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Full Steam Ahead – Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones.

Time logged before Full Steam Ahead: None

Run along the wall, over a yawning, dark, abyss. Jump from the wall to a nearby ledge. Sidle over to a flagpole before the ledge collapses. Drop down, swing around the flagpole, leaping to a nearby grate. Plunge your dagger into the grate, so you don’t slip down the wall. Jump to the balcony above the grate, rolling past the pressure triggered darts. Sidestep around the swinging blades, slide down a banner hanging nearby with your dagger, drop down the floor, sneak up behind the guard, and slit his throat.

How many ways can this go wrong? What are the chances that it would all go right the first time? Don’t worry, because you will get to try again.

And again.

And again.

…and again, and again, and again, and again…

Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones is a 2005 action game. The Prince of Persia series, however, dates back to 1989. The series follows the titular Prince as he travels through dungeons and palaces from a storyteller’s middle east. The Two Thrones is the third part of a reboot trilogy, following the anonymous Prince’s adventures with the magical sands of time.

The original Prince of Persia featured deadly traps and hazards, fiendish enemies, and crumbling architecture. The reboot trilogy continues in this theme, introducing one of the coolest mechanics I have ever seen in video games. The Prince’s main weapon, an artifact called the Dagger of Time, contains a small reservoir of the sands of time. By pressing a trigger on the handle, I can take the Prince back in time up to ten seconds.

Given the difficulty of the game, having an ability to reverse time to before I make fatal mistakes is of real benefit to me; ten seconds is usually long enough to go back to before I jump at the wrong angle and miss a vital ledge, or alert the guard and all his friends to my presence. Or her, or their friends, or something else, I suppose. I ain’t about to guess what the appropriate pronouns are.

I don’t suppose all y’all are in the mood for a discussion about identity?

What’s more, the game takes this mechanic of reversing time and makes it central to the narrative. In Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones, the titular Prince has been running from his responsibilities in Babylon, running from his past errors, running from his failings in action and character. Inevitably, the past outruns his parkour-inspired agility, and he has to desperately try to undo his mistakes. In this respect, the Prince is nothing revolutionary; however, with the powers of the sands of time, the Prince may actually be able to do just that.

I suppose the courteous thing to do here would be warn you about spoilers, on the off chance you care about spoilers for a game first released in 2005. For what it’s worth, I had only played the first game in the Prince of Persia reboot trilogy. Random number generators don’t care about spoilers.

The Prince returns to Babylon from the Island of Time, a derelict temple ravaged by the ages. His attempts to rewrite his fate have gone so far as to destroy the Dahaka, (I am almost certainly spelling that wrong) an eldritch entity charged with killing those who meddle with time. He has also rescued Kaileena, a woman from the island who is the embodiment of the sands of time.

However, a villainous vizier has conquered Babylon. He seizes Kaileena, killing her, releasing the sands of time into the world once more. The shockwave from her death embeds a new weapon, the dagger-tail, and some some sands of time in the Prince. As the sands of time tear through the streets, civilians and soldiers of the vizier alike are transformed into nightmarish apparitions by the sands of time.

Maybe it’s because this is the Prince’s third game dealing with this nonsense, but the Prince seems awfully unimpressed with all this. Besides, he has recovered the Dagger of Time, so he should be able to kill the Vizier and return everything to the way it was before.

Can we go back in time and fire the architect who put death traps in my palace? That’d be swell.

As the game progresses, however, it becomes more clear that while he can’t undo this mistake. What’s more, the Sands of Time within him have unleashed an entity (called, unoriginally perhaps, the Dark Prince). This personality is given power by the sands of time, and is physically far more powerful than the Prince. However, it also amplifies his arrogance and disdain for others.

Thus, the Prince is forced to overcome not only the external forces which threaten his city and people, but also the internal failings which have dogged him the entire trilogy. I like this element of the narrative. As readers of this series are well aware, I like it when games try to tackle a bigger theme or idea. Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones may not always succeed in fully exploring the theme of consequences, but it tries. For example, I remember in the first game of the trilogy, the sands of time made the game pretty easy to play. In The Two Thrones, the limits of the sands of time are used to mechanically reinforce that you can’t just undo everything.

There were many times throughout the game where I was forced to play with caution, because I had used too much of the sands of time correcting earlier mistakes.

Not pictured: my white knuckles. I did not have enough sand if I didn’t make this jump.

Part of me likes the idea of, instead of gaining power, health, and more sands of time throughout the course of the game, I lost these things. I feel like it would really drive home the point that the Prince cannot rely on magic to solve his problems, he has to confront them. However, giving the game’s remarkable difficulty, this would have likely made the game even more unforgiving.

There are other elements of the game’s mechanics and narrative that I really like, but they are present in other games in the trilogy, so I can tackle them at a later date. For what it’s worth, I didn’t lose much playing the games out of order. In fact, in the opening monologue of the the first game, and the closing monologue of The Two Thrones, the Prince muses on this idea:

Most people think Time is like a river that flows swift and sure in one direction. But I have seen the face of Time, and I can tell you, they are wrong. Time is an ocean in a storm.

Next episode: Age of Empires III

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