The Proposed Story Arcs for Prince of Persia

I talked about how the story structure in Prince of Persia didn’t work for me and how the various villains fit in the game’s thematic consistency. Now I’m going to combine the two ideas. This may come off as a little dictating from on high, but oh well.

Spoiler Warning

2nd Warning: This is an experiment.

To understand any story is to understand the arc that the plot and characters take. I know that is a gross overgeneralization, but work with me here. Prince of Persia had three acts. The first act concerns itself with introducing the characters, the situation and the mechanics of the game. By the time you leave the canyon you pretty much have the idea for what is going on for the rest of the game. The third act contains the climatic battle with Ahriman, the denouement and the cliffhanger ending. The second act is where a majority of the action takes place. Here we have the four vignettes I detailed earlier and the ‘you can choose the order of the story’ gameplay. It is in this second act I’m going to focus my attention.

First a little overview of the four vignettes and the four enemies they are focused upon. Just a little boiling down of where they stand in their thematic relevance.

The Hunter – an embodiment of selfish desire and hubris and little else

The Alchemist – a traitorous enactor of crimes against humanity

The Concubine – a small amoral woman that is turned into a larger corruption

The Warrior – a tragic figure whose desire to save causes destruction

Now assuming each vignette is played to completion before moving on to the next we have 24 different possible combinations that could make up the second act. I bring this up to attempt something. I have contended twice already that Prince of Persia would have the story told much better as a linear narrative. I also have stated that all of this could have been accomplished without changing any of the middle action, merely structuring it. Well, I’m going to put my money where my mouth is.

The story arc of the game is simple. The Prince comes in as a solo artist on life, meets Eleka, gets dragged (willfully goes) into trouble, contends with enemies, seals evil god, breaks free evil god to save Eleka, to be continued. The ‘contends with enemies’ part is where the arc happens. The Prince has to undergo a change. Not just an attachment, but also a philosophical change of character to be capable of setting Ahriman free. That gives us two arcs to contend with, the thematic arc or Prince’s story, and the relationship arc or Eleka’s story. This would be if it were a long movie. However, due to the interactive nature of video games we also have a third arc to contend with, the gameplay arc or player’s story.

I’ll do my best to explain myself.

Each arc focuses on a different part of the information delivered to the player. The relationship comes from the interaction between the Prince and Eleka, not just in conversation, but also within the scripted actions during their ordeal against the corrupted. The thematic arc would focus on the representations the corrupted have with the Prince’s state between his beginning the adventure and concluding it. Here the final vignette will color the Prince’s motive the most. Finally we have the gameplay arc in which we have the play incrementally more challenges from the enemies.

In looking directly at the four corrupted there are certain similarities you can see between them. Both the Alchemist and Hunter are based in rationality, while the Concubine and Warrior have their character based in emotion. Additionally, one could describe the Alchemist and Concubine as soft characters, since they are not really combat based as their counterparts the Hunter and the Warrior whom I would attach the descriptor of brute. Given this and their abilities I would tentatively give the order for the gameplay arc: Alchemist, Concubine, Hunter, Warrior.

Turning to the thematic arc of the story I look to the Prince at the beginning. His best line up is with the Hunter. Both are out for themselves and give little regard for others. The difference between them being the ‘put their heads on the spike’ part. Following the Prince’s attitude towards the other corrupted we find him thinking, but unconvinced by the Warrior’s actions of self-sacrifice. Moving onwards we see his almost confusion and later outrage towards the traitor and finally we see what makes the Prince the Prince. The Concubine reveals information about him that he won’t elaborate on, but the conflict there ends up being more of who he is than what he can do. My tentative thematic arc listing is: Hunter, Warrior, Alchemist, Concubine.

Then we have the relationship between the Prince and Eleka. To me the most touching moment between the two, in fact one of the few moments where I could believe that they could love each other, was the Prince’s trust in her when he jumped off the top of the tower. That type of trust has to develop and be nurtured through the rest of the game. In the city, the dialogue between Eleka and the Prince is very utilitarian and a sort of detachment between the characters as there was in the citadel. It could be that it was merely the locations, where Eleka had little to say, where as she had a few stories of her time in the palace she was willing to talk about. However, I would also contend that the end locations against the Hunter and Warrior were not as moving towards their characters solidifying a relationship, but laying groundwork. The Warrior vignette especially offered the Prince a conflict of opinion in Eleka’s interpretation of the Warrior’s actions to pull his interest further along. As for the Alchemist, I keep coming back to the image of the two of them relaxing on the platform after having defeated him and just laugh while looking up at the sky. I get a real sense of companionship out of that image, both of them relaxing in a quiet moment together. Tentative listing for the relationship arc: Warrior, Hunter, Alchemist, Concubine.

The three arcs of the story give us three vastly different preliminary orders. Working from this and to further examine other order possibilities I am going to see how we can make the different arcs work together in pairs of two.

The thematic arc and the gameplay arc are about building towards something. The thematic arc is there to set up a rational behind the Prince’s final choice and the gameplay arc is about upping dramatic tension in the interactive moments of the game until the climax against Ahriman. From this perspective we can see that there has to be a change within the Prince for him to make this choice, so you have to start him with an opponent that can mirror this, while offering an opponent who is not a powerful combatant. Following that you follow the vignettes of increasing the prowess of the combat, while keeping in mind what each corrupted represents. The toughest opponent who ratchets up the tension in combat is the Warrior, who also offers a meaningful mirror to the future decision of the Prince. My suggested order here would be: Alchemist, Hunter, Concubine, Warrior.

The relationship arc and the gameplay arc also see a rising action focused on increasing the tension in the story. While I wouldn’t suggest it as the best way to grow the relationship between Eleka and the Prince, Ubisoft went the sexual tension route, among moments of serious caring in regards to getting the characters together. While what I said above about the opponents needing start off easier or at least more straight forward still apply a need to modify it in regard to how each vignette deal with the relationship, especially in regard to Eleka’s desires and reactions. A more straightforward vignette at the beginning would facilitate their relationship’s arc of from rocky ground to deep trust. The Concubine could be argued as a better final encounter as it takes place in a section very close to her heart and is more telling of her history than anything else. But also it offers a hint of the Prince’s past in the final confrontation. It presents a kind of what might have been between the characters, the palace that they can never share. Here I suggest: Hunter, Alchemist, Warrior, Concubine.

Finally we have the close-knit combination of the Prince’s thematic arc and the characters’ relationship arc.  The Prince’s own arc is a reflection off of the decision that ultimately is tied to the relationship he has with Eleka and his desire to continue it in the face of death and destruction. In just looking at these two arcs the focus would be on them rather than the player. In both arc you have to start them out as strangers, something that would keep the characters at a distance, but bring them in towards a common goal. Then you would have to further break the ice between them, while having the Prince being offer contrary evidence to what he believed in. Then you’d have to both cement their feelings towards one another and present corrupted that could act as a mirror to his choice and desire. My suggestion here would be: Hunter, Warrior, Alchemist, Concubine.

So after all that theorizing I come down to combing the essence of what the three story arcs are trying to accomplish in a single linear choice. I looked it over and tried to find an order that would satisfy the relationship in growth and meaning, satisfy the thematic requirements of the Prince’s change and mental state, and satisfy the need to have an increasing opposition structure to the player. There isn’t one.

That is until I remembered a mantra of design. That you can only notch up the threat and power so high in a linear fashion before it looses the feeling of danger. It’s called power creep where things get too powerful that it breaks the game, or in this case the player loses interest. It is not fun to keep fighting a slightly stronger brute each time. You have to mix it up a little. A closer look at the different attack styles led me to the following order: Hunter, Alchemist, Concubine, Warrior.

As I have expressed before it is the perfect stating point for their relationship as it they keep their distance from each other through this vignette in comparison to the others and it mirrors the Prince in his beginning mental state. His is selfish and out for his own desires. It is in the conflict between the two that the Prince begins to differentiate himself from the other corrupted in that he can place the fate of the world above his desires. The gameplay offers a basic combatant whose tricks are more about getting to the Hunter rather than the actual battle with him.

Second is Alchemist, because it has Eleka open up a little to the Prince as she expresses her disgust with the machinery of the Alchemist and her loathing of the traitor himself. At the end of the battle on the highest platform they find themselves laughing about it and relaxing, as they get more comfortable with the other’s presence. Theme wise we later learn that the Prince himself could also been seen as a traitor as he turned his back on his royal heritage and abdicated all responsibility for his actions. We see the Prince moving further away from that identity. Gameplay wise it changes things up a little, with a more cautious combatant, who is more likely to use long-range attacks and is better at dodging the Prince’s own attacks. The Alchemist also displays a little of his power by infecting the Prince in one area, which adds a nice sense of variety giving the player a countdown clock to heal the fertile ground.

Thirdly is the Concubine. This is where the relationship bonds really begin to form. We have Eleka revealing more about her past to the Prince. In the opener to that section she is telling stories of her time there, watching performances and dreaming of far off lands, almost wistfully. She talks of her mother and the wounds that it left in her family. The Prince becomes more than a random savior, he becomes her confidant. The Prince reciprocates the trust when he leaps to his death expecting Eleka to be there and catch him. The Concubine represents the wish for power, but also is an agent of lust versus love. She uses men to further her own ends using her feminine wiles. She tempts the Prince as such, but he rejects her advances and turns to Eleka as his grounding agent. Selfish desires are becoming less and less a driving factor in his character. This vignette more than any other is the turning point of his character. The player gets a slightly different challenge as well. The Concubine is an illusionist and will put multiple copies of herself on the battlefield to distract and disorient. She is far more agile than the other corrupted and faster too. But the most defining characteristic is the fact that for a time she removes Eleka from the battle by entangling her in corrupted. The Player has lost a button. Also she casts a spell on the Prince at times to reverse his movements of what the player input is. It switches up an otherwise beefing up of the boss.

Finally we come to the Warrior. I’ve explained before why he makes a good endgame thematically. The Warrior more than any other is the mirror of the Prince at the end of the game. The Prince becomes the fallen hero, a hero pulled down by his own good intention. Eleka here really tries to focus on that fact here. The further you progress in the Warrior’s territory the more her dialogue focuses on factual things, like how to proceed. The Prince asks her jokingly if he could have the city and she agrees. In part it is foreshadowing to the task she knows she must do, but also it is an effort to distract the Prince and distance herself. It is to no avail, as the Prince seems to be closer to her than ever as he carries her out of the Warrior’s fortress bridal style. She talks about his noble sacrifice, the kind that she will soon have to make, but the Prince rejects that concept, a possible indication of what he himself will do. As a combatant, none is stronger or more powerful than the Warrior. You can’t hurt him with any attack and you can’t even use the gauntlet attack on him. Blocking is almost a futile effort. Your only option is push him off the ledge, tower, or lock him in a cage. In the final battle after you drop him into a pit of lava he comes back and only then does he begin to lose health, but all you can do is run and dodge. This is not a battle of skill, but one of attrition. Beyond the final battle with Ahriman there is no more climatic battle in the game. It is a perfect ending to the 2nd act. At the end of the Warrior’s vignette the mood is somber as it should be. A good man gave his life and soul so that they may continue and now they must do just that.

I examined the different vignettes and looked at 7 different vignette orders. During the examination of each order I revised my opinion of certain details. In my final assessment, for example, I see a different meaning behind Eleka’s utilitarian dialogue than I did at first. I only changed my mind about certain details of the story; overall the game still disappoints me.

Were Prince of Persia made into a linear game this is how I would have constructed the vignettes with the given material. As it is this is my opinion on the order you should play the areas in to receive the most out of the story arcs.

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