You and I know how music impacts a game. It heightens the drama and soothes the soul. There are entire genres for it: rhythm and dance games. But has any let you design your own musical? Not that I know of, save for music programs themselves. It’s one thing to correctly move to a beat, but it’s another to actually “play” through music, visit new worlds, and make choices that impact storylines.

After five years, ninety recording sessions, and hundreds of hours of labor, Summerfall Studios debuts Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical. It’s a murder mystery with a massive branching narrative and an inventive, unique draw: players affect the story as well as the sound.

What Is The Stray Gods Story?

Stray Gods Hermes Grace

You play as Grace, a young woman feeling adrift in her contemporary life. She’s part of a band holding auditions for new members, but it looks like no one showed up. When everyone leaves, Grace starts to sing alone, but a stranger, Calliope, joins in. Feeling a bit better, Grace goes on with her day.

Later that night, a bleeding Calliope staggers into Grace’s apartment. She dies in her arms before Hermes whisks Grace away to face the Chorus.

Consisting of Aphrodite, Apollo, Athena, and Persephone, the Chorus accuses Grace of murdering Calliope. Turns out, she was the last muse in the Greek pantheon. Grace has only a week to prove her innocence, and so begins the investigation.

Stray Gods Gameplay

Stray Gods Freddie Grace Pan

Thankfully, Grace inherited Calliope’s power; she can instantaneously sing musical numbers to draw out people’s true selves. Pretty handy for sussing out suspects.

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There are three personality types you can roleplay. Red is generally aggressive. Green is compassionate or empathetic. Blue is intellectual. Each has its own consequences that affect narrative and musical outcomes. Some choices may be locked off due to personality.

Stray Gods plays mainly like a visual novel. Advance the story with the options presented. In addition, there’s a time-sensitive aspect during musical numbers. Use context clues in the story and song to inform your judgment. Get ready to make pivotal choices in the moment as emotional vocals soar through your eardrums.

A Peek Behind The Scenes

Stray Gods Grace

Let’s take a look into the production and its technical prowess. According to Austin Wintory, the game’s music director, Stray Gods is “not an RPG” but “an extension of the idea of improv theater”.

David Gaider, lead writer for BioWare games, wrote for this game as well. Wintory claims Gaider did more work on this project than as a lead for a AAA studio. That’s because he had a team with BioWare as opposed to solely approving every word on Stray Gods.

Stray Gods Persephone Underworld Apollo Grace

There was only one rehearsal. Laura Bailey, Troy Baker, Anjali Bhimani, Ashley Johnson, and Wintory gathered in the studio a couple of days before officially recording. Live instrumental was recorded separately by soloists around the world. Wintory often had to blend three or more genres together like jazz, 90’s rock, or disco into one song.

Roughly six hours of music is featured in the game. Three hundred and sixty hours went into recording overall. With so much, Wintory plans to release four albums on Bandcamp; one for each personality and another with mixed traits. After all, “each song exists in… a quantum state of possible songs.”

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Song And Story

Stray Gods Song Arc

This post illustrates the complex breakdown of choices within a song. Wintory explains, “The whole point of it is to be compounding. If I chose kickass at the beginning and then I immediately chose charming, there’s a difference between if I did the flip of that tonally.”

Someone initially blowing up and asking for forgiveness is one scenario. It’s separate from someone just chilling around and then cussing you out. “The song can’t… just be slotting in a thing. It has to remember where you’ve come from and tell that story. [It] accounts for every conceivable possibility.”

Well, why can’t you explore every option and play out all the parts? He highlights the need “to impose structure even while giving the player a lot of agency”. The structure calls for the music to end, or it won’t feel like a song. Lyrics and choruses would repeat ad nauseam. After all, the show must go on.

What To Expect From Stray Gods

Stray Gods Pan Freddie Grace

Stray Gods certainly delivers on its main selling points: beautiful art and music. Its character designs are conventionally attractive but not milquetoast. Its art direction utilizes an array of colors. Locations and characters feel distinct within the setting.

And it’s a musical, which requires its music to be good. Although, I haven’t heard any show-tuney earworms in particular. That’s probably because of its nature; the player affects the music. I imagine it’s hard to write a pop hit when it morphs and evolves within itself in multiple ways.

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Stray Gods Aphrodite Grace Eros Apollo

There is little “movement” or character animation from what I’ve seen. I imagine it’s due to the immense amount of work. The game plays out like a storyboard with frames transitioning to another. This method isn’t inferior, but I found the static nature can offset the pacing a little. Personally, it’s because I want to be further immersed and take in more art.

Another selling point can be the crazy branching narrative. Wintory states, “The grand finale has literally… seventy-something million possible ways it can play”, but that claim is “slightly pedantic” because results can be extremely similar. However, he promises “at least thousands of possible… narrative… [and] core experiential differences” like character relationships or who is still left alive.

Grace Stray Gods Freddie Pan

However, it isn’t the developers’ goal to scavenge for every single bit. It’s to roleplay, hence the name. Of course, musicals aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. Neither are visual novels and narrative games. But for a passion-driven, originally immersive experience check out Stray Gods.

Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical is available on Nintendo Switch, PC, PS4, PS5, and Xbox Series X/S.

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Luke Sakanashi
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