2008 is over, but in its waning moments, Prince of Persia sparked discussions on topics as wide as the game's difficulty to its cultural responsibility. I am always in favor of thoughtful game analysis and criticism, but after reading some of the posts on Prince of Persia's narrative and artistic choices, I find myself confused. How does the gaming community come to fixate on certain games while others are given a pass? How do folks decide what nits need picking?
In a world where most video game voice work is laughably bad and stories are hopelessly bloated, how does Prince of Persia fare? While it may not be perfect, the game's story touches on complex topics such as faith, obligation, and fate without having to go into a five minute cut scene to do so. The end of the game only served to make the characters' conversations resonate more deeply, as a final choice made in the last moments of the games sheds a new light on previous conversations of the Prince and Elika's different life philosophies.
For those people uninterested in back story, the forced dialogues are relatively sparse and competently acted. For me, though, Prince of Persia is one of the few games in which the voice actors sound like they are actually interacting, rather than reading their lines in a cold, isolated sound booth.
On the topic of Elika, another odd criticism I see popping up concerns her abilities. Some argue that her magical powers make the Prince irrelevant, as she could easily complete the quest by herself. I find this strange for two reasons: One, this position is not supported by the internal logic of the game's universe. If the player tries to make Elika attack an enemy who is vulnerable only to sword or gauntlet attacks, Elika finds herself on the losing end of sucker-punch. While the Prince obviously requires her magical mulligans when it comes to platforming,Elika needs the Prince for his fighting skills.
Secondly, I am interested in why folks choose to suspend their disbelief when discussing some games and not others. It seems to me that Marcus Fenix should be wearing a helmet if he is going to take on the alien apocalypse. And does Faith fail to carry a knife or some rope to help her in her platforming? Is magic that much more difficult to divorce from the rational side of one's brain? Or is there something different about the game that draws attention to the dissonance?
Steven Totilo recently ran an interesting piece comparing the imagery of Shadow of the Colossus to Prince of Persia. I think the inspiration Ubisoft Montreal drew from Team Ico's games is apparent, but couching it in terms of "This is one top-tier 21st century development team riffing off another — or ripping them off. Fair or foul?" strikes the wrong tone. As I have said before, culture does not exist in a vacuum; games do borrow from one another, as all art does. I would most certainly hope that every game studio in existence has been influenced by the magnificence that is Shadow of the Colossus. But again, why do these things come out in an when people are discussing Prince of Persia? If memory serves correctly, Gears of War shares a few gameplay similarities to another famous action-shooter, but I would not say it was a rip off.
Which brings me back to my original question: Why are some games apparently subjected to more nitpicking than others? Perhaps it is the high standard to which we hold a beloved series? Maybe the fall season has slowed down sufficiently for people to catch their breath and start looking at games more carefully? Could it be that Prince of Persia's easy-goinggameplay allows gamers' minds to wander, thus allowing them to make connections they would otherwise miss?
Or am I just an misguided Prince of Persia apologist? I will be sharing some more thoughts on this controversial game, and I am interested to hear you all offer your opinions.