The lights are on
I’ve made it clear that I am a big fan of the 2008 Prince of Persia. It’s a fantastically underrated game, so ahead of its time that I think some people maybe weren’t ready for it, or just didn’t get it. Or, they didn’t like it, which is fine, too.
Naughty Dog’s recently released The Last of Us is one of those rare games that has received almost universal acclaim – and deservedly so. Sitting silently in a dark room watching the credits roll, I was confident its most-touching scenes will be among the most emotionally resonant moments in video games for some time.
Spoilers ahead for both The Last of Us and Prince of Persia
It may seem odd to compare Prince of Persia and The Last of Us, but they share similar themes. Both tell the tale of an isolated man and woman trying to correct a disaster that has affected their world. One takes place in a fantastic realm of magic and color, and the other takes place in a grounded, post-apocalyptic version of the world we live in today.
The biggest similarity between the two, however, is in their endings. In The Last of Us, Ellie needs to sacrifice herself in order to create a vaccine that could counteract the cordyceps fungal infection that has destroyed the world. Ellie does not get to make this decision of sacrifice, but knowing Ellie as we come to over the course of The Last of Us, you know that she would have.
In Prince of Persia, a similar sacrifice is necessary to restore order to Elika’s broken kingdom. She must sacrifice herself in order to imprison Ahriman, an abstract shadow creature that shrouds the world in darkness.
In The Last of Us, Joel cannot accept Ellie’s sacrifice and pulls her from the operating table right before the fatal surgery that would create a vaccine. He then lies to her about what happened because he knows that she would not approve. He cannot admit to her how important she is to him. Despite their journey and their goals, he cannot bear to part with her.
In Prince of Persia, The Prince also chooses not to accept Elika’s fate, undoing her sacrifice and re-releasing the evil Ahriman, the entity they have fought the whole game to imprison.
It’s impossible to deny that one of the endings was more effective than the other, despite their similar natures. When Prince of Persia released in 2008, the ending disappointed many players. Ubisoft later released DLC was released that extended, and to a reprehensible degree, changed it.
An ending resonates for more reasons than what is simply stated on paper. Just because both games feature a man preventing a woman from making a world-saving sacrifice, that does not mean they are the same. I would argue that both endings work in their own way, but The Last of Us’s ending is the more satisfying culmination of the people we have come to know through the course of the game.
The Prince and Elika have a fun relationship. They’re the kind of couple that would have teased each other mercilessly in grade school, everyone around them knowing they were in love, but they themselves too afraid to admit it. They’re also a team. One cannot navigate or function in the environment without the help of the other, making them both strong, independent characters. They take care of each other equally.
In The Last of Us, Ellie proves that she is capable of taking care of herself. We, as players, recognize that Ellie is stronger than anyone is willing to give her credit for, and Joel can be counted among that group of dissenters. However misguided, he is committed to taking care of Ellie, in a way The Prince never is of Elika.
Read on for a deeper breakdown of the two games.
Email the author Kyle Hilliard, or follow on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, and Game Informer.
Genius Kyle! You're GIO's resident gaming philosopher. I truly wish that we could've gotten an Elika spin-off game for the series, but alas, it looks like Ubisoft just doesn't care about it anymore. I wish they did. Hehe, I'd go farther to say that the Prince would get over Elika pretty quickly, given he seems to be married to his donkey a lot more, lolz. Great article.
This is the best feature I've read since the one about the truth of mobile game developing. Powerful stuff. Games can tell stories as great, if not better than movies when done right. Thanks for this great piece.
I have mixed feelings about prince of Persia. I like the graphics and there's a certain nostalgia surrounding the inquisitive dialogue. other than that the game-play for me was hard to get used to.
I totally agree. I too loved PoP 2008 and now that you mention the similarities, I realize how true that is. I definitely remember having a uncomfortable, yet satisfying reaction to the ending of PoP and The last of us was stronger, but similar for sure. Good read.
I actually disagree to a certain extent. I think the Prince of Persia ending is comparably effective to the ending in The Last of Us.
To me, the biggest difference between the two is what they want the player to think. In TLOU, we're not really supposed to be taking Joel's side. He's damning the human race and the developers make that point quite clear when he slits the doctor's throat. We can understand Joel, but that doesn't mean we support him. It makes for a very intense and memorable ending.
However, in PoP, the player should want to save Elika. She's spent the whole game saving the Prince's life at every turn and building their relationship. I love how the credits roll as the player makes the long walk through the hallway, carrying Elika's lifeless body even as Ahriman's disembodied voice laughs maniacally. Every step is a betrayal of Elika, by both the Prince and the player, and it's really well done.
Thanks for the great piece connecting these two really great games. You should totally throw Shadow of the Colossus into the thought process too.
I know I'm going to seem like a hypocrite for saying this but I hated that PoP primarily due to the ending and yet I loved LoU's ending. I think the difference is as I played I actually felt for Ellie and I never did for Elika. With the Prince cracking the jokes that he did, it felt that when he undid everything that it was just so that he could get to her in bed. Even in the DLC he talks about going to a bathhouse with her. Also, when he undid everything, the entire world was doomed guaranteed. When Joel took back Ellie, I understood more because he essentially replaced Sarah with her and he wasn't about to loose another daughter again. It also didn't undo everything to doom the world. The world had already been surviving with the infection and it could keep going.
But that's just my take on it. If people like the PoP, then great. It just won't be something that I would recommend to someone.
skipped the article due to spoilers for TLOU. only wanted to say that the Elika picture got me thinking of that PoP game, and how I really want a sequel. I know it isn't the most popular in the series, but I loved it, and I want to visit that world again
Wow, great article Kyle! I definitely agree with your opinions about The Last of Us ending. In my opinion, it is one of the most effective endings ever in gaming. I had extremely conflicted opinions once the credits started to roll. After much reflection, I am certain that Joel could not live without Ellie and vice versa. Additionally, though the infected pose a definite threat to the survivors, I believe the real "monster" is mankind because of the brutality most people have resorted to after the breakout. In a sense, they have lost their humanity, so is it even worth curing them? Thus, I believe Joel made the right choice; Ellie and the relationship between her and Joel was definitely worth saving. I am very glad to see that storytelling in games is really starting to evolve into something great, and it makes me very excited for the future!
Also, I've never played any of the Prince of Persia games, and this article makes me want to try them out!
except prince of persia was a horrible game
nice article kyle, just by reading the comments, but i couldn't read the article because i haven't played last of us, and i don't want any spoilers, but good job!!!
Awesome comparison. When beating PoP, I didn't have the same conflicting feelings I felt with TLoU, but I was surprised by the ending. Naughty Dog really did a great job of connecting me with Joel and Ellie. On a side note, while I absolutely love the Sands of Time trilogy and didn't love PoP 2008 as much (I thought the fighting lacked the same intensity), I would love more of that prince's story