October’s What We’re Enjoying comes from Catherine Sharp.
Some people think that musical theatre is the worst of all art forms. This review is not for them. But if you enjoy it when characters burst into song to express their feelings and intentions; if you like choose-your-own-adventure narratives; if you’ve ever wondered what the Greek gods would be up to these days… Then Stray Gods: A Roleplaying Musical is for you!
I’ve been looking forward to this game from the very start, even before the Kickstarter opened, when it was being hyped on social media by its lead writer David Gaider (formerly of Bioware’s Dragon Age franchise). Roleplaying with music? The ways the songs play out depend on your choices? It sounded intriguing and delightful and frankly ambitious, and I was curious how the newly-formed Summerfall Studios were going to pull it off.
And they did. The music is catchy and the voice acting top notch even if the standard of the singing is a bit patchy at times despite the inclusion of some well-established musical stars such as Anthony Rapp. The story is satisfying, the romances fun, and the art style and animation are minimalistic but distinctive and well-suited to the story.
Best of all, Summerfall have delivered on their promise to have the songs form the core of the gameplay and change depending on your choices, sometimes drastically and sometimes multiple times within a single song. I’ve played it through four times so far, with various combinations of character and romance options, and I still haven’t discovered all the variations of the music. In fact, they’ve released not one soundtrack album, but four!
In Stray Gods, you play as Grace (voiced by Laura Bailey), a twenty-something singer in a band with no clear direction in life. A chance encounter with a woman named Calliope (Ashley Johnson) leads pretty quickly to Grace meeting the Chorus. Lead by Athena (Felicia Day), these contemporary leaders of the Greek gods – the Idols – straight away accuse Grace of murder, with a week to prove her innocence.
But Grace has inherited Calliope’s Muse powers and can make anyone sing – with sometimes unexpected outcomes. With the support of her bestie Freddie and the Idols Apollo, Persephone and Pan, she works her way through challenges and investigations to find the true killer, while discovering that the Idols are definitely not quite who the myths and legends say they were.
It’s fairly quick gameplay – around 4-5 hours – and the setpieces are the same every time, including a party at Aphrodite’s, encounters with the Minotaur and Medusa, and a trip to Hades (which bears little resemblance to the one in the game of the same name). But at each turn you have choices to make, often based on the traits you have chosen for Grace (charming, clever or kick-ass), and many of these are during the songs which fit very naturally into the storyline. And these choices determine not just the song variations but also the final outcome of the game.
There’s no combat apart from some song battles, and no real horror, but there are some moments I found chilling, and some incredibly emotional moments too.(I cried more than once.) There are character arcs for all the supporting characters, not just Grace, with Persephone’s in particular packing quite a punch – she’s probably the character who’s least like how she’s usually portrayed.
So if you’re a fan of Hadestown – or Hades the game – and retellings of myths; if you like Critical Role; if you’re into musical theatre; if you like a romance option or four… Then don’t hesitate. Join the Chorus now! And look for my name in the credits… a perk of having backed the Kickstarter!
Available now on all major platforms.