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 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.
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