Monday, February 22, 2010

The Choice Is Not Yours: Why Prince of Persia Has The Best (And Worst) Ending In Modern Videogames


The game is called "Prince of Persia." But it's not really about the Prince. (He doesn't even seem to be a prince this time. We call him "the Prince" because he has no name.) Really, the game is about (legitimate princess) Elika.

Princess Elika

As the game opens, the Prince is lost in a sandstorm, calling out for Farah. Franchise veterans will recognize the name as that of the love interest from the Sands of Time trilogy - but it is soon revealed that Farah is actually the name of this Prince's donkey, laden with the riches the Prince has recently looted.

It's a nod to the previous games, but it's also a dig at Princess Farah's characterization and gameplay role. She was little more than a pack animal. The Prince, lost in the storm, is trying to reconnect with her, trying to return to that simplicity. Instead, he finds Elika.

"There's this fine line where [Elika] has to be strong yet sexy; autonomous but have a certain amount of dependency on the Prince so that the player still feels like a hero. It was also really important to us that she not be treated like a sex symbol or a romantic interest. She has her own ideals and her own goals."
—Producer Ben Mattes, as quoted in Every Prince of Persia Needs a Lady

In Elika, the Prince finds an equal - if not more. Tough and spirited, she is quite able to keep up with him, both conversationally and physically. Her recent infusion of holy powers gives her magic that outclasses the Prince's acrobatics. All the climbing the Prince can do, Elika can do too. Her teleportation and levitation provide the vital double-jump, as well as the safety net - fall too far, and Elika will grab the Prince's hand and return them both to solid ground. Take too much damage in battle, and Elika will leap into the fray to put some distance between Prince and enemy (at the cost of the enemy regaining some health of its own). The only things, in fact, that Elika lacks and the Prince provides are a sword and a gauntlet, and these are only necessary because some enemies enter modes where they will counter all attacks that are not from a sword, or all that are not from a gauntlet, during which time Elika's magical attacks are ineffective. In short, Elika barely needs the Prince. The Prince absolutely needs Elika.

Elika and the Prince
With Elika as his lifeline, it is literally impossible for the Prince to die. The game received a great deal of attention for this fact, as I've referenced before. But just as unusual as an action game in which the player character can't die is one with a death mechanic handled within the game's universe.

There's a concept called "diegesis" that means the narrative universe of a work. "Diegetic" elements are those which exist inside that universe, while "non-diegetic" ones are outside. For example, if a film shows a character listening to a song on a CD player, with the music audible to both character and audience, it is said to be diegetic. If the character stops the CD player and now the film's soundtrack kicks in with ambient music the character is assumed not to be able to hear, that music is said to be non-diegetic.

Most death mechanics are non-diegetic. When Ratchet falls into deadly lava, or Faith misjudges a leap between skyscrapers, or Rubi takes one too many bullets, and they die and then suddenly reappear a ways back, it's clear that this is not what has actually happened within the game's universe. The implication is that time has rewound, in a way external to the world of the game. The death has been undone and nobody within the game has any memory of it. It is a non-event.

When the Prince begins what would be a deadly plummet, or is in danger of being killed by an enemy, Elika swoops in and saves him. This is diegetic - it actually happens within Prince of Persia's universe. It's not a rewind; it's not an undo. The narrative flow is not broken. Every time it would be, the player is instead reminded of Elika's importance as she saves the Prince's life.

The game plays with this fact in one of its more interesting moments. During a fight with the shape-shifting, illusion-weaving Concubine, the Prince is challenged to find the real Elika among a group of illusory ones. The trick? They are all illusions. The solution? Take a suicidal leap of faith, trusting Elika to - as usual - teleport to him and pull him to safety.

If the Prince is wrong, and Elika doesn't appear, he will die. He is willing to risk his life to get her back. After all, if he can't find her, he is lost, and there is little point in trying to continue in a world without her. But the Prince is right - Elika appears and saves him.

I have played a lot of games, and have thoroughly internalized that death mechanics are non-diegetic. So when I was presented with this problem, I was stumped for an embarrassingly long time. It simply didn't occur to me that the death-recovery was an actual event that could be harnessed. My friend Iceman, however, happened to be in the room. He's played a lot of games too. But he wasn't playing this one - he was watching it. And so he wasn't in "game mode" the way I was, and he saw the solution immediately.

Elika and the Prince
Prince of Persia also takes great care to ensure both the Prince and Elika have genuine weight. When the Prince runs, he takes a moment to get up to speed, lending a deliberateness to his motion. Elika takes up actual space - there are many, many animations between her and the Prince demonstrating that she is an actual embodied person accompanying him, and not simply a game mechanic to be activated at the appropriate times. She piggybacks when he climbs vines, they swap places carefully on poles and planks, and if he is below her when she drops from a ledge, he catches her and sets her gently on the ground. There are a variety of voice clips that activate during these animations, such as the Prince grunting and telling Elika that she is heavier than she looks. Crucially, they are only triggered some of the time, and not at every opportunity.

The Prince can also, whenever the player wishes, stop and talk to Elika. She quickly proves just as witty as he. She never withers, never shies, never gives an inch. She earns the Prince's respect because she never tries to. Gradually she reveals more about herself, her past, and her kingdom. She tells stories about the places they visit - an attempt by the game writers to turn the environments from a contrived playground into the ruins of a city where people genuinely lived. The architecture is a bit too implausible for this to be completely successful, but it still turns Elika into a person with a real history.

So when Elika is evasive, the player is able to trust that it's not because the writers left a gap. It's because she actually is hiding something. There is an actual mystery, and it will be revealed by the end.

When exploring the royal towers, the Prince snarkily asks if he can have a tower. Elika responds that if he stays, he can have everything - the entire city. It's a promise that comes a little too easily from a woman who usually snarks right back. It's cryptic in its directness. She doesn't seem to be lying, or even joking exactly, but something important is clearly going unsaid. The prince doesn't know the right question to ask to find out what it is. But by the time the credits roll, the player will learn.

The result of all this - of Elika enhancing the Prince's mobility and protecting his life, of her possessing unusual depth, intelligence, and strength, of her bonding with the Prince over time - is that the Prince and the player both come to genuinely care about her. The Prince, in fact, falls in love with her.


Elika flees armed pursuers
Over the dozen-odd hours of the game, the Prince aids Elika in healing the fertile grounds of her city. They power the seal keeping Ahriman, the ancient and evil god of darkness, imprisoned. It gradually becomes clear that the reason the grounds need healing in the first place is because shortly before the game began, Elika died. Her father the king struck a deal with Ahriman to release him in exchange for restoring Elika to life.

As the last grounds are healed of Ahriman's corruption, and Ahriman himself is once again imprisoned in the Tree of Life, the Prince finally realizes what Elika has known all along - to complete the ritual and truly seal Ahriman away, Elika will have to give up her magically-granted life energy and place it in the tree. Undoing Elika's death is what freed Ahriman. Giving up her life is what is necessary to imprison him.

The Prince figures it out too late to stop her. The tree is strengthened, and Elika crumples to the ground. He cradles her lifeless body in his arms... and control is returned to the player.

There is nothing to do but carry Elika out of the temple that holds the Tree of Life. As the Prince enters the long hallway leading out, the credits begin to roll. As he reaches the end, coming to the grave of Elika's mother just outside the temple door, the credits stop.

The normally talkative prince is eerily silent. There is a tension in the air - there has not been the release of a true climax and denouement.

Gently the Prince lays Elika down on her mother's grave. He is then struck once more by the vision that has recurred throughout the game - Elika's death, and the deal her father struck with Ahriman to save her.

He hesitates a moment. He strokes Elika's hair. He reaches a decision, and steps purposefully away from the grave. The camera pans, showing the four trees that have sprung up as a result of Elika purifying the fertile grounds... and once again, control is returned to the player.

There is nowhere else to go. The other areas the Prince had previously explored cannot be accessed without Elika's abilities. The Prince is alone and his world is empty, except for the trees.

As the Prince approaches the trees, Ahriman's whispers can be heard. Goading the Prince. Promising things. Asking what wrong Ahriman has ever done to him. Sympathizing with the Prince's obvious sorrow at Elika's death. The Prince remains silent.

Each of the trees requires a bit of platforming to reach - made more difficult by Elika's absence. As the Prince climbs to each and cuts them down, corruption spreads in the area where it stood, and Ahriman's whispers grow louder and more insistent. When the last tree is felled, the doors to the temple re-open, and Ahriman is nearly shouting.

Re-entering the temple, the Prince comes to the final tree - the Tree of Life that holds Ahriman captive. It is the last line of defense, and the only thing preventing Ahriman from escaping into the world and wreaking havoc and destruction. And the only thing to do is cut it down.

Felling it allows the Prince to capture its sacred energy, which he can then carry out to Elika, triggering the game's real and final ending. The tree's energy restores Elika to life, and she bolts upright. Her face twists in despair as she realizes what the Prince has done. In a few minutes, he has destroyed everything they worked so hard for. Everything she willingly gave her own life for. She chokes out a single question - "Why?"

The Prince doesn't answer. There is no answer. The answer is obvious.

The Prince lifts Elika, cradling her as he did before. She is too exhausted, too defeated, to resist. He carries her away from the temple as it crumbles behind them. Ahriman emerges with a horrible growl, and the world is enveloped in darkness.

It's not a happy ending, which in a AAA-title is attention-worthy in its own right.

"Everyone likes a happy ending but it's not all that terribly unusual for a movie, book or television show to end on a sour note. Yet in videogames it's almost unheard of.

It's understandable in a way, because unlike other forms of media in which we watch others struggle against herculean odds, in videogames we are the hero and the struggle is ours. It's not the man on the page or the screen who stumbles, falls and fails. It's us. So it's not hard to see why game designers are hesitant to take 'authorial control' and essentially bend the player to fit whatever story they want to tell. . . .

Small, independent devs can afford to make art but the big players - that is, the guys who fill the shelves at GameStop - have to make money. So the question ultimately becomes this: Are today's gamers willing to surrender narrative control to a game designer who has a very specific story to tell? Are we prepared to take that step, and to be cool about it when things don't unfold quite as we expect or want them to?

We're not going to find out until one of the majors puts its money where its Macbeth is, but I don't hold out a lot of hope, at least not for the short term. The uniquely interactive quality of videogames makes them an incredibly powerful and immersive storytelling tool, yet that very interactivity that sinks us so deeply into the story virtually precludes them from being anything but tales of victory. The technology is ready and has been for awhile now; gamers, on the other hand, are not."
Andy Chalk, When Endings Go Bad

Prince of Persia's ending is a risky, courageous move. It is also an absolutely brilliant and beautiful use of option restriction. The player is passively forced into an act that carries, at the very least, a great deal of ethical tension. But it's because the player's experience has been meticulously crafted to mirror the Prince's emotional state.

Elika dies to seal Ahriman away. She does so with an apology but no complaints. It's clearly what she wants. The Prince should acknowledge her sacrifice and move on. But the Prince cannot accept this.

The game rolls credits while the Prince carries Elika's lifeless body to her mother's grave. It's telling the player that this is a valid ending to the game. The player can turn it off and walk away. But the player cannot accept this.

The game world is empty because the Prince's world is empty. The only thing for the player to do is to cut down the trees, because it is the only thing for the Prince to do.

The game could present all this as a cutscene. Show the Prince marching up to the trees and cutting them down while the player merely watches. But if it did, the player could disown these actions. Instead, the game quietly presents the player with the option. It never tells the player to destroy the trees. The player even has to work for it, guiding the Prince through brief platforming segments for each tree. The player cannot disown the actions any more than the Prince can. They are carried out willfully and deliberately.

The Prince knows that releasing Ahriman is a terrible, terrible idea. He knows it's the wrong thing to do. He knows that Elika will hate him for it. The player knows all these things too. And yet, somehow, the player does it anyway, and the Prince does it anyway, both for the same reason: to simply walk away is unimaginable.

By causing the player to share the Prince's experience and culpability, Prince of Persia's ending tells a powerful story in a way that takes full advantage of the narrative power of videogames and would be impossible in any other medium. To call it "cinematic" would be an insult.

And it is therefore a damn crying shame that the Epilogue spends so much time backpedaling furiously.

Available only on the consoles and not the PC, the Epilogue is a downloadable expansion to the game, adding on a few more hours of gameplay and story showing what happens to the Prince and Elika after the events of the main game. They come across an underground palace which they travel through to try to escape Ahriman, with plenty of the requisite platforming and combat along the way.

Elika, having regained her strength, is quite upset with the Prince. The Prince tries to calm her down, justifying his decision to bring her back to life. He claims that Ahriman wanted her dead, so no one would be around to stop him when he inevitably escaped his weakening prison.

Despite the fact that these claims contradict Ahriman's behavior and statements at the end of the main game, the Epilogue provides evidence that the Prince is actually correct. Ahriman is not yet as strong as he'd been implied to be, and Elika's powers persist and actually strengthen despite the destruction of the temple that was their source. Elika and the Prince may actually have a fighting chance against Ahriman, which they would not have if Ahriman escaped while Elika was dead.

By retconning the Prince's decision into the pragmatically correct one, the Epilogue destroys the impact of the main game's ending. The whole point of the Prince's actions is that they are wrongheaded.

"We are shown that while the Prince makes bad decisions, he makes them because he is a somewhat deep, multi-faceted character. His ultimate betrayal of Elika’s trust and desires is actually quite interesting, if one cares about the complexity (but not necessarily the quality!) of his character: it shows him for the troubled, selfish, not-necessarily good person that he is. It also asks us to question how he and Elika can be attracted to one another, even if she knows his sense of morals and necessity differs vastly from hers."
—Tom Cross, The Sexual Politics Of Prince Of Persia

The Epilogue tramples over the accomplishment of the main game's ending, without providing much of anything in the way of compelling narrative to replace it. Elika and the Prince run and fight and climb their way through the palace and emerge on the other side. Still stung by his betrayal, Elika abandons the Prince and goes in search of the rest of her people.

It doesn't even look like there's going to be a sequel: the next game, The Forgotten Sands, is an interquel set within the Sands of Time trilogy. The unresolved state in which the Epilogue leaves the story after undoing Prince of Persia's dramatic and decisive ending appears to be as much closure as we're getting.

Thus the great sorrow of Prince of Persia is that it undoes its own great triumph. It puts forward one of the gutsiest and most exquisitely crafted game endings ever seen in a AAA-title, and then immediately repents and says it didn't really mean it, leaving the player with nothing but a limp apology. It should have been content to leave us with a blown mind and a broken heart.

Still, I am thankful to Prince of Persia for being so narratively brave. It deserves to be praised for advancing the state of the art and daring the rest of the industry to follow its lead. And thusly do I praise it.


  1. I smell a bit of this here...

  2. @Midnight Tea:
    Let me go ahead and fix that link...
    True Art Is Angsty

    I think my view here is closer to "This Piece Of True Art Happens To Be Angsty." :) The fact that the ending is kind of a downer is brave and notable, for the reasons Andy Chalk explained, but that isn't what makes it good.

    What I love about Prince of Persia's ending is that the gameplay and the story are in perfect harmony. Unlike the moment I complained about in Bioshock where the narrative contradicts the player's experience, here the player's experience reveals the narrative. It's a piece of storytelling that demonstrates just what videogames are capable of, rather than relying on tropes inherited from older media.

    But I do believe that True Art Is Not Afraid To Be Angsty. The Epilogue's attempt to make the situation a little less dark, and in particular making the Prince's decision the correct one, feels like a contrived attempt to assuage those who complained about the main game's ending being dark and "forcing" the player to commit an act with which they disagreed. It doesn't serve the story, and it turns the Prince from a fascinatingly flawed hero to a more standard one, while reducing Elika to an irrational woman who stays mad at the Prince for going against her wishes even though, by all appearances, he was right to do so.

    That's why Prince of Persia's ending is great and the Epilogue's is terrible. Not because the first is dark and the latter less so. Angst for its own sake is at least as annoying as sugary sunshine for its own sake. But including darkness where appropriate, when it serves the story, is a sign of maturity in art. The fact that some games have endings like Prince of Persia's means that videogames are growing up.

  3. No, it's more that in this case, True Art happened to be angsty. Despite the fact that angst is WAY overused in our society, angst still can make good art. And if you've made True Art that's angsty, turning around and wrecking the impact of that Art just to avoid angst... is stupid.

  4. @pingela:
    Yes. Exactly. That was a much more efficient way to say it than I managed. :)

    The turning-around-and-wrecking part is the problem. It reminds me of what Kieron Gillen said about the controversial "No Russian" level in Modern Warfare 2 - if you're going to go out on a limb and make a brave statement, then you damn well better make it loud and clear. Don't go halfway.

  5. After reading all this - I totally want to play this game :)

    - Rob

  6. Well, I have a little more respect for POP now :P

    And I learned a new word: Diegetic. Other games with diegetic death mechanics: Planescape Torment, Demon's Souls, Prey, Braid. I'd like to see games go towards more diegetic mechanics in general. Including, if need be, making the save system diegetic. Or even multiplayer aspects. Demon's Souls has some pretty cool ways of accomplishing both, but I'd like to see other ways try.

  7. @Rob:
    You should! :) It's good times.

    You might also find Shamus Young's video Reset Button: Most Innovative Videogame of 2008 interesting. He discusses the game's accessibility and lack of punishment. (I mentioned this video in my post about challenge and punishment.)

  8. @Steven A.:
    I did think of mentioning Braid, where of course it gets a bit more complicated whether the death is an event or a non-event. :)

    Let's go ahead and toss Bioshock on the diegetic-death pile too - and I find it interesting that the other three you mention are near the top of my to-be-played list.

    Seeing the growth of diegetic mechanics is pretty fun - I didn't play Dead Space beyond the demo, but I think that had a fully diegetic interface, with in-game holographic readouts and such.

    And yeah - Prince of Persia doesn't get nearly as much respect as it deserves. :) Partly because almost nobody talks about the ending. Commentary is gradually popping up, but I'm inclined to think most of the early reviews were written by people who hadn't beaten it - an all-too common problem. So mostly they just talked about how pretty and easy it is.

  9. The reason why the game suffered so much wrath and yet was saved is because of the Prince of Persia franchise backing it up. While all the PoP "fans" tried to shun it from their memory because it's different and the new fans liked it the game might have gotten even harsher reviews and therefore mediocre sales because it's different from most games this gen.

  10. @Cyber Altair:
    It's a common dilemma in sequels that deviate from formula (as I discussed rather longwindedly in relation to Ratchet & Clank). Push it out as a new, untested IP, or place it under the old familiar banner and bring in the installed fanbase, at risk of alienating them?

    This Prince of Persia could well have been given another name, based on how it differed from those that came before it - but then again, so could have Sands of Time. I don't think the reason that Sands of Time escaped ire is because it's that much better of a game. It's because instead of rebooting soon after a beloved trilogy, it rebooted after a poorly-received installment.

  11. 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

  12. @rhys:
    Actually, the game world is cleverly designed to avoid this being a problem at all. Within the area around the temple, there are no enemies and no drops of a sufficient height to kill the Prince. And it's impossible to reach the more hazardous locations without the double-jump, which the Prince can't do alone. It's only possible for the Prince to jump off a cliff or otherwise take a high fall when Elika is still alive. Without Elika, the Prince literally can't get into a situation where he needs to be saved.

  13. @doctor:exactly so what if the user does jump off a cliff then...just inquiring..cause in the game the prince cant die...

  14. @rhys:
    The Prince can't get to any cliffs without Elika. You're asking what happens if the player does something they literally can't do. :)

    There is no answer to this question, any more than if you were asking what happens if the Prince attacks Elika. It's just not possible within the game's world.

  15. Let me start by saying what a great article you've written. Well thought and nice to read.

    However, I strongly believe you misinterpreted the original ending which causes the dissonance with the epilogue.

    Releasing Ahriman was not just the right thing to do, it is the climax to the Prince's characterization. From the beginning the Prince was a flawed character: only out for himself, not caring about anyone etc. The reason he helps Elika is because a donkey packed with gold is worthless if your world is ruled by darkness. A selfish act indeed. He lost his parents to 'someone elses war' and hates the fact that he is fighting someone elses war himself now. He also tells Elika that the Uhra's duty is stupid.

    Because of his interaction with Elika however, he gradually changes. After their first encounter with the Concubine he tells Elika never trust anyone and ironically the only way to beat the Concubine in her lair is to do just that.

    Another important thing to note is the fact that the seal of Ahriman was already weakening before this all began. Elika died in an attempt to enforce the seal. This is of vital importance to the plot.

    When the Prince is presented the final choice it is the following: leave Elika, get his gold and live a happy life knowing Ahriman won't escape for another 100 years or so OR risk his life for Elika and the rest of the world and fight for the sake of others which he swore he'd never do (because of his parents). The Prince we started playing the game with would have left her there, the Prince we ended the game with goes on to become a real hero.

    I loved the ending for the exact oposite reason as you did: because the Prince made the heartwarming and 'right' choice showing his growth as a character in a very subtle way. Because so many people interpreted the ending as the 'evil choice', the epilogue (read: developers) have the Prince literaly state why he did it, which is a shame but apperently had to be done for people to understand the story. It's not a retcon. The Prince starts as a flawed character but learns why people can risk their lives for others. That is the essence of the story. Saying the Prince's final choice was a testament of his flawed personality is to ignore his charactarization throughout the game.

    Great underapreciated game. Holy wall of text batman!

    1. Thank You. Your interpretation was much clearer and fit the series thematically.

  16. Great article. Most people I talk to wrote this game off without playing it due to its reputation for hand-holding. It was a bit too repetitive at times but I thoroughly enjoyed it, largely because of the excellent way the store unfolded and the great, Okami-esque atmosphere. Seeing the nightmarish wastelands revived was always a pleasant experience and some of the vistas in the game were downright breathtaking. It's a shame we probably won't get a true sequel because I enjoyed this much more than the other recent POP games.

  17. I enjoyed reading this. It clued me in to some of the reason I enjoyed the game and what the game play did well, but the ending was not one of the things I remember fondly.

    In fact, I had to look up how to end the game because I thought the game was over when I put Elika down. The cutscene made it clear and the credits cemented it, so when the game didn't end, I was perplexed. Games end, you know? So when a game doesn't end when it's over, what do you do? Assume it’s not over.

    While your exploration of the closing scenes is well-written and engaging, it seems inaccurate in favor of extolling a grandiose immersion level. I suspect, as was the case with me, that the driving impulse at the end for most players is figuring out why the game did not end as anticipated. And that search leads to the real ending.

    It's not that the player wants this new ending like the Prince does--supposing that through immersion the player has become as short-sighted and selfish as the Prince--it's that the game didn't end like games typically do, so the player wants to find out why or assumes the game isn't over.

    Elika’s death, if anything, was a fake ending. It was an ending I liked because it elevates Elika through her sacrifice and reminds me that her role was more important than mine, but I understand why the game didn’t end there: because the focus wasn’t on the main character. It would have been a far larger accomplishment if the game actually concluded by minimizing the role of the main character.

    The ending tells me, not that I am being guided by a story that I can’t change, but that in games I am meant to be protagonist or antagonist; I can’t be a minor character in someone else’s story. Yet the characters in Prince of Persia were so well-developed, I would have been happy with the conclusion that I was Elika’s sidekick. And that would be quite an accomplishment for a game.

  18. Cool ending, it's a shame I never got there. I really consider this to be among the worst games of all time, button mashing (press X to not die kind) and its brand of non-traditional gameplay aren't too fun to me, and collecting the exact same orbs nonstop got really old really fast. I love a good story, but this game didn't have it for me. The classic Alladin-style tale was better than a simple big bad vs. two trendy white Persians. I didn't even realize people really liked this game at all.

  19. I'm reminded of the King Lear alternate ending where Cordelia is okay and everyone lives happily ever after (albeit in Glouchester's case sans eyes), performed from the 18th century until the 1930s because the one Shakespeare wrote was considered too depressing.

    Steven, I'm not so sure. I think that the issue is that the Prince only learned to trust and love one other person, rather than fight for others in general. He learned that it's okay to rely on and love people (which was hard because his parents died) but never learned that sometimes sacrifices must be made for the greater good (which was harder because his parents presumably died for such a cause). He could have gone out to seek the Ahura, or tried to find a way to contact Ormazd, or remained as a guardian of the temple, but instead he freed Ahriman. I see him as having been tempted in the same way as the Warrior and the Mourning King in that he does an evil
    Also, there's a sense in which the fact that he loves someone means he can be tempted. He has grown, and he has something that he actually values which means he can be made to do awful things to get it back.

  20. Yeah well, the ending just pissed me off. Taking control like that worked against what was otherwise a great story. It diminished the entire experience and I personally think it's neither brave, artsy or even passable as a game ending. It's like those old games that just printed a few words as an ending -
    Congratulations. You completed a great game. The End!
    From what I've read and seen about the dlc, it just makes it worse. No thanks, great game, good story but a terrible ending.

  21. Sorry I'm late to this, but I really do love this game, and only recently found your blog.

    I'll second Steven on this one and add a thought: The Prince notes a few times during the story that he doesn't believe in fate, that he believes in living your own life. I can't point to a particular piece of conversation, but I got the feeling that he was almost Kirkish in his tendency to try to find a different solution than the non-choices offered. I can't help but think that he not only fell in love with Elika, but also rejected the idea that there was only a binary "Ahriman free/Elika Alive" choice.

    That said, my initial reaction to leaving her on the altar was indeed to walk away. Sadder, to be sure, but respecting her wishes. The game didn't offer me that choice, and I wish it had.

    I did like the ending of the game, though. I thought it made perfect sense for the characters.

    The game really does deserve a proper sequel.

  22. Tesh, your comment reminds me of another character: Kain from the Soul Reaver series, which coincidentally also uses time travel as a main plot element. In one piece of dialogue with Raziel, his 'rival', he likens fate to a coin which serves out a binary result for any give action (either you take an action or you don't); but what, he asks, might happen if that coin were to land on its edge?

    In light of your suggestion, I think it's possible for the Prince to have realized that Ahriman would not be contained forever, that it was very likely that he and Elika might be the only ones who could stop him for good, and that the choices before him were both non-choices. In essence he's gambling on there being a "third option," on being able to cheat fate.

    Would he have cut the trees down anyway? Probably. Did the Epilogue handle things badly with its backpeddling? Yes. But it still makes sense that the Prince, prodded by his budding conscience, might believe that he can save the world and still get the girl. Even if he wasn't necessarily thinking about that when he brought her back to life.

  23. I didn't really like the game for it's gameplay. The boss-fights were annoying (keyboard keys aren't color coded) and sparse, the game was too short, and the lack of resource management (as in personal responsibility for your jumping failures) pissed me off.

    Yet, for some reason I finished the game.
    I actually thought the rolling credits on the long way out of the temple were a bug, but when I layed Elika down and saw the trees, I was really contemplating the nature of games and this story for a solid ten minutes.
    I saw what the game wanted me to do.

    Realizing that there was no one to save me now, I tried to kill myself for another ten minutes and then went out with a

    "Fuck you, game devs! I'm not doing that!",

    uninstalled the game and never looked back.

    I spent days thinking about it, and realized, that this 'option' made the game design actually good. It was quite an unique experience.

  24. I just finished this game, and I can say my only disappointment is not being given the option to go back out into the desert, find my donkey, and leave. That is what I wanted to do, and that is what seemed to be the 'right' thing to do. It would have been nice to be given a choice in how to handle Elika's death.

    1. Exactly, plus options to commit suicide. Other than stated above, the temple scene offers multiple deadly cliffs (e.g. the big cliff past the temple and the chasms which are too wide without Elika) which are made safe artificially by turning off jumping there.

    2. Either choice, the bad guy wins.

      You have the option of shutting off the game. The same thing was invoked while playing The Stanley Parable.

  25. The Epilogue isn't a cop-out either. Elika realizes that without her people, Ahriman WILL escape again, but she still hates the Prince and abandons him to an uncertain fate.

    No good deed goes unpunished.

    Saying that, I loved the ending without the epilogue too. However, you failed to mention The Mourning King and the Prince essentially being the same person. There are a lot of parallels drawn in the game, and the Prince's sole backstory is that he came from a place where bribery and murder were paths to noble power, and abandoned that. Think about that for a moment, while considering The Mourning King.