In the days the Japanese economy boomed like the Amazon rainforest at the peak of rain season, the cold war still dragged like an exhausted mule in the sub-Saharan plains of New Mexico, and video games were still developed in assembly by a hot-shot one-man crew of dangerously elevated glucose, a pixilated figure of an uncannily humanoid aspect lands in the depths of an ancient Persian palace, saintly white robed and ready for carnage.
I refer to the legendary Prince of Persia, sometimes known simply as the Prince. In the fashion of a tragic tale of 1001 nights, the unnamed Prince, madly infatuated with the unnamed Princess, falls victim to sudden turmoil at the hands of the treacherous Grand Vizier Jaffar. The Vizier too has his eyes on the Princess, although less for romantic motives and more for the ascension to power. Alas, her heart a sole proprietorship, Jaffar’s courting attempts are met in vain. With the Sultan away in distant lands and unable to intervene, Jaffar, enraged, wreaks vengeance upon all.
Jaffar imprisons the Prince in the spacious confines of a surprisingly well-maintained and at times exotic edifice of a dungeon. He then grounds the Princess to her chambers with an ultimatum. Either she accepts Jaffar’s hand, or everyone perishes. With the theatrics of a striking thunderbolt, Jaffar further proceeds to conjure an hourglass with a 1-hour time frame for the Princess to come to a decision. As a token of good sportsmanship, however, he grants the same short time interval for the Prince to transcend the obstacles of the 12-level dungeon and, having attained the upper hand in a defining act of chivalry of a one-on-one duel between the two rivals, rescue his beloved.
The sole available recourse leaves our Prince to crawl his way through that glorified hell of deadly booby traps, morbidly obese henchmen of amateur swordsmanship and confined mobility, displays of necromancy, hallucinogenic potions, and a perturbation of the supernatural kind here and there to be witnessed. The Prince encounters unstable grounding, floor spikes, guillotines, remotely activated gates and terrestrial void, leaving one to resort to much long-jumping, scaling and fencing. And in spirit of classic storytelling cliché, the Prince inevitably comes to face himself as his own greatest opponent.
All considered, I say not a bad arrangement of masterful suspense, and the Prince more than fit for the role. A capable swordsman, an agile acrobat, and an impressively enduring runner, I identified few obstacles as authentically challenging beyond the mishap of an occasionally dislocated shoulder or a ruptured kidney from a sword blow too many. And it’s nothing an enchanted potion of herbs, hibiscus and opium couldn’t cure.
Concerning the 1-hour time limitation, I see a wise design decision. In a world of video games of hundreds of hours of possible gameplay to reach a climax, including the game we occupy, the contrasting short time limit cuts straight to the dessert. The compact universe our Prince inhabits leaves little opportunity for vagabond wondering, window shopping or sabbaticals. No, it necessitates initiative and decisiveness. Live as if not the day were your last, but the hour. Live for hardly a tiny fraction of the earth’s orbit about the sun. In but a moment, quicker than one might dress for a night of evening entertainment, we witness the valiant protagonist confront the greatest challenge yet, undermine the evil scheme and achieve success.
The henchmen, be they physically inapt, recognize the fragility of the ephemeral moment. They accept their eventuality, and they accept it like an authentic stoic. They don’t succumb to panic, nervous jitters, cowardice or anxiety. They emit not a whimper, acknowledging that in all likelihood the Prince will grind through them like a piece of rare cooked meat. They remain still, emotionless, swords sheathed, ready to engage in the wake of the defining moment. They perform their task with the gracefulness of the samurai.
For the epoch, the realization of this story ark on game consoles and PCs arrived ahead of it’s time. Fluid mechanics, gripping suspense, solid yet unimposing musical score in brief moments of interlude and, last but not least, an epiphany or two to be had. As I tend to say when confronted with similarly impactful products of pop culture, bravo, with a capital B.
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