Slay the Princess
Screenshot by Destructoid

Review: Slay the Princess

The princess is in another world.

Slay the Princess is both easy to describe, and difficult to truly dig into. The best I can offer is a word-salad of genre titles and inspirations: horror meta-narrative visual novel with hand-drawn visuals and strong voice acting, something akin to The Stanley Parable meets Mundaun.

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And it can get even more difficult to pin down as it goes on. Slay the Princess feels dreamlike, constantly shifting but staying focused on the drama and tension between its characters. It is simple to get into, but Black Tabby’s words will linger in your mind long after journey’s end.

So let’s start at the beginning.

Slay the Princess (PC)
Developer: Black Tabby Games
Publisher: Black Tabby Games
Released: October 23, 2023
MSRP: $17.99

Into the woods

You find yourself in a forest. After you wake, a disembodied voice dubbed The Narrator tells you there is a Princess. And you have to slay her, or the world will end. You must truly Slay the Princess.

While this may seem straightforward, you don’t have to play along right away. A series of options lines up on the right-hand side. Do you ask questions? Do you argue with the Narrator? Do you despise the notion that violence must be enacted without reason? Or maybe you simply embrace the revolution. There are, after all, no right answers. Just answers.

Screenshot by Destructoid

Black Tabby Games may be choosing the text dialogues for you, but these responses were impressively elaborate, ranging from basic questions to flippant contrarianism to deep interrogations of the philosophical issues surrounding, well, killing a Princess. Even in the opening moments, it’s clear the player should engage with the text and react to it, in more ways than simply advancing a plot forward.

Eventually, you head towards the cabin, optionally pick up a knife set out for you, and head down into the basement to greet a Princess in chains. And still, you’re offered options. The Princess can talk and reason with you. Are you going to hear her out?

Screenshot by Destructoid

Slay the Princess revels in this tension, put mostly simply by the Princess if you reach her cabin with a blade in tow: “At the end of the day, whatever the two of us have going on down here is about trust.”

Trust is important as, it turns out, the Princess is no ordinary Princess. And she may be a bit more than you’ve bargained for. The title of this game makes the task seem easier than it really is.

What stays and goes

If you played the demo of Slay the Princess before, you know there’s more going on than a simple encounter in the cabin. Situations repeat, yet you and the Princess retain knowledge. Alongside that, voices creep up in your mind, shifting from the pair of just the Narrator and enigmatic Voice of the Hero to a big block party of Voices: the Broken, the Cold, the Smitten, the Hunted, and more.

Revealing this here doesn’t feel too much like a spoiler, because there’s even more narrative framework hanging overhead. The story has an intrinsic loop built into it, one that sees you returning and repeating, poking and prodding for changes.

Screenshot by Destructoid

It’s a system that highlights the best parts of Slay the Princess: the reactivity. There is an impressive, even daunting number of permutations a single encounter can go through, and Black Tabby Games has done a great job of accounting for all of the little nuances.

Taking the blade down into the cabin’s basement is an obvious one; first impressions are everything, and it’s hard to convince someone you mean no harm when you showed up with a knife. But maybe it’s not just actions. Words can have an effect, too.

The branching paths are rewarding, not just for sheer scope, but how they make each playthrough feel tailored. Your run may have similar encounters, but they might change or even produce entirely different Princesses based on small differences in the actions you take. Each gets a handy name, like the Razor or the Thorn, to help drive their imagery home.

Screenshot by Destructoid

These Princesses can take on all kinds of shape and dispositions towards the player, creating the horror of the story. Betraying the Princess might be easy to do in one loop, but how do you think she’ll react if she remembers that in the next? And if you try to show mercy, would a Princess you’ve previously stabbed and fought truly believe it? So many decisions layer on top of each other, all creating new ways of experiencing the same basic forest-cabin-basement setup until it’s altogether changed.

As loops layer over each other, it can get hard at times to track where you’re at. Thankfully, Slay the Princess is a fairly short experience. I clocked in at about 4-ish hours for my first run, and there’s nothing in the way of filler. It’s easy to go back and check permutations as well, and you really should. I was constantly surprised by how the developer put in so many choices, yet thought through how each would pan out, especially in concert with previous decisions.

Drawing conclusions

Alongside the story, a massive draw for Slay the Princess is its art. Black Tabby Games uses a hand-drawn style, similar to their work on Scarlet Hollow, and it’s incredibly effective in Slay the Princess. What might seem simple at first can evolve and warp, and the art adapts well to different spaces and concepts. When the world starts not just shifting, but changing in its basic physical structure and even entering into the realm of surrealism, the art matches its pace well.

Screenshot by Destructoid

A few well-placed animations and other surprises keep the tension high, too. I don’t know that I’d say this is an outright jump-scare game, but there were moments where I was peering at the text and dialogue through gaps between my fingers. Some of the most impressive horror happens when things get capital-W Weird, and it’s laid out incredibly well by Black Tabby’s art.

Voice performances also help drive the terror home. Slay the Princess has just two actors to its credits: the Princess, portrayed by Nichole Goodnight, and the Voices, by Jonathan Sims. Each gets to really show their range, as different evolutions and permutations change their presentation. Scared, terrifying, broken, domineering, and everything in between comes through in just their voices.

There were a few times where technical hitches cropped up. Borders on art would lift out from the bottom of the screen, and some voice lines sounded like mics had been swapped out. They’re hitches I can mostly excuse though, as they never really pulled me out of the moment.

I will follow you into the dark

It’s tough to talk about what happens in Slay the Princess without describing the actual mechanics getting you there, or the way it builds to an incredible showdown that beautifully ties in your choices in ways that feel thoughtful and meaningful. So I’ll have to, as Slay the Princess sometimes does, speak in the abstract.

Slay the Princess is, to me, about finality. It’s about the looming idea that everything we do is, to some degree, impermanent. Not just death, but our creations, the things we make. The words I’m writing here are as permanent as the servers they’re stored in, and the eyes reading them. And we fight, desperately, to maintain some level of legacy that outlasts the unstoppable advancing of time. The life, the love, and the legacies all will, eventually, fade.

But it’s the ways in which those experiences form and shape us moving forward that’s beautiful. Carrying pieces of your past with you, whether they were helpful or difficult, pretty or ugly, shapes the You that moves forward. It makes those moments permanent, and can even give them new meaning, as we better understand ourselves and those around us.

They say every door closing opens another. It’s certainly true in Slay the Princess, where every gory, somber, bitter end just leads into the next. But they do, eventually, arrive at something new, and something we have the opportunity to shape for ourselves if we allow it.

Slay the Princess is a horror meta-narrative visual novel about the choices we make, and how they change us and those around us. It’s about the interpersonal relationships that can wound us, make us versions of ourselves we never imagined, yet teach us. It is a damn good story, and one worth experiencing.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]

A hallmark of excellence. There may be flaws, but they are negligible and won't cause massive damage.

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Image of Eric Van Allen
Eric Van Allen
Senior Editor - While Eric's been writing about games since 2014, he's been playing them for a lot longer. Usually found grinding RPG battles, digging into an indie gem, or hanging out around the Limsa Aethryte.