Movie Game / ICO
ICO is a two thousand one Action-Adventure PS2 game designed and directed by Fumito Ueda, who wished to create a minimalist game around a “boy meets lady” concept. It is the very first game in the Team Ico Series.
The team employed a “subtracting design” treatment to reduce elements of gameplay that interfered with the game’s setting and story, in order to create a high level of immersion. This means that the gameplay is realistic, with deeds such as climbing, hitting things and making difficult hops being limited to what a child would actually be capable of, and there is also no interface at all, with no inventory, minimap, life gauge, or stamina meter to remind you that you’re playing a game.
The titular Ico is a youthfull boy born with horns on his head, which his village considers a bad omen. Warriors lock Ico away in a sealed coffin within an abandoned castle. He escapes by chance, and while exploring his prison, Ico encounters Yorda, a mysterious youthful princess who speaks a strange language.
The purpose of the game is to escape the castle with Yorda. While she is physically feeble, locked doors in the castle open when she gets close enough, making her a living skeleton key. Her presence is also necessary to save the game, and some pressure plate puzzles require Yorda to open doors for Ico. This is where her utility finishes, however: Yorda is incapable to climb chains, lift, or fight anything, leaving the work involving dexterity or pointed jams to Ico, who attempts his best to keep her alive. Escaping the castle is complicated by the shadow creatures sent by the evil Queen, Yorda’s mother. These creatures attempt to haul Yorda into their shadowy spawn points if Ico leaves her for any length of time, or if she just happens to inject basically any area of the castle, presumably because she was born unlucky. Ico can prevent this by hitting the shadows with a stick or sword, and can also pull Yorda free if she is drawn into a vortex. While the shadow creatures cannot harm Ico, they can impede him in his attempt to keep Yorda from being taken away. The game practically revolves around the fact that she’s a cargo — on purpose, as the emotional bond that the gamer develops with Yorda grows and evolves over time because of this.
Shadow of the Colossus is both prequel and spiritual successor to ICO, sharing a similar aesthetic treatment, albeit the two games are standalone.
A novelization of the game, Ico: Castle in the Mist by Miyuki Miyabe, was released in Japan in 2004, with an English translation by Alexander O Smith released in 2011. The original creator does not recognize it as canonical, but then again, he doesn’t recognise his own interpretation as canonical, either – he encourages each player to come up with their own stories about what exactly is going on and how the game does or doesn’t relate to Shadow of the Colossus.
Note that the game’s title is always written in capital letters, but the character’s name is not. Also, it is spelled “IKO” in katakana and thus pronounced “ee-ko”, not “ai-ko”. (Albeit many Anglophone people still say it like that anyway.)
This game provides examples of:
- American Kirby Is Xxx: The European and Japanese cover was inspired by the surrealist art of Giorgio de Chirico, with Ueda painting his own take for the game, and voiced the loneliness of the setting and the importance of the companionship. The North American cover, on the other mitt, features generic shots of a Race Lifted Ico, Yorda, and a windmill, and lacks any emotional depth (however it does showcase Ico looking about as bad-ass as one can with a wooden sword). The NA cover was so famous for being bad that its badness gained an acknowledgment in some interviews with staff in the PS3 re-release. The only reason this cover was used in North America was due to its immovable release deadline; Ueda wasn’t able to provide the more abstract cover in time for release.
- Artificial Brilliance: Unusual for a Distressed Damsel or an Escort Mission game, Yorda hints at puzzle advancement by pointing to the place or object of interest and telling Ico’s name (tho’ this was left out of the original NTSC version). It varies depending on the location-level: On the windmill, she walks right to the place that you can climb and points at it, while in the cemetery she points at the cube on high grounds that you need so both Yorda and Ico can pass the gate. Furthermore, Yorda sometimes walks around and looks for a way before she points to the object/area of interest, providing the impression that she’s helping you look for a way out. In some occasions (like the very first level that introduced the stick-lighting mechanic) if you call to her while she’s away, Yorda will face (even run) at the direction of where you need to go instead of attempting to get to you. Just as how Yorda trusts Ico to navigate her around the castle, you can trust Yorda to find what you need to advance the navigation. It’s the thickest reason as to why their bond is as endearing as the fans recall it to be.
- Artificial Stupidity:
- However not as bad as many other examples of lackluster AI, Yorda needs to be led by the mitt very often in the original NTSC release, otherwise she will tend to just stand still — even if shadow monsters are actively approaching.
- Another case happens in other versions: sometimes, when going down a long ladder, just before touching the ground, she will stop and go back up, for no reason. Especially annoying because you have to wait for her to arrive at the top and to come down again; and she’s badly slow when climbing ladders.
- As Long as It Sounds Foreign: Both Ico and Yorda speak rather elegantly creator-designed gibberish; Ico’s sounds vaguely Korean-based, and is subtitled in the player’s language. Yorda’s language sounds just a bit like French (and is subtitled in nonsense glyphs that call to mind Central American indigenous art) but is in fact mostly “translated” from Japanese by writing the words in English letters, then spelt rearwards, then tweaked.
- Award-Bait Song: You Were There .
- Benevolent Architecture: Several trappings in the castle do not emerge to serve any purpose other than to assist in opening a door.
- BFS: The Queen’s sword is hefty.
- Fatter Stick: Ico doesn’t power up, he just finds better things to smack monsters with.
- Book Completes: The very first scene of the game is a pan of the castle in which the game takes place in all its glory. Ico is taken into said castle on a puny canoe; several doors are opened with the help of a magic lightning sword. The player takes control of Ico in the prison room, and after a brief amount of platforming, meets Yorda. Shortly after, they cross a bridge hand-in-hand, which gets divided as they cross, and the only reason they don’t get split up is because Ico keeps ahold of Yorda’s palm. After opening the main gates, they cross a bridge hand-in-hand, which gets divided as they cross, and Ico almost misses the leap until Yorda takes his mitt. He gets separated from Yorda, and after a brief amount of platforming, finishes up in the prison room due to opening several doors with the help of a magic lightning sword. Ico is sent out of the castle on a puny canoe, and the last scene of the game (bar the post-credits scene) is a pan of the castle in which the game takes place as it falls apart.
- Boss Arena Idiocy: The Queen is very likely regretting those lovely decorative poles she put up in her throne room.
- Boss Battle: A infrequent case where there is only one boss in the entire game.
- Boy Meets Doll: Ico meets Yorda shortly after his initial escape.
- Cracked Bridge: The bridge violates while Ico and Yorda are attempting to make use of it (rather than being cracked before they get there), but the result finishes up being the same.
- Camera Screw: You don’t have direct control of the camera. Rather all you can do is pan the camera around Ico temporarily to maybe see what’s around you, which sometimes lends a frisson of Fake Difficulty to the platforming sequences.
- Check Point Starvation: There are no Save Points in the last segment of the game, which contains some difficult leaping puzzles and few checkpoints. Just hope it’s not dinner time when you arrive at the final battle.
- Cherubic Choir: “You Were There” , the closing song of ICO, sung by the then Libera boy chorister Steven theGeraghty.
- Chunky Salsa Rule: Getting punched around by shadows or falling off medium-height ledges only stuns the player. Falls higher than three stories and certain magical effects are an instant Game Over.
- Context-Sensitive Button: Two of them: the R1 button deals with all deeds relating to Yorda, such as calling for her, or reaching down to help her up a ledge. The circle button is for interacting with objects, like picking up items and pulling switches.
- Controllable Vulnerability: A variation, considering that until a 2nd playthrough when another player can control her , Yorda is effectively managed by the player as Ico leading her by the forearm, but when the two have reactivated the main gate and Yorda has used a Phat amount of her power opening it, the player will notice that her hair has lost its color and is downright white. When you take her palm and resume leading her around, every few meters she’ll collapse with exhaustion note This can be avoided by holding Circle while walking, which reduces Ico’s speed; this serves no purpose in normal gameplay, but can avoid backtracking and add a layer of heartwarming . There’s nothing you can do to help her but keep attempting to lead her forward until the cutscene triggers — which makes it even worse.
- Cut-and-Paste Environments: “Symmetry (pt. 1)” and “Symmetry (pt. Two)” are the exact same level, just flipped symmetrically.
- Damsel in Distress: Yorda is one of the purest examples of this trope in the medium: utterly defenseless and requiring Ico to protect her at every turn, then rescue her from the Queen.
- The Determinator: Ico will do absolutely anything to escape from the castle with Yorda in tow, including leaping over a gigantic chasm as the front bridge quickly retracts.
- Difficulty by Region: The North American version is considerably lighter than other versions. A few puzzles have the tricky bits cut out, and enemies are slower and less aggressive.
- Does Not Like Footwear: Yorda is never seen having footwear on.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: The bonus Shining Sword weapon (previously only available in the Japanese/PAL release) is most useful when holding Yorda’s arm, causing the blade to grow.
- Door to Before: This trope is employed extensively. The game starts out deep within a castle’s catacombs, then works its way into an Escort Mission that takes Ico and Yorda through a game-long flight across a full-scale island fortress. They navigate inconveniently gaping chasms, death-rigged rooms, puzzle-based chambers and basically tour the entire building – ramparts, gardens, cemeteries – to unlock the one escape door. When you eventually open the doors, she gets kidnapped , so you have to climb your way back to where you embarked out at the catacombs for one last fight.
- Earn Your Glad Ending: After going through this dungeon space castle, twice, defeating the Queen and then escaping before the place collapses, Ico and Yorda get to loosen on a beach and eat watermelon.
- Escort Game: The entire game is one big Escort Mission. The developers put in a massive amount of effort to avoid the more annoying elements of the trope and play to its strengths. Yorda doesn’t do anything infuriatingly stupid, she unlocks doors (with the added bonus throating up any nearby monsters real good in the process), and her relationship with Ico is so endearing that you WANT to protect her (see the Movie Game Caring Potential examples below). There are also some frustrating aspects: she’s defenseless, can’t access the same areas Ico can and moves leisurely, the result being that a not-insignificant part of the game is running back to areas already covered to make her come with you, or patiently waiting at the top of a ladder for her to ascend.
- Even the Subtitler Is Stumped: Both Ico and Yorda speak in some sort of Conlang, but only Ico’s dialogue has decent subtitles. Yorda’s speech is rendered into what looks like hieroglyphs to emphasize that whatever language she’s speaking, it’s entirely alien to Ico. (In non-NTSC versions of the game, Yorda’s speech is rendered in English subtitles in Fresh Game+.)
- Fake Longevity: One of the main criticisms of the game was its brief running time, and it still pulls this trope:
- The aptly titled chapters “Symmetry (pt. 1)” and “Symmetry (pt. Two)” require the player to solve essentially the exact same lengthy, time-consuming series of puzzles twice, except with the level design flipped symmetrically. Naturally, the 2nd time around is unspoiled padding.
- The player will spend a long time simply waiting for Yorda to catch up to Ico. In particular, the amount of time she spends climbing ladders beggars belief. For this reason, the final chapter of the game in which the two are separated feels fast-paced by comparison.
- Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Ico was designed to look and sound Korean, which is strange, considering most of the setting emerges nonspecifically European. This may be meant to emphasize the fact he’s an outcast.
- Fictionary: The game has two spoken languages: Ico speaks some form of scrambled Japanese, while Yorda speaks the same language as featured in Shadow of the Colossus, which is composed by some amalgam of Japanese, English and Latin. Subtitles are only provided for Ico’s speech until the Fresh Game+.
- Very first Blood: Ico loses one of his horns at the begin of his final battle with the Queen, resulting in a gout of crimson blood spurting from his head. He loses the other at the conclusion of the fight.
- Grand Theft Me: The reason the Queen keeps Yorda around is to get her fresh assets and presumably proceed to Figure Surf.
- Haunted Castle: A castle infested with shadow monsters.
- He Was Right There All Along: The Queen doesn’t emerge until you attempt to leave the apparently-empty throne room.
- Heart Is an Awesome Power: Opening the locked doors also ruins all the remaining shadows in an area.
- Hit Points: Averted; Ico can’t be killed by the shadow monsters’ attacks, all they can do is delay him while another one attempts to take Yorda back through a shadow portal.
- Holding Palms: Ico leads Yorda by the forearm through the castle. It’s one of the central mechanics of the game.
- Holler Button: The same button that lets you hold forearms with Yorda also lets you call for her when you’re separated. Ico will gently beckon her if she’s close by, or yell out if she’s further away.
- Horned Humanoid: Ico has two horns and they are a bad omen.
- HUD: Averted; there is no inventory or health meter or anything, so no heads-up display.
- Human Sacrifice: Ico is intended to be one before he escapes, and he guesses Yorda was as well when they meet.
- I Did What I Had to Do: The soldiers all but admit they view Ico’s sacrifice as, at best, a grim necessity, as they clearly don’t hold any particular grudge against Ico and one of them even asks him not to be angry with them for doing what they believed needed to be done.
The novelization provides examples of the following:
- Adaptation Expansion: Necessary, considering the minimalist nature of the game itself. A good quarter of the novel consists of Ico’s life before coming to the Castle as a Sacrifice, and Yorda’s time before her imprisonment takes up about half of it. Some things it expands on include: why Ico doesn’t have a health bar (Yorda has healing powers which are maintained by physical contact), the world beyond the Castle, why the Queen is a Load-Bearing Boss, the ancestral heritage of the Sacrifices (which was later possibly retconned by Shadow of the Colossus), shows the amount of time that Yorda’s been imprisoned, what happened to Yorda and Ico before they met, and the reason the Queen got her powers to begin with.
- Catch-Phrase: Tormentor Ozuma always responds with either “it is as you say” or “as you say” when confirming something is true.
- Genius Loci: The eponymous Castle in the Mist. The Queen’s spirit is explicitly tied to the Castle, explaining her status as a Load-Bearing Boss.
- God of Evil: The Dark God, one of many gods in the expanded backstory. The Queen is blessed by it, being born on the day of a solar eclipse.
- Heroic Lineage: Ico, as well as all the other Sacrifices. Their horns mark them as descendants of a knight who helped Yorda before her imprisonment in the castle.
- Elevate by His Own Petard: The shadows protect Ico in the final battle with the Queen, permitting him to retrieve his sword when it’s blasted away from him.
- Time Stands Still: For the Castle in the Mist. Yorda has been imprisoned for ten to twenty lifetimes, long enough for generations of Sacrifices.