Thematic Relevance of the Vignettes in Prince of Persia

*Spoiler Warning*

The servants of Ahriman are the thematic representation of their fall from grace and at the end of the game, a representation of the Prince. Each had a desire that could only be fulfilled giving something to Ahriman, in their case, their souls. However, like Faust, they find their wishes fulfilled, but empty. The Hunter wished for more dangerous prey, a more cunning prey, but once he hunted humans he found there was no greater prey and was soon stalking a desolate citadel. The Alchemist gave his soul to attain knowledge and the ability to push the boundaries of his experiment, but soon found they were for naught in that they benefited no one. The Concubine wish to once again hold great power through influence of powerful people despite her disfiguration, but now holds court in an empty palace. The Warrior wished for the power to save his people, but now haunts a crumbling city, much like the one his people once lived in.

Each servant, the Hunter, the Alchemist, the Concubine, and the Warrior, is a small thematic vignette within the greater story arc of the game. The player has to complete four areas under the particular servant’s control before they are able to pursue and finish them off in the final location that the servant retreats to. Each one is thematically relevant to the servants’ purpose and state. Once done with each vignette the player moves on to the next one. Of course each self-contained story does not have to be done to completion before tracking a different enemy, but for the sake of thematic unity, we’ll assume for the play through that the player finished one enemy off before moving on to the next.

Examining each servant we find a different type of antagonist, with a different motivation and the supposedly a different lesson that the characters and player is supposed to come away with. I’ll examine each servant one at a time.

First is the Hunter. Here we have fallen prince who loved to hunt, but became bored with the pastime because he got too good at it. He wanted to move on to more dangerous and cunning prey, doing so led him to Ahriman. He is by far the most aggressive of the four, but also the most-straight forward. He does not speak; his intentions are more than understood. He sees the Prince and Eleka as trophies and nothing more. You do not speak to your prey, nor reason with them; you simply hunt them. The areas in which he chooses to fight are closed off, difficult to get to and more often than not allow him to blind side the player. In one area, during a magic flying sequence he knocks them out of the air and begins a battle. It is the only time in the game this happens and is surprising when it does. In another he stands waiting like the enemies do in the other areas only to have the ground fall away under your feet as you charge up to him. But in the end ultimately fails and dies because of it. There is no repentance in his character, he recognizes it as law of the jungle, be or be killed. He was a hunter whose prey got the better of him.

Next is the Alchemist. Here was a former member of the Ahura that betrayed his own people to Ahriman for the gift of being able to control the corruption. He used his new found power to continue his never-ending quest for knowledge. He displays an angle of insatiable greed, not for gold, but for knowledge, for his experiments. He sees no use for the world around him or its petty and temporary problem and seeks eternal knowledge that can serve no one, but only acts as simultaneously balm and fuel for his burning desire. The Alchemist literally locks himself away in his observatory, his ivory tower and it crumbles when he is no longer there and it is not missed. A testament to the uselessness of his endeavors compared to the crimes he committed to continue them. With his death, he cries out ego-maniacally that he can’t die, that he isn’t supposed to die. As corny as Eleka’s response is its true. Regardless the Alchemist is shocked not repentant.

Moving on the Concubine. Here is a woman who lust for power was her driving force. She was manipulative, crafty and always got what she wanted. Her downfall came from the loss of her beauty, the illusion that gave her influence. Ahriman returned her the power to do just that. In a world of politics and intrigue her powers are most effective. Her illusionary powers soon become tools for her own delusions rather than to delude others. She creates a different world for herself, which the different areas of the palace highlight, as this as the once majestical building is crumbling and the only power or authority that still remains is illusionary. Her prowess is not in combat, but the only way to stop her is to break her spell and like before she met Ahriman revealing her true ugly self beneath the facade.

Finally we come to the Warrior. He is a tragic figure. Unlike the other servants, he did not give himself to Ahriman out of his own selfish desires, but for the sake of his people. Ironically in asking for the power to save his people he had been granted a power of unequaled destruction. He had become a juggernaut and found himself an exile of the peaceful people he once saved. Now they are long gone despite the Warrior’s efforts. Upon Ahriman’s release he marks his territory in the city, where people like the ones he once protected once lived. His very presence is causing the city to crumble and breakdown around him. It is impossible to defeat him in a fight and must resort to pushing him off ledges or trapping him in cages, due to his immense powers. One can only imagine how the once peaceful king defeated an army. After a fight in one of the towers, the Warrior’s power leads to the Prince and Eleka forced to flee a collapsing building. The whole time Eleka tries to reason and appeal to who the Warrior once was. In the end it is unclear if she succeeded or if they were as the Prince claims, “lucky.” Either way the player can see the conflicted persona beneath the armor.

Each of these antagonists marks a thematic relevance to the Prince’s fate. Each of them made the choice to make a deal with Ahriman for their desires. If fact you can see a bit each of them in the Prince. The Prince is a traitor, a seeker of a prize, a lustful individual, and sacrificing himself for those he loves. As much as the relevance is appreciated it is dissonant that the Prince doesn’t take heed from other who have made this mistake in this choice.

Overall I stick to my belief that Prince of Persia would have played better as a linear narrative. Nothing seems to back this up better than the vignettes. In each one it would have built more tension and more antagonism between the Prince and Eleka and the servants of Ahriman.

The Hunter could have had a prolonged hunt across the four areas before leading his victims into his lair. He could have had a long-term strategy that would have been more in line with his greatest hunter motif. His trap diverts them into a different section that would lead them where he wanted them to go. The designers have a reason the hunter keeps running away: to draw the two them deeper and closer to being his newest trophies. The end result of beating him would have provided greater satisfaction for having survived such a cunning foe.

For the Alchemist we are sort of only told of his atrocities and only see the results of his research. The broken down machinery, the reservoir and the tower. None of which seems very menacing or having only illicit purposes. In fact Eleka seems to take a staunch faith over technology stance of many fundamentalist religions. We could have worked our way up the large machinery to the tower where the experiments were conducted. We see the end result that could have their uses and the Prince may think them cool, until he witnesses the price and understands Eleka’s logic.

The Concubine could have started with her simple illusions, before building one upon the other creating a different feel of the gameplay mechanics and really messed with the player’s mind. Near the end the game started to do this, but I feel after the Prince and Eleka started breaking her illusions she creates more intricate and complex ones and not rely on tying Eleka down at the start of every single fight. The final illusion of the infinite Elekas is the type of screwing with the player I would have liked to see more of.

And the Warrior, as interesting as Ubisoft tried to make it, his destructive presence did not come across well, because the city was as destroyed as it was ever going to be. There were rumblings and the sounds of the Warrior raging, but never a visible sign of the destruction, except for one of the towers. It would have been nice to see the city become more and more dilapidated as the heroes continued on. Make the scenes of travel through the city more intense by having everything falling apart around you or if you weren’t fast enough on top of you. The idea that this being is so powerful could be represented through more than his health bar never being effected, you could have had his destructive power hinder and hurt even when he wasn’t in sight or near them.

None of the overall story ideas or thematic elements would have changed and probably would have been enhanced by a linear treatment. But there is more it would have added to the story structure than just details and tension. It would have created an overall thematic arc for the Prince. Many have called this game Eleka’s story despite the Prince being the title. I think it is both of their stories if the beginning and end are any indication. It’s just the physical trials are Eleka’s story, while the thematic trials are the Prince’s. Unfortunately they are lost in the ‘do it in your own order’ gameplay. What I mean is have there be a progression from one servant to the next as they heal the fertile ground so we can really see what it means to give in to Ahriman and better understand the choice that the Prince ultimately made.

I have more on Prince of Persia, but since this essay has grown to long, I’ll finish up my thoughts in the next post.

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