Slay the Princess begins with a simple scenario: There is a princess chained to a wall in the basement of an isolated cabin. You need to murder her (hence the name of the game) or the world will end.
You probably have a lot of questions. Why is the princess linked to the end of the world? Is murdering her really necessary? Why is she even in a cabin? Slay the Princess is happy to indulge the player in every line of inquiry, and it leads down a fascinating rabbit hole. It’s a fantastic, weird little visual novel, and it’s a perfect Halloween treat to savor.
Slay the Princess doesn’t extend beyond the traditional visual novel structure of dialogue, responses, and selecting a choice. Its story invokes both fairy tales and eldritch horror, and the scenes are depicted by wonderful hand-drawn portrayals of the Princess and her surroundings.
The protagonist is also accompanied by a narrator — one who fills the archetype of a standard, stuffy, sharply accented intellectual. The player can (and should) question the narrator’s actions, as the narrator is the one pushing them toward the cabin to slay the princess. You can technically beat the game in about three minutes by following the narrator’s directions to a T, but things get really interesting when you decide to blaze your own trail.
A particularly rebellious playthrough of Slay the Princess takes about three or four hours, but after my first non-joke playthrough, I only earned about 20% of the Steam achievements. Do you bring a knife into the basement with you to meet the princess? Do you try to lower her guard by convincing her you’re there on innocent business? Do you try to save her, or delay her execution? When her corpse is at your feet, do you check her pulse?
Variations in these seemingly innocuous choices spiral outward into an evolving nightmare. Reality is malleable, and death is never the end of the story. The narrator isn’t the only one telling the tale; the protagonist has a great deal of agency, and finds themselves joined by a chorus of voices that guide them through their journey. The Voice of the Hero’s motivations are pretty obvious from his name, but he’s joined by the Voice of the Smitten, or the Voice of the Hunted, to name a couple, and it quickly becomes a cacophonous gallery.
Slay the Princess’ audio design is my only real gripe. The titular princess is an important character who shifts across many permutations, and I always enjoy speaking with her thanks to her voice actor. The narrator is also well acted and helps build the atmosphere. However, all of the voices that join the journey can make certain parts of the story drag. The whole peanut gallery will weigh in sometimes, even if they don’t have anything new to say.
Overall, this is a delightful little game that’s difficult to explain without spoiling. It’s a Halloween treat to find a visual novel that encourages the player to experiment in an attempt to chase down all the secrets hidden within. There are no real jump scares — just grisly, unsettling imagery that stuck with me long after I finished the game.