The visual novel Slay the Princess appears poised to meet — or perhaps even exceed — the level of success Black Tabby Games has earned with its debut title, Scarlet Hollow. That’s a big deal.
When Black Tabby Games released Episode 1 of Scarlet Hollow in September 2020, it quietly set a new gold standard for the visual novel genre that it’s been maintaining with every subsequent installment of its “immersive horror-mystery.” While many of the narrative games I’ve played over the past several years are noticeably stronger in some areas than others — for example, a compelling plot makes up for underwhelming art, or intriguing characters distract from limited dialogue options — Scarlet Hollow consistently delivers excellence in all aspects. It’s gorgeously illustrated, exceptionally well-written, and remarkably dynamic, with every decision the player makes contributing to the story in meaningful ways. In short, Scarlet Hollow’s first four episodes should be a tough act to follow.
The Slay the Princess demo that’s currently available on Steam shares some of Scarlet Hollow’s essential ingredients. The hand-illustrated art is instantly recognizable as Abby Howard’s signature style, and the narrative is flavored with the blend of horror and cheeky humor that fans have come to know and love from the developers’ previous work. However, compared with the busyness of Scarlet Hollow’s plot — all that cryptid researching, ghost hunting, and cousin bonding time — the overarching concept of Slay the Princess is profoundly simple: “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. If you don’t, it will be the end of the world.”
The titular Princess is the only character who fully appears on screen, the setting is stripped down to a nearly empty cabin, and “The Narrator” of this tale seems unwilling to provide more context than he deems necessary. The result is that there’s a lot of space to think (and overthink) about the potential consequences of every selection you make.
Do you do as you’re told and kill the princess immediately, attempt to resist your role in the story, or press “The Narrator” for more information before moving forward? Do you pick up a conveniently placed dagger before entering the cabin basement, or do you leave it on the table for now? Should you listen to what the Princess has to say, and if so, should you believe her? Every action feels like it holds enormous power over the course of the narrative, even if the effects aren’t immediately apparent.
Slay the Princess is described as “a game about choice and the way our perceptions shape the world around us,” and by the end of the demo, it’s easy to see why. The world of the game morphs dramatically depending on how you proceed in Chapter 1, with the most obvious changes occurring in the Princess character — whether she assumes the form of the bloodthirsty Beast, the deformed Stranger, the demure Damsel, or something else entirely in Chapter 2 is directly dependent on your initial interactions with her.
There are also more understated transformations, such as subtle shifts in the cabin’s interior and a new “Voice” being added to the cast (for example, the “Voice of the Broken” or “Voice of the Meek”) based on the fate your protagonist meets at the close of the first chapter. For a game with such a seemingly straightforward storyline, there’s clearly plenty of detail and nuance hiding just beneath the surface, and the demo likely only offers a small selection of the different directions we’ll be able to explore in the full game.
As evidenced by Black Tabby Games’ lively Discord server, where you can find fans discussing how the “Schrödinger’s cat” thought experiment might apply to one of the Princess’s forms, brainstorming examples of literary works that subvert common fairy tale tropes, sharing tangentially relevant memes, or pining over the Princess in the “Thirst Prison” channel, Slay the Princess’s appeal extends to all sorts of players. Whether you’re the type of person who likes to analyze a game and plan an optimal route, or someone who prefers to act on instinct and let the chips fall where they may, Slay the Princess is shaping up to be the sort of game that’s just too intriguing to resist.
A “massively updated” demo will be featured in this year’s PAX Rising Showcase, which will take place between March 23 and March 26.