As a soundtrack critic, I have often been asked for my thoughts on musicals and whether I consider them to be film music. My answer to that question would be that I would consider a musical as film music if the songs were written specifically for a movie and the movie is not an adaptation of something like a Broadway show. With that in mind, I expected my first review of a musical to appear on this site at some point. To my surprise, this first musical review is not about a musical written for film; it was made for a video game instead.
Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical is the first game by the Australian video game company SummerFall Studios, and it is quite innovative. The musical part is not just a gimmick in the game. It is its core feature. Not only does the singing make perfect sense in its story, but it is also crucial to the gameplay. The story is about a protagonist, Grace, who becomes a muse in a world in which Greek gods are living amongst us. After being accused by the other gods of murdering her predecessor, she has to find a way to prove her innocence. With her new powers as a goddess of inspiration, she can make the other gods sing and manipulate them to sing in a particular direction, to recover some of the truths to help her case. These directions are color marked for the player and correspond to different traits. Green (Charming) is about being empathic, red (Kickass) is about being bold and blue (Clever) is about being smart. When the player chooses one of the traits for Grace during the performance of a song, it transitions in that direction, with unique lyrics based on the trait but also with different music supporting it. As a result, and in contrast to songs in a regular musical, there is no one version of a song in Stray Gods. There are millions of interpretations depending on the player’s choices. As you can imagine, this is a massive task for a music director to achieve, but composer Austin Wintory, who advocates creating new ideas and has been involved in composing for games for a long time now, should be able to do it. Especially since he is partly responsible for the idea of combining a musical with a videogame.
For this endeavor Wintory collaborated once again with Tripod (Scott Edgar, Simon Hall and Steven Gates) as the songwriters, after having worked together on projects like Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, and he also got help from Australian Eurovision contestant Montaigne. Together they wrote the songs with all their different variations for the cast of voice actors to sing. The line-up for these actors was also quite impressive, with names like Laura Bailey as Grace, but also with Troy Baker, Felicia Day and many others playing the roles of the other Greek Gods, and all of them had to sing.
As a result of so many variations of the songs and music, it is almost impossible to write a review for the soundtrack of the game. There is the possibility of finding one version of a song that could have been better while another version of the same song is absolutely gorgeous. To tackle this problem, I looked at the Pantheon Edition, an album that contains a balanced interpretation of the songs using different colored traits that also includes the score used to bridge all the songs together. I also looked at playthroughs of the game on the internet, in order to experience different versions of the songs.
There is not much to be said about the music composed for the space between the songs. Because songs are such a vital part of the game, the music in between is subtly in the background, most of it using a melody from one of the songs. As a result, none of them really stand out, as was the intention. The exception to this subtleness is of course in the end credits, although which version you hear in the game also depends on which traits you used as a player of the game.
I am not the biggest musical enthusiast. Some have amazing songs that I adore, such as The Phantom of the Opera, Frozen or Les Miserables, but overall it is not something I am drawn to. Summerfall Studios drew inspiration from the iconic musical episode from the 90’s show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and I can certainly see the resemblance in merging a serious story with musical songs. I found the story of the game quite compelling, and it worked pretty well with the songs, which resulted in quite a few songs that I found beautiful, like “Adrift,” “The Chorus is in Accord,” and “The Throne.”
The songs I just named are not the only reason I like the songs and music from the game. The main reason for me is the originality and innovation of how these songs came to be. Not only how they were created by the composers, the songwriters, the musicians and the singers, but how it is up to you, as the player, to use their superb creations as puzzle pieces and to use them to make your own version of the perfect song.
If I have piqued your interest, I recommend listening to the Pantheon Edition first. Austin Wintory also released three other albums: the Green, Red and Blue Editions, containing versions of the music and songs that are more focused on each of the traits, but I do think that the best way to experience the songs and music for the game is in the way they are meant to be: by playing the game.
Music director: Austin Wintory
Score composers: Austin Wintory, Joris Hoogsteder and Alex Moukala
Songwriters: Austin Wintory, Simon Hall, Steven Gates, Scott Edgar and Montaigne
Cast: Laura Bailey, Janina Gavankar, Ashley Johnson, Erika Ishii, Felicia Day, Merle Dandridge, Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, Troy Baker, Khary Payton, Abubaker Salim, Lauren ‘Lolo’ Spencer, Anjali Bhimani, Anthony Rapp, Allegra Clark and Rahul Kohli
The Pantheon Edition
Listen or buy
- Buy this soundtrack digitally from Bandcamp.com (Recommended, contains all albums), Amazon.com or Apple Music
- Listen to this soundtrack on Spotify
The highlights are in bold.
- Adrift (3:51)
- I Know How It Feels to Be Lost (1:15)
- The Apartment (2:28)
- Mount Olympus (1:26)
- The Chorus Is in Accord (1:50)
- I Am the Real Article (2:18)
- I Can Teach You (4:33)
- A Muse Elicits (1:00)
- Fragments of a Muse (3:38)
- Phantom Pains (4:45)
- Prophecy Is the Last Thing You Need (0:37)
- The Oracle (3:15)
- Underworld (4:11)
- Challenging a Queen (5:31)
- Old Wounds (2:20)
- A Satyr Atop Olympus (3:05)
- The Reliquary (2:43)
- Asterion (1:05)
- Cast a Spell (6:53)
- A Gathering of Guests (3:23)
- The Ritual (6:30)
- Do You Have Any Suspicions? (1:40)
- Entering the Viper’s Nest (1:20)
- Look Into Me (5:24)
- It Must Seem Unfair (1:35)
- It Is Written (1:30)
- The Muse’s Steps (4:11)
- An Empty Apartment (2:14)
- Welcome to the Real Underworld (1:47)
- The Throne (7:05)
- I Found Someone While I Was Down Here (3:31)
- It’s Time (3:40)
- You Knew the Truth This Whole Time (2:16)
- Clearing the Air (1:44)
- Adrift (reprise) (1:23)
- I Need to Make It Right (1:09)
- If Only (2:29)
- Welcome to Old Olympus (2:46)
- The Trial (7:49)
- The Decision (1:27)
- I’m Exhausted (1:16)
- If Only (reprise) (1:52)
- Everything (2:21)
- End Credits (Pantheon) (2:28)
Total length: 2 hours and 9 minutes
T-65b Records (2023)