Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time reinvigorated the franchise envisioned by Jordan Mechner as a cinematic story spirited from the ancient tales of the Middle East wrapped around an action adventure that players could experience and enjoy. It garnered quite a few fans who lauded it’s atmosphere and its unique “Sands of Time” gameplay allowing players to rewind their mistakes such as when they missed a jump, falling to their death, or were ‘accidentally’ crushed between bladed columns. Complete with humorous banter between the hero and Farah, the Indian princess who together with the Prince helped to save themselves and the land from certain annihilation, and the unsure musings of the protagonist himself, the story told was an slice of Mechner’s cinematic aspirations. Although the first was a critical success, Ubisoft apparently wanted to broaden its audience in the most dramatic way possible in the sequel.

The result was Prince of Persia: Warrior Within complete with Godsmack inspired guitar riffs and leather clad bondage queens armed with knives. While the gameplay was still as solid as ever with enough platforms and devious traps to satisfy even the most hardened adventurer, the direction that the atmosphere took along with many other things associated with it felt as if it were a cheap attempt to cash in on the action violence and sexual innuendo present in other titles where they actually fit. Yes, the Prince is a hardened man from having to deal with the fact that is being hunted by a power he cannot kill, but I felt that getting that point across could have been handled better. While it was reportedly more of a commercial success than it’s predecessor, quite a few vocal fans and critics of the first were notably disappointed in how quickly the franchise lost the individual charm and style it had once enjoyed opting instead to play to the mainstream.

And now, to finish the trilogy, comes Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones. Promising polished play mechanics and with the introduction of a Dark Prince as an alter ego, it signals a return to the lands of ancient Persia and the vision of Jordan Mechner with a twisting story armed with surprises aplenty…a story of vengeance and the struggle for redemption.

Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones is a cross platform release for the big three (Gamecube, PS2, Xbox). The version below was played on an Xbox.

Would You Like Me to Continue the Story from Here Next Time?

The story of Two Thrones takes place right after the events from Warrior Within but with a twist. If you had seen the regular ending, be warned that it throws it out and tells you what “really” happened. Two Thrones picks up right after the alternate ending from the title which may aggravate some players that have gone through Warrior Within without seeing it.

Kaileena lives and is aboard the ship under the Prince’s protection as he makes the journey home. She is the narrator of this tale and it is the first of many twists that the player will experience as the game progresses. The Prince is returning home to Babylon where he expects to return to the life he had left behind on his quest to free himself from the Dahaka’s death sentence. But things are not as they seem.

He returns to a city burning from within, a city crawling with foreign soldiers that have taken the ramparts and rain fire on all who approach. The home he had known is now a battleground torn apart. As he approaches the city, his ship is attacked and Kaileena is lost to the waves only to wash up and be taken by the soldiers patrolling the shattered harbor. As he pursues her, he will find that his past has returned to catch up with him and that the greatest enemy is that which is within himself.

Traps, Tricks, and Trouble

To anyone familiar with the Prince franchise, the core gameplay returns with as many tricks and traps as the ones before it. This time, you are thrown into the vast city of Babylon now overrun by the mysterious soldiers of an army that had come to conquer it. The controls were easy enough to get used to and all of the old moves are back including a few new ones. The beginning part of the game is set up like a tutorial to warm up veterans or to introduce new players to the game. The Prince can still run along walls to avoid traps and get over pits, run up them to grab ledges, shimmy along narrow precipices, and duck and roll beneath spinning buzzsaw blades. In addition, the Prince can now jump off from the panes of open windows that can spring him ahead. He will also be able to use the dagger to stab at special places in the wall to climb upwards or to save himself from falling to his death, or set himself up to run to the next hole or springboard window.

Many of the puzzles in the game make great use of the environment and are also key to another new trick the Prince has learned: the Speed Kill. Speed Kills are special moments where the Prince can take out a foe with a killing sequence of moves. By sneaking up on enemies, he can take them out without alerting others to his presence. Sometimes, he can even take two down in one fluid motion or use it in the heat of battle against the more powerful, boss-like monsters that will inevitably stand in his way.

When the screen blurs, hitting the “Y” button on the Xbox controller starts the sequence as the Prince goes after his foe. As the sequence plays out, you need to hit the “X” button when the weapon he is using flashes to move on to the next part of the sequence. If you succeed in hitting all of his marks, the foe is as good as dead…or wishing that it was. Fail, and the Prince might find that his hesitation now forces him to fight his enemy on equal terms as his killing blow is caught or he is thrown back by an alerted enemy. For bosses against whom you can use this against, it may be the only thing that can hurt them and missing an opportunity usually means a painful response.

Many encounters in the game are set up to take advantage of this new trick such as how to take out the guards surrounding devices called “Sand Gates”. Sand Gates are devices that can summon reinforcements as long as the guard in charge of that particular gate is still alive. Surround him with several other guards that will make your life difficult and soon you’ll be looking at ways on how to deal with everyone without letting them know you’re there. Early on, it isn’t so bad, but later in the game you can easily get overwhelmed if you didn’t take out the lead guard.

Enter the Speed Kill system. Players will find many situations like this that have a special angle to figure out allowing them to sneak up and take out all of the guards without alerting them. Even if their friends go missing, they don’t think twice about it just as long as they don’t see you doing the deed.

The combat system has also been tweaked. Breaking off an attack is easier than ever if you choose to run up a wall to get away or just get past a crowd of foes. In Warrior Within, the Prince’s ‘auto targeting’ got in the way more often than I would have liked for it to have if I just wanted to get on with the puzzles and away from the combat. Here, even if the foes are near you, the Prince won’t be forced to automatically face them as he seemed to be bound to in Warrior Within allowing you to run and fight another day. If you find yourself having to fight, the improvements brought into the franchise from Warrior Within such as dual wielding along with combination moves are back in play.

As mentioned before, if you find yourself having to fight the guards at a Sand Gate, you might find yourself overwhelmed until you deal with the head guard as reinforcements continue to pour in. Fortunately, you can run and move on with the game if you decide that it’s simply more trouble than it’s worth. But avoiding them will also mean that you will miss out on new sand powers and sand ‘credits’ that can be used to purchase (unlock) artwork and movies such as cinematics to the previous titles.

Chariot racing has also made an appearance in the game. At certain points in the adventure, the Prince will hop into a chariot and take off leaving it up to you to try and steer your way through on permanent full gallop without getting killed. Occasionally, enemies will jump onto to your chariot forcing the Prince to try and get rid of the unwanted riders. The biggest danger will be in trying not to crash into columns and corners, or missing a vital jump. These sequences are rare, though, and weren’t as frustrating as it might sound.

Saves are handled at fountains or at special points in the story right before something nasty happens, as they have been before in the previous titles, with a checkmark system in place during those long stretches in between them. For the most part, the checkmark system won’t have you repeat huge stretches of action, speed kills, and leaping puzzles. There were one or two exceptions, but on the whole, the system wasn’t bad.

The Man in the Mirror

At one point in the game, the Prince will find a dark nature within him has awakened, transforming him into a creature of sand. If you missed the banter between the Prince and Farah in the first Sands of Time, it’s definitely back in this one. Not only does is the Dark Prince an opinionated bastard, but it also adds a new dimension to the story as the Prince struggles against himself and what he is becoming.

Fortunately, the Dark Prince only wants what is best for the two of them since they share the same body if not the same mind and he comes with his own tricks to help him navigate the labyrinth of Babylon. The Prince is still in command, but while he is the Dark Prince, he now has a whole new way of dealing with the challenges ahead. Where the Prince was armed with bladed toys, the Dark Prince is armed with a whip called the Whiptail that serves to allow him to swing over pits, across walls, or pull blocks and ledges out to help get to hard to reach areas. The Whiptail is also a powerful weapon that can literally swing ’round and ’round to split foes in half or decapitate them for good measure with its own combos.

It’s not a transformation that happens when you want it to, though. The Dark Prince comes out to play only occasionally and it is usually when you have to do a lot of swinging or have to engage in a lot of fighting. The good news is that the Dark Prince’s bark is just as good as his bite. He can also perform speed kills that are far easier to do than with the Prince’s Dragon’s Lair inspired approach. The Dark Prince is also able to use the Sand Powers that you find from the Sand Gates that you destroy.

The puzzles involving the Dark Prince also have one other challenge attached to them: the Dark Prince’s life slowly ebbs away. While transformed, the Dark Prince’s life slowly burns out unless he finds some sand to replenish himself with. Many of the platforming and climbing puzzles take on a whole new sense of urgency as the Dark Prince. The transformation isn’t permanent as the Prince will find out much to his relief.

Of Hanging Gardens and a Tower of Babel

Visually, the game looks pretty good along with the CG movies that help to tell the story. The special effects effectively punctuate many of the Prince’s moves along with his surroundings and the character designs overall are done well…especially the Dark Prince’s grim visage. The city of Babylon, inspired as it is from ancient Persia, looks great all around. The level design is back to being somewhat linear instead of as open as it was in Warrior Within which may disappoint many hoping to see the sights in Babylon. There are still opportunities to explore hidden passages in which are found special challenges that can help boost your life bar, though. Exploration is still rewarded.

The largest change, as noted previously, was in how the title carries itself in terms of its atmosphere and in how the characters present themselves in the game. It felt a lot like a welcome return to the spirit of Mechner’s Sands. The inspired, Middle Eastern flavored tunes that helped to create and support the story is also back, thanks in part to the eclectic talents of Inon Zur. The rest of the sound design from the ambient sounds of Babylon to the rattling chain of the Dark Prince’s Whiptail were also done well.

Voice actor Yuri Lowenthal returns to voice the Prince as he did in Sands of Time. Monica Bellucci also returns not only to reprise her role as Kaileena but to take on the duties of narrating the story. The banter is back, as noted before, as the Dark Prince ‘offers’ his insight into many of the situations that the Prince finds himself in as well as critiquing his fighting ability along the way. He will even offer the occasional piece of advice when you face off against certain bosses that cross your path. And if that wasn’t enough, there is also one other whom the Prince will find his glib tongue challenged on occasion.

As for the story itself, I thought it was pretty good. Told from various viewpoints, from Kaileena’s narration to the Prince’s musings and the Dark Prince’s criticisms exhorting him to forget the people and just get on with the killing, all of the characters and elements in the game were utilized to great effect in the telling. The Prince goes through a few changes here and fights the battle in his head as well as the one that he eventually finds with his heart…much to the annoyance of the Dark Prince. It wasn’t perfect, though, especially where he seems to almost too-conveniently forget someone. As for the ending itself, it’s an excellent tie up to the trilogy that acts as a great reward, especially for players that have been with the franchise since Sands.

That Trap Looks Familiar

Perhaps the biggest criticism that I can level at the game is that it is basically more of the same. This isn’t, in itself, a bad thing if you’re a huge fan of Prince of Persia-style gameplay, and the sharpened gameplay mechanics and the addition of a few new tricks have made it fresh enough to still be exciting.

The camera of the game is a bit better, but can still cause a few problems especially when it suddenly changes perspective without warning…and you happen to be dodging traps or dodging obstacles at the time. Or it might remain fixed. The worst place for this was in one of the major battles at the end where you had to dodge certain obstacles that were moving around. You can’t move the camera around or zoom out and it was easy to get hit by an obstacle that just came out from the edge of the screen where you couldn’t see it.

From a technical standpoint, the title was pretty well polished, far better than the bug ridden Warrior Within. There weren’t any grievous game stopping bugs or strange save issues (other than with sand credits…at one point, I started a save with around 300 sand credits when I was sure I had more…) that ruined the overall experience for me.

The Last Chapter?

I had a lot of fun playing through Two Thrones. Players that have been with the franchise since Sands and were disappointed by some of the design decisions made with Warrior Within, especially in terms of its presentation style, still shouldn’t miss out on the Prince’s triumphant return to form. And if you only focused on the gameplay from the last two titles and want to concentrate only on the challenges, Two Thrones doesn’t change too much of that formula offering more of what you might be looking for along with a few new tricks to keep it exciting and your palms sweating.

As the final chapter in the Prince of Persia trilogy, it is a worthy ending to a story that Sheherazade herself could have told. The Prince has come back for what may be his final hurrah.

- World 1-1

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