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In 2008 Prince of Persia 360 redefined videogames' favourite Iranian with a new Prince and a more fantastical world. While it never lived up to the memory of The Sands of Time - the basis of the Prince of Persia movie - this reboot is well worth a revisit.
In spite of protests to the contrary from Ubisoft, who claim that they've not forgotten this incarnation of the franchise, the 2008 reboot of Prince of Persia now feels like an oddity, a dead-end.
After all, it's not this prince being played by Jake Gyllenhal in the movie, and new game The Forgotten Sands also chooses to return to the Sands of Time.
While I love Sands of Time, and I'm looking forward to both the movie and the new game, the 2008 game is still worth a look, and deserves the sequel its open ending cries out for.
From a story perspective, this Prince of Persia is interesting for the decisions Ubisoft made in terms of story, worldbuilding and characterisation, decisions rooted in critical responses to the previous trilogy.
Sands of Time had been lauded for its old Hollywood approach to arabian adventure, with a polite, charming Prince who apologetically corrected the player when he died ('No, that's not how it happened'), but had sold poorly.
Follow-up The Warrior Within sold better, but had earned scorn for its adolescent 'dark' Prince, with his American growl and tendency towards combat over acrobatics. Two Thrones had tried to reconcile the two approaches with a Prince split between light and dark incarnations, but couldn't quite take away the stain of Warrior Within.
This Prince a rogue, worldly and rough around the edges, but also charming and even-tempered.
The 2008 Prince of Persia takes a middle road with the characterisation of this new Prince. He's not as well-spoken or well-presented as the Sands of Time's prince, having implicitly lost his kingdom and been left wandering (he's never referred to as a prince in-game). However, neither is he a moody 'emo Prince', quick to violence and short on dialogue.
Instead, this Prince is an old Hollywood character of a different stripe: a rogue, worldly and rough around the edges, but also charming and even-tempered. It's a clever compromise between those who want their heroes suave, and those who want them swarthy.
After the notorious 'You bitch!' dialogue early in Warrior Within, it's also refreshing to see this new Prince is more chivalrous with the ladies. Elka, herself the heir to a fallen kingdom, is a more than equal partner to the Prince, saving him with her magic when he falls, and leading the way as they work together to drive a physical, gloopy darkness from the land.
If anything, Elka is the more traditional hero of the two - super-powered, super-serious. The Prince may tease her, but he's also reliant on her. Their dialogue exchanges are reasonably well-scripted and very well-acted.
As well as a new Prince the game also has a new Persia. The Sands trilogy took what might be called a backlot approach to ancient history, with great sandstone structures and elegant minarets.
The land is both objective and character in the game.
The Persia we got in 2008 was an altogether more fantastical place, a rich environment with a varied colour palette and diabolical mechanisms that bordered on steampunk. The cel-shaded graphics and unbridled imagination gave the game the feel of a Studio Ghibli movie, untethered by even the faintest historical context.
The land is both objective and character in the game, with a plot that requires darkness to be driven out of the kingdom area-by-area, transforming it. As the Prince and Elka drive out the evil stain of Ahriman, the land changes from a cold, barren place full of gloopy monsters to a verdant paradise, free to be explored without threat of attack.
It's in these sections, after the evil has been vanquished from an area, that the game becomes most fun, its atmosphere the most fantastical and entrancing. Light seeds need to be collected to progress, and these are scattered across each cleansed area, often in hard-to-reach places.
I do hope that at some point this other, more fantasy oriented version gets a continuation.
With the enemies driven out, these sections become exercises in pure exploration and agility, unencumbered by combat. There are few experiences in games as fluid and enjoyable as wall-running, sliding and jumping around the outside of a giant windmill, with a gentle orchestral score swelling in the background and the occasional chime of a collected light seed.
One of the main appeals of fantasy fiction is to visit another, impossible place, and in this respect this version of Prince of Persia is a great success, allowing the player great freedom to explore a vividly constructed fantasy world. It ends with a flight, a continued threat, and the promise that battle will be rejoined in a new part of this fantastical, imaginary Persia.
I'm looking forward to revisiting the more classically envisioned Persia in the new film and game this year, and becoming reacquainted with the Sands of Time universe. But I do hope that at some point this other, more fantasy oriented version gets a continuation. It would be a shame to never get a continuation of this charming, imaginative take on the property.
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