Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical
Date any god you want, but be warned: they’re really emo.
Date any god you want, but be warned: they’re really emo.
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Review game Stray Gods: The Roleplaying MusicalComments
We’ve seen some strange combinations of genres, but Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical caught my eye right away because it’s a supernatural murder mystery visual novel musical. As far as I can tell, it’s a one-of-a-kind video game, but the idea is so boldly crazy that we can only hope it will become more common. There’s a magical moment when characters, both humans and Greek gods, start singing, and you can choose how to respond.
- Developers: Summerfall Studios
- Publishers: Humble Games
- Initial Release:Aug 10, 2023
- Platforms: PC
- Genres: Adventure
This changes how your character feels, how other people react, and even the words to the song you’re helping to make. When you can choose who sings and how they show how they feel, musical fights reach a whole new level. The more you play, the initial thrill of choice wears off, and the story and characters are predictable, which makes the overall experience a little flat. However, the game has a lot of great art and voice acting to keep you amused.
You play Grace, whose voice is done by The Last of Us star Laura Bailey, who does it with guts and style. She didn’t finish college and ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time. She is then wrongly accused of killing a muse of the gods. As you’d hope for in a musical, where every character needs to be able to belt out a song, all of the voice acting is great. Every line is spoken, often by well-known people. Bailey is joined by her The Last of Us co-stars Troy Baker, Merle Dandridge, and Ashley Jonson, as well as stage and screen stars like Felicia Day, Rahul Kohli, and Anthony Rapp.
But for such a fantastical story, the people were portrayed in a way that was too safe for my taste. If you’re going to look at Greek mythology, I want to see something new with characters like Athena, Pan, and Persephone. I want to be amazed by finding new sides to these gods and their well-known stories. Some of those shocks are here: Baker’s Apollo, for example, is much gloomier than how the God of the Sun is generally portrayed, and I did like hearing about his past as a surfer. But for the most part, the gods in this pantheon don’t stray too far from the images that have been shown of them in the past.
Part of that is because Stray Gods only takes about three hours to play through, so the writing, which was led by BioWare veteran David Gaider, has to give up character growth in favor of moving the story along. You can quickly talk to characters at a bar or party, but the main goal is always to find the murderer and clear your name. The few conversation choices that do affect the characters’ lives are just extra lines that you can skip over as you finish the main quest.
The art, on the other hand, is amazing. The figures that were drawn by hand have bold lines and clothes that make them stand out. Some of the gods have tattoos, piercings, and other items that give them an extra layer of personality that goes with the way they write and speak. The color schemes of the backgrounds are also a treat for the eyes, whether it’s a lair or a fancy apartment.
Maybe it’s just a pet peeve of mine, but I didn’t like how the characters’ lips didn’t move at all. This is pretty normal for a visual novel, but most of them aren’t musicals. Sometimes the characters sing with their mouths closed, which breaks the idea that they are singing. The different camera views do help keep the flow of each scene going, which is to their credit.
The murder mystery plot was a little too obvious for my taste, and that never changes. However, there is potential for replayability because Grace’s dialogue options depend on whether you’ve chosen to play her as Clever, Charismatic, or Kickass, and that choice makes scenes play out very differently. A Kickass Grace will use force to take down a suspect, while a Clever Grace will try to talk to her opponents and make them see sense.
As a plus, the game is easy to understand and play, so much so that it feels like a live TV show. Most of the time, you look around for hints and decide whether you want to charm, interrogate, or sneak past other people or obstacles. You can be violent, or you can be less obvious about it. You choose Grace’s dialogue, and during tense song fights, these choices are timed. It’s still low-stakes, though, because if you don’t make a choice in time, the game just picks one for you.
It’s worth going through at least once more because, at two major plot points, your choices can mean life or death. On a smaller scale, you can change the words to the songs the characters sing, and you can even choose who gets a solo act and who gets a duo or group performance. You can also make Grace someone who likes to be the center of attention or someone who shares her time a lot. When I first found out about this, it was fun to see how the songs changed while still having a good overall rhythm.
Grace’s muse can make anyone close to her start singing, which means she can also affect their mental health and what they decide to do with their lives. Stray Gods doesn’t really answer this, but at least it makes me think about it. Say that you can get people to do what you want them to. Doesn’t that take away their freedom? It’s an idea that Life is Strange: True Colors goes into more depth with, and it would have been interesting enough to make that game about more than just a few people in a town. Stray Gods doesn’t look into this, though. Instead, they just let Grace do what she wants and don’t worry about what will happen.
The musical murder puzzle by Stray Gods is fun to play more than once. When you play it, you can tell that it was made by people who love musical theater. It has unique artistic choices, songs that change depending on what you do, and characters with a lot of emotional angst. The gods are trying to figure out where they belong in the modern world and how to deal with the bad things that happen in life, just like many of us (and, I think, the writers) are. But the general predictability of the story and the fact that it is based on well-known Greek myths make Stray Gods less fun to play again and again.