Slay the Princess Original Soundtrack


Review by · January 9, 2024

You’re on a path in the woods and you hear some simple, soothing music. That music comes from the new visual novel Slay the Princess, developed by indie studio Black Tabby Games. The melody you hear continues as you have a conversation with the voices in your head. As you approach the cabin and interact with the princess, the music changes. Sometimes, it changes drastically. Sometimes, it’s full-on dissonant and cacophonous. Other times it is ambient, atonal. But eventually, the familiar melody will return somehow, some way.

The gameplay loop in this complicated branched-path VN is one I thoroughly enjoy. I also enjoy the music, though I must agree with my colleague when he wrote in his review that the most striking feature of the game’s sound design is the full voice acting, not the music. However, even if it isn’t the star of the show, the soundtrack for Slay the Princess is one worth better understanding. And that’s exactly what I’m here to do.

When I delve into understanding a game’s soundtrack, I typically start with the composer. In this case, composer Brandon Boone was a name I’d not heard before. However, he appears to be a prolific composer for various forms of media, with nearly 2000 songs available on his Bandcamp page. That said, most of these tracks are demos, music for podcasts, and occasional scores for film and animation. The only other game I can find him credited for is Black Tabby’s previous game, Scarlet Hollow. So we’re listening to the work of an experienced freelancer who has only dabbled in game music, this being his second project with a single studio. Contextually, I think this is notable because it helps explain what I hear.

In many ways, this soundtrack is just as much about sound design (or “soundscape”) as it is about composition. With the exception of the game’s primary melodic motif “The Princess,” which is appropriately re-used many times over as the player learns more about who and what this princess actually is, much of what Boone does in this soundtrack is distort until the theme is gone. Like the princess herself and the art and dialogue around her in the game, Boone crafts the soundscape as the player descends down each branching path. For example, in “The Witch,” the melody appears sparsely under a minor key with harmonic guitar strums as a synth orchestra rises from underneath. Going forward, “It’s In Our Nature (The Witch II)” keeps the strums, gives the melodic piano the occasional spotlight, fills in percussion, and adds loads of horror-style sound effects and distortion. By the time we reach “Two Miserable Wretches (The Witch III),” it’s all about screeching, horrifying sound effects, not to mention creepy breathing in time with the simple percussion. If you’ve played this portion of the game, you recognize how smart this sound design is, even if it isn’t entirely palatable as a standalone listen.

While this explanation generally applies to the paths the player and the princess (Spectre, Nightmare, Beast, Razor, etc.) take, there are some stunning exceptions to the dark, atonal sound design. Most of these involve UK-based vocalist Amelia Jones, who also recorded music on the immensely popular Hollow Knight soundtrack. She provides beautiful vocals for all movements of key musical number “The Shifting Mound” (also a variant of “The Princess” motif, for reasons obvious to anyone who has played the game). Jones’ vocals are taken to new heights, however, on the powerful pieces “The Apotheosis” and “Transformation.”

One of the coolest things about Slay the Princess is the “custom playlist” feature. With each playthrough, whatever ending you reach, the end credits include a list of all the songs heard in your playthrough in order of appearance. This gives you a sense of what you did and didn’t get to hear as you progress. To my knowledge, it is impossible to hear all 55 tracks in a single go, so completionists can actually use the custom tracklist versus the game’s full OST to get a general sense of what they may have missed. For my part, I didn’t find my way to “Apotheosis” until my third playthrough, and I was definitely floored by the quality of that tune when I reached it.

All told, it’s clear that Boone is a talented sound designer, and he’s fantastic at creating a simple melodic motif from which to build. The Slay the Princess Original Soundtrack isn’t strong enough for me to claim it as “music of the year” material, per se; however, it was good enough to grab my attention while I played the game, and taking the time to listen to it on its own merits has been an enjoyable experience.

I hope he takes more jobs in game music, from Black Tabby and other studios, as I think his strengths could help build stronger atmospheric scores in a field where melody and harmony tend to overpower: that is, indie game music, and especially indie visual novels. If you wish to support Boone and the team, the soundtrack is available as part of a Steam DLC “Supporters Pack” bundle. You can also buy the soundtrack on its own via Boone’s Bandcamp page.

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Patrick Gann

Patrick Gann

Therapist by day and gamer by night, Patrick has been offering semi-coherent ramblings about game music to RPGFan since its beginnings. From symphonic arrangements to rock bands to old-school synth OSTs, Patrick keeps the VGM pumping in his home, to the amusement and/or annoyance of his large family of humans and guinea pigs.