Prince of Persia 2008 like The Last of Us, but five years earlier, that’s why

Note: This article has been translated from Italian by ChatGPT and may contain errors.

I have recently replayed Heavy Rain, Assassin’s Creed, Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands, and Prince of Persia 2008, a title that I had almost forgotten about myself. Despite a respectable Metascore, the game wasn’t received very well by some parts of the press and especially by a significant portion of players. I can’t recall the exact criticisms that were raised, but I imagine that many revolved around the impossibility of dying, the simplification of some mechanics, the combat system, and perhaps the new (and I would add fascinating) artistic narrative direction. For me, Prince of Persia 2008 can be considered a (almost) masterpiece. Maybe it’s a missed masterpiece, but it remains one of the best games I’ve played in my life.

What does The Last of Us have to do with it?

Poetic, sweet, delicate, delightful, captivating, with the flavor of a beautiful animated film, Prince of Persia 2008 would have definitely deserved more attention and consideration, instead it seems to have been forgotten by most. The only criticism I have of the game concerns the collection of light seeds, a rather inelegant way to extend gameplay and not very fun, despite being useful for narrative purposes and making exploration of the environments quite enjoyable. In any case, beyond my love for its gameplay (including the spectacular combat), its aesthetic appeal, and its story, what does The Last of Us have to do with it? The answer lies in certain aspects of the latter element.

Let’s be honest: Prince of Persia and The Last of Us are entirely opposite works with nothing in common… right? Not exactly. Replaying this beautiful PoP, I realized how the stories of these two titles share similarities. The matter is complex, especially because some believe that there’s a finite number of stories to be told. In short, the plots are always the same, so the differences should be found in how they are told and in the characters. The two mentioned titles are perhaps an example of this thought. Why? If you’re not concerned about spoilers, keep reading.

Prince of Persia 2008 tells the story of an adventurer who robs the tombs of the dead and Elika, the princess of an enchanted kingdom where the powerful god of darkness, Ahriman, has been sealed. Throughout the game, the “Prince” and Elika fight against Ahriman’s corruption, which is escaping from its prison, and they learn to know each other more and more. In the final moments, their bond grows stronger, despite the man’s apparent disinterest and aloofness. Elika’s goal is to save the kingdom and the entire world from darkness by preventing the evil god from being set free. But in the end, it’s revealed that to achieve this, Elika must sacrifice her own life… and she does. Elika sacrifices herself and imprisons Ahriman. However, the “Prince,” now attached to her, cannot accept it and in exchange for freeing Ahriman, he brings Elika back to life, dooming the world to darkness. Does this sound familiar? Essentially, the “Prince” does exactly what Joel does in The Last of Us (saving Ellie instead of the world). He did it five years earlier. At the moment, no other works with such an ending come to mind (though I’m sure they exist somewhere, possibly predating Prince of Persia 2008). Staying within the realm of video games, however, one of the things I had appreciated most about The Last of Us was its “original” ending, which went against the usual “good triumphs over evil,” “saving humanity” rule. Yet, I had completely forgotten about Prince of Persia 2008, and perhaps we had all forgotten about it a little.

Beyond the negligible Epilogue sold as DLC (where Elika leaves the “Prince” after his actions) and the spin-off on DS (Prince of Persia: The Fallen King, which I have a bad memory of), the story to consider is that present only in Prince of Persia 2008. Obviously, in terms of style, characters, and settings, Prince of Persia and The Last of Us are very different, fortunately! One has a more subdued, “hidden” narrative, exploiting its nature as a video game to allow player freedom (the order in which you cleanse the fertile grounds and confront bosses in Prince of Persia is up to the player, as is the depth of the relationship with Elika, choosing whether to engage in entertaining and insightful exchanges between the two), the other has a distinctly cinematic narrative, hence possibly more impactful and engaging (especially in perceiving the growth of the relationship between the protagonists, which is necessarily weaker in the Ubisoft title). One is set in a fantasy realm, the other in a post-apocalyptic world. However, both show a world now in ruins.

A sequel?

Prince of Persia 2008 was (and perhaps still is) an innovative game, probably ahead of its time when it was released, which brought the relationship between the protagonists into the spotlight, hoping that players, after all the time spent with Elika (and after all the times she saves us), would end up feeling what the “Prince” felt. However, it seems that, partly due to its own shortcomings and partly due to the players, Prince of Persia 2008 failed to convey the right emotional charge, where The Last of Us succeeded. In fact, I believe its ending was criticized by many, angry like children when they saw all their efforts in the game come to naught. In this sense, it’s even more potent and mature (?) than The Last of Us. Did the game deserve more recognition over time? Absolutely yes! Does it deserve a sequel? Perhaps not, as that would undermine its uniqueness and particularity (even if it would be interesting to delve into certain aspects of the story and refine its “flaws”). A remake (as rumored some time ago) or a remaster might be more fitting, to introduce it to those who didn’t play it at the time. Alternatively, a PC, a PlayStation 3, or an Xbox 360 would suffice. Is it a masterpiece? Points of view. Certainly, it is or was an underappreciated little genius, though not by everyone, not by everyone…

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