October 23, 2023
Black Tabby Games
Black Tabby Games
Released just in time for Halloween, Slay the Princess is a haunting visual narrative that gives you one simple task: slay the princess held captive inside a cabin in the woods. What starts as a simple instruction quickly disappears down a twisted rabbit hole in this existential horror visual novel, featuring powerful voice performances and a few simple design tricks that heighten the experience into one of the most creative narratives this year.
Visual novels are one of my favourite gaming genres, but even I must admit that they are sometimes a bit of a slog to get through. That’s why VNs with unique twists that defy expectations of the genre like Doki Doki Literature Club, hold a special place in my heart. Slay The Princess can now be added to that list.
Exactly why this princess deserves death is a mystery — the narrator, who is not just a storytelling device but an actual character in his own right, pointedly refuses to tell you, and gets increasingly cagey the more you question him. The sketchy hand-pencilled art style ingeniously makes it impossible to guess whether the Princess’s huge, darkly-lined eyes are those of an unhinged maniac, or simply those of a tortured victim.
As you might have already guessed, whether or not you initially choose to slay the princess is just the tip of the iceberg. The story will quite quickly evolve beyond your wildest imaginations into an existential time-looping adventure that pits you against the same starting point again and again. It’s very impressive that so many branches can come out of so simple a beginning: each choice you make has the potential to drastically change the story. There are more than 25 routes in total, each one separated into up to four chapters bookended by your character’s death. When you die, you reawaken outside the cabin again, and the narrator prattles on like nothing has changed…. but it has.
Even seemingly innocuous choices can change the outcome of your route, so it’s a great incentive to play through it again and again. The routes can get extremely dark at times, and players who have trouble with depictions of gore may wish to tread cautiously. But there are plenty of comedic moments too, as you and the narrator bicker and argue about events as they happen. After going through about 5 routes, the game will lead you to one of a few endings where you get to learn what it all means.
Perhaps the most unconventional part of this narrative is that the Princess’ very nature is changed depending on your choices. If you treat her as a suspicious person, she is suspicious. If you treat her as a foe to fight and overcome, she is skilled at combat and will try her best to kill you. If you treat her as an innocent victim, that’s exactly what she is — and always was. The versions of her are not always so literal, though; she can transform in ways that are more allegorical or metaphorical than that, but they always seem to hark back to how you’ve treated her.
Far from being a writing flaw, these inconsistencies are part of the story Slay the Princess is telling. It’s pretty existential, and it took me multiple playthroughs for it to fully sink in, but it’s well worth it.
The voice performance by Nicole Goodnight is convincing in all her versions of the Princess, even if her strong American accent is a little jarring against the English Jonathan Sims’ performance as the Narrator and all other voices.
Each time you progress to a new chapter, a new voice will be added to the chattering inside your head, like unseen angels and devils talking in your ear. They are given names like The Voice of the Stubborn, the Voice of the Paranoid, and so on, but their exact nature depends on how you’re likely to feel after the events of your last time loop.
Of course, the game can’t truly know how you feel, but it was surprisingly astute at guessing in my case. In my first loop ever, I sided with the Princess over the suspicious narrator and tried to free her, causing the narrator to try to sabotage our escape. When this inevitably resulted in my death and the next loop began, The Voice of the Skeptic chimed in to announce his complete distrust of the narrator, which mirrored my own feelings perfectly. It happened again when I trusted the Princess only to be betrayed: afterwards, The Voice of the Cheated expressed how unfair it all was.
These Voices, and their arguments with themselves and the narrator, are a common comedic break among the otherwise dark themes. With that said, their chatter can begin to get tiresome when it goes on for too long. Later chapters and loops can sometimes feature three or more Voices, who can argue with each other for what feels like minutes, and I began to skip over them before long.
“Slay the Princess has a few little flourishes that make the game stand out.”
As a pure visual novel with no gameplay beyond choosing options, Slay the Princess has a few little flourishes that make the game stand out. The entire game is illustrated in rough pencil sketches, which adds to the creepiness of the tale and leans into being a twisted fairy tale. It keeps the visuals interesting by utilising line boiling, an animation technique that makes linework seem to wobble or jitter in place, as well as cool parallax effects that put a bit of movement into otherwise still backgrounds. It also makes for a distorted, twitchy look that fits the game’s atmosphere perfectly.
Another great touch is the cursor, which is a clawed hand that changes to reflect whether or not you are currently holding a dagger — and whether or not it has drawn blood.
- A unique, twisted, and dark take on "save the damsel" fairy tales
- Hauntingly beautiful hand drawn pencil artwork
- A huge number of different routes, each crazier than the last
- Creative choose-your-own-adventure gameplay
- The banter between 'voices' can carry on a bit too long
Slay the Princess is an entertainingly dark and subversive visual novel with hidden depths that makes for a great few hours. For developer Black Tabby Games’ second title, it’s a very encouraging success indeed, and proves that its horror-telling chops in Scarlet Hollow wasn’t just a fluke. I will be keenly looking forward to its next title.