Prince (Prince of Persia)

The Prince is the name given to a group of fictional characters who act as the main protagonists of the Prince of Persia franchise, originally created by Jordan Mechner and currently owned by Ubisoft. There have been several distinct Prince characters, all sharing general traits. The most prominent version was first featured in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2003), who has featured in a large number of games set within that game's continuity. In the 2008 reboot, the Prince is not from a royal family, but was planned to earn his title during the course of his journey. Other versions of the Prince have appeared in related media, most prominently the character Dastan (Persian: دستان) in the 2010 Prince of Persia film portrayed by Jake Gyllenhaal.

The Prince
Prince of Persia character
The Prince SOT Profile Render.png
The Prince as he appears in The Forgotten Sands
First gamePrince of Persia (1989)
Created byJordan Mechner
Designed byJordan Mechner
Raphael Lacoste (Sands of Time)
Mikael Labat, Nicolas Bouvier (Warrior Within)
Portrayed byJake Gyllenhaal
(Film adaptation)
William Foster
(Young)
Voiced byDave Boat (Prince of Persia 3D)[1]
Yuri Lowenthal (Sands of Time, The Two Thrones, The Forgotten Sands)[2]
Robin Atkin Downes (Warrior Within)[2]
Nolan North (Prince of Persia 2008)[2]

Mechner created the Prince for the original 1989 game. His main concepts for the character were taken from Near Eastern fiction such as One Thousand and One Nights, with his athleticism taking inspiration from the opening of Raiders of the Lost Ark. The character's movements were created by Mechner by capturing footage of his brother and transferring them into the game using rotoscoping. For The Sands of Time, the Prince was redesigned and rewritten, and over the course of its sequels, was developed in various ways to show his growing maturity. The 2008 series reboot redesigned him around a concept of a prince in making.

While public and critical opinion of individual Princes has varied, the character in general has been positively received. The original Prince has been seen as a breakthrough in gameplay design, while his appearances in The Sands of Time have varied, with particular criticism being laid against his dark portrayal in Warrior Within (2004). The reboot Prince's portrayal has also divided public opinion due to his redesign and American accented voice, while Gyllenhaal's portrayal of the character in film has drawn mixed opinions from critics.

AppearancesEdit

In video gamesEdit

The original Prince was a noble who fell from grace when his family and kingdom were destroyed by an evil witch, with the Prince as the only survivor.[3] Living as a street thief in an unspecified city, he eventually met and won the heart of the daughter of the city's Sultan. During the events of the original Prince of Persia (1989), the Sultan's vizier Jaffar attempts to seize control of the kingdom, and the Prince is imprisoned in the palace dungeons. He frees himself, defeats the Vizier and saves the Princess. In Prince of Persia 2: The Shadow and the Flame (1993), the Prince is banished by a disguised Jaffar, ending up rediscovering his homeland and retrieving a magical power which defeats Jaffar for good. In Prince of Persia 3D (1999), the Prince must again rescue the Princess this time from Rugnor, son of the Sultan's brother and the Princess's former betrothed.

The Sands of Time sequence covers the Prince, as the son of Persian king Sharaman, from his early years through events which shape him into a leader.[4][5] In Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2003), he accidentally releases the Sands of Time after they are looted from an Indian city with an artefact called the Dagger of Time, and must work with the city's princess Farah to contain the Sands before they spread through the world, while the treacherous Vizier seeks to use them to achieve immortality. Farah dies during the adventure, but the Prince uses the Sands to reverse time and warn Farah, killing the Vizier and returning the Dagger to Farah. This action causes a being called the Dahaka to begin hunting the Prince for distorting history. By the events of Warrior Within (2004), seven years after The Sands of Time, the Prince has become determined to undo the making of the Sands by confronting their creator the Empress of Time. He ends up meeting the Empress, Kaileena, and bonding with her before he knows her identity. He ultimately defeats the Dahaka and takes Kaileena to Babylon.

In The Two Thrones (2005), the Prince and Kaileena find that his actions in Warrior Within undid the Vizier's death. The Vizier kills Kaileena with the Dagger of Time, absorbing the Sands and turning into a god-like monster. The Prince is also infected, manifesting an alternate personality dubbed the Dark Prince. The Prince is also infected by the Sands, which turns him into a Sand Monster hybrid and helps manifests an alternate Dark Prince personality. During his adventure, he reunites with Farah, accepts responsibility for his people after finding Sharaman's body, and eventually kills the Vizier and defeats the Dark Prince, with Kaileena's spirit taking the Sands and Dagger from the world. Other stories from the seven years between The Sands of Time and Warrior Within are told in Battles of Prince of Persia (2005) and The Forgotten Sands (2010), showing events which changed the Prince's outlook on the world.[6][7]

In the reboot Prince of Persia (2008), the Prince is not royal by birth, but instead his story and trials are destined to shape him into a ruler.[8] The Prince becomes embroiled in a quest by the priestess Elika to reseal the dark god Ahriman. They ultimately fail, but make every effort to lock Ahriman back into the tree. They succeed at this, but Elika dies as the price of the ritual. The Prince, mirroring the actions of Elika's father which originally released Ahriman, decides to bring Elika back to life, freeing Ahriman once again; a disappointed Elika abandons the Prince soon after. In The Fallen King, the Prince travels to in search of a means of containing Ahriman's influence, fighting against a powerful corrupted king with help from the king's disembodied light side and a spirit dubbed the Ancestor.

In other mediaEdit

Multiple Prince characters were featured in Prince of Persia: The Graphic Novel (2008).[9] The story takes place in a kingdom called Marv, alternating between the 9th and 13th centuries. The story follows two men of royal blood: Guiv, survivor of a deposed royal line who goes into self-imposed exile after clashing with his adopted brother; and Ferdos, hidden with the region's water keeper during a purge of newborn children to forstall a prophecy. Each is helped by a mystical bird named Tulen, with Guiv's actions in his time influencing Ferdos' own life.[10]

For the 2010 movie adaptation, the Prince is given the name Dastan.[11] A street urchin adopted by the Persian king Sharaman, when an adult Dastan is sent with his brothers to attack the city of Alamut on the word of Sharaman's brother Nizam, claiming the Dagger of Time which Alamut's princess Tamina keeps safe. Nizam then kills Sharaman while framing Dastan for the crime, having sought the Dagger of Time to unlock the Sands and use their power to alter history and make himself king. Now on the run, Dastan allies with Tamina to prevent Nizam's scheme. During their efforts Dastan's brothers are killed, Nizam gains the Dagger, and Tamina sacrifices herself when the Sands are unlocked to allow the Prince to reach the Dagger. The Prince succeeds in turning back time while retaining the Dagger and his memories, allowing him to foil Nizam's plot. To make amends to Alamut, Dastan and Tamina enter a political marriage, with Dastan returning the Dagger to Tamina as an engagement gift.

Recurring characteristicsEdit

 
Jordan Mechner (pictured 2017), creator of the Prince of Persia series and character.

The Prince represents multiple characters across a number of different settings, but all these characters share general traits. Most incarnations of the Prince have been of a royal line, although in the original games the character was initially unaware of this.[3][12] Series creator Jordan Mechner also defined the character as a version of the Trickster, a common story and folklore archetype.[13] Aside from the movie version Dastan, the character has never been given a name, being known only under his title of Prince.[11][14] Each Prince has been adept at acrobatics and combat, and according to Mechner, the series' gameplay and its title character were "inseparable".[4][8] According to Ubisoft producer Ben Mattes, the concept of the Prince has become synonymous with the number of potential stories within the Prince of Persia series, along with defining the various incarnations' unifying traits.[8]

Beginning with [Prince of Persia] back in 1989 to Ubisoft's [Sands of Time] trilogy, the Prince of Persia brand is like a collection of fantastic tales, drawing inspiration from the Arabian Nights stories. Possibilities for enticing storylines and characters are endless with such a rich, colorful, shape shifting and magical universe. So there are as many stories of the Prince as there are many versions of the Prince himself – they all co-exist, they all share prodigious abilities and a liking for dauntless adventures and trouble.[8]

— Ben Mattes, 2008

Mechner has been involved in a variety of ways with the franchise; in addition to creating the original game, he acted as a writer and designer for The Sands of Time, worked on a graphic novel based on the concept, and wrote the story and original draft of the movie adaptation.[14][15] When speaking about returning repeatedly to the character through different media, Mechner felt he never got bored or frustrated as he considered each incarnation of the Prince to be his own entity. He never expected to work on the character through multiple media, describing it as an opportunity "[he] could have only dreamed of" when he first created the Prince.[14]

The version of the Prince that has gone through the most development is the character from The Sands of Time and its sequels. Mechner described the Prince as he is portrayed during the opening of The Sands of Time as "[A] daredevil who races ahead of the attacking army in order to gain "honor and glory" by being the first to steal a valuable trophy of war".[4] Ceri Young, writer of The Forgotten Sands, described this young Prince as "arrogant and [craving] power".[5] For Warrior Within, the Prince was turned into a darker, more callous character who had to face the consequences of his actions.[16][17] For The Two Thrones, the developers played on previous themes of duality when creating both the Prince and his abilities.[18] For The Forgotten Sands, he was given a personality much like that present in The Sands of Time, though wary of magic and unwilling to hold responsibility.[5] He was also set to suffer hardships that would begin his change into what he appeared as in Warrior Within.[19] Speaking in 2005, Mechner stated his dislike for how the character had changed in Warrior Within, and that he approved of the shift in The Two Thrones to "returning to a game for kids as well as adults."[20]

An element which appeared in both The Shadow and the Flame and The Two Thrones was a being dubbed either Shadowman or the Dark Prince.[21][22] Shadowman was created by Mechner to add enemy variety while skirting round the first game's hardware limitations, creating a mirror version of the Prince that would impede his progress.[21] In The Shadow and the Flame, Shadowman appears from the Prince to take on the magical power needed to defeat Jaffar.[23] In The Two Thrones, the Dark Prince was a manifestation of the Prince's negative traits given its own will and voice by the Sands.[24] The final scene where the Prince walks away from his dark side rather than fighting or accepting it was intended to show the character's maturity. The Dark Prince of The Two Thrones also acted as a reference to the original Shadowman.[22]

PortrayalEdit

While many actors have voiced the Prince, Yuri Lowenthal (left, pictured 2013) has voiced the Prince most frequently, with it being one of his favourite roles. American actor Jake Gyllenhaal (right, pictured 2019) portrayed the character in the 2010 movie adaptation.[25][26]

The Prince has been voiced by four actors in his various incarnations, most notably beginning with The Sands of Time. The known voice actors to have portrayed the Prince are David Boat, Yuri Lowenthal, Robin Atkin Downes and Nolan North.[1][2] Boat's one performance as the Prince was in Prince of Persia 3D.[1] Lowenthal portrayed the Prince in The Sands of Time, The Two Thrones and The Forgotten Sands.[25][27] In an interview, he said that "[he felt] that [he] in a way originated that role".[25] The Prince became one of Lowenthal's favourite roles, and he was pleased to return to the role for The Forgotten Sands.[27] He is also re-recording his voice lines for the upcoming Sands of Time remake.[28] According to Lowenthal, his well-received performance put pressure on him in future Prince of Persia games from both fans and staff, as he needed to remain true to and improve on his original portrayal. This ultimately gave him little creative freedom with the character after The Sands of Time.[29]

Lowenthal did not return to voice the Prince in Warrior Within, being replaced by Downes.[25] This change was explained by Ubisoft staff as necessary due to the Prince's more hardened and world-worn portrayal, in addition to the new voice better fitting his redesigned appearance.[30] Lowenthal thought it was the right decision given the tonal shift.[25] For The Two Thrones, Lowenthal returned to play the role, as fans had stated their preference for his portrayal of the character.[25] Downes was originally announced as the voice of the Dark Prince, but the character was voiced in the final game by Rick Miller.[31][32] Miller received the role through the game's voice director Simon Peacock, who was a friend. As his first video game role, Miller found it challenging due to the need to record effort and death sounds.[32]

For the reboot, the staff wanted a different portrayal of the Prince to Lowenthal's, and so recast the role.[25] North voiced the Prince for the 2008 reboot, and in hindsight felt that he did not do the character justice. In a 2012 interview, he said that "[he] just didn't really feel like the American accent worked with the artistry that the game showed", further saying that he thought a Middle Eastern or British accent would have better suited the character.[33]

The movie character Dastan was portrayed by American actor Jake Gyllenhaal. Gyllenhaal said that there were several reasons that he chose to accept the role of the Prince, including the character's appeal to him, the fact that the film was based on the video game, and he "[liked] to do things that people have tried their hand at and haven't succeeded."[34] In a pre-release interview, Mechner called Gyllenhaal right for the role as it fitted in with the Prince's inspiration in classic movie heroes.[35] According to Gyllenhaal, he retrospectively felt he had over-prepared physically for his role as he knew little of what it entailed. He trained for five months prior to the beginning of filming in Morocco, and continued to train during the filming period.[26] In a later interview Gyllenhaal expressed regret at accepting the role, feeling it was wrong for him as an actor.[36]

Concept and designEdit

The Prince was created by Mechner as the protagonist of the original Prince of Persia. His inspiration for the character's athleticism was the opening ten minutes of Raiders of the Lost Ark, referencing main character Indiana Jones' approach to situations encountered.[37] Indiana Jones' less impervious portrayal compared to other action heroes also influenced Mechner's portrayal of the Prince.[38] The character was based on multiple similar figures in ancient literature, including One Thousand and One Nights.[39] The character's movements were created using rotoscoping, with Mechner video taping his brother doing the movements, then mapping them into the game.[37] Originally a plain figure in white clothing, the Prince was restyled for its Japanese release in a turban and baggy pants. This look pleased Mechner, and became associated with the character during the original trilogy.[40]

Speaking on his role in The Shadow and the Flame, Mechner admitted to taking a hands-off approach due to his work on The Last Express (1997), and that due to development pressures he was growing tired of the character.[41] Plot elements from the ending of The Shadow and the Flame were going to be continued in an unpronounced sequel relating to the Prince's origins.[3] Speaking in 2010, Mechner said that during his time writing the series bible for the production of future Prince of Persia games, he was attempting to force the character into the conventions of western fiction, forgetting the character's literary origins. By the time Prince of Persia 3D released to a lukewarm response, Mechner was actually pleased that the Prince had run his course, as he no longer recognized the character he created.[42]

The Sands of TimeEdit

 
The Prince's portrayal and appearance changed radically between The Sands of Time (left) and Warrior Within (right). The change divided critics and fans of the series.[17][43]

For The Sands of Time, the character was completely redesigned, taking reference purely from the original game rather than Prince of Persia 3D.[44] Mechner wrote the new story for the Prince purely for newcomers to the series, wanting the character to be memorable so as to provide a good "hook" for players together with the gameplay. He again drew inspiration from the opening of Raiders of the Lost Ark for the opening of The Sands of Time. Something he was pleased with was his initially unsympathetic portrayal of the Prince.[4] His inspiration for the character's more serious portrayal was the stories of the Shahnameh, although he later admitted that he could not entirely remove the influences of the original Prince. In his view, "It's [the Prince's] inability to solve this conflict that gives him his particular charm."[42] For his gameplay model, the Prince had over 780 movement animations scripted, far more than any other character in the game. This conversely led to difficulties with other enemy movements.[45] The Prince was designed by Raphael Lacoste, the game's art director, who went through multiple versions from a young boy to a bare-chested older man. His final look was partially determined by the aesthetics of the game's environments.[46]

For Warrior Within, a decision was taken by the development team from the outset to make the game's atmosphere darker. They also wanted to flesh the Prince out as a character, as they had felt something was lacking in The Sands of Time. With these concepts in mind, they decided the Prince would "grow up", with the story being more focused on his character than him saving a person or place.[47] The two people most involved with the Prince's redesigned were art director Mikael Labat and illustrator Nicolas Bouvier. During the early stages, some hybrid designs with his appearance in The Sands of Time were created, but it was soon decided that the team was not being radical enough with the redesign. His "charisma" needed to be new, yet consistent with the events of The Sands of Time. His new armor reflected this change: it is made up of interlaced leather straps, granting him protection while giving him freedom to perform his acrobatic movements.[48][49]

In The Two Thrones, the Prince was portrayed as a mature warrior able to hold his own, with his appearance roughened using scars and his Sands infection being designed to appear like a "living wound" more than a tattoo.[50] The Prince's struggle with his dark side was made the focal point of the narrative, forming part of a simplification of the series narrative following the complex time travel of Warrior Within.[24][51] In The Forgotten Sands, the story was written around the Prince still being a developing character, learning what it takes to be a ruler and to take responsibility for his actions.[5][52] His art design drew inspiration from his appearance in Warrior Within and The Two Thrones, described as the more visually appealing version compared to the original Sands of Time.[53]

Other versionsEdit

A third variation of the prince appears in the 2008 reboot and its companion game The Fallen King.[54] Mattes explained that the inspiration for the character design was to express how he would eventually become a prince through an epic journey. Additional inspiration was drawn from characters such as Sinbad from One Thousand and One Nights, Han Solo from Star Wars, and Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings. Mattes explained that when designing the character, Ubisoft wanted to communicate visually the dichotomy of the life of an adventurer. The prince wears red and blue cloth as a turban and scarves, a sign of wealth. However, he also wears plain leather leggings to help protect his legs, instead of opting for fashion.[8] The Prince also had a companion in the form of Elika. Their relationship was based on the story and gameplay relationship between the Prince in The Sands of Time and Farah, which had worked well.[55]

When creating the movie version's draft script, Mechner he chose the name "Dastan" as he had learned it was an old Persian name meaning "trickster". He took the name from a translation of the Shahnameh, and later felt it appropriate upon learning its alternate translation of "story".[13] The name changes of characters including the Prince were also meant to indicate the film would not directly adapt The Sands of Time.[35] Despite Mechner's film script being written prior to the making of later games in the Sands of Time continuity, Mechner said that the production team for the film incorporated design elements from later games into the Prince's appearance.[56] The character's costumes were designed by Penny Rose. The Prince's most worn outfit, a loose-fitting spiral coat, was designed by her based on a picture from a piece of ancient Persian embroidery. Her costumes also made nods to the costume designs of the video games.[57] Dastan's armor drew from his appearance in Warrior Within, coincidentally matching the art design for The Forgotten Sands.[53]

Mechner co-authored the graphic novel with A. B. Sina, which was illustrated by LeUyen Pham and Alex Puvilland.[9] Mechner was approached about adapting his character First Second Books' editorial director Mark Siegel, and the timing was right to create a property independent of both the games and the movie adaptation.[15] Sina was initially wary of the project, as he had negative experience of the portrayal of Midden Eastern people in Western media, and did not want to be controlled by marketing requirements. But after meeting Mechner and the editor for the book's publisher First Second Books, he was won over Sina's story deliberately played on the series concept of there being multiple Princes, writing his story around several Prince characters in different eras.[39][42] Mechner described this approach as not suited to either a movie or a game due to its overt philosophical elements, feeling instead that it was well suited to a graphic novel.[14] He also co-wrote Before the Sandstorm, a graphic novel prequel to the movie featuring several of the same artists. When creating it, he incorporated several in-jokes relating to both the original Prince of Persia and its inspirations.[15]

ReceptionEdit

In 2012, GamesRadar ranked the character in his various incarnations as the 27th in their list of the "Top 100 protagonists in video games", commenting on his multiple incarnations by saying "No character of the last couple of generations has had so many radically different personality reboots."[58] Empire also included Prince on their list of the 50 greatest video game characters, ranking him as 35th and giving particular reference to his portrayal in The Sands of Time and its sequels, saying that despite his banter being weaker in The Two Thrones, he was "a genuinely likeable guy in baggy trousers wielding a large cutlass and sporting a natty beardlet".[59] The Prince was placed as 34th in a list by Guinness World Records of the top video game characters of all time [60] In an article for Retro Gamer concerning the creation of the series, David Crookes noted the Prince's importance as an early example of the acrobatic lead character, comparing him to similar later game leads including Lara Croft.[41]

The Prince as he appears in The Sands of Time is generally seen as the most likeable version of the character, with critics and fans praising his portrayal and development.[17][58] The Prince's change into a darker character for Warrior Within received a notoriously mixed response, with fans and many critics seeing it as a change for the worse.[43][61] Mechner was among them, commenting on Wired that he was "not a fan of the artistic direction, or the violence that earned it an M rating. The story, character, dialog, voice acting, and visual style were not to my taste".[20] Others praised the change, such as Heather Newman of Detroit Free Press, who enjoyed the character's portrayal and design.[43][62] Despite the mixed critic and fan reception, Ubisoft have defended the change as a legitimate evolution of the Prince's character.[17] The Prince's return to a persona similar to that in The Sands of Time both pleased Mechner and was more favorably received by critics and fans.[20][17][58] GameSpot's Bob Colayco enjoyed how the game seemed to self-reference the criticism in its portrayal of the character and his struggle with his Dark Prince persona, saying "the internal strife in the schizophrenic prince's mind forms a compelling part of the storyline".[63]

The Prince from the 2008 reboot was well received by video game critics, but criticized by fans of the series, whose main complaint was the performance of North in the role.[64][65] In an article about the sexuality of the Prince of Persia reboot, Gamasutra editor Tom Cross stated that he finds the rejection of both the game and its protagonist incomprehensible. He compared Uncharted protagonist Nathan Drake to the Prince, stating that it was not just because he was voiced by [North], but also because the sexual tension that [Drake] holds reminded him of the prince. He addressed the criticism of his voice, stating that people found it annoying and improper for him to sound so much like a Han Solo-type character considering the video game is located in the Middle East. Cross found this criticism unfair, arguing that no one criticized female protagonist Elika's North American accent and added that the prince was a harder character to like than Nathan Drake, due to him being an "unrepentant jerk" instead of a "lovable jerk," but that merely makes him a harder sell.[65]

Commenting on Gyllenhaal's performance as the Prince as part of general criticism on the leads, Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert felt Gyllenhall "plays Dastan as if harboring Spider-Man's doubts and insecurities", clashing with his physical appearance. He also faulted the use of special effects to portray the character's atheltic abilities.[66] By contrast, Chris Tilly of IGN praised Gyllenhaal's portrayal as the Prince, citing him as a highlight of the movie overall.[67] Gyllenhaal's appearance and especially his haircut for the role of the Prince were ridiculed by several sources, prompting Ghazzal Dabiri, a lecturer and coordinator of Iranian studies at Columbia University, to positively compare the portrayal of Persians in the film to those of 300 and adding: "An Iranian warrior-prince would have had those kinds of muscles! They did train in martial arts from very young ages. Some accounts say as soon as they were old enough to be taught reading, writing, arithmetic, and so on, martial arts ... was part of their curriculum."[68] The film was similarly accused by several critics of whitewashing the cast. Brian Ashcraft of Kotaku admitted the criticism, but felt it failed to take into account complexities surrounding the perception of ethnicity in both the film industry and real-life over time, also noting some of the leads having varied ethnic backgrounds while wishing the film's makers had made the effort to cast Iranian actors in the lead roles.[69]

ReferencesEdit

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