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Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical Review

Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical Review

The first Greek myth I ever read was the tale of Daedalus and Icarus, a tragedy about a master craftsman and an ambitious boy who flew too close to the sun. It’s a narrative that has been retold and reimagined time and time again, but it never gets old. There’s something timeless about Greek mythology — the scintillating drama among the gods, the allure of magic and fantasy, and the deeply human life lessons — so of course, we love to reshape these ancient tales into something modern, from Broadway shows like Hadestown to videogames like God of War. In the case of Summerfall Studios’ debut title Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical, it’s a one-of-a-kind combination of both mediums, defying everything we’ve thought a game could be and possibly giving birth to a whole new “interactive musical” genre. But is the pitch too good to be true? Is Summerfall Studios flying too close to the sun?

Written by Dragon Age’s David Gaider, Stray Gods is a character-driven game with an unconventional mixture of theatre-like performances of original songs, and Telltale-style dialogue, focusing on choice and consequence as you try to solve the murder mystery at the game’s centre. Its heavy focus on narrative and use of static images closely resembles a visual novel, but I hesitate to classify it as one because the camera’s cinematography, detailed environments, and excellent voice-acting bring things to life in a way that feels more akin to a movie or a live Broadway performance. Despite what you’d assume from the game’s title and Steam tags, it’s not a pure RPG either, a topic the team has been transparent about when discussing the game in interviews. There’s no character progression or stats to keep track of, but there is a perk system, influencing how you roleplay the protagonist throughout the story.

Stray Gods Dialogue Options

You play as Grace, a college dropout who is part of a band with her best friend and roommate, Freddie. Almost immediately, the layers of Grace’s emotional state are revealed through her first song: a heartfelt ballad about being a boat lost at sea, drifting on cold waters. She doesn’t know where she fits in the world, but she’s also unaware that the universe is about to step in (rather obnoxiously, one might say). In the middle of an ordinary evening, lounging in her apartment, she opens the front door only to have a dying Greek god fall into her arms — Calliope, the last Muse. After the mythical stranger’s final breath, Grace’s entire world turns upside down. Not only does she absorb the Muse’s musical powers via a golden orb of light, but Hermes also shows up suddenly, whisking her away to a world where the Greek gods — called Idols — live in secret. There, she stands in front of the Chorus, an authoritative group of Idols, consisting of Athena (Goddess of Wisdom), Apollo (God of Prophecy), Aphrodite (Goddess of Love), and Persephone (Former Queen of the Underworld). Now an Idol herself, Grace must prove she’s not Calliope’s murderer; a greedy usurper of power and immortality. She has a week to prove her innocence otherwise the Chorus will kill her in the name of justice.

It’s a well-paced, engaging, and memorable narrative spread across three acts. I won’t spoil any twists or turns for you here because it’s worthwhile to experience it yourself multiple times. I’m on my third playthrough and still finding more to love about it, from the urban fantasy setting to Summerfall’s thoughtful reimagining of the Greek gods in a world with Wi-Fi and television. I will say, though, that you’ll swiftly discover the Idols have more problems than Calliope’s death. They are powerful immortals, yes, but they’re carrying around baggage and harbouring flaws as we humans do — except they’ve got thousands of years worth of emotional hang-ups to process. Grace’s allies, potential lovers, and enemies are all well-written, complicated, and compelling; the same goes for our protagonist herself. The writing is also frequently funny and smart, just as likely to make you burst out laughing as well as make you cry during its sadder beats. However, do note that Stray Gods features some heavy themes, which are detailed on the game’s accessibility page. I highly encourage looking them over before buying the game or jumping into your first playthrough!

Stray Gods Lyric Options

Mechanic-wise, Stray Gods keeps things simple yet interesting with point-and-click gameplay, making itself welcoming to fans of musicals who might have never picked up a videogame before. Roleplaying as your own version of Grace, you’ll select one of three traits: Charming, Kickass, or Clever. Whichever you choose will determine what options are available to you during certain dialogue moments. For instance, I ran with a Clever Grace first, which gave me access to a variety of observant options during the early story beats while blocking off the bold Kickass rebuttals and kind-hearted Charming responses. If having one trait doesn’t sound like enough to you, you’re not alone because I thought so too at first, but thankfully the game allows you to select an extra trait around the mid-way point of the narrative, opening up a lot of fun experimentation with trait pairings for future playthroughs.

What’s truly unique about Stray Gods’ gameplay, though, is that you also get to make lyrical decisions. Grace’s powers as a Muse means she has a special connection to art and passion, and she’s able to make characters sing their truths in an imaginary world of her creation. During musical numbers, all three traits are available to you, letting you mix and match them while shaping the direction and tone of the songs. These are often key narrative moments where your choices will impact the future, such as deciding which Idol you want to ally with or playing matchmaker between two characters. I always felt conflicted about what to choose, as the game does a great job at raising the stakes along with injecting nuance into every situation so you’re not spoon-fed simple “right” or “wrong” pathways. You can’t spend too long debating, though. A timer will tick down each time you’re up at the metaphorical (and sometimes literal) mic, so sing from the heart and see where it takes you.

Stray Gods Sneak Options

There’s quite a bit of narrative branching to explore. The various paths, romances, endings, and songs to discover give this game plenty of replay value. I was initially worried that redoing the musical bits would be a drag, but there was enough variation from the different lyrical choices to keep me engaged from start to finish. In the same manner that we listen to our favourite songs over and over again, listening to them doesn’t get tiring, and I even found myself singing along to the lyrics after a session. I also loved the somewhat non-linear fashion you could experience the story, as it lets you choose where to go and who to talk to in any order that you like. There are also instances where you can select how to approach a situation, such as breaking into a mysterious club from a rooftop or creating a chaotic distraction to slip past the security guard, adding an extra level of interactivity outside of musical numbers and traditional dialogue sequences.

Stray God’s stunning, emotive art design is another point on its long list of strengths. For fans of The Wolf Among Us, the comic book aesthetic will feel familiar, but the environmental design is a lot more colourful and often evokes a glamorous mystique that fits well with the elegant aura of the Idols. The character design also deserves special mention, as each character is carefully crafted from their clothes to their facial expressions. Additionally, the shining stars of the game are, without a doubt, its all-star voice-acting cast along with Austin Wintory’s excellent composing. As I played through realistic conversations and compelling musical numbers, each performance delivered some of the best voice-acting — and singing — I’ve heard in a videogame. Laura Bailey (Abby in The Last of Us Part II) is fantastic as Grace, nailing everything from comedic delivery to emotional goodbyes perfectly. Oddly enough, my only minor gripe with the game is the audio balancing. There are noticeable, yet infrequent, fluctuations with the mixing, where some characters would sound very quiet compared to the rest or, on the other side of the spectrum, a character could get very loud suddenly. Out of curiosity, I switched between headphones and speakers to see if there was a difference and ultimately found that those issues persisted either way. Thankfully, Stray God's Day One Patch will address this, improving those audio levels to make the voiceover consistent within conversations. 

Stray Gods Grace

Clocking in at around six to seven hours for a single playthrough, Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical is a tight narrative-heavy, song-filled experience that I can’t get enough of. There’s nothing like it in the industry, and I highly suspect it’ll inspire many similar titles in the coming years. If you enjoy visual novels, retellings of Greek mythology, or choice-focused games, this will be right up your alley. Perhaps you’re just a lover of theatre and/or a frequent flyer at karaoke bars, then you’re uniquely qualified to help Grace step up to the mic, embrace the drama, and belt out an epic solo.

9.50/10 9½

Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical (Reviewed on Windows)

Excellent. Look out for this one.

Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical is one-of-a-kind in the best way, excelling on all fronts — narrative and musical. It's a must-play for lovers of theatre, Greek mythology, and story-rich experiences.

This game was supplied by the publisher or relevant PR company for the purposes of review
Alyssa Rochelle Payne

Alyssa Rochelle Payne

Staff Writer

Alyssa is great at saving NPCs from dragons. Then she writes about it.

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