The Ideal Prince of Persia

August 31st, 2009

Beyond the stunning, cel-shaded visual design as shown in previous screenshots, two trailers released last year for Prince of Persia (2008) reignited my interest in the series. You can watch them below, they’re rather emotive pieces of media;

Video Games | Prince of Persia | E3 2008: Exclusive Trailer
XBox 360 | Playstation 3 | Nintendo Wii

Video Games | Prince of Persia | TGS 2008: Trailer
XBox 360 | Playstation 3 | Nintendo Wii

The gorgeous artistic direction and affectionate music are a stirring combination. They were encapsulating pieces of media which confirmed my faith that this new installment would embody what I have for a long time believed to be the essence of the series. This elusive purity in theme and story as depicted by the cel-shaded visuals, crisp colour and withering voice of the female singer.

I haven’t played Prince of Persia yet, but the consensus appears to be that the trailers were something of a ruse, where in actuality Prince of Persia clings tightly to safe ground. Specifically I’m referring to the westernized personas of the protagonists, and the narrative conclusion. The latter of which hasn’t been made apparent to me, knowing only that it attempts to leverage a possible sequel for itself, riding the money train yet again.

True or not, I hold the trailers up in high regard, because they’re ultimately the Prince of Persia that I want. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time minus all the noise – basically. I want to play a Prince of Persia which is not so self-conscious of being a video game. A game which is silent, rather than menacingly epic – just the player, a chain of ledges and platforms and no interruptions. The platforming is sublime, just gives us this slice, hold the pickles, please.

The Prince of Persia Trilogy in no way required the shallow story, button-mashing combat or a buxom female accomplice, nor did Sands of Time ever warrant a sequel. Why must games continue to over-egg the epic and provide more? Can’t this industry trim the fat, just a little, and make the less more refined rather than more less refined?

The end of Two Thrones captured glimpses of this silent portrayal of the series. Obviously the combat and sharp edged obstacles are nuisances here, so just skip those parts;

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The visual design here is very indicative of this point of solace in the game’s narrative. A beautifully moody, yet calm atmosphere with glowing highlights which colour the fantasy environment. It’s an aesthetic wonder which Zelda: Twilight Princess made me first appreciate, particularly in the gorgeous Palace of Twilight. I’m not fond of all the visual elements of Twilight Princess, but the macabre black with green and pink highlights is a real visual peak for the company. The darker parts of the Prince of Persia trailer as well as the Two Thrones video above capture the visual look and feel.

A minimalistic Prince of Persia with such an aesthetic is what I would consider to be an ideal interpretation.

Prince of Persia Trilogy: Purity, Transgressions and Dichotomy

August 29th, 2009

prince-of-persia

I’ve finally completed my verbose ramblings on the Prince of Persia Trilogy, concluding with my final review of The Two Thrones which is now up at Video Games Blogger. Over the past few months I’ve written quite a lot on these three games, particularly in the way of gameplay structuring and narrative, yet each review has been self-contained – now I’d like to remove those barriers.

To summarize my thoughts; The Sands of Time was an incredible offering, severing ties with player expectations and delivering an unprecedented form of narrative whilst revitalizing the platforming genre. Warrior Within was bigger, meaner and more hardcore in terms of challenge, but the emo-core pretense left a fowl taste in my mouth. The Two Thrones took all the previous content and integrated it together to form a well mixed conclusion, best of both worlds, but the purity of the series was dead on arrival, unfortunately.

Let’s Hate on Warrior Within Some More

Warrior Within subverted the modest and implicit nature which made Sands of Time so refreshing, overloading the game with overt fratboy appeal. Even after just 5 minutes of Warrior Within it’s resoundingly clear that Ubisoft had sold out pretty bad. The Two Thrones could have redeemed Warrior Within but instead highlights that Ubisoft had in fact they never actually “got it” in the first place, as evidenced by the failure to understand and — in their choosing — adapt the qualities of Sands of Time to The Two Thrones. I elaborate on these issues in the first half of my Two Thrones review and I do so because their mishandling of the series denotes a huge mark of shame, at least when it comes to maintaining the spirit of the Prince of Persia series.

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Also see: GT Prince Of Persia Retrospective

Prince of Persia and PoP: The Sands of Time drew out the essential qualities of this Middle Eastern “Arabian Nights” theme which has for a long time been present through various forms of media and texts. Such tales represent the rare instances when Middle Eastern culture is to an extent seen in a positive light by the western world*. There is therefore an untouchable purity in the theme both culturally and thematically which both these games respected and maintained.

I believe that Sands of Time epitomized the thematic ethos and as with the original game did so because of the influence of Jordan Mechner. Warrior Within obviously whizzed all over the sentiments and The Two Thrones, at least on a surface levels, attempts to pick up the pieces. The latter can be justified by the acknowledgement of narrative devices from the Sands of Time, the return to the location and Moroccan presence as created by the music, landscape and character designs. These are all positive steps in the right direction, again albeit on surface level.

Scratch away the paint a little and the shonky implementation is unveiled. I highlight this in the review. Simply put; the mimicry falls apart when it’s made irrelevant by the wrong context and the narrative techniques used in Sands of Time are irrelevant in The Two Thrones, making it all feel extremely superficial. Interject this with Kaileena from Warrior Within (who can in no way escape her identity from WW as a complete whore), the baseless maturation of the Prince and the continual acts of violence, and it all fails to maintain its own dignity. The Two Thrones should have properly realized this, rather is seems that Ubisoft’s management only saw the contempt that fans held for Warrior Within and hence decided to slice the next game in the middle. Satisfying a wider audience, gaining a little cred back from the enthusiasts and ultimately keeping everyone happy was probably the best means at keeping the Prince of Persia money train alive. Sure it’s not a complete and utter sellout like Warrior Within, but even then the purity is still tarnished by what appears to be corporate interest. The Two Thrones is a pretender through and through.

But the Platforming!

But still the platforming is good…and here’s where we reach an amusing point of interest. Sure the integrity of the series had gone to shit, but structurally the two sequels took the delectable platforming chunk of Sands of Time and allowed it to flourish into something even more beautiful. Combat aside, Warrior Within was a mammoth challenge map for those who had cut their teeth on the platforming in Sands of Time. Admittedly, for the hardened gamer, the platforming apex in Sands of Time wasn’t quite the climax we were hoping for – figuratively and literally. Warrior Within with it’s rough platforming, blood and cleavage was the answer, the itch for our scratch; a true guilty pleasure. Just leave your dignity at the door.

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The Two Thrones toned down the challenge considerably. The noticeable absence of sharp rotating objects and tough endurance runs lowered the brutality while the new stealth elements provided the player with choice and self expression. The Two Thrones was definitely a hybrid and if you’d tackled the prior two games, going for one more go seemed all the more worthwhile, just to see the results.

It’s hard to deny the later two games a place in the series considering their contributions to the esteemed platforming elements of the franchise. Elements that would later influence Assassin’s Creed and hence inspire a multitude of similar free roaming platform games.

The Two Thrones emphasized dichotomy, a dichotomy very much fleshed out by the games themselves which led up to its existence. Sands of Time being the representative height of this industry and Warrior Within being the representative low. In which case The Two Thrones dichotomy extends beyond what’s contained within the a single title, a metaphor for the trilogy itself.

* I’m not denying that most western adaptions of such fables haven’t been faithful, because frankly they’re hardly faithful or even show that much respect to the culture. My point is that they actually display the culture and do so in a mostly positive light which itself is very important.

Additional Readings

‘Prince of Persia’ Movie Poster Inspired By ‘Warrior Within’ – MTV Multiplayer

Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones Developer Diaries

Prince of Persia: Warrior Within Art Direction and Additional Interviews

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time Documentary and Additional Trailers

Majora’s Mask And Cultural Alienation

August 26th, 2009

I’ve been working on an upcoming column on cultural difference and initially wrote up the following two paragraphs which as you’ll notice are instead about cultural alienation in Zelda Majora’s Mask. It’s largely irrelevant to what I want to say in the piece, but I’m super pleased with it anyways and couldn’t bare to scrap it. Honestly, I wish I could do a thesis on this game or something.

“I’ve referenced Zelda: Majora’s Mask twice before in this column, because it beautifully captures the feeling of cultural isolation and difference. We have a series of expectations about how the world works, this can be called our cultural understanding of the world. When we exist in a foreign culture, that understanding can be subverted by the immediate culture surrounding us. We might speak a language which isn’t our’s to people who perhaps aren’t quite like us – things are naturally going to be different. Hence when integrating into a new cultural environment the feeling of alienation often arises. You might call it culture shock, I guess.

Majora’s Mask elicits this uncomfortable feeling very distinctively by almost immediately severing ties with player’s expectations of a Zelda game. Just as one’s cultural understanding is quickly subverted in a foreign context, Nintendo destroy all player expectation’s, casting you off as a lowly Deku Scrub. And people don’t like you. In fact, you’re without justification blown off, frowned upon by members of Clock Town – even the town dog aspires for your demise.”