Reviewed on Xbox Series X
The idea of a musical visual novel featuring Greek gods and a supernatural murder investigation certainly seems like an unusual premise. Luckily, a star-studded cast fronted by Laura Bailey as Grace and Troy Baker as Apollo delivers an epic experience that is unlike anything the genre has seen before. Emotions take centre stage from the broad cast of supporting characters that consistently evolve and add a surprising layer of depth to each and every character.
When the music hits the narrative isn’t put on pause with the characters telling the story, laying bare their emotions and continuing to grow throughout the many powerful ballads that animate the world and its cast in unison with its rather static animation style. For a game that relies so heavily on its still, comic-book like art-style every scene feels full of life. Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical is more than a visual novel or a musical, it’s a masterful blend of both worlds that delivers a beautiful experience that can unfold in many ways thanks to its excellent approach to branching narratives.
Playing as Grace, voiced by the incredible Laura Bailey, Stray Gods wastes no time in setting the scene, introducing the first of many songs, the choices within them that allow the player to tailor the song and the story, and establishes her story as being in the wrong place at the wrong time and accused with murdering a God.
The player and Grace quickly find themselves at the centre of an investigation in to the death of the Greek God Calliope, and assuming her role as the Muse while this unfolds. Graced, no pun intended, with musical powers of Calliope in the moments before her death in Grace’s arms, Grace is swiftly introduced to the Gods she called family.
You can watch my FULL PLAYTHROUGH of Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical below.
Apollo is the chiselled God of Sun and Prophecies, voiced masterfully by Troy Baker, and is perhaps Grace’s most important connection between her world and that of the Gods, with Apollo providing a sympathetic voice of reason as Grace adjusts to her newfound God status and attempts to win over the family of Gods and prove her innocence. His buff, open shirt surfer appearance may be in stark contrast to how we perceive the mythological figure from other media but Apollo’s presentation here is a fun introduction to the idea of these Gods inheriting their powers from the originals. Every God in Stray Gods have inherited the Eidolon of the original Gods, a soul-like essence that is transferred in their final moments to live on in their new host. This idea is a fun way to infuse the Greek mythology in the modern setting without the stereotypical presentation and style of what we’ve come to know.
Persephone is the more cynical rightful Queen of the Underworld, less accepting of Grave’s innocence and more reluctant to let her guard down and open up to the newly minted God. Of the many Gods present throughout the story Apollo and Persephone were the two that stood out the most, their part in Grace’s tale and the evolution of their relationships with her made the deepest connections with me.
Every character has their place and purpose, with none of them feeling superfluous to Grace’s story and the broader narrative as a whole. The layers, depth and personalities that emerge as a result of the players many dialogue decisions are consistently interesting and worthy of exploration, encouraging subsequent playthroughs to further explore possible scenarios and relationships or to see the other sides of the characters that may not have been represented based on the players choices.
Romance options are available to pursue and explore with a number of the supporting characters as well. Driven by the choices made through both dialogue and song, Grace can romance these characters which also influence how the other characters perceive her and those she pursues a relationship with, offering more interesting elements to the family dynamic of the Gods at the heart of the murder mystery.
The way that Stray Gods unfolds outside of a traditional narrative driven experience is unique, opting out of using cutscenes to push the story forward but instead relying on dialogue and music. The evolution of the story, characters, their relationships and the songs themselves all occur and change based on the player’s response and selection from three or four options throughout each song.
Having the lyrics change to reflect these choices and further shape the story towards the myriad of potential outcomes is just another reason Stray Gods is designed to be replayed, experienced in a new light by selecting more neutral, cautious or aggressive responses. Considering a single playthrough can be completed in as little as three hours, Stray Gods is highly convenient to replay.
The hand drawn style is striking, with bold, vivid lines and colourful backdrops that paint a world as beautiful as the character depth and narrative arc that accompany the visuals on this canvas of creativity. Modern flair, piercings, tattoos and hairstyles illustrate the Gods as modern while maintaining their ancient personalities and traits that mainstream media have attributed them in film, television and video games.
The only remotely negative point that comes to mind is how the inclusion of lip-syncing or facial animation could amplify the experience. Witnessing the songs and story play out could only possibly be improved, in my opinion, with this implementation. That’s being rather nit picky but to have that as my only slightly negative note is a massive victory in my personal experience.
Impeccable voice acting, singing and general sound design punctuate the experience with intensity, emotion and vulnerability for each and every character that Grace becomes entangled with in the supernatural murder mystery at the root of this musical narrative. To see such a well-rounded cast deliver dramatic and musical performances so seamlessly, especially when considering how instantly the musical aspect becomes integrated in every instance, is remarkably satisfying and enjoyable.
+ Stunning visual style
+ Masterful performances
+ Interesting story
+ Choices that matter
+ Perfect length
– Lack of lip-syncing or facial animation, for at least the singing, is a missed opportunity
Developed by: Summerfall Studios
Published by: Humble Games
Release Date: August 10 2023
Platforms: Xbox One/Series X|S, PlayStation 4/5, Nintendo Switch and PC
* DISCLAIMER: A digital code was kindly provided for the purpose of this Review *
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All digital photography captured in-game by Games of DAYNE