Speaking as probably the biggest musical theatre nerd on the team, I have kept a close eye on Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical. From first-time studio Summerfall Studio and now-seasoned indie publisher Humble Games, this title has received an almost suspicious amount of pre-release buzz thanks to its partnership with Critical Role, with two of that show’s cast members prominently featured in the game and an utterly insane list of all-stars rounding out the rest of the cast. Thanks to a demo dropping for Steam Next Fest, I’ve finally been able to get my hands on Stray Gods, so what’s the payoff for all of the antici…pation?
Before anything else, the first thing to know about Stray Gods is that calling it a “game” is stretching things a little. This title is effectively a long, interactive movie. with input from the player determining dialogue choices and, assumedly, branching paths. This demo is a fairly rigid experience, and none of the choices you make here will affect the rest of the half-hour play session, but it would seem that the player will be able to make decisions that at least affect which characters appear in which scenes.
Early on, you are presented with three color-coded personality paths for the main character Grace – one aggressive, one charming, and one clever. Most of the rest of your choices will correspond with these colors, and the one you pick initially will give you a few opportunities to pick dialogue choices that would be locked if you’d chosen another path. There isn’t enough in the demo to see to what degree your chosen course will affect your outcome, and for the most part, you are welcome to pick any of the three presented choices regardless of color, so you’re not totally locked in at the beginning.
So, with the game being an almost entirely story-focused experience, I’ll get into the parts of the tale presented in this demo. It’s notably not just the beginning of the game – while the longest part is focused on the first two musical numbers as the intro to the game, it then jumps to two other scenes that highlight Pan and Apollo more specifically.
The game starts with auditions for Grace’s band, where it quickly becomes apparent that she – having just “finished” college – feels rather aimless at this stage of her life. You’re given a moment to attempt to flirt with her close friend Freddie, but once Grace is left alone in the auditorium, the first song begins, with her singing about being a boat adrift on the sea. It’s a bit on the nose, but as a first impression, it’s a pretty strong one that really starts to sell how this title’s sound direction takes advantage of its cast.
For the most part, the regular voiced lines are left unaltered for their environment, meaning that everyone sounds about equally close to the camera. Rather than being off-putting, I actually found that it made for a pretty intimate experience that reminded me of many audio dramas and fictional podcasts I’ve listened to. It also means that, with no lip-syncing required, all of the on-screen characters are static images, so the dialogue sounds natural to the ear.
As for Stray Gods’ musical numbers, while I’m somewhat frustrated that the studio didn’t pull from the long list of voice actors with more stage-singing experience (though the demo doesn’t include Anthony Rapp of RENT fame as Orpheus), Laura Bailey does sound very pleasant as Grace. She can demonstrate her immense tonal range well. Grace is going through a bizarre and difficult situation that I don’t want to get too far into here, and Bailey turns in yet another excellent performance.
I was also very impressed with Felicia Day as Athena, who was almost unrecognizable until I looked at the cast list again, and Troy Baker as Apollo, singing for (as far as I know) the first time in a game since Bioshock Infinite. Both show a lot more talent as singers than I had previously known them to. Khary Payton doesn’t have much to do in this brief demo as Pan, but given the nature of his character, I’m sure we’ll see a lot more of him in the full game. Ashley Johnson as Calliope may have a relatively small part in the full game but sounds absolutely lovely here.
The dialogue choices do not stop when the music starts, either, with entire themes and leitmotifs dependent on your chosen path. Pan’s song can play out in multiple ways, and Grace can show differing levels of empathy to Apollo depending on whether she sides with him or Calliope. The songs aren’t much to write about, but they’re all nice to the ear and feature interesting melodies and interpolations as different characters attempt to understand each other.
For a demo that only lasts about half an hour, Stray Gods has already left a big impression on me. This game will not be for everyone, given that it’s nearly a visual novel with musical numbers. Still, from this short taste, I can tell that the team behind it are leaning very heavily into its possible strengths. The questions I have left for the full experience are whether it will have the replay value needed for this kind of title and whether marketing it based on its voice talent alone will be enough to make it successful.
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