essay, video games

Prince of Persia: The Forgotten… Story? — Part 1

I am a fan of Prince of Persia. Starting with Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, I have played and beaten each game in that series — Sands of Time, Warrior Within and The Two Thrones — multiple times. I played the 2008 reboot through twice. I enjoy the kinetic feeling that those project; leaping and jumping for one thing to another in long chains is great fun. I thought then, given my history and proclivity toward playing games in the franchise, that I would like Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands too. And I did… until the story started getting in the way.

I should have known what I would find if I started scrutinizing the plot points of a Prince of Persia game: very little holding things together. Even my favorite of the series, Sands of Time, only really makes sense if you ignore the absurdity of the Prince telling a story to Farah with the line “That didn’t happen” coming up over and over in the telling. The other two, while direct sequels, break in that their alternative endings are voided, especially in the case of Warrior Within, by the next game in the trilogy. The plot is just there to be the scaffolding, literally, for the Prince to run, jump and climb around during its progression. There needs to be a reason for the Prince to go to different areas and the story supplies that. It was that way in Sands of Time and it is that way for The Forgotten Sands.

[Spoilers for first few hours of The Forgotten Sands ahead.]

The Prince has come to his brother Malik’s kingdom to learn about leadership.

Yes, that is the reason for the whole game. The Prince is sent by his father to learn… leadership. It doesn’t really make sense, but there you go.

When he arrives, the Prince sees that the kingdom is being invaded and makes his way to his brother’s side in the hidden vault of King Solomon.

Hidden, in the dictionary sense of the word, means people do not know where it is. Not, “It’s this room full of treasure. Right here. This huge room.”

Malik sees that his kingdom is falling around him to the invading force and wants to unleash an “unstoppable army” to take back his lands and defend his people. The Prince disagrees.

Perhaps the Prince understands what the word “unstoppable” actually means?

But Malik succeeds in using a medallion, he conveniently has, in unlocking this army.

Turns out, King Solomon was “hiding it” for a reason: unstoppable means they just keep coming. Who knew?

So far, in the first thirty minutes of the game or so, we have a weak purpose on the part of the Prince to even be there and three slightly unbelievable things lined up together: the hidden vault found, the key at the ready and that Malik is able to unlock it with ease. But wait, there’s more!

The Prince, having survived this new undead army that rose from the very sand that Malik unlocked —

The sands were forgotten. Get it?

— moments before by holding one half of the now broken medallion, then comes to a portal —

Why not? The Prince is hardly surprised by finding a portal in the wall. I’m not sure why I am –oh, right. I’m surprised because it does not make sense at all.

that takes him to the world of Djinn–

If the Prince was surprised to find himself in this strange world, he does not show it. His single comment is “This looks familiar” which leaves the player in the dark about the whole thing. Maybe he commutes on a regular basis?

where he meets Razia, a Djinn,

In case you are not up on your Arab folklore and Islamic teachings, a Djinn is a creature of “smokeless flame”. They can be, by some folklore definitions, broken down into two categories: Marid (water based, blue in color) and Ifrit (fire based, red in color). The first can be helpful while the second definitely aren’t. Razia, since she forms out of the water in basin when the Prince approaches, is most likely of Marid.

 who explains the situation and tells him to hurry.

The situations is this: the unstoppable army is unstoppable… unless you are a Djinn, or have the powers of a Djinn. Razia gives the Prince the power to rewind several seconds of time and tells him to get the medallion back together and to seal the army back up. “The army was not in King Solomon possession. He was their target,” she clarifies. The leader of this army of the undead is an Ifrit by the name of Ratash. It is his power that sustains them.

If you are now wondering what King Solomon has to do with Djinn, you are not up on your Qur’an reading. He had control over the Djinn as granted by God. And while this does not explain everything, it puts the story is a little more context. The additional key you need is to know that he enslaved the Djinn by many readings of the passages in question and, should one have escaped, it would make sense for an Ifrit to be mad and seek vengeance. None of this is explained at all in the game however. It is all just speculation on my part.

The Prince continues and, after confronting Malik about the medallion, they both refuse to hand each other their own halves and travel separately in order to close the inner gates to trap this unstoppable army within the kingdom.

Setting aside the fact that putting down the gates is a dumb idea — the Prince has seen several example by now of enemies busting through doors — the scene highlights one of the growing concerns I have with the game. Previous to this point, killing any member of the undead army would give the Prince experience points. These points, in turn, build up level by level to allow the player to choose which upgrade to add. Killing enemies then comes to mean more upgrades.

Soon, the Prince comes to another another portal and another visit with Razia. After the Prince explains that Malik was unwilling to give up his side of the medallion, Razia says that he might be infected by the power of the sands. As he is killing soldiers of this army, he is absorbing their power. Razia says this is a bad thing.

Now we have reached one of the points where I get deeply confused about the messages the game is telling me. On the one hand, it is telling me to make the Prince kill all the undead army members I come across. After all, it prompted me the first time to start fighting and the on-screen help still occasionally comes up to remind me of battle tactics. Yet, on the other hand, Razia explains that absorbing this power is bad. As the player, I like upgrades. But the story is telling me that I should ignore this. Which is right?

Added to the confusion was the fact that I quit my first session soon after this. Uplay, Ubisoft’s social network and game launcher, told me I had some Action points (e.g. achievements or trophies on other platforms) I could spend on things. After looking through the list, I chose experience worth two upgrades and went back into the game to allocate them.

So, taking this power in by killing enemies is bad… unless the game tells you it is good? Isn’t the game telling me to use this power to help my character also hurting him? Or is the power just hurting Malik and the Prince is immune to its effects because Razia gave him power? If that’s the case, why is he still getting experience at all? It’s not very clear at all.

If I were to sum up my first few hours with The Forgotten Sands, it would be that while I like the running and jumping, I am highly annoyed with the story, or lack thereof. There seems to be a sloppy application of even the barest brush strokes. The reasons for Razia helping and Ratash attacking are tied to the medallion, but since I know only the barest of details about it, I am at a lose as to why all of the fighting needs to take place at all. Razis speaks of keeping up a promise. Did she promise King Solomon something, keep his heirs or kingdom safe? Why is Ratash attacking? He dislikes the medallion. Okay, I can accept that at the beginning, but I need a little more than “He’s evil. Kill him.” to justify both his attacks on the Prince and why I should go after him.