Features

Slay the Princess: PAX’s standout indie horror visual novel

0
Slay The Princess Pax's Standout Indie Horror Visual Novel

The annual PAX East gaming convention came and went about a month ago, game developers and enjoyers alike gathering to experience the past, present, and future of the gaming world. As goes every year, game developers shared playable demos to get eager eyes on their upcoming games. Yet of 60+ demos in the lineup, one indie horror game stood above all the rest: Slay the Princess, the second game from Black Tabby Studios, known for its ongoing game, Scarlet Hollow. Indie horror games are a dime a dozen these days, in a genre known for being particularly prone to periods of stagnation and cliche overabundance—so how did one little horror game stand above the rest? This is the story of Slay the Princess, PAX’s standout indie horror visual novel, why it is in every way worth the attention it got, and how you, too, can play it right now.

Recommended Videos

What is Slay the Princess?

Slay the Princess is a psychological horror choice-driven comedy visual novel dating simulator. Yes, it truly is all of those labels at once. It’s sort of like if The Stanley Parable was a horror game (or a true horror game depending on your read on that game), but that comparison is selling the true depth of its creativity short. Horror visual novels are most often about a potential love interest turned stalker or serial killer, but this game instead plunges you directly into a fairytale-esque story upon clicking start. You’re greeted by a Narrator telling you the premise of the game in a haunting black and white visual style (except for one color, which you find out the hard way).

These two lines of dialogue are all you’re going to get. You can press the Narrator for details all you’d like, but he refuses to elaborate on your mission in any meaningful way. And from then on, it is your choice to obey the Narrator’s wish, or to defy it in every conceivable way imaginable.

Stp The Premise 3

Screenshot by PC Invasion

If you choose to meet with this mysterious Princess, you have the option to get her side of the story as well. Yet she is unable to tell you anything more about herself or how she ended up in this situation. The choice is entirely up to you as the player: will you slay her, save her, or do something else entirely?

Nothing is as it seems

Slay The Princess Pax Not As She Seems

Screenshot by PC Invasion

Beyond this point spoilers will be mentioned. Slay the Princess is a game best to go in with no knowledge and experience for yourself. If you’re intrigued up to this point, I recommend you download the free demo and come back later. You should know that Slay the Princess is still a horror game, however, and comes with its own page of content warnings. With that out of the way, let’s continue discussing the game.

For the most part, no matter what you do on your first playthrough, you will die, one way or another. But the game doesn’t end there. No, it restarts right back to the beginning. You have the option to ask the Narrator how and why time has reset, but he claims such a thing has not happened, and you’re meeting for the first time. Unless you leave the woods, you’ll find yourself right back on the path to the cabin to slay the Princess…

And everything is different.

Maybe the interior of the cabin has turned into an ornate castle or tower with grand decor. Maybe the cabin has turned into a run-down and creaky old place with dusty ruined walls and sharp edges. No matter what, the Princess is down there, and unlike the Narrator, she remembers what you did last time. If you tried to slay her, you might be greeted with a Princess who has morphed into something larger and menacing, more beastlike, or perhaps even a ghostlike form that’s holding a grudge against you. If you tried to save her only to be taken over by the Narrator trying to stop you, she’s much more receptive to you and concerned about your well being. Or if you refused to meet her entirely, you might be met with something out of left field.

No matter what, the Princess and the cabin physically change based on the outcome of the previous loop. As you replay the game to get different outcomes on the second loop, the various hints about the true nature of the Princess’ powers start to become more apparent, but little else about the situation does.

A horror game where you don’t know what’s going on, and that’s the beauty of it

Ambiguity is the core of Slay the Princess, and while it’s a common element for a horror game, the combination of persistent ambiguity with strong characterization and world-building keeps the intrigue of the game going long after you’ve seen every possible outcome of the game.

Is the Narrator telling the truth and only trying to navigate you through the situation, or is he a manipulative, gaslighting entity with a grudge against the Princess using you as a pawn in some greater scheme? Is the Princess a helpless victim, or truly a dangerous, manipulative, world-ending malicious entity? Even you, the player character. Who are you? You’re given no name outside of The Hero, you’re revealed to not be human but instead some kind of humanoid bird creature, and both the Narrator and the Voices in your head that manifest with each route are all the same voice. Are you and the Narrator the same, or not?

Related: Slay the Princess Demo: All Endings and Achievements

A strong foundation with limitless potential

Masterfully voice acted by Jonathan Sims of The Magnus Archives horror podcast and Nichole Goodnight of various horror podcasts as well as Twitch streaming, the characters and their variations centralizes the appeal of the time loop experience. The Narrator is fun to irritate and resist, just unlikable enough to tempt players to ignore him but to still remain interesting to speculate about. The Princess is reasonable to you unless you attack her or threaten her, but the moment she bites back, you learn very quickly just what she’s truly capable of doing to you.

Slay The Princess Pax Threats

Screenshot by PC Invasion

Beyond that, the game isn’t afraid to have moments where it doesn’t take itself seriously and adds much-needed levity to the grim fairytale atmosphere.

All of this and more in an ambiguously wrapped royal package

And this is all just from a roughly two-hour demo—as mentioned before, the game is labeled a dating simulator. Rescuing the Princess immediately without a doubt turns her into a traditional helpless damsel while a voice in your head falls in love with her and the cabin turns into a romantic castle, yet the Steam page warns you not to do just that. What will be the consequences of trying to romance her in the full game? Will she continue to change further based on your choices, and just how many times can she do so? Can you escape the cabin, and if so, what secrets lie in wait to be revealed beyond it? Will we ever truly learn what is going on?

There is so much to this game in how a lot is missing, but with much more to observe and theorize about. The result is an experience with some familiar elements that feel wholly unique to itself—and PAX couldn’t get enough of it.

Slay the Princess’ PAX success and beyond: What lies at the end of this journey into the woods?

With over 70,000 wishlists on Steam and a number of popular streamers and YouTubers having played it, Slay the Princess has gained quite the following, and is scheduled for a summer or later 2023 full release. The demo that debuted at PAX is the second one for the game, and it’s unlikely a third demo will drop before the full release.

Until the release of the full game hopefully gives answers to the story setup, engrossed players will comb through every detail and line of dialogue for theories and answers. It’s not a game meant to have one true ending, but if the demo is anything to go by, it will leave players with a truly invigorating experience not easy to forget.

Slay The Princess Pax Loop

Screenshot by PC Invasion

So if you’re a fan of horror, download the demo from Steam and play it on any kind of computer for yourself. You may experience the same exhilarating feeling all those at PAX got when they hit Start Game.

Alexa BeMent
About The Author
Alexa BeMent is an aspiring media creator and writer who may also secretly be a manatee masquerading as a human. A Virginia Tech graduate with Creative Writing and Cinema degrees, she has been a Freelance Writer for PC Invasion since February 2023, and enjoys writing stories and consuming video essays when she's not planning the Manatee Uprising. Having played video games since before she could read, she is a lover of all things Legend of Zelda, FFXIV, horror games, and can play competitive Pokémon, especially as a Ghost type Gym Leader. We don't discuss how big her Pokémon plush collection is.