Each time I play weird and wonderful amnesiac detective RPG Disco Elysium, I fall in love with language all over again, and get properly jazzed up to spill some fancy words. In this case, I've played the new Disco Elysium: The Final Cut, an updated version of the game that has loads of new voice acting and even some new quests. So I’ll pop a cork in my impulse to use words like 'ekphrastic', at least a bit, because I imagine you’ve come here with one of two questions.
Those are: "should I finally get around to playing The Large RPG?" or, if you’ve already played it loads, "is the Final Cut reason enough to do so again?" Please, enter the slide in front of you, and glide, like a graceful brick, into the answer pool below.
Firstly, yes, I reckon you should play Disco Elysium if you haven’t, and the Final Cut only gives more options. If you’re not sure why, read Alice Bee’s review, or sample Alec Meer’s free-range thought butter. Oodles have been written about the game’s strengths, and I don’t even think much of it is out of a need to analyse, just to redirect all that lovely energy in some mad ekphrastic outpouring, like all those bands that formed after seeing The Sex Pistols live. For a game so focused on psychic degradation, it is an immensely reinvigorating guzzle of soul juice. It’s also like, properly funny and playfully stupid, pretty much constantly.
That said, there are a lot of words! Reading isn’t what everyone wants out of a game, and that’s absolutely fine. The Final Cut gives every character a voice, and the infinitely listenable Lenval Brown provides narration and the frequent interjections of the protags fractured psyche/skill checks. Here’s Brown narrating the trailer if you want a listen.
Personally, I’d suggest changing the voiceover option to ‘psychological only’ for your first run. You won’t miss out on Brown’s work, there’s just less of it. I think the pacing is better this way, but then I’ve already got a brain-print for how I expect things to unfurl. Bad tech note: there are some bugs, so maybe wait a week. Happy tech note: there’s now full controller support on PC. Combined with the narration, it turns the whole thing into a pleasingly sedate experience, like a bedtime story but with trauma-induced pulmonary complications.
Now, if you’ve already played a bunch, I reckon it might be a slightly bumpy landing. The original version had primed me to imagine each of the Furies - the internal voices of the main character H.D.B. that double as your RPG skills - as a distinct entity. Having, say, the relentlessly physical Endurance and the imaginative Inland Empire both voiced by Brown is an odd newness to adjust to. It's a great performance, but it's still one dude, with one voice. ‘No Truce with the Furies’, the game’s original name and most pronounced theme, came across vividly in the Furies' ceaseless, hilariously opposed interjections before, and smushing them all together in The Final Cut removes a bit of jazz.
Most of the new voices are not how I imagined them to be at all, but on average I’m pretty good with it. My beloved Idiot Doom Spiral, who lives on the beach after an unlikely series of events involving losing the keys to his flat, has a voice I’m not keen on, but then I get a load more wonderful lines for lieutenant Kim Kitsuragi, delivered by the endearingly dry Jullian Champenois. The very angry young man Cuno has a different voice that’s much less colourful than his original one, but The Deserter's new performance makes the whole ending feel more rich.
On the whole, having Disco’s luxury dialogue piped into your ears by a largely capable and understated cast is hard to complain about. A chorus of folky, disparate dialects curled around prose that is itself at once folky and curated, fluttering between whimsical observations, apocalyptic visions and literary ornateness. T.S Eliot’s Prufrock turned pisshead-with-a-Twitter-feed. These are people you know and want to know and will never know and will get to know more than you will ever know a real person. You will find solace in shared trauma or take the trauma reflected everywhere as a sign that solace is impossible, depending on whether you’re on your first drink or fifth.
"Having Disco’s luxury dialogue piped into your ears by a largely capable and understated cast is hard to complain about."
The voices aren't the only newness, though. There are also new quests - one per political alignment, as far as I can tell. (Skip the rest of this paragraph if you don’t want minor spoilers.) I went for the free market hustler version of H.D.B, i.e. the comedy option - or at least less tragic than trying to rebuild communism in the shadow of a failed, bloody revolution, or becoming the ultimate pub bore by not even being a particularly convincing fascist. The associated political vision quest was suitably funny, lengthy, included some nice new animations and art assets, and even did one of my favourite game-things by messing with the UI for funsies. Progress is staggered too, so I ended up wrapping things up near the closing hours. The original ending has the potential to be unsatisfying until you soak in it for a bit, and rewarding focused roleplay with tailored character sub-endings is a great addition.
Still, I wasn’t sure how I felt about The Final Cut as a whole until I had a moment, near the end, where the narrator's lilt lulled me into total absorption, and I found myself reflecting on the game’s many references to musique concrète - found sounds. Bird’s Nest Roy mentions it, Acele collects sounds with her tape recorder on the ice. The snatches of detail caught by H.D.B.’s heightened senses feel like wordly musique concrète, chopped and layered and dubbed to give Martinaise texture.
I thought about this, and how impeccable the sound design generally is, and how so many of the voice performances in Disco Elysium: The Final Cut feel close to an antithesis of sound design. A sort of sound ‘discovery’. Found voices. Disco Elysium is not a wonderfully written game because it has fancy prose, but because that prose captures authentic thought and speech, in all its shivering, shimmering nakedness.
And because these are not all big voices, and they are not uniform voices, and because they feel scattered and disparate, they feel authentic to Martinaise. There are so few accents that sound like both their parents spoke the same native language, and it lends itself to that deeply literary, Revacholian Creole that both grounds the game in history and lets it spin free of time and place. In this sense, the more voice performances, the better.
The Final Cut let my brain wander and notice other, older things. How running through your old cases in the ledger and giving your opinion on their outcomes is actually a Rorschach blot test, squeezing in a big chunk of extra roleplaying disguised as exposition. Or how those same case files feature a sneaky Planescape: Torment reference, only related to public nudity. How important Spring is to the journey as a whole. I can’t definitively say that all the Final Cut’s changes are for the best, but I can say I’m thankful I was lured back for another run that may not have happened otherwise.