REVIEW – David Gaider and Austin Wintory have proven their talents before, but not in this genre. However, what the duo has achieved with the help of Summerfall Studios deserves attention even if you’re not a fan of musicals (such as the 45-year-old Grease), proving that Stray Gods is perhaps one of the summer’s pleasant surprises.
Gods. Romance. Murder. Musical Numbers?! Play as Grace in a world where Greek Gods hide among us. Change your fate as you draw friends, foes & lovers into song using your powers of musical persuasion to unravel the mystery of the Last Muse’s death.
In her twenties, our protagonist Grace is feeling lost: no career, no family, and essentially relying on her best friend Freddie to find something to ignite that spark in her. It comes to fruition when she runs into a Greek muse, Calliope. She signs up for a local performance, and Grace hears her excellent voice. The two’s acquaintance doesn’t last long: the muse dies, leaving her talents and powers to Grace, and a divine charade (take it or leave it) is set in motion. The game’s creative director is almost a guarantee of success: David Gaider previously worked as a writer on the Dragon Age franchise at BioWare but has done similar work on Neverwinter Nights, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, and Anthem. For example, Wintory was previously the music force behind Flow, Journey, and John Wick Hex, so he knows his stuff. The duo has done a great job of realizing the world the songs dictate.
The characters are fully aware that they are singing about their true desires, and yes, Grace has to convince the greater gods (such as Athena or Apollo) that she did not murder Calliope. All of the events take place in the game over a week, with a verdict at the end deciding which ending we get. It involves the choice we have to make at the beginning. If we choose Charming, then emotional honesty will be emphasized, Clever relies on a logical approach, and Kickass will focus on sticking to our resolve no matter what life throws at us. There will be options in the dialogues for our choices, and then the intention and tempo of the songs will be selectable depending on what you would do. Sounds a bit silly to describe. Thus, seeing it in action explains it much better than this bunch of words do. It sounds unusual in description, and it seems so at first in gameplay. Still, the musical execution is mostly better than what we saw in Balan Wonderworld (where, apart from the musical inserts, the game design itself was lousy, but that’s irrelevant in this case…).
In addition to the gods mentioned so far, others will also appear in Stray Gods: there will be Persephone, for example, who has long competed with Apollo, or Asterio, who would be brought together with Hecate (with the help of a more stylistically appropriate ballad). All of it has to be imagined in the present day, so it is not set in the past (say, The Battle of Olympus for NES/Game Boy), and it is not a superficially written story and dialogue. Grace’s voice actress Laura Bailey also plays a big part in making the story and events engaging. Still, the rest of the cast (Khary Payton, Ashley Johnson, Janina Gavankar, or the all-around Troy Baker) also gave good performances.
The main element of the story itself (learning to let go) is excellent and especially resonates with those who themselves suffer too much for whatever reason. The ambitions of the gods are also somewhat understandable, as Athena can be sympathetic when she has to kill those close to her to protect the fallen; furthermore, they are also ‘passed on’ (with their memories!) in the same way that Calliope did at the beginning of the adventure. Tragically, there is no escape from trauma, and suicide is not a solution. The portrayal of loss makes the game stand out, too, and the melodic gameplay is a plus but also a minus, as the volume seems unbalanced in most places, and Stray Gods suffers from minor technical flaws. They do not detract much from the experience, but we had to dock from the rating because of that slightly…
Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical deserves an eight out of ten. If it had been released in a slightly better state, it could have easily gotten an eight-and-a-half out of ten because the story is good, the music is enjoyable, the presentation is excellent, and the atmosphere is fantastic. Still, the graphics will not be to everyone’s taste. It takes about 7-8 hours to play through, and maybe it’s worth playing more than once because there are options that might make you curious and want to see how you could have done things differently. So Stray Gods is a pleasant experience and is recommended, especially for those who like Gaider’s work.
+ Greatly combines gameplay with music
+ Excellently written, tragic story
+ One playthrough is not enough
– Not everyone will like the graphics…
– Volume balancing is poor
– Minor technical errors
Publisher: Summerfall Studios
Developer: Secret Base
Style: musical RPG
Release: August 10, 2023.