When it comes to the Prince of Persia series, The Prince’s ever changing designs from game to game are well known. We’ve seen him as a treasure hunter, haughty nobility, mystical chosen one, sullen wanderer, and he was even portrayed by Jake Gyllenhaal in a $175 million Disney movie. The Princess that almost as often, however, is rarely given the same attention. Despite this, the many people who have been involved in various Prince of Persia games have created a character that, like the Prince himself, has come from various walks of life and has sported a new look (and often a new name and walk of life to go with it) in every game. We’re going to take a look at this oft-co-starring archetype’s humble beginnings and her evolution throughout this long running series.
This unsuspecting mouse is a loyal friend of the Princess, and saves the Prince’s life during the game.
Like the would be Prince, the Princess had no name for some time. In her first appearance she’s barely present save for sending her pet mouse to aid the Prince at an opportune moment. Her backstory casts her as someone angered by the Vizier running things like a tyrant while her father, the Sultan is off fighting a war. By the time the game starts, however, she’s already in the process of being imprisoned by the Vizier (named Jaffar here, no relation to the Jafar found in Disney’s Aladdin three years later). Originally she was intended to play a larger role in the story, with both expositions scenes and even moments where she would give the Prince some important items. This and many other more ambitious ideas were not implemented in the final game due to the hardware limitations of the time, leaving the Princess with little to do but wait. So while her very existence plays a part in setting the game’s story in motion, we don’t really learn much about her in the game itself beyond her being in love with the Prince, her pet being the smartest mouse on earth, and…
That’s right, Prince of Persia: Revelations may have been released in 2005, but twenty-seven years later people are still noticing new things about the original game! Every version of Prince of Persia seems to have an easy escape route right there, and the Princess is left unguarded for the duration of the game. Her pet mouse slipping in and out of the palace proper is one thing, but she never even turns around! What could keep her so paralyzed with hopelessness that she just lays there staring at that hourglass for an hour?
There’s a justification for this, but it can only be found by playing the SNES version of the game (developed by Arsys Software in 1992). Here we have several new enemies and levels to fight through that give us a much more powerful Vizier than the old man with some low key parlor tricks seen in every other release of the game. The Prince quickly runs into a variety of more advanced traps and magical servants of Jaffar. The Princess’ hesitation seems much more reasonable in light of all the extra mystical opposition standing between her and freedom. No really, there’s so much more content the SNES game gives players two hours to complete it instead of one! Katsuya Terada’s Super Famicom cover (pictured right) boasts all of the new threats between the Princess and her Prince. Illustrated to appeal to both new players and those who have mastered the original and are eager to see something new, it also established that its palace and underground dungeon are far more dangerous places than even those in earlier releases of the same game.
With the new levels and expanded scope of the game, one would think this would leave little time to make any major changes to the game’s introduction, however, the SNES version is also only one where they thought to have that window barred up! Proof that even at the turn of the 90s someone out there wasn’t too blown away by the rotoscoped animation to wonder why the Princess didn’t just turn left and walk away.
Left: Foolishness, Right: A Successful Windows Upgrade
Left: FM Towns, Center: Sega CD, Right: A copy of the Boris Vallejo’s “Transfiguration.”
Prince of Persia Classic debuted on the Xbox 360 in 2007 before appearing on several other platforms. It’s great fun to play through thanks to the solid foundation it has to work with, and even has a few options to make it more accessible to players who otherwise wouldn’t enjoy the original’s sometimes unforgiving exploration. Oddly, however, the Princess’ outfit here has been redesigned yet again. They ditched the various dresses we’ve seen the character in previously for a bland barefooted “harem girl” outfit. It’s a weird decision looking back at previous in game imagery of the character, but fortunately the rest of the game does a great job merging animations and flair of Ubisoft’s more recent Prince of Persia products with the original’s levels and traps, though some of the cooler and moodier parts exclusive to the SNES game are sorely missed.
As a final humorous oddity, however, the Princess is again “imprisoned” in a place with a ton of open space and massive doorways and open windows around it. Jaffar would have conquered all of Persia years ago if he just put the Princess in an actual cell and the Prince in a dungeon that doesn’t have a spare sword and a bunch of magical potions lying around! Some of these choices seem reasonable, banking on a vague nostalgia for the original, others make more sense when looking at developer Gameloft’s previous and future fetishization the Prince of Persia franchise. It’s a bit silly either way, the original Prince of Persia is a groundbreaking and very influential game, but the remake’s often ultra sunny aesthetic combined with the Princess’ wannabe Aladdin attire take away from that unique identity.
Left: Gameloft ditches the various dresses we usually see the Princess in for this Barbara Eden knockoff outfit. Right: Supporting characters in various Gameloft Prince of Persia games (2002-2005).
That rushed depiction of the Princess in the Sega Genesis port and lame design in the 2007 remake still aren’t nearly as silly as what happens in the 1993 sequel, The Shadow & the Flame. Here the Princess’ character starts out very strong. The game opens up just eleven days after the end of the first. Jaffar has not only survived, but weaved a magical illusion that makes everyone perceive the Prince as an incoherent beggar, while our resurrected Vizier masquerades as the Prince to help him take over the kingdom when the Sultan inevitably leaves to fight another war. As soon as the Sultan is gone Jaffar once again gets to play the tyrant.
One might expect and understand some confusion on the Princess’ part, but instead of wondering why her Prince could suddenly become a world class jerk, she writes a letter to her father saying that while her heart is broken at the Prince’s megalomania, she needs the Sultan to return with his army and take him down for the good of their people. Unfortunately Jaffar catches her writing this letter and casts a spell that makes her fall ill, completely writing her out of the game until the very end. The Shadow & The Flame gives us some backstory on the Prince’s family and origins, and shows us a much larger world than the original, but we only get to see the Princess briefly. Maybe Jordan Mechner was a big fan of Back to the Future II, another adventure where the main character’s beloved is written into the beginning of the story as if to play a major role…and then also sleeps through the rest of it. It’s so lame that when The Shadow & The Flame received its own remake in 2013 (brilliantly renamed The Shadow AND The Flame) Ubisoft excised the original’s introduction and ending completely and replaced them with vague un-illustrated ramblings from the Prince about how his mom always warned him he’d get into trouble some day.
Interestingly, Mechner actually already had plans in mind for a third game before The Shadow & the Flame was even released. Were it made, this Prince of Persia 3 would have primarily revolved around and have tentatively been titled The Princess and the Mouse. It never got made as Mechner began focusing on creating an outstanding adventure game called The Last Express, giving the Prince and Princess a six year hiatus, but Mechner actually wrote The Shadow & The Flame assuming its story and characters would be further developed with this third installment. Up next we’ll be taking a look at the highly divisive Prince of Persia 3D, Jordan Mechner’s triumphant revitalization of the franchise with 2002’s Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, and more!