Thundertoise Reflects: The Prince of Persia (Sands) Trilogy

Growing up a gamer for as long as I can remember, it’s fair to say that more than a few of the games I’ve played have had a rather significant impact in getting me to acknowledge and adapt some of the values I carried on as permanent aspects of myself.

This notion is of course, not a very unique statement in itself, as the same can certainly be said of just about any of us, in relation to any medium of information presented to us—books, movies, plays, people, places, events in life and so on. 

Still, I’d put forward that video games as one medium among them all that requires an active participation in the full realization of the experience, tends to stick in ways that may sometimes be very immediate, but in other cases, takes time and is appreciated over time.

Speaking of time.. it is very central to this reflection of mine, as we dial the way-back machine to the early 2000s, to speak of a game trilogy that is very special to yours truly.

I speak of a trilogy that in it’s day was truly a special experience in it’s mechanics and narrative experience. I speak of a trilogy that was made by a Ubisoft before it became what it is (for better or worse) today.

A trilogy that emphasized on the concept of time, meshed with a variety of gameplay mechanics and character development instances that left a lasting impression on a young Thundertoise.

I speak of the ‘Prince of Persia-Sands Trilogy’.

I won’t go into a deep dive into every mechanic of the game, nor into a needlessly detailed narration of the entire story line-for-line. I would recommend that it is to be experienced by gamers to truly appreciate/criticize it’s gameplay aspects, some which aged well, others not so much.

No, this is a reflection that I have with regards to the overall narrative and story-telling experience. Of the realizations that came to me both in those formative years as an angsty teen, and decades later now, as an adult, working to make it by one day at a time.

That said, spoilers ahead.

The Sands of Time: A Shared Understanding of Early Motives

To start off, it’s important you know the protagonist. The unnamed Prince of Persia (henceforth, Prince) is a young, well, Prince.

He starts off as a glory seeking, green-in-the-gills brat of sorts who attempts to impress his father during the sacking of a city by the Persian army.

The Prince ends up giving his father the world’s worst Father’s Day gift when he (accidentally) unleashes the sands of time, cursing and killing people and life all around.

The Sands of Time and the Dagger of Time (by which they can be harnessed) are quite incredible, able to rewind time in short bursts, slow down time and speed up the wielder among other things.

Across this first game aptly named ‘The Sands of Time’, He eventually manages to do-over the whole incident. To be fair, back then I hadn’t picked up on much in the way of learning lessons.

The Prince himself was more fixated on reversing the mistake he made, which I thought was a cool idea especially with the sands mechanics.

I can tell you however, that I understood the Prince’s early motives. The Prince’s father, King Sharaman was written as a noble and powerfully respected figure, whose approval and praise was something that the Prince sought, after having been on rocky terms with him prior to the events of the game.

I understood it, because as a young teen who had a father that was well-respected and looked upon by many around in the community, I struggled in wondering if I should, let alone could live up to his example, and was seeking to win his approval at times, particularly when he and I did not agree on some of the choices I made as a teen.

So apart from this understanding, I didn’t really relate much to the Prince at the time. However, time is a fickle thing, and reveals many effects not necessarily immediately, but rather, down the line..

The Warrior Within: Actions Have Consequences 

The notion of one being able to choose actions but not the consequences tied to them is well and true. However, this notion is challenged by the Prince in the sequel to the first game, as he attempts to in fact, choose the consequences for his actions, or rather, recuse himself from consequence altogether.

You see, having dabbled with the sands and reversing time meant that he has violated the natural flow of what should have been—more particularly in relation to his fate, as he should have been killed off during the many times he reversed his many untimely death(s).

Thus, the timeline has now unleashed its very own hallway monitor slash tax collector—the Dahaka, guardian of the timeline, a monstrous, spectral being that is tasked with hunting the Prince down and eliminating him from the timeline.

The Prince is hounded and chased mercilessly across what we can assume are sleepless, restless months and possibly years, as the Dahaka stalks and gives chase to a terrified Prince who is desperate in finding a way to escape his fate.

The game is much darker and more sinister in all gameplay, visual/audio aspects, and makes sense when you realize that this is how the Prince is at this point too.

The constant running and restlessness has taken it’s toll on the Prince, who is now riddled with crippling anxiety, paranoia and a host of other emotional imbalances that have left him a more gaunt, negative character that is quick to anger, more bloodthirsty and cruel in his combat and other interactions.

He realizes that if he can go back in time and eliminate the sands from being made in the first place, then the events of the first game would not occur, and the Dahaka would have no quarrel with him. Fair logic.

However, the wise words of an animated kung-fu tortoise that goes along the lines of ‘One often meets their destiny on the road they take to avoid it’ strikes true here more than anything, as this plan results in more complications, and the Prince must cheat fate in more fickle ways, which he does—if you go out of your way to complete all the deadly trap laden side quests and max out your health bar, giving you access to the Water Sword.

This is what allows you to finally damage the Dahaka—who up until now was unkillable, and ( in great part thanks to Godsmack’s ‘I Stand Alone’) would give heart thumpingly terrifying chase sequences that to this day I consider to be utterly among the purest of panic inductions.

And you canonically, you can’t kill him alone. You’ll need to team up with the Sorceress to do that.

Again, at the time, I hadn’t picked up on this, but it is one that I acknowledged and felt more acutely a few years later when I replayed it, as I empathized with Prince’s mental health.

When I was young, I found the edgier and darker aspects of this more rugged Prince to be extremely cool ( I still do, from a design aspect).

It was only later, as the years wore me down as well, as I struggled with my own set of burdens and responsibilities doing this whole adulting thing, as I picked up and witnessed my own set of mental struggles, I acknowledged that what the Prince had become was cool maybe to see visually, but it was unfortunate to know that this is the result of poor mental health.

That and the fact that it must have been hell in the mind—which makes me reconsider how cool it would be now, as now in life, I consider peace of mind as a winning measure of life. 

That said, if the Dahaka represented a physical, allegorical focal object of the Prince’s mental struggles, then HOW the Dahaka is beaten is a good representation of how mental struggles can be managed in life as well.

No, I don’t make light of the subject by stating that there is a magic water sword, or there are magic means to make them vanish immediately. Rather, it becomes easier to take these challenges on when we have trusted allies to help us through the ordeal, and that by taking those extra steps to seek out help can seem difficult and inconvenient, but they can help us down the line.

So the Dahaka is out, and the Prince is now free of his prior actions therefore the consequences right? Time to set sail home with a new ally, and it all looks good right? Well now, wouldn’t be a trilogy if it was as simple as that now would it?

No not at all, as towards the end credits, there is a foreboding sense of inevitability looming ahead.

The Two Thrones: Acceptance and Accountability

Perhaps more than any other of the trilogy’s games, the final one had more impact in parting some very important lessons to me at the time.

The final game in the original trilogy came out in 2005, by which time many other hack and slash action games were competing ferociously, from God of War, DMC and so on. I ended up playing more of those than the Two Thrones.

In fact, I played it only a couple years later when I was done with my secondary schooling years. Perhaps it was meant to be, as there were no distractions on my end when some of those pivotal moments hit me playing this game.

As the Prince returned back to finally rest and hopefully reconcile with his father after so many years, he finds his beloved kingdom of Babylon under siege, and it turns out it’s the original villain from the first game again—which happened so due to the Prince’s attempts at erasing the involvement of the sands at all from the previous game.

This meant that the original game’s plot prior to the unleashing of the sands was well underway in the timeline. The Vizier, who intended to become a god via the sands would seek to make that happen one way or another, and in preventing one way, the timeline only ended up giving the Vizier another way to do it, as the Sorceress is captured.

And it would appear that the Prince would fail this time to prevent the sands from being unleashed, as the Vizier manages to sacrifice the Sorceress and actually begin his ascension to godhood.

Throughout this scuffle, the Prince ends up getting caught with the Dagger again, and is corrupted by the sands, which allows the physical manifestation of the ‘Dark Prince’ who embodies all that is opposite of what the Prince had become by now through his journeys.

For as the Prince became more compassionate, kind and wise across his travels, this dark wraith fed on the suppressed darkness within the Prince’s psyche—the cold, ruthlessness to punish his enemies, the ambition for power, selfish motivations and so forth.  

The interesting thing is that this is a game that was showing a physically visible form of the battle that happens within our minds—between our light and dark selves, and how as we give into the darker aspects, that it corrupts us, and more worryingly, how easy it is to be seduced toward it, particularly when the situation is unfavorable.

This is made evident in how the Dark Prince functions in the game.

During certain sequences, you play as the dark Prince via a transformation, and will need the sands to sustain vitality. The Dark Prince is faster, stronger with more ruthless enemy executions and capable of movements not normally possible, letting us as the players really relish those sequences when we feel far more powerful and in control of combat.

Yet.. the sands run, so there is a tinge of urgency, a tension always felt.  When the Prince reverts back to normal, the dark Prince provides inner voice counsel to the Prince. This is where things start becoming more interesting.

What initially starts off as actual helpful suggestions by the Dark Prince, such navigating traps and locations, enemy alerts and strategic counsel becomes more and more laced with undertones of needing to exact vengeance and claiming the crown over helping the Prince’s own peoples.

In fact, the Dark Prince reasons that killing the Vizier would end all the suffering anyway, so might as well target the big one and solve everything, which is actually not bad reasoning.

Yet the Prince is tested over and over on his moral choices, as the physical corruption starts taking over his skin.. and the transformations become more frequent… and longer… and the Dark Prince even starts taunting him, stating that he was the superior version in both ability and principles, and would be a better king, and attempts to sow seeds of doubt in the Prince.

He jeers and ridicules the Prince’s decisions now, telling that he is a child playing pretend on the burden of rule, that he is wasted in this body.

The Prince who is now becoming increasingly torn as he desperately treks his way back to the palace, falls into a detour at the very cusp of his destination, where he finally finds his father’s sword in a dry stone well pit, shrouded in darkness..

And not too far from it, the now lifeless King Sharaman, who died fighting the invading forces. The Prince is devastated and mourns his father as the following dialogue takes place—one which left a lasting impression:

The Dark Prince: Oh come now. Did you really expect to find him alive? After everything you have experienced, still you hold out hope?

The Prince: Oh father, what have I done?…

The Dark Prince: What now then? Gather up enough sand and perform another grand rewind? Or return to the island and travel back to a time he might still be saved, maybe even save your damsel in distress along the way?

The Prince: No! You are right, I have been like a child, naive and arrogant, always rushing to undo my mistakes. Never facing the consequences of my actions. No more. I accept what I have done, and all it implies.

And with this, he is able to overcome the Dark Prince at the time, by mentally powering through the transformation to revert himself back to normal from a particularly long transformation that had been in effect thus far—without the use of water, which thus far was always needed to force stop these transformations.

It is here, finally, that in character, a prince became king. It is in these final lines of this dialogue I find myself quoting to myself and others when I speak of accepting and taking accountability for ones actions, and more critically, mistakes.

For me, the past two games were about altering or escaping consequences by cheating time. While cool as a gaming experience, the message here is far more evocative with how consequences work in real life.

There are no magic sands or daggers in the real life… There are no do-overs. There are no hacks to undo what is done. We would need to come to terms with the consequences of our actions if we are to move on and succeed in life.

As I grew up over the years, and took on a corporate career, eventually leading teams as a manager, I advocate timeliness and accountability—and it is best advocated when you yourself live those values.

I give it my best. Sometimes I win. Sometimes I fail. Whatever it may be, if I know I have given it my all, I can and need to accept the outcome, and move on. There is much more to do, and time is precious.

Time is to be respected. We cannot buy more of it. We cannot get any more of it. We cannot reverse it.

The Two Thrones: Victory in Walking Away

In the final sequences of the game, The Prince defeats the Vizier. But before celebrations and credits roll, the Prince is pulled into a psychic plane, where it is revealed that the Dark Prince isn’t merely a byproduct of the sand corruption, but that he had always been there with the Prince.

He states that the Prince is undeserving of existing, having squandered the chance to control time itself, and forgoing the chance to become the greatest king ever known. That he has become soft and weak, and that he is unfit for the crown.

The Prince argues that the Dark Prince is but a selfish, arrogant and desperate spirit clinging to a side of him that is no longer unresolved, as this Prince is now one who has seen the error of his ways.

The Dark Prince retorts that if he has any dark aspects, it is because at some level, the Prince himself felt it, that they are one and the same, that he is not some mad Vizier’s conjuration, but in effect, the Prince himself.

And so, a debate of words and steel in equal measure goes into overtime, where as you attempt to strike the Dark Prince down, he only keeps multiplying, and his taunts get more vicious.

But then, Farah (who is the Prince’s closest ally, and eventual love interest), manages to reach her voice to the Prince, and pleads him to come back to her. That this place he is in now is a place that is filled with nothing but sadness, despair and emptiness.

The Prince is now at an impasse—a light beams ahead, but so are multiple copies of the Dark Prince facing you down as well. If you continue swinging your sword, there will be no end to them, as you are giving the Dark Prince exactly what he wants.. your attention.

But in choosing to walk away and towards the light, towards Farah’s voice, you are helping the Prince to starve this demon of what it thrives on—the attention. The Prince finally sees the merit in not giving this demon the luxury of his time, thus making it so insignificant in his presence and priorities.

As you walk away, the Dark Prince first calls you out for cowardice, but then realizes that he is no longer getting his due attention, and starts lamenting and screaming out of sight, out of mind, and out of relevance– ultimately out of power over the Prince.

The Prince returns back to consciousness, and feels liberated.

Here, I learned that sometimes, one way to take care of our inner demons is to not give it the power it does not deserve. The time it does not deserve. Sometimes, fighting the demon head on isn’t how you win the fight.

There are more ways than one to win a fight such as this. And in a fight of the mind, attaining peace of mind, in my opinion is victory. Years ahead, I would go onto undergo some very difficult years in my life, struggling with a period of depression and general hopelessness that came from a string of failures on multiple fronts in my life.

My first instinct was to get angry and fight back against the world that inflicted this upon me. It was not long before I realized I was hurting myself and people around me in a descent of character I was not proud of, nor ever will be. It took a while, but over time, I managed to find (and where I could not find it, create) reasons to step back again into a brave new world.

My losses weren’t returned. My misfortunes weren’t reversed. My Ls weren’t smudged off the record. I just learned to starve it of undue attention.

This is not to say to say that I went into denial and pretend that my problems did not happen. Quite the contrary, I accepted that they did happen, and even mourned my losses for a time.

The difference here was that following a prudent effort to negotiate any other way it could have gone down, I chose to go forward while knowing that this problematic phase of my life is indeed a thing that happened, but  that I refused to give it any more strength—That I have people, causes and goals to strive for that are bigger and matter more than my failures.

To starve the demons inside may help in some of the fights of the mind. It is similar to lines of thought that speak on how we empower our problems to overcome us if we give them more attention than they deserve, when we give that kind of permission.

So similar to the Prince’s final stand with the Dark Prince, I generally refuse to give permission to my problems beyond a certain point to linger in the front of my mind. It isn’t easy. It isn’t an overnight action. It took years, and I still fail at it at times. But it certainly is a helpful way to tackle some of the problems. After all, time is precious.

A Timely experience

The Trilogy and more particularly, the Prince and his own personal journey of growth came during a very specific period of my life when I was impressionable to many things around me. It is cliché to speak of the value of time and what not.

But here now, years ahead, I am glad that I played this game trilogy at that time, as it subtly helped me develop some of my coping approaches into personal problems, as well as develop some of my skills as a manager as well.

There are many other games that have left impressions before and since, which can be spoken of in length later. But as far as hammering home the value of time, and the whole deal with actions and consequences, few have done it as well for me as the Sands Trilogy.

If you haven’t played it yet folks, I implore you to give it a try. I assure you, that as a gaming experience, it will be time well spent.

Source: Vinay-TheOne [Deviantart]


  1. This is something I have related to as well. These games are very dear to me and the trilogy has impacted the way I view certain things in life.

    Liked by 1 person

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