The premise of Slay the Princess is simple. There’s a princess locked in a basement. You need to slay her before she escapes and destroys the world. She’ll do whatever she has to in order to stop you, but you must ignore her lies, her threats, and her sweet words and plunge a knife into her heart. At least, that’s what the Narrator says you should do. But is the Narrator to be believed? What do you want to do?
Slay the Princess is a visual novel horror game. Like many visual novels it is full of branching paths and meaningful choices for you as the player to make. Mechanically, there’s not much beyond progressing text and choosing options from a list. But the myriad ways those options can lead in order to try and discover new conclusions or new paths forward make up the joy of the game. If the idea of a choose-your-own-adventure novel is appealing to you and you don’t mind a bit of horrific imagery along the way, then there’s something for you here.
Let’s start with the visuals. Slay the Princess has an art style that looks like sketches in a sketchbook. Most of the locations in the game are rendered in black and white. The one splash of color you can expect to see is blood, red as crimson in the otherwise grayscale world. This all works with the tone of the game and the quality of the artwork is quite solid, especially the horror elements. When the beautiful princess inevitably goes mask off and becomes one of the many horrific forms you can discover even in just the demo, it’s a great moment. The variety of expressions she conveys from the coy to the seductive to the arrogant to the unsettling provides a fun visual to take in while appreciating the text and the voicework. And just as the Princess herself changes based on how you engage with her, the environment does too. There aren’t a lot of unique locations in the game: the woods, the cabin exterior, the upper floor of the cabin, and the basement basically cover the lot. But these areas change in response to what you do, and looking for cues at what you’ve done to the world around you can make the artwork more compelling.
Slay the Princess is fully voiced and features two performers, Jonathan Sims and Nicole Goodnight. Sims portrays the Narrator as well as every other voice in your head (more on that in a bit) while Goodnight portrays the Princess. Both do well in their roles and demonstrate the sort of range necessary to get across the many personalities that their characters take on. I personally find the voiceover in text-heavy games crucial to my ability to appreciate them, and Slay the Princess benefits from having good talent to bring the richness of the text to life. There were a couple of moments where the voice lines didn’t match the displayed text, but across seven endings I only found this twice and each time it was essentially a one-word difference. If you’d prefer to read the lines on your own, turning the voices off is an option, but I imagine for most that they’ll be an integral part of the experience.
There are a few other aspects of the sound design worth mentioning. One is the use of voice modulation to create multi-tonal voices particularly for the Princess as she occupies various forms throughout the game. It’s an effective tool for conveying the otherworldly nature of the Princess you are meant to slay. The game has lovely music which plays over the introductory scenes as well as some nice unsettling tracks. There’s a great moment early on where a gentle piano is playing as you explore the Princess’s cabin, but once you pick up the knife the music suddenly cuts out. Times like this where silence is effectively brought to bear, or later scenarios where music becomes distorted for one reason or another, really helps to sell the atmosphere.
Naturally in any visual novel, the star of the show is the writing. You are essentially reading a novel after all, so the quality of the text can make or break your experience. Slay the Princess tonally falls in the center of a ven diagram between horror and humor, not to mention a healthy dose of meta self-awareness. If you’ve played a game like Stanley Parable or read a Deadpool comic, you know what to expect here. The story is aware of being a story and uses that awareness to make jokes or acknowledge your expectations. There’s plenty of dry wit in exchanges between yourself and the narrator and the Princess is wickedly clever as well; if you like cutting banter then there’s something for you here. That said, the game isn’t only for laughs. The shift in tone from wisecracks to fear for your life can happen quite swiftly, and there was one moment during my very first ending that legitimately startled me with the way it was presented.
I’ve alluded a couple of times now to the fact that there is more than one path through the demo. In fact, when you reach your first “ending” (that is to say, a reveal of a new Princess form at the beginning of chapter two) the game will inform you that the demo has seven different endings for you to find. Each variation of chapter two also features a new voice to accompany you based on how chapter one concluded. You’ll have to try different combinations of saving the Princess, slaying the Princess, and everything in between in order to see everything that the demo has to offer. This of course does mean replaying content you’ve seen already as you poke around for new possibilities, but the game offers some convenient features for skipping through seen dialogue and progressing at your own pace. And there are so many conversation options that don’t necessarily lock you into a path but instead give more information, allowing you to slightly change up how you interact with the Narrator and the Princess even as you retread old ground.
I had a good time with the demo. Both the Narrator and the Princess do a good job of appearing shifty and manipulative – you don’t really feel as if you can trust either one of them as you proceed. Your choices affect the environment, the Princess, and the voices in your head, so you really feel the impact of each decision you make. This makes doubling back to try something different worthwhile, but new paths aren’t really hidden behind subtle “gotchas” throughout the dialogue. I was able to find seven endings in eight runs and had a pretty clear understanding of how to make a different choice each time – the one repeat ending I got was because I wanted to try a certain approach after already unlocking a different chapter two, which funnily enough sent me back to “chapter two (again?!)” and then otherwise gave me the same outcome as before. I’ll be curious to see in the full game if each chapter two can then branch out into multiple chapters threes, potentially creating an exponentially larger selection of end paths to search for, or if certain paths end at chapter two and there’s ultimately a “true” path that allows you to go the farther into the game. Either way, I’ll be looking forward to slaying the Princess – or not – when the full game releases next year.