The ending of 2008's Prince of Persia is one of my most memorable moments. For those who haven't played it, the game features the titular Prince, and enigmatic wanderer who stumbles on the decaying kingdom of the Ahura, a people dedicated to keeping Ahriman trapped within a magical tree and the surrounding lands. After the princess of the Ahura dies, her Father makes a faustian pact with Ahriman, releasing him in exchange for her resurrection. Only she comes back with powers from Ormazd, Ahriman's good counterpart, and alongside the Prince she proceeds to heal the fertile grounds in order to imprison Ahriman once again.
At the end of the game, after defeating the corrupted king Ahriman is sealed away, only for the Princess Elika to die. Never before have I felt such a failure as a gamer. I did everything right, sealed Ahriman, just like Ormazd wanted. I win, right? But this isn't like a death in any game - in fact it isn't possible to die in the game - Elika saves you. Every time. And that is why her death was so meaningful to me. The ending doesn't just jump out at the end. The whole game is a set up for that moment. Every time the Prince jumps, she boosts him. Every time he falls, she catches him. The prince himself cannot become stronger - his only upgrades come from Elika's new Ahura powers - from Ormazd. There are so few characters in the game. There are a few faceless enemy encounters, then Ahriman and his corrupted, the King, and Elika. That's it. Everything you learn about the Kingdom of the Ahura comes from Elika's interaction with the Prince. She's a storyteller. She says it herself. She's all that's left of the Ahura.
But the game gives you a choice. You can turn the game off, accept Elika's sacrifice and the Prince leaves, wanders into the desert to further adventures. but I couldn't do that. Elika and the Prince had come too far together. I had come too far. It all emant too much. When she and the Prince spoke it seemed natural. She was uptight, critical, he was cheesy, flirtatious. I would, upon entering a new area exhaust the dialogue options - for the kingdom's backstory, sure, but for their banter just as much.
There is a second option. You can cut the trees that bind Ahriman. Release him, just as the King did, in exchange for Elika's life. Throw away everything you did, together, in the past 12 hours.
It dawned on me, how much of a sucker I was. I was no different to the deformed Corrupted. Just like them, I had been manipulated, chewed up, spit out. Cast aside. Except my god was not the god of darkness but the god of light. How could he? I deserved that much. For all the Prince's hardship, endured for a country that wasn't even his own, for Elika, devoted, faithful, willing to sacrifice herself. For the gamer, who fought alongside them. We all deserved our happy endings.
There was no choice. I cut the trees, every one of them. Elika wakes up, she only says 'What have you done'. I say, to my screen, knowing that she can't hear me, she's only a character, lines of code, [i]pixels[/], two words, as the Prince walks from the waking Ahriman:
LOOK WHO CAME: