Adventure Corner ~ Slay the Princess
Welcome to Adventure Corner, a column where members of the RPGamer staff can give their thoughts, impressions, and pseudo-reviews for various adventure titles that don’t come under our usual coverage. Adventure Corner is aimed at delivering opinions on a wide range of titles including visual novels, point-and-click adventures, investigative mysteries, and so forth.
In this edition of the column we take a look at Slay the Princess’s thought-provoking passionate story on PC through Steam.
Slay the Princess
The spooky season brings out some of the most interesting stories. Psychological and philosophical horror has ways to tap into a person’s mind that just aren’t replicated in any other medium. Black Tabby Games’ Slay the Princess takes two intellectual opposites in the contrarian Princess and the player-controlled Hero, exploring many different outlandish but equally thoughtful ways for them to interact. It’s an intimate dive into various parts of the human psyche in the form of a visual novel with impeccable voice acting to make sure each choice is well conveyed.
The story begins with Narrator telling Hero, in a delightfully droll voice, that they are on a path in the woods leading to a cabin with a princess locked inside. They are to slay that Princess, or else the world will end. The Hero, referenced as the Voice of the Hero, reacts in accordance to player choices and is portrayed as a well-intentioned everyman. There are dozens of different ways to interact with the Princess, all leading to various fascinating possibilities. The Narrator is the only true constant, always pushing for the Princess’s death. This Princess is wary and intelligent, sounding equal parts disarming, witty, sarcastic, passionate, and absolutely terrifying in response to the player’s choices. The Hero tries to keep up, but often falls prey to being the straight man as a form of shrill comic relief to the insanity around him. Why the Hero is here in the first place is a mystery that takes time to unravel. Figuring out what is happening behind the scenes is just as captivating as seeing the choices unfold in the foreground.
Every possible interaction with the Princess is memorable. Slight shifts in choices, such as whether or not to go into the basement carrying an ornate knife, can send the situation careening into an entirely new direction. It’s easy to question the state of things as both the Narrator and the Princess know more than they are letting on.
The vast majority of choices end in the Hero being killed. After the Hero’s first death the scene shifts back to the path outside the cabin in the woods. The path, cabin, Princess, and basement all warp to fit what choices the player made in that first meeting. The Narrator, however, has no recollection of that first meeting, while the Hero thinks it’s a case of déjà vu, and except for two key differences things look likely to play out in a similar manner. First, the choices that the Hero made in that first meeting lead to a new voice being added; for example, if they acted cowardly, then the voice of the Coward joins as a secondary character to the Hero. Secondly, the Princess remembers everything.
The Princess is stronger, faster, and always seems to be one step ahead of the Hero. The heart of Slay the Princess is this tug of war matching the Hero’s every move with the Princess’ unfair amount of physical and mental prowess. But that is only one piece of the whole as there’s so much more beyond this delightfully complex game of cat and mouse. Many routes reach a logical conclusion after that second meeting, with some rare third or even fourth continuations. After the route concludes, the player leaves the Hero behind and reaches an emptiness; empty, except for an entity that is growing on the knowledge gained from the Hero’s interactions with the Princess.
This entity has already experienced one possibility and they want more. The player is then sent back with the lure that when the entity learns enough, they’ll understand what is really going on. Thus the player finds new ways of making the Hero and Princess react as the prior choices are grayed out. This effectively counts as a reset, with none of the cast in this time-looping farce retaining any prior knowledge. This in turn pushes the player outside of their comfort zone as they find new ways to interact with the Princess that can be at odds with their personal feelings.
Digging through the various combinations of choices is fascinating. Every possible outcome of the Hero’s meeting with the Princess is well thought out. Paths that feel unhinged or drastically different are all grounded in forms of fundamental debates of the self. There are plenty of allegories to an unhealthy relationship in here as well, as the more that the Hero and the Princess fight each other the more commonality they find with one another. These thought experiments are played out in a macabre dance between the Narrator, the Princess, and the Hero all pulling and pushing at the player to explore every point of view. Every route drips with unease and a perverse sense of passion as the Hero and the Princess cannot escape each other. None of the characters ever feel like they’ve changed too much from what drives them, making it a glorious exploration of psyches.
The majority of Slay the Princess is shown off with a beautiful black and white hand-drawn art style. Bits of red heighten the anguish and impact the choices made in this violent dance as blood starts to flow. The alternate forms the Princess can take are all highly detailed but can be traced to her default design. The same level of detail is reflected in the path and each level of the cabin.
However, the performances of its two voice actors — one for the Princess, another for the other roles — are what make the game stand apart. Every shift in character brings about a new cadence and intent to the voice and none of them feel out of place. The Princess’s behaviour changes drastically depending on the choices made, and there is impressive variety to the Hero’s inner voices, while the Narrator does a great job tying everything into the same warped universe. Every route has voiced lines that are performed so eloquently that they have a unique edge that is both hypnotic and eerie to listen to. The music that accompanies each shift in demeanor through the chapters also ties things together nicely. There’s always a sense of unease that ramps up to abject terror depending on the situation, though some tracks have a soft melancholic touch as well.
Slay the Princess certainly isn’t shy about beating the player over the head with a surreal combination of elegance, raw emotion, and tense uncertainty. With a six-hour minimum runtime, it gets a surprising amount of mileage out of a seemingly simple walk to a cabin, while the hand-drawn style and voice acting combine for a fiercely intimate and visceral dance. Fans of psychological or philosophical quandaries that aren’t too squeamish at the sight of blood will have a field day with this title.
Disclosure: This article is based on a free copy of the game provided by the publisher.