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  • Writer's pictureSofi

Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical (2023)

Developer: Summerfall Studios

I recently sent out an newsletter explaining the current changes happening while transitioning Sleepy Toadstool to a new platform; I’m going to posting less regularly and off-schedule. This process transition process has given me the opportunity to read through my first reviews, from 2018, and assess how has changed since then. One of my first reviews ever on Sleepy Toadstool was Yi and the Thousand Moons, which I described as a videogame musical – in that review, I talked about how I was hoping to see more of this from indie games. Then here we are, in 2023, getting to talk about a self-proclaimed “roleplaying musical” game! Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical is a musical choice-based visual novel about Greek gods living as people in the modern world. Stray Gods blew me away with its voice acting, art, characters, and freedom to create your own musical path - I only wish the vocal and musical prowess had been as impressive.

Stray Gods tells the story of Grace, a woman in a band whose life is suddenly flipped upside down when she is accused for the murder of a Greek muse, Calliope. Grace first met Calliope briefly at a band audition, hours before she suddenly showed up at Grace’s door, bleeding out and close to death. In her final moments, Calliope’s “soul” is transferred to Grace, passing on her magical muse abilities to her. Only a few seconds after, Grace is forcibly summoned in front of the Choir, a group of Greek gods who uphold laws for this society of modern-day Greek gods. The Choir charges Grace with killing Calliope to steal her goodlihood, despite Grace’s protests that she knows nothing about Calliope or the gods, and Calliope showed up to her apartment already bleeding out. The Choir agrees to give her a week to prove her innocence by finding evidence of what really happened to Calliope. Now it is Grace’s mission – with the help of her best friend and bandmate, Freddy – to understand this group of misfit Greek gods, while using her power of song to interrogate them and figure out the truth. In this world, the Greek gods pass their soul on to the next chosen person when they pass, therefore they are basically humans except with thousands of years of loaded memories and familial grudges.

Grace might be clueless when it comes to Greek mythology, but luckily Freddy is a huge nerd on the topic.

The hand-drawn style of the characters and environments of Stray Gods isn’t initially what drew me to the game, but it ended up being one of my favorite things about it. It looks gorgeous and the characters are given so much life and detail, even with the visual novel animation style of using image stills. There was so many incredible moments within songs where the characters really shine or the environment changes to fit what’s being told, that I constantly found myself in awe of a certain scene, taking tons of screenshots.

As a fan of musicals, Stray Gods immediately caught my attention. I didn’t know much about the story, but I had to try it out and see if it would feel like playing a musical. Let me start by saying that the music is pretty dang good – just not incredible like I was expecting. Now, I understand that making writing music for this game must be extremely difficult, as they literally had to write different pieces to each song that would play depending on what choice you made. However, the songs at times reminded me more of rhythmic spoken word, or improvisational singing (which does make sense in the context of the story, though). It didn’t exactly sound like a musical all the time. There were less “belting” emotional moments than I would’ve expected. “The Ritual” and “It’s Time” are probably the strongest songs emotionally, but there’s parts in each of those that could be improved. I also felt that some of the vocalists were not as skilled as others. For example, the first song in the game (Adrift), felt pretty weak, especially as an opener. The vocals were low-energy and noncommittal in a way that didn’t fit even with the song’s somber mood. In contrast, one best singers in the entire show was actually a minor character that only comes up for one song – Orpheus. I found out that he is voiced by Anthony Rapp, a renowned performer best known for his role as Mark on the original Broadway production of Rent. This absolutely checks out – his singing was honestly on another level. He’s not the only Broadway name on the cast list (Aphrodite is another great one), but his voice was one of my favorites. I’m not an expert on Broadway or musicals by any means, but I can still hear a difference between the actors who are musical performers those that are primarily voice actors.

I'm including Aphrodite's song without the visuals to keep from giving too much away! This one's worth a listen.

However, putting aside the singing, I have a lot to rave about when it comes to voice acting for dialogue. All of the voices were absolutely on-point, and performed by some recognizable professionals. I found it sort of funny that The Last of Us Part 2 main character trio all appeared as major characters – Laura Bailey, Troy Baker, and Ashley Johnson. The voice acting elevated the characters and made you feel like you really understood who each of them were. Stray Gods takes the overused “Greek mythology” characters and makes them more human, more relatable, and a whole lot messier. Your investigation of the murder leads to dredging up a lot of old conflicts and traumatic memories for the gods, and therefore witnessing their emotional highs and lows.

The Chorus may have agreed to let you plead your case, but that doesn't mean they trust you in the least.

An important part of the gameplay and story in Stray Gods is choosing who you would like to romance. Most of your choices are the Greek gods you just met, but not all of them. Your total options are fairly limited, as there’s only 4 characters you can romance. This would be fine, except for the fact that Hermes exists and is not romanceable. Hermes: the adorably aloof, super cute, nonbinary himbo (thembo?) who is impossible not to love. Anyway, my first choice once Hermes was unavailable was to pursue Persephone, the bad bitch of the gods. She’s hot too, but also kind of terrifying and toxic. I enjoyed exploring these romance outcomes so much that I also pursued one more beyond Persephone’s. I won’t tell you which one, but one of these paths I pursued felt like the true ending and like it completely fit in the story’s direction. Unexpectedly, the romance storyline of this game ended up being of my favorite aspects of this game and really had me feeling all kinds of ways. Grace has both men and women in her potential partners, but for the most part this game has big sapphic energy and really compelling queer relationships.

We must protect Hermes at all costs.

Stray Gods is an excellent game as far as replayability. As someone who rarely replays games, I replayed a good bit of the second half of the game in order to try different routes, both in romance and story. I appreciate that game allows you to jump back to past saves, allowing to try a different choice without having to start the game all the way from the beginning. The outcome and growth of all the characters have a lot to do with the choices you take. At the beginning of the game, you’re given a chance to choose a primary trait – Kickass, Charming, or Clever (red, green, and blue respectively). Choices in this game will be coded into these categories. I chose Kickass first, as I felt that it would lead to most gutsy, bold choices (and therefore songs). Whichever of these you choose influences Grace’s personality, but it’s more important which of these you choose at a specific moment or song. The songs and Grace’s approach can vary greatly based on what you decide.

The few times that terrifying Perspephone is actually nice to you... :)

Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical is one of the most unique games I’ve played this year, with some of best voice acting, too. When it comes to my issues with music, I don’t think it was so much a lack of vocal talent, but more of a lack of musical-specific direction and inconsistent audio mixing. Regardless, I'm definitely wishing to see more games in this type of genre in the future. My suggestion would be casting more Broadway musical talent and focusing each song more on the emotion it’s supposed to make you feel. I absolutely recommend this game if you’re a fan of musicals or just unique games in general. I had an absolutely blast with the romancing and continued playing long after I got my first ending.

Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical is available on PC, Switch, PS4, PS5, PS, and Xbox Series X|S

Played on: PC (Steam Deck)

Last Played: 11/16/2023

Playtime: 9 hrs

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