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Prince of Persia's Powerful Finish

Prince of Persia’s conclusion made me rethink my own values in a way that few games are sophisticated enough to pull off.  So much so that I'm compelled to explain why, particularly since the game has gotten so much flack from fans of the Sands of Time trilogy.

However, writing about it obviously contains spoilers, so you'll find it below the cut.  I assume some basic knowledge of the game on the part of the reader, and if there's any possibility that you'll play the game then do so before reading this.  It's not that the story is difficult to anticipate, it's the experience of the implementation that matters.  Plus it's an easy game, so no excuses for difficulty or time.


As I wrote in my review, rewards in Prince of Persia take the form of healed lands.  The visual impact of converting corrupt desolation into beautiful landscape had a deeply rewarding feel to me.  It felt wholesome and right.  Progress through the game was tangible in both representation, through visuals and audio, and procedure, through the greater freedom granted by removal of corruption traps.  My time and effort during play invested me in this world to a degree that I did not realize until the conclusion of the game.

In the penultimate cut-scene, the princess Elika, the Prince’s NPC companion, gives up her life to re-seal Ahriman within his prison.  As Elika has kept this step from the Prince, he is caught off-guard.  He cannot stop her, and is left only with grief (and likely resentment at her god, Ormazd, who could stop Ahriman himself if he had not left long ago).  Then the Prince has a vision.  Over the course of the game, concluding with this vision, it becomes known that Elika had died before, and what unleashed Ahriman was Elika’s father taking the temple’s powers to bring her back to life (which is what gives Elika her magical abilities during the game).  Now knowing how to repeat that process, I was put back in control of the Prince.

Suddenly, I had a chance to bring Elika back to life at the cost of everything that I’d worked to build over the course of the game.  That feeling of rightness at the healing of the lands would have to be destroyed.  I spent a long, long time trying to think of some way around doing so, but the game allows only one path to the end: release Ahriman, corrupt the lands, and revive Elika.  To the character of the Prince, that is clearly the only choice.  To me, it was unthinkable.  Not only would it destroy everything that I’d worked for, but it would also destroy everything that Elika had worked and sacrificed for.  How could I not respect our toil and her self-sacrifice?  And yet the game required me to enact the choice that felt so wrong to me.  It seemed as if I was watching from someone else’s eyes as I snuffed out each light in turn, and the lands were covered once more in darkness and corruption.  For me, the player/avatar connection was broken dramatically.

Yet by offering only one choice, one ending, Prince of Persia accomplished two goals in stunning fashion.  First, it tangibly defined the character of the Prince through what he deemed most important when confronted with the choice.  Second, by bringing that choice to the fore and yet not allowing me to take the easy, seemingly right choice, the game forced me to re-examine my own values.  Those lands to which I felt so attached were beautiful, but devoid of people, devoid of humanity.  Elika, however, is a human being.  Which is truly more important?  Second, throughout the game, there are hints that Elika is not intended to die.  Indeed, the visions given to both her and the prince come not from Ahriman, but from the power of the temple (and ultimately Ormazd).  Is it really right to stand aside and respect her sacrifice even when it’s unnecessary?  Or should one step in to make things right?  Do you believe that you truly know better?  The Prince certainly believes so.

Very few games have shaken me as much as Prince of Persia, despite it's surface status as a rather casual game.  It's carefully designed, through it's reward structure, to make the final "choice" as wracking as possible.  It's possible that the developers just got lucky, but what I've read in interviews strongly implies that this was all conscious on their part.  I believe that Prince of Persia is a work of art.  Not because of it's graphics or music, already established art forms, but because it uses techniques unique to games to raise emotions and serious moral questions.  By investing the player through labor, and then forcing the player to enact the destruction of that labor's fruits, Prince of Persia inspires strong emotional reactions that, at least for me, led to some serious introspection.



( 27 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 3rd, 2009 10:49 pm (UTC)
I disagree entirely, I felt like the ending was a very contrived way of imitating the truly great endings of games like Shadows of the Colossus. In PoP I felt very little urge to revive Elika (especially after her dialogue with her father about how in reviving her he killed everything she lived for). In terms of emotional response, games like Bioshock and SoC touched me far more than this game. I also felt that by breaking the player/avatar the developers were admitting defeat to the fact that they couldn't figure out how to end the game haha.

Ultimately you're entitled to your opinion and you raise some good points but PoP unfortunately struck me as a cheap imitation of past greats. The platforming was good and the combat was decent if you figured out how to deflect.
Jan. 4th, 2009 11:19 pm (UTC)
Compare the new Prince of Persia's ending to Sands of Time's ending. The latter was cute and well done, but inspired absolutely no thought beyond that (standard caveat: in my experience). The new game at least attempts to do more, and succeeds for some people. I too felt that reviving Elika was wrong, but had a very different long-term reaction to the Prince's actions. I suspect that one reason it reached me was that I'm still in the process of formulating my values and beliefs.

I'd much rather have a game reach greatness to some than stop at being good in all eyes.
Feb. 12th, 2009 10:17 pm (UTC)
Heh. I personally would do exactly what the Prince did in the ending. It felt totally right to release a demon if it meant I got to bring back someone I cared about. Granted, I'd then go and fight the demon for as long as I could withstand, but I would still release Elika, even against her wishes. Personally, I felt a lot more connected to Elika than the lands - a damn sight more. So much so that I didn't even consider trying to work around the ending and just ran up to the tree and smashed it. Both the combat and platforming started off easy and got harder - something platformers very rarely manage.

I never once felt like I was fighting for the land, I was merely fighting to get away from there at the start, and then at the end I was fighting to help Elika achieve what she wanted.
Mar. 24th, 2010 10:56 pm (UTC)
I agree with sneaky about having no compulsion to free Arhuman. I just turned the game off when I saw that there was nothing else to be done. I made the assumption that it was dual conclusion and I made the choice of not setting him free. We just spent an entire game trying to imprison him and undo what the king had done, why would I permit the NPC repeat the king's action? Two choices: either turn off the game and assume the prince goes looking for his donkey or free Arhuman and which would kill both the prince, for the third time Elika and bring about the end of the world in the process.
Jan. 7th, 2009 02:11 am (UTC)
i just finish this game and still in shock from ending. at first i thought that maybe there is 2 possible endings, but then i read ubi forums and gamefaqs and realized that it's only one. the one where i broke everything that i fight for all these 15 hours.. it's so shocking and sad.
Jun. 26th, 2010 03:05 am (UTC)
Definitely recommending this all around.
(Deleted comment)
Jun. 26th, 2010 03:06 am (UTC)
could you write more about it?
Jan. 15th, 2009 09:55 pm (UTC)
"Those lands to which I felt so attached were beautiful, but devoid of people, devoid of humanity. Elika, however, is a human being. Which is truly more important?"

Elika's quest was not to preserve her lands but to keep evil imprisoned. The Prince has ignored her wish to sacrifice herself and even her ultimate goal.

I did like the ending as well. It was provocative. Some of the dialog could be better, but all in all it was a great game.
Jan. 17th, 2009 03:09 am (UTC)
did prince do the right thing?
Is it right to sacrifice the world and the peace in the name of Love?
I believe this is what the prince did.. He was in love.. he couldnt live in a world without elika and he choosed to bring corruption to bring her back to life..

But.. what about elika? She sacrificed her life to bring evil in jail and she knew that she would die.. she said "I am sorry" I am born with that fate and I have to die in order to bring peace back. Did prince ask her before he cut the tree..

Her father did the same thing and she got against him, she fought him for sacrificing peace to bring her back. Will she turned against her prince now?
Jan. 19th, 2009 05:47 am (UTC)
Re: did prince do the right thing?
hmm consider the lands youve saved to be earth, consider the prince and elika to form "humanity"

the world cant co-exist with humans on it, eventually it will erode, burn out or simply wither and die, but without elika, there would be no humanity, the choice is simple, you either choose humanity or you choose earth

What would be the point to there BEING an earth if there was no humanity, and vice versa, but we have come to the stage in our evolution where we can transcend from living on THIS earth to living on ANY planet, or spacestation, so we are no longer bound to this planet

So from that perspective, Yea the prince choose humanity over a patch of land, and seriously in this story I cant help but be reminded of adam and eve, and the snake, the land being eden, the snake being ahrimon and all the bad he will do to this world being the apple, or am I completely off in that whole view, still fact of the matter remains, humanity 1 earth 0

Eat that you treehuggers! Ubisoft agrees!

Now find some more oil my prices are going back up
Jan. 19th, 2009 01:25 pm (UTC)
Re: did prince do the right thing?
Nice stupid answer:)
1. Elika is not humanity! Elika was sacrificed for her land so her people, the thousand people that lived in her city can return back home again, now that the corruption of Ahrimon is gone.
2. Un-prisoning Ahrimon is like bringing devil to earth, the destruction of the earth and the people is guaranteed. Now her city will be corrupted again and no people can live there.. The nature The buildings, everything is again destroyed.
3. There is no humanity if there is not earth. We save the planet so we can live peacefully on it! Destroying it with corruption and saving a princess is not the answer to life.
4. Saving Elika just made a thousand people's life ruined forever. And I say thousand hoping its not millions.
5. Prince did not choose humanity.. he chose himself, he chose his love , he didnt thought of all the other people or the land. He was so selfish..
6. What about all the things Elika sacrificed herself! She chose to die in order her people to have Peace! Land ! Light above them! That is what makes a true hero!!
7. In the end Elika opens her eyes and she says "Why?" she didn't say "thanks".. She was disappointed so much everything was destroyed and didnt care about her life or her prince..
Jan. 19th, 2009 08:43 pm (UTC)
Re: did prince do the right thing?
But did the prince really destroy the world? Probably not - but he's kicking the responsibility up to a higher authority. He saw that Ormazd basically abandoned Elika to pay the price of keeping Ahriman imprisoned (indirectly, by walking away). Whether or not the prince made any further connections about the visions and ultimate purpose is debatable, he certainly saw Elika as being unfairly set up by Ormazd. The Prince is going to find a way to make Ormazd get off his ass and kick Ahriman's tail himself, rather than leaving his followers to die for him.
Jan. 20th, 2009 01:38 am (UTC)
Re: did prince do the right thing?
I will disagree with you again.. Ormazd did not abandon Elika, he gave her the power to defeat the corruption from the first time. It was her will to die for her god and that makes her a hero and a saint. Every christian priest should abandon god then if they lose someone close to them.. When you give your life for your beliefs, to restore peace and you do it with free will, it is a action memorable and makes you stand out from the normal people. So many people died for christiansm and the other religions, were they fool as you call Elika now?
Elika is a hero, a person with beliefs,high ideals, and a strong will for the mankind. In the other hand, Prince looked to me selfish, stupid and godless.
Did you see Elika happy with prince's decision? did the prince looked happy? they left the land behind and the bad Ahrimon destroying everything with his breath.
Way to go prince! You did it! You become a everything-destroyer from a thief. Nice!
Jan. 20th, 2009 07:16 am (UTC)
Re: did prince do the right thing?
firegate_13: "It was her will to die for her god and that makes her a hero and a saint. Every christian priest should abandon god then if they lose someone close to them."

These are not analogous situations. Let's establish a rough series of events. Ormazd left for some unknown reason, then Ahriman broke out and Elika was given her powers by Ormazd, who essentially made it clear that she needed to die to seal Ahriman back in. That's a terrible position to be put in, and only necessary because Ormazd left way back when. Elika decided to go along with the plan. The prince got pissed that she was put in that position. The key isn't that he's pissed at Ormazd because she died per se, but because she was set up to die by Ormazd taking a hike.

I do consider Elika heroic, but not because she "died for her god and that makes her a hero and a saint." What makes her heroic is that she chose to give up her life to protect others when put in a terrible situation. God or Ormazd has nothing at all to do with it.

I don't quite agree with the prince's choice, but I can understand it. It's a choice between accepting a wrong (Elika's sacrifice) to prevent another wrong (Ahriman's release), or gambling in an attempt to make the whole situation right. If Ormazd is forced to to deal with Ahriman himself, then Elika survives and Ahriman goes down anyway. Of course if Ormazd can't or won't deal with Ahriman then the world is destroyed after all. The prince is making a selfish gamble with incredibly high stakes, but not one completely without merits. His actions are only without merit if you believe that Ormazd is infallible and automatically in the right.

A more analogous situation would be if God came along and said "hey, Satan's about to break loose and destroy the world - since I'm on lunch break, you need to die in order to stop him." The person in question might be deemed heroic for saving the world at the cost of his/her life, but God would come off looking like a real douchebag unless you have blind faith in him.
Jan. 20th, 2009 12:28 pm (UTC)
Re: did prince do the right thing?
Let me reply to your statements. I really like we discuss this ending so much.. i think ubisoft made it right.
1. You say Ormazd let city of light alone. I didnt remember that statement inside the game. I remember that people left the city not because Ormazd left them. They left and because of that darkness became stronger in the city with the result of weakening of the tree-prison.
2. Maybe Ormazd become weak overtime and needed some help of his people,his believers and there came Elika.
3. In NONE point Ormazd did not make clear that elika would die! Even she,Elika believed that after they free her land she will rebuild it and live with the prince together. She didnt know that she would have to die in order to complete that quest.
4. Prince became angry with Elika and her beliefs because he seems godless, not believing in a god but in his own hands. He cannot understand that god never makes everything good and right but gives people the power to acomplish these. It is stupidity to wait every action from our god. Like in christianism god never ended evil in earth, but if you believe in him you can defeat evil yourself.
5. Elika chose to give everything she had for her people and for her god. That decision came to her death but i think she didnt know that until the last moment.. when Ahriman had been defeated and the tree had to be reborn.
6. I believe Ormazd never left his people alone.. they left him and that's the reason the tree-prison became so weak.
7. Dont forget that it was not Ormazd's Fault that Ahriman became free, but Elika's Father made a deal with the darkness in order to bring his daughter back to life again. If devil offered you the same thing for a beloved person of yours would you agree with him?
8. We must blame King of the city and not Elika. Remember how angry her daughter,Elika was towards her father. She wouldnt understand why he sacrificed peace, his city, his beliefs,his people to save her. Only the moment she realises how much strong is the power of love ,she forgave him. But prince makes the same mistake AGAIN.. will she forgive him too?
Jan. 20th, 2009 03:59 pm (UTC)
Re: did prince do the right thing?
I don't have time for a longer post at the moment (inauguration party to attend!), but there is one comment to be made.

In one of the optional dialogs during the game Elika reveals that Ormazd set up the temple and then left, leaving the people behind, and that "nobody knows [why or where]."
Jan. 21st, 2009 03:13 am (UTC)
Re: did prince do the right thing?
Maybe he had more important jobs just standing near them:P I am sure even if he wasnt too close to them he did keep an eye at them and didnt forget them.
Anyway, that's not the point.Elika didnt get angry with her god but with her father.. and the next person to get mad is prince.
Great game, great atmosphere, great animation.. a luck of good music and static difficulty though.
Feb. 4th, 2009 04:43 pm (UTC)
Isn't one god jailing another god wrong in the first place.

the problem is that ormazd imprisoned ahriman, the consequences of this action should be his and his alone, ormazd should deal with the problem and not his subjects, he may be a god but that doesn't relieves him from his responsibility.... that's the same as giving the afghans in the 80s weapons to the defeat the russians and when the were defeated they were abbandoned by the cia, creating a power vacuum where al kind of animosity can evolve, thus creating Bin Laden...

Ultimately you have to take responibility as a human or as a god...

so this is ormazd his problem the prince says... not mine not elika's... And just a thought if ormazd really meant everything to elika, and the ahura, where was he when they needed him... he abbandoned them and he could have saved elika, it was in ahriman his power so it definitly should be in ormazd his power...

Feb. 7th, 2009 07:27 pm (UTC)
Only Human
The prince is only human. When you love someone really deep, you know that you can sacrifice anything for that person. Even the welfare of others. What do you care? You lost a loved one. Love is blind. Right?
The City of Light.... it was destroyed and devoid of people already. Why should Prince even care if it was decayed and devoured by Ahriman? The ending seems to tell that Prince will make out of that city alright with Elika.
If Ahriman pollutes that country only, not your country, or mine, well then, why worry? The City of Light didn't seem to have any out-world contacts. So there will be no change in the stock market scenario. SO, dear friends, rest in peace.
Feb. 25th, 2009 03:32 am (UTC)
interesting take...
...and a good point. In real life, that's what I would do as well. Sacrifice piety for love, or upset everything stable and safe for the sake of someone I really cared for. Because I know well enough that complete order in the world is not the same as good, but only existence. So from that point of view, the ending makes sense.

The problem with it is that it doesn't necessarily make sense in the game. The corruption had begun well before the tree of life was cut down... the first time.. and this opens up some figurative interpretations of why the corruption exists at all. The same for everything you see in the city, and the various different people who were all turned by the lure of power. There are also the mysteriously vanishing priests and priestesses.

In other words, it's easy to suggest that the corruption of man is what gives the Ahrimanic force in the game- world power. While Ahura Mazda simply exists at the beckoning of mankind to undo their own follies.

At least, that's what I thought about for the last couple of hours of the game, after I realized Elika was going to die again. So I was at least a bit content when the game didn't just end with the prince walking off into the desert.

But there's a problem. Apparently, the Ahrimanic force in the game is some sort of monster that will physically corrupt the world if it's released, whether people want it or not. It doesn't even need living people to use - it can animate evil from somewhere beyond history. And it's obvious that Elika's father has already tried the exact same thing - which corrupted much more than just himself, it spreads physically around the world.

The prince also knows after a while that the life Elika has is given to her because the balance is upset. Without the corruption, there would be no Omazd to serve in this way.

So knowing all of this, it makes no sense for the prince to destroy the world in order to be able to see Elika again.. for two minutes, before being swallowed whole. That's the problem with the ending.

I suppose if they edited the ending a bit and allowed "chaos" to exist in the world, as well as "order" - and that nothing would happen unless people started to listen to the Ahrimanic forces on their own... That might've been perfectly fine. It would mean there's some sort of alternative - either allow extreme evil to exist in the world to tempt mankind, or let Elika sacrifice herself to remove it from the world altogether.

If that happened, then you at least would have the duality in the game that you describe. But as it is, really cranky and powerful gods exist. And the world is definitively going under because of love. Which is figuratively satisfying :D - but it still makes no sense in the game- world.
Mar. 3rd, 2009 09:41 am (UTC)
Nice and interesting thread...
...different approach:
Well, after reviving the last piece of rotten land, Elika falls to the floor, she dies right in front of you, grief and sorrow, then you lift her up and carry her body up the stairs, slowly towards the long corridor.
Note - the credits start running.
What does that mean in sort of all films and games?
Game over, the end.
Now, normal thing would be to sit back, breathe out, think about it, turn off the console, that´s it, finish.
You realize that you still have control over the prince, and now listen carefully:
It´s your decision to walk up to the four trees.
It´s your decision not to stop cutting each one of them down after having seen what happend when you killed the first one.
It´s your, the player´s, decision not to stop but walk back to the last tree in the temple to cut him down and unleash darkness again.
You could have stopped it all the time, but you, the player, are the greedy type.
You had to see it all.
You had to do it all.
YOU ARE NOT BETTER THAN THE PRINCE, so what´s your right to judge him for what he (you?) has done?

Well, at least that´s what struck me immediately after having played through till there was nothing more to do - of course I did it, as everybody else did - the option of leaving the game after the credits is a hypothetical one that came to my mind in retrospective.
So in my opinion what gives real depth to the ending is the way in which it acts as some sort of mirror - you, the player might have more in common with the prince than meets the eye - so judge him wisely...

Oh, and please don´t judge over my (school-)english to harshly, it might be a little rough around the edges.
Mar. 7th, 2009 10:08 pm (UTC)
Few things bothering me:
Firstly, you said that visions came from the power of the temple (ultimately Ormazd). But why would Ormazd give Prince last vision, after Elika's death? Something smells.
Secondly, I thought of another reason why would Prince revive Elika and free Ahriman. At the very end of the game, when you're heading towards four trees you can hear Ahriman's creepy whispers. Doesn't this mean that the temple has become very unstable jail? Ahriman should be sealed, yet he has some power to play with Prince's mind. Prince may have thought that Ahriman will eventually break free and Elika's sacrifice will be pointless. He'd be back at the beginning, but without his powerful ally.
And lastly, Ormazd versus Ahriman war. In one of the optional dialogues Elika tells you that Ormazd and Ahriman are brothers. She also tells you that at some point Ahriman wanted to rule the earth/universe/whatever all by himself. Before that point there was perfect balance. But isn't Ormazd doing Ahriman's mistake now? He's trying to seal Ahriman. Is it ok for the god to jail his own brother, his opposite and fulfillment at the same time? There wouldn't be light without darkness and vice versa. Situation from the game is against the balance, so it's naturally pointing towards it by making Ahriman's breaking free possible. As someone on some message board said: maybe there must be corruption in the world to tempt the people. It's pretty much the same situation as with christian God who doesn't destroy the Devil.
Jun. 19th, 2009 03:49 am (UTC)
What is one sand in the storm?
The Prince had no choice.
Because he is who he is.
And he had done what his heart told him to do.
The choice isn't his. Isn't Elika's. Not even Ormazd and Ahriman's.
They are all but a sand in the great storm of this world.
Moved by fate, whether they like it or not.
Jan. 12th, 2010 06:19 am (UTC)
I am still uncertain, but I lean towards agreement... the prince is a classic tragic hero; he has a fatal flaw, which is his selfishness and self serving nature. He is given the opportunity to overcome his flaw: during his quest with the princess, he repeatedly chooses the right path (if perhaps for the wrong reasons, but he is growing as a character none-the-less). However, when faced with the final choice, his flaw gets the best of him, and he chooses that which he desires over that which is best. Storytelling at it's finest, and something few major game designers are willing to even try pulling off.

However, the break of the character and the player was devastating in a different way. It was as if the game designers were intentionally flaunting their power. Yes, it brings up intense emotions, but they are emotions not targeted at the character, but the story itself. If there had been a second ending, one that gives you the option to jump off one of the many cliffs yourself, it would have been a much more positively cathartic ending.

I enjoy games with negative protagonists, who reveal their flawed nature and hopeless dilemmas throughout the game, and fail in the end (I loved the last level of Braid, for example). But this was more an attack on the player; memorable and unique, yes, but for many not really "enjoyable".
Jun. 7th, 2010 09:25 am (UTC)
hey i played the game n uninstalled it..i needed to know what if after elikas dies n prince jumps off a cliff or a high fall n dies who will get him back...
waiting for ur replies
Jul. 2nd, 2010 10:20 pm (UTC)
Re: hi
I tried it. I wanted to let the prince commit suicide, instead of setting Ahriman back free, but the prince hit an invisible wall and couldn't fall of :(
(Deleted comment)
( 27 comments — Leave a comment )