Back in the early 2000s, Prince of Persia was the franchise to beat. Parkour-like traversal, intricate puzzles and intense combat: what’s not to like? Earning flattering review scores and numerous awards, The Sands of Time established itself as the prime action-adventure game. But how does one follow up something so flawless? Two words: Warrior Within.
With the sequel, the developer took a massive leap of faith by completely changing the game’s tone. While gameplay and traversal remained largely the same, the story and visuals received a surprising overhaul. Gone were the warm colour tones of the original and the humorous remarks from the Prince. And best of all – it worked!
Leading up to the game’s release, I spent a lot of time reading about it and gazing at the screenshots in a magazine. And certainly way too much time checking out the Empress’ ass… ets. Ahem, but there’s much more to the game than that. Let’s reminisce and take a look at why, quite possibly, Warrior Within is the best entry in the famed Sands trilogy.
You Cannot Change Your Fate. No Man Can.
Warrior Within picked up seven years after The Sands of Time. Finding himself on the run from the Guardian of Time, Dahaka, the Prince pays dearly for releasing the sands. And as the last resort, he travels to the Island of Time to right his wrongs; to gain an audience with the Empress of Time and prevent the sands from ever being created. A gloomy premise that carried throughout the whole game.
Its story relied on but a handful of characters to tell the tale, which only added to the sense of dread. There’s the Prince himself, who changed a lot since his appearance in The Sands of Time; he now seems defeated and vulnerable. And then there’s Dahaka, the shadowy figure which appears at various intervals to remind the Prince of his mortality.
He also faces off against the rather provocative Shahdee in multiple boss battles. And finally, there’s the mysterious Kaileena, voiced by (gulp) Monica Bellucci herself. In a somewhat predictable twist though, she turns out to be the Empress at the end of the game. The tone of the story contrasts greatly with Sands of Time and Two Thrones; it doesn’t fit in stylistically, yet somehow makes perfect sense within the overall storyline.
Throughout the campaign, nothing signified that the Prince would come out on top. And Warrior Within also featured two different endings, one of them unlockable by obtaining every item in the game. Neither of the endings was happy, however. Unless you count the Prince sleeping with Kaileena in the latter. Now there’s a happy ending.
I Stand Alone
It’s true that gameplay remained largely the same (i.e. awesome). But the dark tone of the story seeped into it as well. As the Prince washes up ashore, the island greets him with a sombre melody and a pack of crows circling around. The island itself is dark and depressing; its fortress crumbling and lifeless, unspared by the passage of time.
That somewhat changed once the Prince unlocked the ability to travel back in time. As if by some sorcery, vegetation returned and the grand halls were restored to their former glory. The game contrasts not only with the other entries, but within its own confines. Aside from puzzles scattered throughout the fortress, there weren’t many moments of reprieve. And Warrior Within wore its dark tone like a badge of honour.
It was also much more graphic and violent than its predecessor, focusing on cleavage and gore. During combat, every swing of the sword left visible cuts and the Prince finished off every enemy in a glorious splash of blood. He often decapitated them or even sliced them in half. Dark, heavy metal music accompanied every battle encounter. And who could’ve imagined that the end credits would feature a song from Godsmack?
By no means was Warrior Within perfect. Even its remastered PlayStation 3 version looks quite janky and the camera easily induces moments of confusion. But there’s so much substance to gameplay and story, that the shortcomings can be easily overlooked.
Its characters, environments and music worked in perfect unison to form something uniquely special. Nowadays, it’s rare for a game to differ so much from its predecessors and somehow retain the same soul. And for even attempting something so different, let alone succeeding with it, the developers surely deserve a round of hearty applause.
For now, the only way to play Warrior Within on an Xbox console is on the original Xbox, and the game is yet to arrive to Backwards Compatibility. In the meantime, why not give The Sands of Time a go and see where the Prince’s perilous journey began?