Review by GanonKing

"A True Artistic Masterpiece"

The games in the Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time trilogy of the last generation of gaming were among the most heralded titles in recent virtual memory. The realistic graphics, the complicated combat that made you feel extremely accomplished when you mastered it, and the mechanic of rewinding time made all three games instant classics. Now throw that all out the window. Get rid of every last preconceived notion about this series that you may have. It's time to start completely fresh with a game simply titled Prince of Persia for the Xbox 360 and the PS3.

The Sands of Time trilogy ended with the Prince ending up in his own happily-ever-after with Farah, his romantic interest. With neither of the previous two games giving that same sense of complete closure, and that trilogy's absurdly moving and haunting "full circle" outcome, not many were shocked when they learned that the next Prince of Persia game would be a completely different story. However, the complete revamp that we got was not quite so expected.

As I mentioned, the story is completely fresh. The charmingly sarcastic, if somewhat generic, Prince does not even begin this game as a prince, but rather as a lowly desert vagabond who robs graves for money (he later justifies this by saying "What? They're dead guys, it's not like they're going to use it anyway"). While searching for his lost mule -- named Farah, as an in-joke with fans of the SoT trilogy -- he stumbles upon a mysterious yet charming girl named Elika, who apparently has magical abilities. Without spoiling too much of the story, Persia finds itself suddenly thrust into darkness by the dark god Ahriman, and the Prince and Elika seem to be the world's only hope of stopping him.

At this point in the story, I had some serious complaints. I had no idea what was going on, and I found myself feeling rather disappointed that there was no build-up or explanation of what was going on, and that I simply should now go kill Ahriman's baddies because they're the bad guys. However, as I continued through the game, I began to appreciate exactly how tactical that narrative call was. Just as the Prince suddenly lands in the middle of this enormous conflict without a clue as to what he's supposed to be doing, so does the player. Through talking to Elika (which can be done at any point at the touch of a button), the story is slowly explained. As the Prince learns what exactly is going on, the player learns with him. That's what makes this game's story special for me. You don't ever feel like you know more about what's going on then the character you are controlling does, and that puts you in the game in a way that few others can.

Other than the more meaningful, plot-driven conversations with Elika, there are also many times that pressing that button will simply result in some small talk between the two of them. Normally, I find small talk in video games to be quite droll, but the dichotomy between the Prince and Elika leads to some genuinely entertaining dialogue. The Prince's sarcasm sometimes feels a bit forced, but other than that, it's a completely amusing time-killer that adds a whole other layer of investment to the characters.

Upon playing this game for the first time, one of the first things you'll notice is that this game's graphics are cel-shaded, meaning that it does not aim to look realistic, but rather hand-drawn. Prince of Persia, however, doesn't look so much like a cartoon as it does like a beautiful watercolor painting come to life before your eyes. The vast, open world (without a single load screen, mind you), which contains multiple ways to get everywhere from anywhere, had me sucked into the game from beginning to end. As you venture through this fantastical, magical rendition of ancient Persia, you will slowly free the land of Ahriman's corruption, bringing the land back from it's sickly taint, covered in black goop known as Corruption, to its beautiful original form. What is really remarkable, though, is whether you're looking out over a swamp covered in Corruption or a beautiful valley where the sun hits the water just right, the game is truly a stunning sight to behold. The entirety of Persia is like a vibrant playground straight out of Aladdin's dreams.

Of course, the game can be as pretty as it wants, but it all means nothing if the gameplay isn't there. Fortunately for this game, I found the gameplay remarkable. Ubisoft Montreal narrowed all the actions in this game to the control stick, the talk button, and four "action buttons" -- the Acrobatic Button (which sends the Prince climbing up buildings, running across walls, or doing backflips away from enemies), the Sword Button (somewhat self-explanatory), the Gauntlet Button (this triggers the Prince to do grab onto an enemy with the clawed gauntlet he wears on his left hand that allows him to perform those amazing stunts with the Acrobatic Button), and the Magic Button (which causes Elika to jump in and use a spell). The whole system works flawlessly, and the Prince and Elika really become one seamless entity under your control. Elika never feels in the way, but rather as an extra limb when you're in a sticky situation. You can string together combos with these for action buttons to your heart's content, and watch as fights play out in all their cinematic glory, but it never feels too complicated. It is the essence of simplicity, but with enough layers that it never feels repetitive.

Having Elika with you brings in the game's most controversial mechanic -- you can't die. If you fall off a ledge, misjudge a jump, take a devastating blow in combat, or make any other fatal error, Elika will jump in and save you every time, bringing you back to the last bit of solid ground you stood on. Many will complain that this makes the game easy... and it does. However, this game is really about the fun of watching the gracefulness of the whole package unfold before your eyes much more than it is about the "hardcore challenge". As such, I personally feel that removing death from the game is actually a good call, as it challenges you to take chances and explore, as you have no fear of having to reload from the last save point a half hour back if the other side of that gorge is just a little further than you anticipated.

When you combine the story, the dialogue, the graphics, and the gameplay mechanics (along with a sweeping soundtrack) into one seamless game, you've really found something special. That special something is Prince of Persia, and while the complaints that the game is too simple are all fair, this game isn't about difficulty. This game is a piece of art in all aspects, plain and simple, and it will stand in my video game library as an instant classic and will remain a must-own title for any adventure gamers out there.

PRESENTATION: 9/10
A great story that is told in little enough detail to get a basic understanding of the plot for those who just want to plow through the game, but contains much deeper detail through the talk button for those interested. It's not the greatest story ever told, but it doesn't leave too much to be desired.

GRAPHICS: 10/10
While I was skeptical about the cel-shading when I first heard about it, it works for this game like it has rarely worked for others in the past. This game is an artistic masterpiece. Period.

SOUND: 9.5/10
The soundtrack is outstanding, and the voice acting done for the Prince, Elika and the minor characters is a cut above the usual fare. However, the Prince sometimes has a tendency to come off a little forced on the more sarcastic lines.

GAMEPLAY: 9/10
While the simplicity of it all works beautifully for the most part, and really differentiates the game from the rest of the pack, there were a few instances where the Prince would do something I didn't intend when I pressed the Acrobatic Button, which is the downside to having four buttons do nearly everything in a game with so many possible movements.

LASTING APPEAL: 8.5/10
I personally will replay this game time and time again, but I can't promise that will apply for everyone. Once you beat the game, there is little incentive to do so again, though unlockable alternate costumes help spice things up.

PERSONAL OPINION: 10/10**
I love this game. I will always love this game. While I can't say that it is one of the best games ever, or even this year, from technical standpoints, there is something undeniably magical about this game, and it will stay with me for quite a while.

OVERALL: 9.5/10
(not an average)

**What is the Personal Opinion category for?

Sometimes a game will be below par from a technical perspective, but just be a blast to play. In other cases, a game will be technically very impressive, but yet it just lacks that sparkle that makes it fun to play. The Personal Opinion category just lets you know what I personally think this game is worth. The Overall score is much more objective.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 01/12/09

Game Release: Prince of Persia (US, 12/02/08)


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