Few titles these days can survive the saturated gaming landscape with modest presentation; what that takes is either pushing game design beyond previous expectations or a story that reshapes our thinking or tugs on the heart. Slay the Princess attempts the latter. While I won’t call Slay the Princess revolutionary, the mind candy it offers entices over and over again.
We awaken in the woods, our actions dictated by The Narrator. He tells us that we must slay the princess or the world will end. The player then faces several dialogue decisions, some of which are exploratory in nature and don’t commit an action. Other options lead to a wide range of outcomes. Should we venture toward the cabin’s basement in which the princess is held captive? We can go barehanded or brandishing a dagger. How we approach the princess is also up to us, but our decisions up to this point may also affect how she reacts to us.
Slaying the princess may be quite simple. Or perhaps it won’t. Even if it were simple, the game doesn’t necessarily end there, and whenever it does end, players are met with surprise after surprise as the game encourages loops to witness different outcomes. Those outcomes may even lead to other outcomes. Whether or not the player dead-ends early, Slay the Princess is chocked full of fantastic writing and imaginative mental chew.
What is ostensibly a cute, simple game with hand-drawn visuals turns out to be an amalgamation of the bizarre and philosophical inquiry. Make no mistake: Slay the Princess is not a schlocky shock-value-dependent gore-fest. In fact, I’d argue the odd quality it boasts is more imaginative than shocking, though some offputting events do occur. Regardless, everything unsettling is described and discussed tactfully and with the maturity of a game that “has something to say.”
Fourth-wall breaking happens on occasion, but not cheaply so. Should you pursue certain endings, your mileage may vary regarding the amount of violent vs. thoughtful outcomes. Each route has a tenuous link to previous actions, giving an air of unpredictability which may frustrate some who are looking for a logical cause-and-effect relationship, but, honestly, I enjoyed each ending I earned so much that I didn’t mind the loose connection between my actions and the result.
Which leads us to the best possible collectible a game could ever offer: endings. No, we’re not grabbing stars, all-powerful blades, or filling out a codex; much better, we are collecting story-rich content. Cheap, easy collectibles like those just described are oftentimes enough to get people grinding away for hours—and there’s nothing wrong with that—but Slay the Princess is almost singularly built around catching all of ‘em endings. This is difficult to execute in a game because it hinges on the developers’ ability to create novel, fascinating content rather than casually throwing in a one-line difference across endings, which we have seen far too many times in other games.
In a sense, the game is the endings. In a rare twist, Slay the Princess has a fantastic journey that finalizes even more fantastically. Now, a thoughtful reader might ask: is it frustrating accidentally getting the same ending over and over? Well, the game makes it clear early on that repeat routes can’t occur, and the story is built around this, too. After completing a full game of Slay the Princess and starting over, though, repeats can occur, which is a tad unfortunate because this a New Game+ type of option could solve this.
This is one other way Slay the Princess falters: accessibility. If one is savvy enough, they will locate the Accessibility menu within the Preferences section, but the user interface doesn’t do Slay the Princess any favors. Chocked full of white text, those who don’t correct the font size will at some point be inundated with dialogue options that require a great deal of scrolling to navigate. Certainly, this occurs on default settings. To make matters worse, sometimes strings of new dialogue are nested in the middle of dialogue options, making following a string of choices a needlessly cumbersome task. With some adjustments to the user interface and making the game a little more user-friendly, Slay the Princess could achieve legendary status. Yes, sadly, the presentation alone in this regard hampers the experience so much that repeat playthroughs may not appeal to most, though it doesn’t meaningfully diminish the initial experience.
The artistic style is fine or even pleasing depending on one’s palate, though I wouldn’t call this a visually exceptional title by any means. With regard to function, Slay the Princess’ visuals suit it wonderfully. I enjoyed the creativity the developers showed as they played around with it, but what you see is what you get, for the most part. Similarly, the music is pleasant, offputting, and harsh when it needs to be, but doesn’t stand out as a mover and shaker. In truth, the voice acting is the real stand-out here. Being a dialogue-driven game for the most part, strong acting can bring the script to life, and with so many characters showing up across playthroughs, Slay the Princess is far more enjoyable because of that talent.
While I by no means think Slay the Princess is for everyone—this is a distinctly indie game—the thoughtful, curious, and those hungry for an imaginative experience will be more than satisfied with what it has to offer. With some tweaks, improvements, or inclusion of quality-of-life features, Slay the Princess rises to the ranks of legendary indie status. As for me, I am going to keep my eye on Black Tabby Games, because it has another game in the works (Scarlet Hollow) that could be just as good, if not better than what’s been gifted to us here.