Prince of Persia (2008): Bosses and Combat

Prince of Persia (2008) is organized around groups of four. There are four colors of power-plate, and four distinct sets of zones, each of which is made of an entrance zone, a terminus, and a circle of four zones between them. And there are four bosses, each ruling over one of the four zone groups.

The bosses are a bit like ringwraiths. Former humans with bodies made of black, oily Corruption 1Come to think of it, Corruption strongly resembles petroleum, and the whole game is set in the middle east. I’m a little tempted to read allegory into this, but such things are really too subtle for this game. , they accepted power from Ahriman during their mortal lives, and consequently now serve him for eternity. Their names are apparently forgotten, because they’re all identified by their jobs: the Hunter, the Alchemist, the Concubine, the Warrior. And the peculiar thing is that most of the fighting in the game is against just these four creatures. You have to fight them over and over; every zone has a boss fight you have to win before you can cleanse it. And there isn’t a lot of combat beyond that.

To be precise, I’ve seen three other sorts of foes. In the very beginning, you have to fight some soldiers who are chasing Elika on her dad’s behalf. (Notably, you don’t kill them. They run away when defeated. I recall that The Sands of Time also had a bit at the beginning where you fought ordinary human soldiers before everyone turned into sand-wraiths, but it wasn’t so squeamish about letting them die.) Then there’s a periodic between-chapters battle against Elika’s father himself, who’s not undead yet but probably on his way, if I understand the backstory correctly. And finally, there are lesser Corrupted that spawn at specific points in the paths between corrupted zones — but there’s at most one such point per path, and it’s possible to slip by them without a fight if you’re fast enough. Even if you do fight the lesser corrupted, they’re a lot quicker to defeat than the bosses: if you can back them all the way up to a ledge or wall, you drain the rest of their lifebar automatically. A boss in a similar situation will just teleport closer to the center of the battlefield.

Combat is always one-on-one (apart from Elika’s magical assistance), and feels a bit like a simplified Street Fighter/Mortal Kombat-style fighting game, in that it’s about carefully-timed button presses rather than fluid grace — a charge that could be leveled at the platforming sequences as well. For what it’s worth, I’m rubbish at this sort of fighting. I understand that there are combos to be discovered as well, but the only combos I’ve managed to pull off are the simple ones like “sword-sword-sword-sword”.

All Corrupted, whether minor or boss, have a habit of metamorphosing into forms that are vulnerable to only a single sort of attack: turning the Corruption of their body into a sort of armor with blue highlights means you need to use sword attacks to get it off, a sort of black cloud around the feet and back needs you to pull them out with your gauntlet, and turning into a mass of black tentacles is an invitation to use Elika’s magic. You’re given a help text explaining these vulnerabilities the first time each form is used, but after that you pretty much have to just remember them (unless Elika shouts out advice, as she does sometimes). What I didn’t notice at first is that the combat QTEs work very similarly. I mentioned before not being able to react to the QTE button prompts quickly enough; I now suspect that this is intentional. What you’re supposed to do — what works — is to recognize the situation before the button prompt comes up. If a boss rears up on a tall column of Corruption, for example, it means that you’re about to be asked to press the Jump button to leap out of the way before he falls on you like a wrestler. So for once, we have QTEs that make it worthwhile to pay attention to what’s happening in the gameworld instead of just staring at the UI.

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1. Come to think of it, Corruption strongly resembles petroleum, and the whole game is set in the middle east. I’m a little tempted to read allegory into this, but such things are really too subtle for this game.

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