It’s not often that I am genuinely puzzled by something. I may feign confusion or ignorance for the sake of comedy, and I may overthink things that don’t seem to add up to me. But it’s mostly just for fun, and I’m not actually confused by it.
The 2008 game “Prince of Persia” puzzles me.
I don’t know if this game is extremely stupid or if it’s absolutely genius.
But before I get to the puzzling part, I’ll give you a brief summary of the story.
You play the Prince (no other name given) and you’re walking through the desert looking for your donkey. During your search, you come across a woman named Elika. She is on her way to a temple/giant tree that serves as the prison for a malicious entity known as Ahriman.
Once you get to the temple, you find that Elikas father, the king of makesnodifferencistan has made a deal with Ahriman and frees him from his prison.
It’s then your job to, along with Elika, restore the temple and save the world. You do this by purifying what’s called “Sacred Grounds” throughout the kingdom. Sounds easy enough, right?
Problem is that the sacred grounds are extremely hard to reach, meaning you have to climb, jump and parkour your way to them. At the end of the level, you fight an area-specific boss and purify the area. Rinse and repeat about 20 times.
All in all, it’s a pretty simplistic game that’s entertaining enough.
So what is it that puzzles me about it?
You can’t die.
I don’t mean it’s insultingly easy. In fact it can be really tricky at times. But the game doesn’t allow you to lose.
Whenever you fall, or get stuck in some vicious goo, Elika uses her magic and pulls you to a safe place.
Oh, didn’t I mention Elika can fly and teleport? Well, she can.
At some places in the game, you have to fight enemies. Sometimes it’s some strange corruption spawn, and a few times you fight the King who is in league with Ahriman, but mostly it’s one of the four region-specific bosses.
If you get hit during the fights, you might get knocked down, and the enemy will loom over you with a sword or whatever weapon they use, preparing to kill you. Here you’re prompted to press a button.
If you press it, you deflect their weapon and get back up to continue fighting.
If you press the wrong button or don’t press anything at all, Elika shoots a magic shockwave, knocking them away and you get back up to continue fighting.
This game actively refuses to let you die.
Now, some of you might say “Well, what’s the point then? It’s a no-lose scenario.”
That’s what puzzles me about this game.
I don’t know if the writing is terrible or if it’s amazing.
See, no matter how badly you play this game, you cannot die. Even if you actively TRY to die, the game doesn’t let you. Winning the game is all but inevitable.
You defeat the four Corrupted lieutenants, fight the Mourning King, who has been taken over by the corruption and seal Ahriman in his prison once again.
Then you find out why the King betrayed his people and freed Ahriman. Elika had tried to reach one of the sacred grounds, but she failed and fell to her death. So the King made a deal with Ahriman. In exchange for his freedom, Ahriman would restore Elika to life. And when you seal him in his prison again, the deal is off, and Elika drops dead.
So what do you do?
You make a deal with Ahriman.
If you destroy the seals to his prison and set him free, undoing all your hard work in the game, he will revive Elika.
And the game doesn’t give you any choice in the matter. After several hours of refusing to let you lose, it doesn’t let you win.
So again, this game puzzles me. Either it’s a no-lose scenario in that you cannot fail to finish the game, or it’s the biggest no-win scenario I’ve ever seen, where it forces you to undo everything you’ve accomplished.
Is the game bad? I don’t think so. I enjoyed playing it, and I don’t regret it.
But if you were to ask me to describe it, I think “War Games” said it best.
Strange game…. The only winning move is not to play…