyche, physique, and motorics. Each attribute governs 6 thematically appropriate skills that may range from something as simple as Logic or Endurance to the more esoteric Inland Empire and Shivers. I highly recommend everyone to read their full descriptions, even if you don’t plan on investing in some of the skills. Besides providing clues and tips on what attributes to pick for certain archetypes, they’re simply a joy to read.

What really stands out when you start familiarizing yourself with the skills is how difficult it may be to fit some of them into the existing RPG categories. It takes a bit of time with the game to truly get what Esprit de Corps is really about, for example. What do Shivers actually do? What’s the difference between Drama and Suggestion? The skill selection might be the player’s first encounter with the experimental side of Disco Elysium, a sign of things to come. It only gets weirder - and sadder.

After a binge of world-ending proportions, our nameless, featureless, and pantsless hero wakes up on the floor, in a room, in a city, on a continent; all of them totally unknown and mysterious (except maybe the floor). How does one proceed under such arcane circumstances? By initiating an inner monologue of course! But who does the talking? Your skills, my liege. Depending on your choices during character creation, it may be Inland Empire lamenting that we didn’t get to see what was on the other side of the killer debauch, or Logic trying to piece something together from what little information about our current situation we have, or Pain Threshold welcoming the anguish that comes with being alive. They start talking when you regain some of your higher cognitive faculties and don’t shut up until the credits roll.

The easiest way to understand how you interact with your skills is to imagine the bicameral mind and-- that’s it, actually. That is exactly how it’s done. The player is in control of what the cop (ah, that’s one mystery solved) says and does, and your skills do most of the background thinking, guiding you to failure and regret (and an occasional triumph).

Oddly enough, each of them has a distinct personality and a... portrait. In a lesser RPG, these could have been templates for the player’s potential party members. They’re chatty, opinionated, and, most importantly, often fallible. Half Light, the mix of a psychotic barbarian and a scaredy-cat which is supposed to represent your fight-or-flight response and vigilance in the face of danger, will misjudge the gravity of a situation as often as assess one correctly. Despite its strong-willed facade, Authority often acts as a feeble sleazeball that tries to exploit its position in the warrior caste and use it as a lever to subjugate other people and get RESPECT. Conceptualization is just a third year humanities student always looking for opportunities to turn life into a living canvas. Fair enough. 24 almost-people to see you through this week-long hangover.​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Disco Elysium
 
Joined
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Siberia
I'm just happy it sold well enough and was praised even by popamole sites, proving that there's space for more than just trivialized bullshit. Regardless of whether you liked it or not, as bataille said, it's a good thing for the medium in the long run.

:love:
 

ScrotumBroth

Arcane
Patron
Joined
May 13, 2018
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1,292
Grab the Codex by the pussy Insert Title Here Strap Yourselves In
It's disco, baby.
6bdfda781b48a63e67f0e8e99d81401c.jpg
 

Alpan

Arcane
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Joined
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Messages
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Grab the Codex by the pussy Pathfinder: Wrath
bataille said:
It’s tempting to characterize Disco as a metamodernist game

I wish my temptations were so abstruse.

bataille said:
It feels like a deep, nostalgic longing for what the Revolution, any revolution ultimately stands for: a hope for a future.

Ha. For the plebs, perhaps.

Nicely written as usual.
 

MRY

Wormwood Studios
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DE is an interactive CYOA, let's not kid ourselves.
What? DE may not be a "full-fledged RPG" (if RPGs require robust combat systems; there are occasional fights of a limited sort in the game), but it has not even the faintest resemblance to CYOA books, which don't track variables. Even the very, very limited number of gamebooks that tracked character stats (in a very, very limited way) didn't track world-state variables. And none of them had anything resembling dialogue.

You might say that DE is a very good RPG minus combat, but a CYOA book is not an RPG minus combat, it's something else entirely. An elephant without tusks isn't a chez lounge.

And, to preempt the argument, DE isn't an adventure game. Its puzzles are comparably limited to its combat, its items primarily have generic stat-based effects that trigger upon being equipped rather than custom puzzle-oriented effects that trigger upon being used on a hotspot.

Nor is DE a visual novel, as those don't offer free-form exploration, inventories, etc.

Overall, DE is clearly closest to an RPG, so it seems like either you have to say "it's its own thing" or "it's an RPG without combat" rather than trying to shoehorn it into some other category of game.
 

bataille

Arcane
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Feb 11, 2017
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It takes a bit of time with the game to truly get what Esprit de Corps is really about

for you

Did you know from the character creation screen that EdC is a skill that mostly feeds you cool police-themed vignettes? We at the Remote Viewers Division need officers with strong extrasensory abilities. You should consider applying.

That's the entire point. A lot of those skills are very unconventional, and sometimes there are no pre-existing skill archetypes for them to fill. EdC, Shivers, etc. need to be observed in action for them to click and start making sense on a less abstract level.

You didn't put a score. How can we know if it's any good if you didn't put a score?

That'd be like rating a person. I don't do that...
 

Alpan

Arcane
Patron
Joined
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Grab the Codex by the pussy Pathfinder: Wrath
It takes a bit of time with the game to truly get what Esprit de Corps is really about

for you

Did you know from the character creation screen that EdC is a skill that mostly feeds you cool police-themed vignettes?

To be fair, that's not what you said. It's trivial to figure out what EdC is about from the very first interaction with Kim (where IIRC it triggers the first time). Its extent does take a bit of time to fully get going, otherwise there isn't all that much ambiguity.
 

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