Jun 102008

Corvus Elrod‘s proposed Round Table subject for June is instances of the role of relationships in games. This follows on previous posts of his in which he argued that great relationships, rather than great characters, define a good game. I don’t quite agree, because I think the truly great successes occur when great characters and great relationships appear together. That, for me, was something that happened with the Prince and Farah in two Prince of Persia games. Now, I’ve written about the modern Prince of Persia trilogy before, focusing my treatment on the Prince’s transformation and the ways in which the gameplay takes the player along the same path. This time I want to discuss the different ways in which the series’ female lead, the Maharajah’s daughter Farah, is used in the two games where she appears.

To be honest, Farah is not a fully fleshed-out character in either Sands of Time or The Two Thrones. Her interactions with the Prince show her to be strong-willed and to possess firm convictions about right and wrong, but it’s tough to say just from the short time we spend with her what she would be like, were she not trapped in a city crawling with sand monsters. Only in The Two Thrones do we learn the most elementary things about her. Apparently, she likes pomegranates, the color red, and challenges, the last of which certainly serves her well in dealing with the Prince.

Without Farah, we’d know precious little about the Prince, either, and the Prince is a great character (and even more so in The Two Thrones). It’s no difficulty to figure out that he’s acrobatic and has a thing for revenge, but again this doesn’t give us much of an idea what he’d be like in the absence of slavering sand fiends. Yet through the course of the game we also discover that he’s a bit spoiled, something of a male chauvinist, fairly bad with women, has a deep sarcastic streak, and is charming despite his flaws. All of this knowledge we owe to Farah—not because of anything she says or does, but because of how the Prince reacts to what she says and does.

Granted, we could have been treated to a limp cutscene in which the Prince is scolded for his insolence by his well-meaning father. This, however, would not have been nearly as illuminating (or amusing) as the lines the Prince mutters while walking across a high beam just after Farah has told him to meet her at the baths:

I’ll just ask the first Sand Creature I run into! ‘Could you direct me to the baths, please? Well, thank you.’ ‘Don’t mention it, I used to be a bath attendant back when I was alive…’

and later, as he works his way into a cavern full of waterfalls:

Oh, have you been waiting here all this time? I didn’t realize you meant these baths! I went to the other baths clear across the other side of the city! I had a lovely wash and a rub with fragrant oils. Too bad you weren’t there… Stop talking to yourself!

Without Farah, the Prince is just navigating scenery at these moments. With her around, even if only to push his buttons, we learn a great deal about what kind of person he is, beyond his desire to plunge the Dagger of Time into the Vizier’s black heart.

It’s important to note that in Sands of Time Farah does really not succeed in inducing any kind of change in the Prince. If nothing else, the end of the story, in which the Prince selfishly uses the dagger to kiss Farah without having her think less of him, should convince you of that. Even the scene in which he obeys her directions to stab the Hourglass plays out ambiguously, making it unclear whether he believes that this action will save his life or end it. Another exemplar in this regard is the entirety of Warrior Within, which neither needs nor deserves further discussion here.

In The Two Thrones Farah’s role changes significantly. She’s no longer used to illuminate who the Prince is: that task is taken up by the Dark Prince persona. This is a necessary change because of gameplay and story considerations. In this game (as opposed to Sands of Time) Farah is used exclusively in a puzzle-solving capacity, and so she is an occasional, rather than regular, companion. Because the Prince as a person is in flux through much of the game, a constant companion is necessary, and so we have the voice in the head to illuminate his changing character.

Farah’s role in The Two Thrones is as a catalyst for the Prince’s transformation. The events of Sands of Time have given her emotional power over the Prince, even though the repeated reversals of the story mean she has never actually met him in the timeline of the game. Her attitude towards soldiers and fighting has not changed significantly from the first game, but the Prince’s own battle-weariness and longing for her mean that he listens this time. Almost nothing that occurs in the game hurts him more than her rejection on seeing his sand form; absolutely nothing in the game affects him more than her convictions about his duty as Prince.

In the absence of Farah, the main plot of The Two Thrones probably would not change significantly: the Prince would cut his way through the city and destroy the Vizier regardless. However, Farah’s presence determines who the Prince is, and why he fights, when he reaches his enemy. In that sense, she is essential to the story. Without her, the Dark Prince is the only Prince—without her, the Prince could never escape the warrior within.

The Prince’s relationship with Farah is essential to both the games in which she appears. In Sands of Time, the relationship reflects who he is; in The Two Thrones it defines who he will become.

  4 Responses to “Farah and the Prince”

  1. To be fair, I've argued that it's great relationships that make a great story. The reason I think this is an important distinction from "great characters make a great story" (particularly for games) is that if you design a great character but don't allow those character choices to affect everything about how they interact with the environment (reflecting their relationship to the world), the NPCs (reflecting their relationships with people) or their own capabilities (their relationship with their emotional selves), then you're hamstringing the character and making her irrelevant.

    Take my recent post on Dark Sector as an example of a character whose relationship with the world around him (as defined by the gameplay) is at odds with the "cool character" they designed.

  2. I don't think we're really all that far apart here, and I definitely agree that having a great character is useless unless you have relationships that illuminate him. Otherwise, it's like building a palace with no windows or doors. Maybe it's the most sumptuous, elegant building ever created, but how's anyone going to get inside to find out?

    At the same time, even relatively well-done relationships don't build a good story if there's no there there. Oppose in your mind, for example, FFX's Yuna and Tales of Symphonia's Colette. The basic stories of these games are similar, and even a few of the side plots are very much the same. But Yuna, because she possesses nuance and depth (and she changes through the story), is able to really anchor her own tale, while Symphonia sputters along, drawing most of its emotional weight from secondary characters like Genis, Kratos, and Zelos. The problem for Symphonia isn't the story being told or the relationships being presented, it's that the central characters are cardboard.

    Of course, we could say that it's impossible to present good relationships without good characters, but in that case we're headed for the tautology zone, where we define ourselves right out of an argument.

  3. Interesting analysis. I loved Sands of Time, but you've got me curious to try the second and third games now. It might be worth putting up with the new "emo rage" prince to catch the interesting narrative moments you mentioned.

  4. I think you could stand to skip Warrior Within; it adds very little to the development or theme beyond the bare facts of its plot and the nature of its focus. You should definitely play The Two Thrones, however. You can make a compelling argument that Sands of Time is better, but my personal feeling is that The Two Thrones is the series' greatest achievement.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.