[Rapid Review] Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical
Posted on August 20, 2023 by Dawn in Reviews, Switch eShop
Release date: August 10, 2023
Developer: Summerfall Studios
Publisher: Humble Games
Greek mythology has been a popular inspiration for video games for some time now, with both AAA series and indie titles placing us into the world of the pantheon of gods and their various conflicts, which are typically resolved with violence. Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical brings with it a different approach, giving us a modern-day setting and challenging us to resolve our differences through the power of song. The result is something that probably won’t be winning over the hearts and minds of those averse to breaking out into song with the flimsiest of excuses anytime soon, but will have anyone else singing its praises.
Stray Gods puts you in the shoes of Grace, a college drop-out in a band going nowhere who finds herself suddenly thrust into the role of the last Muse in the Greek pantheon when the previous one, Calliope, dies in front of her. The leader of the Gods, Athena, decides that Grace needs to die for Calliope’s murder, unless she can prove her innocence in time. With the stakes laid out, the player is thrust into the center of a murder mystery that unravels across three acts via Telltale-style narrative choices and, naturally, musical numbers.
While dialogue choices are usually minor in nature and will only change the dialogue of the scene slightly, at two points you will need to choose between three different aspects that will open up options to change the outcome of events, and can even change the lyrics and focus of songs. Some dialogue options will be visible but locked out if you didn’t pick the aspect that they’re aligned to, which gives a feeling of weight to your decisions, and also gives the title some replayability. All choices will lead to the same ending, but Grace’s relationship with characters can be vastly different depending on what you pick.
The songs are the highlight of Stray Gods, and I found most of them to be catchy and engaging, with only a few awkward lines that felt like they’d be forced in rather than because they fit the tone of the song. As you can directly influence the lyrics of each song at multiple points, changing their tone and outcome completely, the writing here is praiseworthy for its relative lack of these awkward moments, which often come across more as cheesy than cringeworthy. This is exactly what you would expect from a stage play that doesn’t take itself too seriously most of the time which, despite the severity of its central conflict, Stray Gods doesn’t.
To support its soundtrack Stray Gods is backed by some of the industry’s most recognizable voice talent, including Laura Bailey as Grace and Troy Baker as Apollo. If you recognize the voices behind the characters then this is icing on the cake, as it’s quite something to hear them in solos and duets, displaying a side of their vocal talent that isn’t displayed in many (if any) other roles that they’ve taken on in the past. Each member of the Greek pantheon is a fresh modern-day take on the mythological figure on which they’re based, and while they lack the depth you might expect from a character-driven story, have enough charm that investing time in them through dialogue feels rewarding. And, of course, you can romance almost the entire pantheon if you make the right (or wrong, if you’re not keen on certain characters) choices.
Stray Gods also has a unique visual presentation, with an almost cel-shaded comic book style with static character models and backgrounds. Despite the lack of animation this is quite striking and colors are especially vibrant on the Switch OLED in particular. However, I experienced some instances of visual blur and noticeable slowdown at multiple points, which is both surprising and disappointing considering the quality of the rest of the product, and how little there is going on visually at times when compared to other titles on the Switch which can hold a consistent frame rate. Patches may address this in future, but this may be something worth keeping in mind if you have other options.
Although its short runtime means that it often lacks the narrative depth of its peers, Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical is a delight from its opening act to its finale, making up for what it lacks in substance with an abundance of style. If you’re not a fan of musicals then this probably won’t be something that changes your mind, but if you’re not averse to characters spontaneously bursting out into song at the slightest excuse then this is a unique and entertaining experience well worth picking up.