29 March 2024

12 Min Read

prince of persia the lost crown

How Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown’s Soundtrack Found its Voices

Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown embraces its Persian setting like no other game in the series, setting aside “Arabian” fantasy tropes to blend Persian history, mythology, and iconography with ultra-stylized anime and superhero influences. The soundtrack to the hero Sargon’s adventure aims for a similar blend of Persian tradition and pop-culture influence, bringing together the talents of Iranian-born, Berlin-based composer Mentrix (aka Samar Rad) with those of veteran game composer Gareth Coker (Immortals Fenyx Rising, Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope, the Ori series).

The two didn’t collaborate directly – Coker joined the project around the same time Mentrix was finishing her work on it – and they each bring something distinctive to the soundtrack: Mentrix’s ethereal compositions provide the audio backdrop for the game’s exploration sequences and some of its boss fights, and incorporate such traditional Persian instruments as the tar (a guitar-like string instrument), kamancheh (a bowed instrument similar to a violin), daf (a handheld drum), and ney (a wind instrument that dates back to ancient Egypt), along with western instruments and Mentrix’s own vocals. Coker’s pieces have a bigger, more orchestra-heavy sound, and accompany most of the boss fights, some of the exploration, and the game’s cinematics. There’s one place where their work directly overlaps, however: the game’s main theme, which blends Coker’s composition with Mentrix’s vocals.

“We have two universes, from the music’s point of view,” says Raphaël Joffres, music supervisor on Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown. “We have some very subtle and well-crafted music from Mentrix, and it’s really nice because she used a lot of traditional Persian instruments, and they become an iconic sound you hear throughout the game. Her music is something quite unique. On the other side, we worked with massive orchestral music with Gareth Coker, and we really wanted to have this different dynamic between the exploration part and the boss fights.”

Blending Tradition and Modernity

In April 2020, Mentrix released her first album, My Enemy, My Love – although her initial goal hadn’t been to release an album, but to film music videos in Iran. After spending four years assembling a crew in Europe, Mentrix traveled to Iran in 2018 to film the videos for her songs Walk (“my personal wish and desire of visualization of a future where women come together and unify”) and Nature (“the story of your higher self and your lower self that are seeking each other, and eventually meet”) during a two-week stay in the country.

“As you can imagine, it’s not as easy doing things in Iran!” Mentrix says. “But there are always pros and cons, and in a place like Iran, where there are so many laws against you, it creates a state where the law is not really justified – so you can actually kind of do whatever you want, if you can get away with it.”

My Enemy, My Love caught the attention of Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown Associate Artistic Director Omar Sabrou, who connected with Mentrix on Instagram and eventually invited her to join the pool of composers pitching music for the game.

“I pitched over the course of about a year while the game was being made,” Mentrix says, “and then I joined officially as the first composer – and sole composer, for about another year and a half.”

Big Bosses, Bigger Sound

While Mentrix’s music is an integral part of the game’s identity, the developers wanted something a little different for the boss fights – and so Coker was brought on during the game’s final year of development, shortly after finishing work on Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope.

“I think what happened is, someone on the Prince of Persia team heard a specific track – Daphne’s Trap – from Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope,” says Coker. “It’s one of the final boss tracks in that game, and they were like ‘yeah, that’s cool. Let’s get some of that energy into Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown.’”

[UN] [POPTLC] Composer Interview - IMG 1

ABOVE, LEFT TO RIGHT: Gareth Coker, Music Supervisor Raphaël Joffres, and Lead Sound Designer Slimane Dellaoui during a session at Abbey Road Studios in London.

By the time he joined the project, Coker says, much of the game’s musical identity had already been established, and he feels there’s a clear delineation between his contributions and Mentrix’s – but that thanks in part to direction from Joffres and others at Ubisoft Montpellier, the tracks complement each other, rather than clashing.

“Mentrix's music is very suited to the exploration aspect of the game,” adds Coker. “It really, absolutely nails the vibe of Prince of Persia.”

While Coker’s involvement began with composing boss-fight music, it gradually branched out into cinematics, some of the exploration music, and the main theme. “I think it started out with a very specific goal, and then it broadened, because it’s a big game and it needs a lot of music,” Coker says.

From Concept to Realization

Mentrix creates her compositions either by singing them or by composing on the tar, which has three double strings and is taught the traditional way, from a master to a student. “There aren’t theories to learn,” she says. “You still have to go and find someone to teach you the different Radif or Avaz [traditional melodies or songs].”

Even though she uses it to compose, the tar’s metallic sound means it doesn’t always make it into her compositions; “Once the tar is in, it either stays in until the end, or you just don’t bring it in at all, because it’s a very distinctive sound that really cuts through,” she says, “but you would hear it specifically on the Raging Sea and Frozen Sea.

“The pleasure was to be able to bring these instruments into a place where you then have a brass section, and you're bringing all these western instruments to create these journeys,” Mentrix says. “I mean, what an opportunity! What a great opportunity for me to have the support of Ubisoft in this environment, to be able to collaborate with so many musicians and bring together all these tonalities.”

“The music she produced, no one else could have produced it her way,” says Joffres. “I think she has a very distinctive way of blending traditional rhythm and melody with traditional instruments and modern touches.”

“[The development team] had this very beautiful ambition for the game: to highlight different aspects of different cultures, to go beyond borders, to also, through their artistic vision, educate the world further,” Mentrix says. “I could share my Iranian classical music references, and bring these different genres of music – but I also had the green light to explore, and the openness on the other side to just be creative: What can you tap into, and what can you do, and what can you imagine? It was so refreshing and so enriching, really.”

Consistent But Original

While working on the soundtrack, Coker carefully listened to some of Mentrix’s tracks to understand which instruments she used. “I was able to use some of them in my own compositions, but definitely not in the same way,” he says. “They’re not so much a feature of mine as the icing on the cake, whereas I think Mentrix’s are the cake. In order for things to sound consistent, that’s where there is overlap between our work: She uses some instruments that I use.”

Coker’s favorite blend of traditional Persian instruments with his own musical style is The Storm Master, a boss theme that mixes them with a full orchestra, rock drums, and synths. “That track was the first I’d written to get approved on the project, and it kind of set the tone for everything else that came afterward,” Coker says.

“[The soundtrack] sounds like one person did it, even though two people did it, and that's thanks to the consistent direction from the top,” Coker says. “Between us, I feel like we have the full range not just of dramatic sensibilities, but also aesthetically; she produces her music in quite a different style than I do, especially because my focus is predominantly orchestral. Between us, we have a pretty rich and varied soundtrack.”

Scoring the cinematics also gave Coker an opportunity to introduce memorable hooks that reverberate through the story, tying the boss fights more firmly to the narrative; players will hear a theme when an antagonist is introduced in a cutscene, for example, and then they’ll hear a development of that theme later on when they fight, and the theme will continue to develop as they encounter the antagonist again throughout the game.

“One thing I really appreciate about the direction on this project: They encouraged me to be me, and not someone else,” says Coker. “If they wanted to have a different sound, they could have probably hired almost anyone for this project. But to reference the Sparks of Hope boss track, I think that track had a very specific attitude that they wanted.”

Bringing It All Together

“What's funny about the main theme is that, over the course of development, it changed, time and time again,” says Coker, whose brief for composing the theme was to encapsulate Sargon’s entire journey in a single piece of music. “I kept doing other tracks from the game, and we were like, ‘let's get some of the energy from this track and put it in the main theme!’ [laughs] And so it kept on changing. It was one of the first tracks I started, and one of the last tracks that I finished.”

“We didn't get to really collaborate on it together the way that I believe we both would have wished,” says Mentrix, “but in the spirit of collaboration and having a harmony throughout the music, I did some vocal deliveries for the team, because I use my voice a lot in my compositions. It became obvious that the music had my voice as an element that is found everywhere, so this is how I ended up contributing vocals to the main theme,” Mentrix says.

The first step, says Coker, was to create the central melody – played by a cello in the first few seconds of the main theme, and repeating throughout the piece until it’s the last thing listeners hear. “Once that was established, it was like, OK, we're gonna go to the big orchestra,” Coker says. “Now we're gonna have Mentrix’s vocals coming in, but they're gonna be produced in such a way that they're kind of time-affected and glitch-affected, because time is obviously an important factor in Prince of Persia. There's a rock element, there's a synth element, because we use all of that in the soundtrack.

“We kept on putting things in, and I think it was like version four or five that I was like, ‘OK, this is good, but it's exhausting to listen to, and not in a good way.’ Sometimes things are exhausting to listen to in a good way; that can be a goal,” Coker says. “And then we're like, ‘OK, we've got all the good stuff, now let's see where we can strip it down.’ There is an intimate part to Sargon’s journey as well, and that's where the softer sections come from; there's a breakdown about two-thirds of the way through the piece where it's just soft orchestra playing the theme briefly for about 20 seconds – and then it builds back up again into something absolutely huge. We wanted to create a rollercoaster of emotion and drama, because I think that's reflective of the game.”

Journey’s End

“I really love the finale of the game,” says Joffres, “because you enter a more cinematic phase where you have a massive boss fight surrounded by long cinematics, and it was Gareth who scored most of it, and Mentrix did the two final cinematics. It was kind of, ‘OK, sit down and enjoy the epilogue of the story. And there the music is just massive and very, very emotional. And honestly, when I received the last track from Gareth for the cinematic, I almost shed a little tear. It was early morning, and I was super-tired, and I was like, ‘oh damn it, this is really good!’”

“I think one of the most important things I can say about this soundtrack, both with regards to my work and Mentrix’s work, I don't think you could put this soundtrack in any other game and have it work.” Says Coker. “I don't think it's interchangeable with other games that are set in this part of the world. Not everything can be super original, but I think you've really succeeded as a soundtrack when you can't imagine anything else in its place.”

“Beyond it being an opportunity for me as someone who makes music, it was a very beautiful, human adventure,” says Mentrix. “I really felt that I was part of a creative team, of a very extraordinary, talented creative team, with whom I could really relate.”

Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown is out now for Switch, PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Amazon Luna, and PC (via the Epic Games Store and the Ubisoft Store), and is included with a Ubisoft+ Premium subscription. For more on Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown, check out its planned post-launch content and our Accessibility Spotlight.

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