Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical Review

Stray Gods The Roleplaying Musical Header

The most remarkable thing about Stray Gods isn’t that it’s a narrative-based role-playing musical murder mystery. No, it’s that, despite being a narrative-based role-playing musical murder mystery, Stray Gods ends up as a disappointingly tedious experience.

Stray Gods stars Grace, a singer in a band who feels like she doesn’t belong in the world – we know this because she sings about it in the game’s first of many musical numbers – but her world is rocked when she meets Calliope, who just so happens to be a muse. What kind of singer wouldn’t want to hang out with an ancient Greek goddesses who can inspire mortals in science, literature, and the arts? Except that Calliope promptly ends up getting murdered, popping her proverbial sandals in Grace’s apartment. Not before she grants Grace her muse powers, mind.

The Chorus – a quartet of gods hiding in plain sight from the modern world – blames Grace for the murder because… reasons. Grace is guilty until proven innocent and will be put to death unless she can find out who actually did the dastardly deed and did in poor Calliope. And so begins one of the most boring adventures I’ve experienced in 2023.

Stray Gods protagonist Grace

The tale of Stray Gods is told in the style of a comic book. Visually the game is reminiscent of a Bandes dessinées graphic novel and is frankly gorgeous, with an art style that is slick and exciting. The character design of the many NPCS you meet is striking and compelling, I just wish someone had told the voice actors to emulate that. For a game that involves a lot of talking, it’s baffling how every actor – other than Hermes, who is a vocal breath of fresh air – sounds exactly the same; bored. The voice-over work is slow, stilted, and stuffed with unnecessary pauses. There were times when I nearly dropped off listening to Apollo – voiced by the usually brilliant Troy Baker – drone on and on.

Matters of narcolepsy aren’t helped by the fact that the game doesn’t really need the player to do much. Now, I know that’s an accusation that can be levelled at most narrative adventure games, but the best in the genre do make the player feel that their decisions have consequences. Unfortunately, Stray Gods fails in this remit. Dialogue choices that the player makes, whether in song or not, rarely match up to what Grace actually says. There’s no smoke and mirrors here, the game is quite blatant in the fact that it will trundle along on its own path, regardless of player input. Even the character types you choose from at the start of the game – charming, intelligent, or angry – have little effect. Choose the charm dialogue option by all means, then go ahead and be disappointed when Grace doesn’t say or do anything even vaguely charming. It all adds up to the feeling that the player doesn’t need to be involved and is just there to follow along with the story. When the story is protracted and predictable, that’s not much to get excited about.

Stray Gods dialogue decisions

The worst crime Stray Gods commits isn’t murdering a muse, though, it’s murdering music. For a game so heavily marketed as being a musical adventure, the songs just suck. I mean, they are bad, really bad. Most are just bland and boring, but some are borderline unlistenable and make the ‘Scuttlebutt’ song from the recent remake of The Little Mermaid sound like a work of lyrical genius in comparison.

There’s a great cast of voice actors for this game, but that hasn’t translated to music, and they often struggle with the singing in Stray Gods. Not only that, but the mixing feels wrong – Pan is incredibly loud, while Grace is unusually quiet – turning duets into a dud. The musical numbers add nothing to the story or character development, weirdly they just further slow the pace of the game, taking minutes to convey what a couple of lines of dialogue could do in seconds – yes, that’s true of musicals in general, but you really feel the way it affects the story’s pacing here.

Ultimately, musical numbers are hard to write, perform, and choreograph, and, if nothing else, Stray Gods proves that.

When I first heard of Stray Gods, I was intrigued. A video game musical might not totally work, but at least it would be interesting to play, I thought. How wrong I was. The concept of Stray Gods is the most interesting thing about it, but the execution is boring to the extreme. If you want a fun musical video game experience, you’re better off watching Singing in the Rain whilst repeatedly changing the volume on the remote. That way you’ll have better songs, a more enjoyable story, more interactivity, and a greater sense of player control than Stray Gods provides.
  • The graphic novel visual style is very nice to look at
  • Great character design
  • Voice acting can't match up to musical singing
  • Player choices don't feel meaningful
  • Musical numbers are a bit pants