SPOILER ALERT – If you haven’t beaten this game, do not read this.
Colin lent me the new Prince of Persia for 360 a while ago and I just beat it. I was very pleasantly surprised. I was expecting a generic platformer game, but was quite surprised at what I ended up with. Gameplay-wise, it kind of was just a generic platformer, though a fun one. But there were several design choices that were unconventional that really worked.
First off, at the beginning of the game the Prince stumbles into a desert with a giant tree in the middle, which you learn is there to trap an ancient demon. The Prince meets Elika and finds out her father is in the process of a deal with the demon. He succeeds and the lush lands are destroyed and made dark and depressing. The goal of the game is to go area to area healing it, which involves turning it from cold steel and stone to sun, grass and butterflies. So the game starts dark and depressing, and gets progressively sunnier. This is the reverse of what I’ve come to expect from games. Usually the first few levels are sunny and grassy, then the shit hits the fan and it gets progressively more dark and depressing. I understand this is to establish that “the gloves are off”, but I’d always find myself missing those first few levels that put me in such a good mood. In Prince of Persia, as the game progressed and I healed more of the lands, it got sunnier and happier, and gave the game a very optimistic feel which was very refreshing. It made me want to keep playing.
Secondly, the game’s characters were great. Prince has a funny sense of humour, with good voice acting. He meets up with Elika, and the 2 begin to develop a relationship over the course of the game. The use of the L trigger as a conversation button was genius. At any point during play you could push the L-Trigger to talk to Elika, and the dialogue was rarely recycled. Most of the time it wasn’t even in cutscene, just funny banter and flirtations while you played. It really kept the adventure from feeling lonely, which it definitely would have otherwise in such a vast environment. Over the 14 hours or so I put into the game it managed to convince me these 2 characters were getting to know each other, and inevitably falling for one another despite their differences. Even the subtly flirtatious “Heh heh, sorry” as you had to slide past each other while walking down a narrow beam was a nice touch that went a long way. Having a “sidekick” character to drag around in games is usually a inconvenience, and very cumbersome, but they managed to make Elika feel very useful and she never gets in your way.
I knew I liked these design choices, but it wasn’t until the ending of the game that I realized how well executed and purposeful they all were. Again, a reminder, spoiler alert.
To trap the demon Elika has to give her life by putting her soul into a new tree to trap him. As you carry her corpse in your arms, walking down the long hallway exiting the tree temple, the credits roll to the side, without you losing control. A really nice touch. As you place her corpse on an alter, the camera pans up to show the lush lands you’d revived, but it feels like an empty victory.
Many open-world games let you continue to explore once you’ve beaten the game, so when I retained control I assumed it was just doing that. But I soon realized the game might not quite be over yet. Long story short, I worked my way back into the temple and cut down the tree she’d put her soul in, and took it back to her, and revived her. In doing so, as the Prince brings Elika back to life, you see the lands wither and die once more, as the demon again escapes. You just undid everything you accomplished in the last 14 hours. But you realize the accomplishment of the game was the Prince finding someone he’d settle down with, and that is seen to it’s finality. The camera shows the Prince walking away with Elika in his arms while the temple crashes down behind him and the world withers away to darkness once again. Fantastic ending, I thought. After spending 14 hours working towards an ending you thought you could predict, you UNDO it all.
I thought about it and realized this game’s story and theme is essentially the complete opposite of what you normally get. Most games start sunny, things get progressively darker as you approach the seemingly impossible task at the end and finally, against all odds, save the day as you bring peace to the lands. In this game, it starts dark and gets progressively sunnier as the end task seems less daunting, and ends with you, against all odds, sacrificing the lands bringing turmoil and despair. Most games feel very doom-ridden until the last second happy ending, this game was optimistic all the way until the end of the world.
One of the best games of the year for me. It was great to see what happens when a studio decides to go against the conventions of game design, even if only in theme and story, and not so much gameplay.
I’ve heard the DLC Epilogue is fantastic, builds upon the story of the main game. So despite the heavy cost I plan on spending the 800 Microsoft Points and playing through it as well before Colin wants it back!