Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical Rewrites the Rules
Developer Summerfall Studios has boldly ventured into uncharted territory with their latest video game, Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical. While gaming offers a plethora of genres, the musical has been a neglected artform. Sure, rhythm games abound, but when was the last time you witnessed Kratos belting out a Broadway-worthy number?
Stray Gods breaks the mold, fusing a narrative murder-mystery with the allure of Greek Gods and a star-studded cast of video game voice actors. The game’s dramatic musical numbers, reminiscent of the grandeur of the stage, captivated its audience. This crowdfunded venture proved that there was a demand for a video game that pays homage to the world of musical theater.
Determining whether or not you’ll be enthralled by Stray Gods comes down to one simple question: Were you a theater kid in high school? If the answer is yes, then there’s a good chance that this loving tribute to musical theater will leave you spellbound. However, if the acting bug never bit you, Stray Gods may not offer the same level of spectacle.
An Immersive Musical Experience
Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical takes the form of a visual novel with intermittent musical interludes. The story follows Grace, a human musician who inexplicably finds herself in the realm of Gods after the murder of Calliope. In a bid to clear her name, Grace sets out on a quest to unveil the true culprit among a vibrant cast of Greek Gods. This whimsical murder mystery allows Summerfall Studios to put a modern spin on mythology, resulting in a captivating premise.
Right from the start, it’s evident who Stray Gods aims to enthrall. Its aesthetic can only be described as “Tumblrcore” (if you’re unfamiliar with the term, you’re probably not missing out). This game begs to be immortalized through fan art, capitalizing on the appeal of Hades’ seductive deities. Eros, a muscular and bearded stud, barely cloaked in thin strips of leather, and Persephone, with her commanding presence, are sure to make hearts flutter. Each God has been ingeniously reimagined in the realm of a dating simulator, enhanced by the exceptional voice cast, featuring industry veterans such as Laura Bailey and Troy Baker.
While the project boasts many commendable elements, it struggles to harmonize its aspirations as both a theatrical and gaming experience. The story unfolds entirely through illustrated visual novel sequences that resemble motion comics. Gameplay primarily entails making choices to further conversations, which in turn affects the progression of the story. Even the so-called “investigation” segments involve selecting objects from a text list on the side of the screen instead of actively searching for clues.
A Lackluster Performance
This limitation extends to the musical sequences, as the choices made during dialogue alter the lyrics and tone of the songs. It’s an impressive feature that compensates for the scarcity of showstoppers in Stray Gods. While the melodies, impeccably composed by Austin Wintery, and the stellar performances by the voice cast (Khary Payton steals the show as Pan) are undoubtedly praiseworthy, the lyrics, constructed with the intent of advancing the multiple storylines, do not reach the same poetic heights as a Lin-Manuel Miranda masterpiece or a Björk composition.
Despite this, a select few musical numbers manage to shine. One standout song revolves around a bashful Minotaur attempting to woo his love interest through a heartfelt serenade. I have the option to let him stumble through his amusingly inept love song, or I can intervene and save the day before the climax. These delightful moments effectively capture the essence of the visual novel setup, yet leave me yearning for more.
On both stage and screen, musicals thrive on spectacle. Unfortunately, Stray Gods falls short in this regard, with its musical sequences resembling animated storyboards rather than fully realized spectacles. Sweeping songs play over static frames, underscoring the challenges faced by Summerfall Studios, a small studio with ambitious aspirations limited by budget constraints—albeit one that managed to secure a star-studded voice cast.
This is where additional gameplay elements would have proven beneficial. Last year’s We Are OFK offered playable music videos as musical sequences, complete with mini-games. Similarly, Sayonara Wild Hearts successfully merged the emotive power of musicals with rhythmic action gameplay, evoking the sensation of executing choreographed dance routines. Stray Gods, on the other hand, feels akin to providing lines to actors during a dress rehearsal. I yearned for the excitement of opening night.
Stray Gods will undoubtedly resonate with theater enthusiasts who prioritize shipping attractive Gods above all else. There is a sizable audience enthralled by this concept, and Summerfall Studios caters to them with a delightful murder mystery that explores themes of defying fate and finding one’s own voice. With any luck, this initial production will grant the studio the resources necessary to stage an even grander spectacle that more effectively fulfills its Broadway ambitions.
Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical will launch on August 10 for PlayStation 4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch, and PC.
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