Ico

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ICO is an action-adventure designed and directed by Fumito Ueda, who wanted to create a minimalist game around a "boy meets girl" concept. It is the first game in the Team Ico Series.

The team employed a "subtracting design" approach to reduce elements of gameplay that interfered with the game's setting and story, in order to create a high level of immersion (in other words: realistic gameplay, gorgeous graphics).

The title protagonist is a young 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 young princess who speaks a strange language.

The goal of the game is to escape the castle with Yorda. While she is physically quite weak, locked doors in the castle open when she gets close enough, making her a kind of 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 ends, however: Yorda is unable to climb, lift or fight anything, leaving most of the work involving dexterity or pointed sticks to Ico, not that he seems to mind. Escaping the castle is complicated by the shadow creatures sent by the evil Queen, Yorda's mother. These creatures attempt to drag Yorda into their shadowy spawn points if Ico leaves her for any a length of time, or if she just happens to enter some certain most basically any area of the castle, presumably because she was born unlucky. Ico can prevent this by beating 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 burden, and yet, the emotional bond that the gamer develops with Yorda grows and evolves over time.

While not commercially successful, ICO is a frequent flier on lists like "100 Best Video Games Ever Made", "Top 25 Most Artistic Video Games", "Top 39 Games that Show that Video Games Don't Have to be Mindless Frag-Fests", etc. This, combined with its minimalist concept and certain visual tropes, has led to it having a surprising amount of influence. The makers of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, later additions to the Metal Gear Solid series, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Knytt and the director of Pan's Labyrinth have all said that they consciously imitated some aspect of its theme, tone or aesthetic in their works. Ico itself drew much of its influence from Another World, both in gameplay and design. It also was largely influenced by the Zelda series, before the game influenced the series back.

Shadow of the Colossus is both Prequel and Spiritual Successor to ICO, sharing a similar aesthetic approach, although the two games are both standalone.

A novelization of the game, Ico: Castle in the Mist, was released in Japan in 2004, with an English translation by Alexander O Smith released in 2011.

Note that the game's title is always written in capital letters, but the character's name is not. Also, it is spelt "IKO" in katakana, and thus pronounced "ee-ko", not "ai-ko" (although many Anglophone people still say it like that anyway).

Tropes used in Ico include:
  • All There in the Manual: The novel explains why Ico doesn't have a health bar: Yorda has healing powers which are maintained by physical contact. The novel even explains why the Queen is a Load-Bearing Boss, reveals the ancestral heritage of the Sacrifices, shows the amount of time that Yorda's been imprisoned, expands on what happened to Yorda and Ico before they met, and shows the reason the Queen got her powers to begin with. See Adaptation Expansion below for a few of the details.
  • American Kirby Is Hardcore: Inverted, at least to most gamers. The European and Japanese cover was inspired by an expressionist work of art, with Ueda painting his own take for the game, and expressed the loneliness of the setting and the importance of the companionship. The North American cover, on the other hand, plays it straight: it features generic shots of Ico, Yorda and the castle, and lacks any emotional depth (though it does show 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 fixed release deadline; Ueda wasn't able to provide the more abstract cover in time for release.
  • Artificial Brilliance: Unusual for a Damsel in Distress or an Escort Mission game, Yorda hints at puzzle advancement by pointing to the place or object of interest and saying Ico's name. 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, giving the impression that she's helping you look for a way out. In some occasions (like the first level that introduced the stick-lightening 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 trying 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 biggest reason as to why their bond is as endearing as the fans remember it to be.
  • Artificial Stupidity: This was the way Yorda behaved in the original NTSC release. While not as bad as many examples, she had a tendency to simply not attempt to escape if shadows came after her. Yorda essentially had the IQ of a pretzel.
    • 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 painfully 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 English. 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 backwards, then tweaked.
  • Benevolent Architecture/Malevolent Architecture: The Sands of Time trilogy took inspiration from the Benevolent Architecture aspect, and it shows. But on the other hand, one can wonder why such a ridiculously complex and difficult to access mechanism is needed to open a door (a huge one, but still)…
  • BFS: The Queen's sword.
  • Bigger Stick: Ico doesn't power up, he just finds better things to smack monsters with.
  • Boss Arena Idiocy: The Queen is probably regretting those lovely decorative pillars she put up in her throne room.
  • Boss Battle: A rare case where there is only one boss in the entire game.
  • Boy Meets Girl
  • Broken Angel
  • Broken Bridge: The bridge breaks while Ico and Yorda trying to make use of it, rather than being broken before they get there, but the result ends up being the same.
  • Check Point Starvation: Or rather Save Point Starvation in the last part of the game. You need Yorda to save by sitting on the stone seats. Then you get separated from her and have to go through a very long jumping puzzle to get back into the castle… 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.
  • Cinematic Platform Game
  • Con Lang
  • Cute Ghost Girl: Yorda is about as close to a ghost as you can get without actually being one.
  • The Dev Team Thinks of Everything: When you are running, the controller will begin to vibrate a little to indicate a racing heartbeat.
  • Difficulty by Region: The North American version is considerably easier than other versions. A few puzzles have the tricky bits cut out, and enemies are slower and less aggressive.
  • Does Not Like Shoes: Yorda was never seen having shoes on.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The bonus lightsaber weapon (previously only available in the Japanese/PAL release) only works by holding Yorda's hand, causing the blade to grow.
  • Escort Mission: Almost 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 blowing up any nearby monsters real good in the process), and her relationship with Ico is so endearing that you actually WANT to protect her (see the Video Game Caring Potential examples below).
  • Fallen Princess
  • Finger-Twitching Revival
  • Go Back to the Source/Where It All Began: The end of the game makes you go back at the place where Ico freed himself and met Yorda.
  • God Save Us From the Queen
  • Grand Theft Me: The reason the Queen keeps Yorda around is to get her new body and presumably continue to Body Surf.
  • Guide Dang It:
    • Getting the secret weapons requires you to throw a ball into a large container. You could spend 1 minute to 1 hour trying to do this. The other way is to put the ball on the spot where the container rises from, then activate the floor switch.
    • Finding the secret weapons. If you are not informed (or don't look at the trophies in the PS3 edition), you won't even suspect there are secret weapons! After all, weapons don't really have much importance to begin with, and Ico isn't the kind of game where you would expect such Easter eggs.
    • When you enter the East Arena for the first time, it will seem like you've hit a dead end. It turns out that the door to the next room is hidden in the shadows. It doesn't matter how high you turn up the brightness in-game or on your television screen. The corner of the room with the door is pitch-black. You can be stuck for hours looking for hidden switches and whacking everything with your stick.
  • Haunted Castle
  • Holding Hands
  • Horned Humanoid
  • 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.
  • Implied Love Interest: A lot of people see Ico and Yorda's relationship ending up like this.
  • Infinity+1 Sword: Lightsaber (but not in the North America release)!
  • It's Up to You: Yorda's no use in a fight, and there aren't any other playable characters, so good luck, Ico.
    • Or so you think. Using Yorda as a stalking horse is one of the most effective tactics in the game. When Yorda opens an idol gate, all shadows present get zapped.
    • In the PAL release, Yorda is a playable character in a second playthrough.
  • Jump Physics: Averted, Ico can't jump particularly high, he is just very scrappy.
    • Some fun can be had with the PAL version regarding this trope. There's a puzzle where Ico needs to jump up to a very high ledge, and, well, the jump is pretty sweet.
  • Kid Hero
  • Leitmotif: The few notes when Yorda steps out of her cage can be heard in several other tracks, including the ending song (if you listen closely) and "Castle In The Mist".
  • Living Shadow
  • Lost in Translation: The entire cast speaks a nonsense language, but what Yorda's saying is subtitled in the same runes found on the walls of the castle. In the Japanese and PAL versions of the game, localized subtitles for Yorda are an unlockable feature, but not in the NTSC version.
  • Minimalism
  • Multi Mook Melee: Subverted in a way that suits the game at the end: you will start fighting these hordes of shadows, trying to keep them away from Yorda… before realizing they don't even try to attack you. Add to this a magnificent Soundtrack Dissonance, and this scene really makes you feel uneasy.
  • Mysterious Waif
  • Never Split the Party: Wander away from Yorda at your peril.
  • Nonstandard Game Over: Kind of. Ico is hard to kill... only falls from a great height, and the Queen's stone attack kill him. The monsters he fights so often aren't trying to kill him (although they will push him off a ledge given the chance), they're trying to keep him away from Yorda.
    • If the shadows completely capture Yorda, the Queen's stoning wave sweeps over the tower, petrifying Ico. It's as if only the danger of stoning Yorda is holding the Queen back. Yet the Queen ends up petrifying Yorda anyway after Ico falls from the bridge.
      • This could be interpreted as a side effect of the process of the Queen moving her consciousness into Yorda, and slightly different from just plain petrifying her (though she may not fear that, and just not consider Ico a threat, given she had a pretty decent chance to do as much to him earlier on). Further evidence for the change going on may well be the 'shadow' state Yorda was in when she recovered from being petrified at the end.
    • If Ico falls from the chain outside the Castle while trying to swing jump back to the area above the Sewers, there's a long wait as his corpse slides down the slopes into the sea. The view is obscured by the trees as the camera viewpoint doesn't move. The slight angle changes of the camera are the only hint to what's happening.
  • Now Let Me Carry You: See Crowning Moment of Heartwarming section.
  • Panty Shot: In this video.
  • Playable Epilogue: You thought you had a Tear Jerker Bittersweet Ending? Look, she's here, sleeping peacefully on the sand!
  • The Power of Blood: In the climax, Ico's horns are snapped off, and he bleeds pretty well from the wounds. Comes like a punch to the gut after a game full of nothing but intangible shadow men.
  • Scenery Porn: A good deal of it is architecture porn, to be more precise.
  • Sequence Breaking: A jumping glitch in the PlayStation 2 PAL version can be used to skip roughly 50% of the game. See Speed Run below.
  • Shout-Out: The original cover is painted in the style of Giorgio de Chirico, particularly resembling "The Nostalgia of the Infinite".
    • One area in Knytt, a game heavily based on Ico, resembles the castle.
  • Sleep Cute: It's how you save. Awwwwww.
  • Speed Run: The Play Station 3 Updated Rerelease has a trophy for finishing the game in less than 4 hours. And one to finish it in less than two hours.
    • The former isn't actually too difficult: many first-time players will need little more than 5 hours to beat the game. Two hours is another story, but a gltich in the original PAL version's Jump Physics made doing a run in under one hour possible. It has been removed from the Updated Rerelease though…
  • Sword of Plot Advancement: Ico eventually finds a sword that opens the doors that only Yorda can previously open. Good thing he didn't find it until after her inevitable kidnapping; otherwise, she would have been redundant.
  • Take My Hand
  • Taken for Granite: If Ico fails to save Yorda from a shadow vortex in time, a wave of the Queen's magic flashes out from it, petrifying Ico. Later, the Queen petrifies Yorda after recapturing her at the bridge.
  • Updated Rerelease: Released as The Ico & Shadow of the Colossus Collection, features widescreen HD graphics and a few other goodies. More importantly for North American players, the rerelease has all of the features from the PAL version, finally averting Bad Export for You.
  • Use Your Head: If Ico's unarmed, he'll headbutt the shadow monsters.
  • Video Game Caring Potential: So damn much. You WILL worry about what is happening to Yorda every time she is out of sight.
    • Watching Yorda make those leaps of faith, trusting to Ico to catch and raise her up after jumps she can't possibly reach on her own, well, that kind of childlike trust is very endearing.
    • The first time Yorda goes off on her own, to show Ico the order in which to light the torches in the courtyard, it's a wonderful humanizing moment. It's the first time that she comes across less like luggage and more like a partner. Her autonomous acts here and elsewhere really make the player care about her beyond her role as gameplay mechanic.
  • What Kind of Lame Power Is Heart, Anyway?: So Yorda can open doors in that one castle and maybe also do some specialized magic? That's great and all, but it would have been nice if she had some eldritch way of keeping the shadows from grabbing her.
  • "What Now?" Ending:
    • Fumito Ueda stated in an interview "In Japan there's this saying, 'when it ends well everything's well'. My theory was to already in the beginning of the game make the player understand how important the ending would be. Then the player would strive to reach it, it would keep up motivation the game through. Because I believe that the only purpose that games have is to enrich the hard life we live. And that's why ICO got a happy ending."
    • There's an alternate ending that's ever-so-slightly less ambiguous. Fans like considering that as the real ending.
  • Woman in White: Yorda.

The novelization provides examples of the following:[edit | hide | hide all]

  • 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 before her imprisonment, as well as elaborating on the world beyond the castle.
  • Ancestral Weapon: The Queen's sword.
  • 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 apparently 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.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: The shadows protect Ico in the final battle with the Queen, allowing him to retrieve his sword when it's blasted away from him.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: The Queen.
  • Time Stands Still: For the Castle in the Mist. Yorda has been imprisoned for ten to twenty lifetimes, long enough for generations of Sacrifices.