It’s finally here — my most anticipated game of the entire year. Among the most unique indie horror games I’ve ever seen, Slay the Princess showed tons of promise between its two demos. It’s a horror-themed visual novel tragicomedy dating simulator delivering an intriguingly ambiguous fairytale-like premise gone all wrong. Did the full release live up to its own lofty ambitions, or did it skewer itself entirely? This is the full and in-depth Slay the Princess review.
This review is strictly spoiler-free. I maintain my previous vigil that Slay the Princess is best played blind.
Due to the nature of being a visual novel, Slay the Princess has simple gameplay. You click or hit the space bar to advance the dialogue, hover over choices, and click some more. You can save, load, and pause. There are no quick-time events or anything fancy, but there are moments where the game will keep going before you click.
Playing the game, especially past the first route, will often feel like an interactive movie. And while sometimes that’s a bad thing in choice-driven games, I don’t think it is here. I find it to be an engaging interactive movie to listen to and click through. However, there were minor visual and subtitle errors throughout I hope are fixed in a patch.
What sticks out even more now than in the previous two demos is the soundtrack. Some of the game’s music is hauntingly beautiful, setting the stage for tragedies to come with aplomb. The developers also do a great job of inserting the Princess’ leitmotif into almost every track in the game.
The Story — An existential and horrific (but beautiful) rabbit hole
For those of you just tuning in, see my previous explanation of this game for its premise. I maintain it is the most unique horror visual novel to exist at present, and now I have seen where it truly goes.
I think the story is what it’s supposed to be. The game has the right scope and length with a satisfying conclusion. Everything we’ve speculated on, any questions you had — chances are high that it’s all been answered in the full game. Everything you want to see happen likely happens. There’s a deeper, more complex story as hinted at in the demos. It may surprise some — or might not be exactly the desired direction, in some cases — but it was set up properly by the demos. You get time to explore every route with several further mutations. It’s as surreal and bizarre as you’ve come to expect, probably even more. There’s also the revelation of what’s beyond the basic plot threatening to break the mystery wide open. And the game’s still laugh-out-loud hilarious at moments.
Slay the Princess’ greater story is much like the titular Princess herself: equal parts horrific and surprisingly beautiful and haunting. There is something I found deep and even somewhat philosophical about the nature of existence, identity, free will, and humanity in its story. Two of the final endings left me emotional and crying on the inside. They were not lying when they said the game was about love, and I felt the love. It left me pondering where a toxic relationship begins or ends and true love takes its place. It left me thinking about the meaning of relationships themselves. I feel almost no dissatisfaction after exploring the endings, like everything concluded as it should have, and I can be happy for the experience and what it meant to me.
But not every path in the woods is traveled equally
However, some routes have way more to them than others. The Stranger, in particular, doesn’t seem to have any outcome changes at all, basically being one big cutscene to play through. But my two favorite routes — Damsel and Prisoner — don’t get nearly as much in terms of branching off or choices compared to their counterparts like Adversary and Beast. Razor is a mostly singular fixed outcome as well, but that feels more natural there than it does with those other two routes. As they’re both the only ones where you help the Princess, I really hoped for there to be more to them.
There are also a few instances where choices don’t completely connect to outcomes, like the knife still being in her heart on a new loop — even if the specific choice you made didn’t end with the knife in her heart. Given the game so far has been good about fixing these sorts of errors, it feels like an oversight to fix in a patch. I also felt like some of the later mutations didn’t quite fit as well or make sense in their connections depending on the route you get them from.
For the most part, none of the characters disappointed. I was surprised at the Voices in particular. Now expanded beyond the demo, each feels like a true personality, not a one-trait gimmick.
The Narrator almost never becomes grating, which is a great feat. In a lot of routes, he truly feels like a needed ally along with the voices, not just something to defy. And he still manages to be funny as hell at times.
The Princess variants are mostly characterized just as established in the demo. The only two I feel kind of let down with are Damsel and Stranger. Damsel walked back a little on purpose from what’s seen in the demo. I understand the intent, but I feel it could’ve been woven in with what they did with her instead. And Stranger’s final version feels like a direct downgrade of the last demo. I don’t mind it, but I’d prefer getting to explore what we had before over it.
Taken as a whole, however, I found each Princess and the character as a whole deeply layered and multifaceted. I love her. She’s up there on my list of best horror game characters. You will find yourself becoming attached to her and her deeper story, and thinking of her after you stop playing. If you resonated with Monika in Doki Doki Literature Club, the emotional core of the Princess will be familiar to you.
The player character/the Hero is even more interesting. The full release delves into his mysteries and lets you deal with them. He has his own conflict to resolve beyond his role in the plot. It’s familiar but makes sense with everything set up as an exploration and resolution.
The voice acting is still absolutely top-notch. They even fixed the confusing delivery of Razor.
Is it scary?
I would describe Slay the Princess less as scary and more as creepy and unnerving. It’s a psychological horror with copious amounts of body horror. Evaluating the game on its scare factor really misses the design philosophy and point. It’s existential, cosmic, and bloody with elements of terror. At times, you’ll be filled with dread in anticipation of what happens next.
I don’t believe all horror has to be conventionally scary to be effective in other ways. My Friendly Neighborhood already proved that this year. Slay the Princess instead excels in the art of terror by making you feel helpless. I actually think this game would be hilarious to play as a scaredy cat and would recommend it within reason.
Conclusion: A neatly wrapped gift of a horror experience you won’t forget
If you loved the demos, my Slay the Princess review is especially for you. There’s a level of satisfaction to be had after theorizing and fixating on the ambiguity of the demos for months. This will be lost to newcomers who get to learn everything within a few hours of gameplay. But for us finally getting our answers, I think we’ll be happy with the full experience, and it’ll be worth the money.
If you can’t handle gore or body horror, do not play this game. This game is graphic and you will see bodily mutilation in basically every way possible by the end of it. I will say as someone who isn’t fond of it myself, I survived with minor discomfort. But besides that, the game’s not at risk of giving you a heart attack, so you don’t need steel nerves and an unshakable resolve to play. Even if you’re not a conventional horror game fan, I’d still consider it if you can handle the above. The game has a full official list of content warnings. Review Slay the Princess for yourself based on this.
I recommend it to everyone else who passes the above criteria. Do you want to explore an engaging choice-based game that doesn’t fumble the tall task of making itself satisfying? Give it a try. It’s even a perfect game for streaming, allowing viewer input on your decisions. A single route takes a few hours, the ideal length for a stream.
Slay the Princess was an emotional journey through a path in the woods, one I will never regret or forget walking down. And I thank everyone involved for making this beautiful experience happen.