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Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical Review

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Brush off your Greek Mythology lessons and memories of Clash of the Titans, because you will need them for Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical. If you’re like us, you’ll be pulling a funny face as you try to remember exactly what Apollo was god of, and who on Olympus the Furies were. If anything, Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical is a damning indictment of what we remember from our GCSEs.

But don’t be put off: Grace, the main character in Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical, is in much the same position. If you don’t know your Athenas from your Aphrodites, Grace has your back. You can get her to ask all of the stupid questions, pretending that’s what she would have asked. You’re just getting into character. 

stray gods the roleplaying musical review 1
How will you play through Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical?

Not that Greek Mythology is the selling point of Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical. It’s not even in our top three. Rattling them off, we’d put the ‘musical’ at the top, as this is very much structured and presented as something you’d find on Broadway. Next, we’d slot in the story, a whodunnit among gods, which is written with glowing panache and class. Finally, this is the unexpected but entirely welcome next step for David Gaider, arguably the most prominent creative from the Dragon Age series. It’s not a bad collection of back-of-box bullet points.

Events kick off with an audition, as Grace and her band (including best friend Freddie, who becomes something of a sidekick through Stray Gods) search for a new member. No-one really kicks their ass, so they pack up and leave. But while Grace lingers, a straggler named Calliope turns up (Greek Mythology fans are raising an expectant finger here). She sings with Grace, chemistry crackles between them, and then Calliope runs away. 

Grace thinks no more of it until she’s back at her apartment, where Calliope turns up again. This time, rather than packing a musical number, she’s hiding a mortal wound. She dies on Grace’s kitchen floor, and – surprise! – a magical white light does a switcheroo, possessing Grace instead of Calliope. 

We will deliberately lose the detail from here on out, as what happens next is tinsel on a wonderful world building tree. We’d be ruining the satisfaction of seeing it come together. But what we can say is that the murder is a mystery to be solved, and it’s down to you to solve it. This brings you into the heart of a secret society of gods, ensconced in modern society, as you find out that their lives are far from Bacchanalian. Resentment, mistreatment and mental health woes abound.

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THE EYES!

Our first reaction was an odd one that won’t be shared with many other people. We’re big comic readers, and the plot, world and even the character-design reminded us a hell of a lot of one of our favourite comics: Kieron Gillen’s The Wicked + The Divine. If you’ve read that series, prepare yourself for a large deal of deja vu, as swathes of it are present here, from the power of music to the godly whodunniting. We’re not accusing Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical of plagiarism – the interactions in the musical sections alone are enough to push it away – but it was distracting. Which was something we neither expected or wanted. 

But for the 99% of people coming to Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical without having read that series, well, the world and writing are sirens that compel you further in. A huge amount of blood and sweat has clearly gone into making the gods believable, including both their modern and archaic laws. And an equal amount has gone into making them uneasy friends. Draw a spider diagram and there wouldn’t be a single connection between gods that isn’t fraught or tense. 

The quality of the dialogue is perfection. We suspect that the same people who grumble over Barbie will grumble over Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical: it’s fizzingly modern, entirely inclusive and cool as a cucumber. Which of course means that people looking for regressive storytelling won’t find much to love. But we found the quality of the writing to be of the topmost tier. 

The logic’s a little off. Stray Gods aims high, hoping to give you a different experience each time you play, as you woo someone else (there’s a fair few suitors, should you want them), or take a different path to a solution. But we found that, on more than one occasion, we’d created a path through the story that Summerfall Studios didn’t seem to account for. In one instance, we completely forgave a character for a misdeed, only to shout at them about it in the next scene.

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Stray Gods may be different to what you expect…

It’s worth noting here that we expected Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical to be a visual novel. It certainly looks like one in the screenshots. But in reality it’s more like a movie with interactive moments, closer to the FMV games of Wales Interactive than the visual novels of Ratalaika. You don’t tap any buttons to progress the dialogue: the game does it for you. All you can do is watch as events unravel. On occasion, you are asked to say something, but you have a time limit to do so, and the game will merrily continue without your input. It’s a minor difference, but we wouldn’t say it’s a visual novel. 

As the drama and tension build, Grace’s powers as a muse kick in. Austin Wintory’s notes start to tinkle in the background, and a musical number begins. It’s here where Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical is at its cleverest, becoming a strutting colossus. Because there are a number of pivot points in each song when you can jump in and choose the next line. That line gets incorporated seamlessly into the song, which means more than you might think. Not only do the lyrics shift, but the momentum shifts too, as you move to a different result for the story. And not only that, the genre, timbre and speed of the song takes a heel-turn too. It’s impossibly clever, and must have taken inordinate planning.

But – and this leads to subjective point #2, as we don’t believe everyone will have this reaction – the musical numbers were our weakest points of Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical. Some context here: we have been watching Schmidagoon!, a musical on Apple TV that attempts a similar feat: to bring normal people into stage musicals and see if they can adapt. We’re used to the quality of the songs that it churns out on a weekly basis.

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Stray Gods is sexy as sin

We don’t feel that Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical matches its musical quality, not even close. We love Austin Wintory’s soundtracks (Journey is a masterpiece), so it pains us to write it, but none of the songs here are memorable, or really grasp at what we would consider a catchy melody. On occasion, they feel like they have been written in isolation from the lyrics, which don’t seem to truly correspond (at least to our ears). The singers, again, are brilliant, but they feel like they are freestyling or ad-libbing over the music, rather than marrying together to create something we want to hum. It was all a tad discordant to us.

It should be noted that the voice-acting is so top-drawer that a carpenter has to come in to add a couple extra on top. It should be that way, considering the talent involved. Laura Bailey, Troy Baker, Felicia Day and other giants of the field are present, and they consistently lift a quality script even higher. It’s great to hear them in their element. 

The result is a walk with the gods that we thoroughly enjoyed. You can balk at the lack of gameplay or any system that resembles an ‘RPG’, but the reality is this is a clever and alluring movie that puts you in the director’s chair, allowing you to change the momentum and genre with the choices at your disposal. The musical melodies left us as cold as Medusa’s statues, but they remained enthralling thanks to the real-time changes you can make. 

Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical is as flawed as its characters, but there wasn’t a moment we weren’t revelling in its company. 

SUMMARY

Pros:
  • Brilliant art and presentation
  • Sexy as sin
  • Superbly written
  • Plenty of choices and deviations
Cons:
  • The whole package felt too reminiscent of The Wicked + Divine
  • The songs felt flat to our ears
Info:
  • Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to : Humble Games
  • Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), Xbox One, PS4, PS5, PC
  • Release date and price - 10 August 2023 | £TBC

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Kev
Kev
10 months ago

Would be nice to know a little more about the performance on Xbox, as I can’t seem to find anything about that. Is it 60 FPS just like on PC?

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<b>Pros:</b> <ul> <li>Brilliant art and presentation</li> <li>Sexy as sin</li> <li>Superbly written</li> <li>Plenty of choices and deviations</li> </ul> <b>Cons:</b> <ul> <li>The whole package felt too reminiscent of The Wicked + Divine</li> <li>The songs felt flat to our ears</li> </ul> <b>Info:</b> <ul> <li>Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to : Humble Games</li> <li>Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), Xbox One, PS4, PS5, PC <li>Release date and price - 10 August 2023 | £TBC</li> </ul>Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical Review
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