Platform reviewed: Steam
After playing Slay the Princess at PAX East, I told my friends they needed to play the demo ASAP. The art, the music, the voice-acting are so brilliantly done. But the one thing that made this game stand out from other visual novels is the choices I must make. And I started questioning everything. Slay the Princess blew me away, and it’s easily a contender for my game of the year.
“You’re on a path in the woods. And at the end of that path is a cabin. And in the basement of that cabin is a Princess. You’re here to slay her, and if you don’t, it will be the end of the world”. This is my introduction to the game - these lines are read by The Narrator - a straightforward voice telling how it is. Of course, I have lots of questions - and the game expects me to have lots of questions, as it provides me with a multitude of options to respond. How do I know that the Princess is going to end the world? Isn’t there a different way? Why me? The Narrator answers those questions with a matter of fact - If I wasn’t supposed to slay the Princess, why would I be on this path in the first place?
Eventually, I give in and make my way to the cabin. The Narrator warns me that I shouldn’t listen to a word she says, as she’ll lie and cheat. As I enter the cabin, the Narrator tells me there’s a door to the basement and a table with a blade to do my duty. This is the first point where I start to think through my path -I can either take the knife or leave it and enter the basement. My first instinct is to leave the blade, so I follow my intuition and proceed down the stairs. All my actions are brilliantly told through the Narrator’s condescending voice.
As I walk down the stairs, the Princess’s voice greets me. But suddenly, another voice enters my head - that of a hero. And although the Narrator can hear the voice, they don’t find it odd - something that I found odd right away. Meeting the Princess gives me several options to interact with her - asking her what she’s doing down here, if she intends to end the world, and plenty more. And as I go through my actions, I make some terrible mistakes, and I end up dying.
Or so I thought. The game starts over. I’m back on the path to the cabin, and the Narrator tells me that I’m here to slay the Princess. However, this time, I have different choices. And I also have the knowledge that I’ve done this before. And a new voice enters my head - both the latest and the hero's voices know I’ve done this before. But the Narrator is convinced this is the first time we’ve met. And I have a duty - to slay the Princess.
And this goes on for a few rounds - each time I enter the cabin, it’s inconsistent from the last time I entered it. And the Princess is different each time - from her appearance and voice. This game makes me question if I have free will - and at one point, the Narrator takes over my body and completes the actions for me. But each round, I feel like I’m getting closer to uncovering the truth of what’s happening. And that’s what makes this game so brilliant - it makes me think about my choices, and while it may seem inevitable that I will slay the Princess, I keep asking myself, “Is there another way?”
While Slay the Princess would have been okay with just reading text, the voice acting drew me into the game. Each voice in my head is unique - but it’s all done by the same agent as The Narrator. Some of the voices made me laugh out loud, while others gave me pause on what to do. Each character gives me advice on how to handle the situation. Sometimes, I listened to them; other times, I tried to follow the Narrator's guidance. The Princess, in all her versions, is wonderfully voice acted as well. There isn’t a weak link among all the acting.
The art is hand-drawn, done in pencil and all black and white, which adds to the eerieness of the game. The only time there is any color is when there’s blood - this is a gruesome game, and while there’s nothing too graphic, there were moments when I grimaced at the scene that unfolded in front of me. It’s well-designed and adds the flair of this creepy game.
And while I would say this is a horror game, in the end, it’s also a story of compassion. The ending got me thinking about life, free will, and destiny. And there’s still more story and achievements to uncover - which adds to the game’s replayability.
Final Grade: A+
I love visual novels, especially ones where choice matters. And Slay the Princess is easily my favorite game in this genre. Everything comes together perfectly; the story, the acting, the art, and the music all set the stage for an experience that makes you think and question what is real. This is a perfect game to play during the Halloween season as well. Slay the Princess is a masterpiece and contender for me for game of the year.
Review key provided by Stride PR