I’ve performed loads of video video games over time which have each rewarded and punished me for the alternatives I’ve made, creating this highly effective sense of company within the narrative. These video games really feel like I’ve a hand in shaping the end result of the story, one through which efficiently navigating a difficult dialog is empowering and never fairly discovering the phrases for a tricky heart-to-heart is devastating. Stray Gods: A Roleplaying Musical builds on that sensation however inside the three-act construction of a musical. This mix is a powerful accomplishment, and it is unimaginable to observe how all these decisions can construct on each other, culminating in a finale that you simply helped form. Collectively, it makes Stray Gods one of the memorable gaming experiences I’ve ever had.
Set inside our world–but one through which there’s an oz of fact to the myths surrounding the Greek gods, titans, and their multitude of offspring–Stray Gods begins off like your typical visible novel. Conversations pause with the intention to current you with a mess of dialogue choices, a few of which let you achieve extra perception into different characters whereas others push the story ahead to the subsequent scene. Virtually instantly, you’ve an opportunity to flirt together with your cute greatest buddy and kickstart one in every of a number of totally different romances. There’s consolation on this familiarity. After which the sport rapidly reveals what separates itself from its contemporaries: the music.
You actively take part in each musical quantity throughout Stray Gods runtime, of which there are a lot of throughout its three acts. Like conversations in choice-driven visible novels and RPGs, every tune can department, and the consequences of your decisions impression not solely the path of that specific tune however each efficiency that succeeds it. Decisions are divided into three categories–Kickass, Intelligent, and Charming–informing each the strategy by which you are attempting to persuade somebody of one thing, and the way a tune can remodel. Kickass decisions are aggressive and confrontational and make songs tackle a extra punk rock vibe, whereas Intelligent decisions are considerate and strategic and lean into jazz. Charming decisions, then again, are empathetic and caring and create a extra melodious tune. Although the entire songs may start a technique, they will drastically change relying on what you select.
So far as I can tell–there are a number of decisions to make on this recreation and I solely replayed every tune so many occasions earlier than shifting on–every path a tune can take flows collectively. I can not fathom how troublesome a job that’s to drag off (we’re speaking totally different genres and tempos but it nonetheless has to all really feel like the identical tune) nevertheless it’s all tightly woven collectively into this lovely symphony of sound that leans into the transformative qualities of music to discover the whole lot from fated heartbreak to lingering trauma. It additionally helps that this formulation works wonders narratively, as the sport sees you tackle the function of the final Muse inside the Greek pantheon as she explores the therapeutic powers of music.
In Stray Gods, you play as Grace, a standard human thrust right into a demise sentence when the management of the prevailing Greek pantheon–Athena, Aphrodite, Apollo, and Persephone–mistakenly condemns her for the homicide of Calliope. Grace was the one one current through the ultimate moments of the Muse’s life as she bleeds out from a stab wound, resulting in the false accusation. Grace is allowed every week to show her innocence, looking for solutions and chasing down leads with the assistance of her greatest buddy Freddie.
Inside the world of Stray Gods, the members of the Greek pantheon move their souls, or eidolons, to the closest individual to them once they die, and so Grace inherits Calliope’s talents and turns into a Muse, giving her the ability to assist anybody reveal their true emotions or absolutely specific themselves via tune. She additionally inherits Calliope’s household as nicely, placing her within the orbit of Hermes, Pan, Eros, and different entities of fantasy, a lot of whom have their very own motivations for wanting to assist Grace monitor down Calliope’s killer.
It is a implausible story with a rewarding sense of company in the way you method conversations and your general investigation. Very early into the sport, I began to suppose that I wasn’t going to unravel the case or that I would even take the autumn for who I suspected to be the true killer as a result of I did not need them to die. So I figured my greatest probability at survival was accruing allies and being good to probably the most highly effective members of the pantheon so when the week ended and Grace’s trial rolled round, I would have individuals to face by my aspect and say I should not die anyway even when I used to be responsible. As extra was uncovered and I stumbled into more and more troubling revelations, I spotted I probably wasn’t jetting towards both conclusion I initially thought I used to be. However my choice to collect as many allies as doable nonetheless got here in clutch by serving to me circumnavigate a number of points within the late recreation. There have been lots of people who felt indebted to me, and so they allowed me to go to locations and discuss to individuals I should not have in addition to stood up for me in moments the place occasions might have gone south very rapidly. My decisions have been honored.
The Greek pantheon–now calling themselves the Idols–is a messy bunch, struggling to outlive lots of of miles away from house in America with a lot of their quantity (together with the large three of Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades) gone, both as a result of they walked away from the Idols or as a result of they died with nobody close by to soak up their eidolon. Grace, approaching them with the recent perspective of somebody who has solely not too long ago turn into a god, is ready to assist them sort out their points with the extra fervent immediacy of a mortal, wielding the ability of music to assist these gods delve into no matter drawback has been ailing them for many years, typically centuries.
However music is such an interpretative energy. When Grace invitations somebody to sing together with her, you are normally not being instructed how somebody feels. And so every tune turns into this balancing act of individuals, utilizing music, rhyme schemes, and playful wordplay to try to attain a spot of emotional understanding and catharsis. It transforms what in any other case may need been easy conversations into intense battles of emotion, all sides bouncing off each other with fastidiously crafted improvisation. And simply as these musical numbers may be humorous and joyous at occasions, they can be completely heartbreaking. Nonetheless, they’re at all times memorable and culminate in a musical finale that’s constructed from all of the music and emotional connections that you simply managed to create. Most of the scenes in Stray Gods are going to sit down with me for a very long time, particularly those the place it appeared like there was no actual proper reply to the troublesome morally grey questions being requested, resigning me to information Grace as greatest I might and hope for the most effective. It sometimes labored, nevertheless it simply as usually did not. No matter how I pushed Grace to behave, the outcomes at all times had an impression on what occurred within the tune subsequent and the way the end result of the interplay in the end influenced the path of the story.
That mentioned, it isn’t simply your vocal performances that decide your destiny. Between performances, you may be tasked with chasing down clues behind Calliope’s homicide, deciding who to speak to and in what order, and investigating crime scenes. The moment-to-moment gameplay of crime scene investigations is a tad too simplistic to supply a rewarding problem-solving expertise, which is my one main gripe with the sport. When Grace is investigating an area, you are given an inventory of things to have a look at and also you simply preserve clicking via till you arrive on the clue Grace is in search of. Fortunately, these moments are few and much between. The remainder of the sport is conversing with characters, and gathering clues relying on who you select to speak to and what data you belief to share with them. Typically Grace must lie or maintain again on sharing data to protect a relationship and be taught one thing necessary, and different occasions being aggressive or truthful or charming is the best way to go. There’s precise technique and consequence to your investigation in terms of speaking to people–the essential crux of the game–and that fulfills the fantasy of being a musically-inclined crack detective.
Early within the recreation, you get to decide on whether or not Grace is an particularly Kickass, Intelligent, or Charming individual, and this opens up distinctive dialogue choices that additional form how particular person relationships play out. It is simpler to show your price to the in-your-face disgraced Queen of the Underworld Persephone if Grace has entry to Kickass choices, for instance, whereas a Intelligent Grace can go toe-to-toe with the secretive goddess of knowledge Athena or the mischievous god of chaos Pan. These dialogue choices do not appear to have as impactful an impact on the story as an entire, however they do inject some welcome replayability into Stray Gods if–like me–you wish to see all of the totally different ways in which every tune can play out and also you need how Grace interacts with individuals to be barely totally different playthrough to playthrough.
Stray Gods can be only a nice recreation to have a look at and take heed to. Emulating a comic book guide look and artwork model, it incorporates a number of motion in its scenes, rapidly shifting the place and stance of various characters and objects so as to add a frenetic pull from shot to shot. It helps information your eyes throughout the display screen, creating a way of motion with what is actually a number of nonetheless pictures. This additional personalizes sure characters, lending narrative weight to how they transfer and act. Apollo plods via scenes with a drained discomfort, for instance, whereas Medusa virtually appears to slither together with her extra rhythmic and weave-like actions. However extra importantly, it provides to the spectacle of every musical efficiency, drawing inspiration from the likes of Broadway or Ok-Pop music movies to create an attractive animatic-style cinematic expertise. Each musical quantity is a spectacle that additional reinforces the significance of every alternative you make but additionally helps you perceive the vibe that you simply and the opposite singer are creating primarily based on what decisions you are making.
It actually helps that Stray Gods has an unimaginable vocal forged, a lot of whom can draw you into the subsequent musical efficiency inside just a few notes. Essentially the most notable standout is Laura Bailey (The Final of Us Half II’s Abbey and Marvel’s Spider-Man’s Mary Jane), who completely dazzles as Grace, weaving back-and-forth between musical genres and giving the protagonist a lovable spunk. However there are many different enjoyable surprises as nicely. Anjali Bhimani (Overwatch’s Symmetra and Apex Legends’ Rampart) is phenomenal, completely killing it as Medusa throughout my favourite musical variety of the whole recreation. And each Rahul Kohli (Midnight Mass’ Sheriff Hassan and Harley Quinn’s Scarecrow) and Allegra Clark (Apex Legends’ Bloodhound and Dragon Age Inquisition’s Josephine Montilyet) convey cute vitality to the monstrous Asterius and Hecate, respectively. I might go on, however the level is that the pool of actors for this recreation is a proficient one, and every imbues their very own character with vitality that is concurrently recognizable and but brand-new.
And there is an intriguing factor to that divide. For example, Bhimani hisses with monstrous glee in terms of Medusa, however there’s an underlying sense of self-hatred and concern as nicely. The primary part–the monster–matches the frequent preconception of Medusa however the latter doesn’t. As you meet increasingly more characters, you may see how all of the actors use their musical performances to nudge sure questions into your mind, convincing you to go uncover what has modified about these well-known legendary figures. And the need to tug on these threads and unveil extra of this world compels you ahead with earnest curiosity, having the probably meant impact of drawing you additional into the overarching thriller of each who killed Calliope and why. As you higher perceive who these individuals have been and what they’re now, the reply to these questions turns into ever extra compelling to pursue.
Stray Gods: A Roleplaying Musical is among the coolest video games I’ve performed shortly and I think about its strongest moments will sit with me for fairly a bit. Having seen cluttered whiteboards that present a glimpse of the huge branching storylines in some RPGs and visible novels, doing one thing like that however for songs–a technique of communication that doesn’t observe the conventions of conversations at all–is extremely spectacular. However the of us over at Summerfall Studios managed to drag it off, making a recreation that explores the extraordinary therapeutic energy that music can have in our lives and wrapping all of it up in a compelling homicide thriller the place the implications of your decisions can have drastic results on a weakening Greek pantheon simply attempting to outlive within the modern-day. It is a implausible visible novel and I can not wait to play via it once more.