Stray Gods: The Role-Playing Musical is a harmonious triumph

One of the year's most unique games comes from an incredible creative team led by former BioWare Edmonton writer David Gaider

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Much has been said about how good this year has been for games.

From already released titles like The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the KingdomFinal Fantasy XVIStreet Fighter 6 and Baldur’s Gate 3 to upcoming heavy hitters like Starfield, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 and Super Mario Bros. Wonderthe 2023 release calendar has been absolutely stacked.

In a sense, though, that’s a bit exhausting, especially for someone who has to follow the industry. (First world problem, I know.) It’s for that reason that I’ve taken to developer Summerfall Studios’ Stray Gods: The Role-Playing Musical so much. I was already interested in the game, but its tighter six-ish-hour narrative-heavy focus is exactly what the doctor ordered right now. It’s a breath of fresh air in a sea of massive games, and it’s a remarkably unique and compelling choose-your-own-adventure title in its own right.

In Stray Gods, you follow Grace, a young woman who lives in a modern city occupied by hidden Greek gods. When one of them is killed, Grace finds herself accused of murder, leading her to race to clear her name. It’s a solid premise that immediately gets you invested in Grace’s journey, as you simultaneously feel bad for her circumstances while also grounding us in her fish-out-of-water situation among the Greek pantheon.

The script, penned by Canadian writer David Gaider (BioWare’s Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Dragon Age games), deftly balances the colourful and often quirky personalities of the cast with heavier themes of trauma, loss, and love. Gaider also takes his time with some meticulous world-building, particularly in all of the interpersonal relationships between the gods. The deities themselves are all memorable in their own ways, from the suave, Lenny Kravitz-esque Pan to the hunky emo Apollo. Given that the game is presented through a series of static images, it was especially crucial to have appealing character designs, and Stray Gods, with its sharp comic book-esque art style, has those in spades.

Stray Gods song choiceIt also helps that Stray Gods has one of the most stacked creative teams I’ve ever seen in a game. On top of Gaider, Stray Gods has a staggering voice cast that includes Laura Bailey (Grace), Troy Baker (Apollo), Ashley Johnson (Calliope), Mary Elizabeth McGlynn (Persephone), Janina Gavankar (Freddie), Khary Payton (Pan), Felicia Day (Athena) and Merle Dandridge (Aphrodite). Everyone involved delivers a strong performance, especially Bailey, who deftly goes from playful and sassy to vulnerable and tender.

But of course, this is a musical, so that part of the experience needs to be especially strong. Thankfully, Summerfall has brought on Grammy-nominated Journey composer Austin Wintory to work on both the score and overall direction of the sound. This meant taking Gaider’s branching script and ensuring it weaves seamlessly into the catchy musical sections, and the results are truly impressive.

At many points during a song, you’re given one of three dialogue choices (sometimes involving siding with a particular character), and that will affect the flow of the piece, all in real time. What’s more, songs can often vary in genre and tempo, so it’s all the more commendable that Summerfall has managed to blend everything together so smoothly as you play. In this way, the typical timed choice you’d face in other interactive fiction works feels much more distinct. Here, you’re serving as a de facto stage manager of an engrossing production, and it’s immensely enjoyable.

Stray Gods deitiesThe only area in which Stray Gods falls short is in its explorational elements, or lack thereof. At certain points, Grace will arrive at a place of interest and have to investigate for clues, like people to talk to or searching a room for objects. However, the game presents these in a simple list that you have to scroll through and confirm your choice. It’s a profoundly dull choice that also removes any ability to actually feel like you’ve discovered anything yourself, since everything that can be interacted with is just plainly visible in the upper-right corner. Thankfully, these moments don’t happen too often, but they’re nonetheless disappointing when they appear.

Because, on the whole, Stray Gods: The Role-Playing Musical is far more creative than that. It takes well-worn territory like Greek mythology and infuses it with an exceptional amount of style, wit, and emotional depth, thanks to some of the industry’s top writing, acting and musical talent. And because the game isn’t overly long, the replay value instead comes from the mind-blowing number of variations of each song. I’ll definitely be coming back for an encore.

Stray Gods: The Role-Playing Musical is now available on PlayStation 4/5, Xbox consoles, Nintendo Switch and PC.