Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones (2005)

Coming to The Two Thrones 15 years later and finally getting a chance to see what all the fuss was about, well I can honestly say this is the best Prince of Persia game they made. It really has everything you’d want, not just from a Prince of Persia game, but also from being a last game in a trilogy. It corrects the mistakes from the previous entry, and refines and distills all the amazing things that made us fall in love with the series as a whole.

The Two Thrones picks up a few weeks after the events of Warrior Within, as The Prince and Kaileena are sailing back to Babylon. Oh yeah, that whole good/bad ending thing they did for Warrior Within is retcon’d out and they explain it away with the opening cinematic, as Kaileena says that “Some have heard that the empress died, but that is not what really happened”. Which does allow them to make the storyline cohesive in the universe of this grand tale that needs to all fit together without any plotholes. The issue is, that it makes the ending of the story pointless, and also changes the way the player perceives the game’s story and makes it unreliable. “What if they just change it again?”, those types of things ran through my head a bit and made me not trust the story often.

With the story now fully intact and singular, When the Prince and Kaileena arrive at Babylon, they see that the city is under attack, and as they are trying to figure out how to stop it, their ship is blown apart by the invading army. They get separated, and The Prince has to free Kaileena from being captured. While trying to save her, The Vizier from the first game is now alive because of the altered time line in Warrior Within, and is the one behind the attack on the city. He takes the dagger of time and kills Kaileena, forcing The Sands of Time to explode and create a chain reaction that not only changes the Vizier, but the entire city into sand monsters and also places some shrapnel of a chain whip into The Prince. The chain whip causes The Prince to become infected and turn into a sand wraith, but still has control of his mind. Yet, part of his mind has been unlocked, and his subconscious alter ego, called The Dark Prince now fights within The Prince for complete control.

The maharaja’s daughter Farah, from the first game shows up and the two team up again, just like in the original, bringing back some great banter along the way. This is where the writing of the game really shines. The Prince and Farah have a good “old married couple” bickering type of vibe to their dialogue, while when The Prince is talking to The Dark Prince, having inner monologues with himself, it becomes much more of a struggle to see who is really at fault.

The gameplay, along with the story and cutscenes are all improved, and you seen where the developers were trying to go with this series from the beginning. Kaileena now stands in as the narrator, instead of The Prince like he was for the first game. That soft familiar voice, breaking the fourth wall a bit and letting the player know what is happening really goes a long way to making the game feel more like a legitimate full length story with substance. Same goes for the dialogue of all the characters, you can see that there was so much more care that went into crafting and fleshing out these characters.

There is more mechanics to the gameplay, such as stealth and accompanying speed kills, that with some expertly timed button presses will quietly take out enemies, which is key to keeping the guards from calling for reinforcements. There are some new combos to add to the combat, but I never really tried to learn them as the combat wasn’t too difficult most of the time. Avoiding enemy hits is much more critical, and once the slow motion time power is unlocked the game really becomes a cakewalk. Secondary weapons make a comeback as well, and learning how to time attacks are critical in the first couple of hours.

A new mechanic to the game is the introduction of vehicle sections, where an “on-rails” chariot race through the streets of Babylon take place. These are fairly simple and only show up a couple of times through the game’s roughly sixish hours of gameplay. But it added a new dynamic to the game and shows that the scope of the series only continued to have grown. I personally would have liked a few more with some varied environments.

The city itself is huge and I never found myself really getting bored, as the game continues to progress and push you into new, exciting places. When I was in the city, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the first Assassin’s Creed game, and since Ubisoft did develop this game, and there are factual ties to both the Prince of Persia series, and Assassin’s Creed, you can see the groundwork for the series starting to take shape in The Two Thrones. Jumping and walking along edges above the white plastered buildings, and when climbing up the outer walls of the palace buildings, it all seems a tad familiar, as if you’ve been there before.

The traversal elements of the game become much more complex with more focus on finding the right way to get the next area to progress. There are still saw blade traps and spiked pits, but much less emphasis on them than Warrior Within. I found it a good balance between traversal puzzles and combat arenas, broken up between well acted cutscenes and inner dialogue. Every so often, the infection of The Prince’s chain whip transformers him into The Dark Prince, and the gimmick of having to move quickly and find sand to refill the life meter takes place. It’s not too bothersome, but there were a few times where I died because my life ran out before I could get to refill my life meter. It only happened once every so often, but repeating parts I already did flawlessly, only to die several seconds before being ok was a bit frustrating.

Boss fights make a much bigger return than the other games, and while decent in their design and setpieces, they become boring extremely quickly, as the pattern is apparent right away, but rely much too heavily on quicktime button pressing, and long drawn out animations. None of the boss encounters gave me any real trouble, but only became tiresome when I missed an extremely tight button press window and had to redo the whole thing over again multiple times.

The Two Thrones deserves all the praise it gets, and stands above the other games in the series. Its balanced focus on returning The Prince into a much more likable character again, his inner struggle with doing the right thing, and getting revenge is something we can all relate to, and putting a much needed spotlight on the banter between the characters feels more like believable relationships instead of stilted single lines to get to the next part of the story. While The Sands of Time will always be my favorite in the series, there is no question the The Two Thrones is easily the best. It just has such great harmony between all the different elements and game mechanics, that flow into each other, and never get in the way of one another.