Most games struggle to become recognized as "art" but few games actually achieve it. Brilliant graphics and stellar
gameplay have nothing to do with this. Ico may be one of those few games that blur the line between gaming and artwork,
both in terms of gameplay functionality and visual aesthetics.
There are some players out there that will call Ico boring, but such a judgement is baffling. Ico is one of the
most breathtakingly ethereal experiences ever. While it earned critical praise, it apparently sold next to nothing(like
certain other brilliant titles that come to mind). Ico deserved far more recognition than it got. On its surface,
Ico shares several of the stock conventions that have defined many classics games since the dawn of time--a good hero, a good
princess, and a good castle. However there is so much more to this game than that.
The first thing you notice when playing Ico is its very odd, sun drenched, "not quite cel shaded and not quite fully
rendered polygon" visuals. This game produces strangely beautiful effects like the mystical glow constantly bathing
the heroine or crackling and flowing lines of energy or shadow tendrils of the castle's demons. In fact artistry just
exudes out of every corner of this game. Every shape and exotic rune found here and there lend themselves to this game's
rather alien and otherworldly feel that's like fantasy but not in a stereotypical sense like Final Fantasy or Dungeons and
The second thing you notice while playing this game is the complete lack of a soundtrack. The only things you hear
are the characters' voices and background ambience like chirping of birds or the footsteps of your heroes. There lies
the message and brilliance of Ico. In an age when games are becoming more and more indulgent and resembling Hollywood,
when big budget titles like Halo get all the glory, Ico is saying that reserved, minimalist games can thrive as well.
And Ico is all the more refreshing for its approach.
The puzzles of this game are exceptional, almost reaching the caliber of those found in The Legend of Zelda games.
Most games have puzzles tucked away in various corners of the castle at the game's convenience. In Ico, however, the
castle IS the puzzle. Every chain, window, waterway, and ledge is laid out logically in respect to the grander picture,
and many times your only goal is to figure out how to create a pathway that gets you closer to freedom. And to this
day I consider the "sunlight capturing machine" one of the coolest puzzle and gameplay elements ever created.
However, it's the characters that drive this game. The hero Ico is not your typical overbuff warrior with
a sword. He is an outcast, a frail little boy who was banished to the castle simply for having horns on his head.
In fact at first, all he has to defend himself against the castle's monsters is a wooden stick. Yet he somehow grows
in character and in bravery, and I find him easy to like. Yorda is the game's equally frail, ghostlike heroine.
Even though at first she's the stereotypical "damsel in distress", it is easy to grow emotionally attached to her because
she never feels like a burden. Both Ico and Yorda work together as a team. Ico is in charge of protecting her
and Yorda must open up the gates leading to the next section. Eventually you grow to dread the sections where Ico must
wander off on his own and leave Yorda's side for fear that at any moment, the castle's shadow monsters might drag the princess
into an abyss. It's also worth mentioning that Ico and Yorda speak different languages and never find a way to understand
each other. Yet somehow they still connect, further adding enchantment and emotional impact to their relationship.
Yorda also surprises the player by breaking the chains of her "damsel in distress" routine and showing her true strength in
the game's heartwrenching climax.
The evil queen, the game's villain, is also worth noting, as she is the pinnacle of cool. She could be Maleficent's
long lost sister. Like Yorda, she is a creature of etherealness and extravagant beauty, but she is shadow to counter
Yorda's ghostly light. The final battle with her is one of the most visually exquisite ever put on a video game.
Unfortunately, she doesn't get enough screen time to really show off her evilness.
Unfortunately, this game is over as soon as it begins, much like two other artistic masterpieces, Nights Into Dreams
and Panzer Dragoon Saga. However, this isn't really so much of a weakness. Ico is one of the most sublime adventures
ever crafted. Even though at first it seems like all you're doing is leading two characters around a castle and solving
its puzzles to the tune of complete silence for a soundtrack, Ico is just utterly unique and beautiful, both on a visual level
and on an emotional level. Don't listen to those who say it is a boring game. It deserved as much recognition
as The Legend of Zelda and even shares some of that franchise's gameplay designs, some of Prince of Persia's(long before the
modern ones came along), and the artistic otherwordliness of Panzer Dragoon. Pick it up if you find it. You'll
likely find it for cheap but will be rewarded with a hugely enriching experience.
Short game gallery
|I don't understand you
|Protecting the princess
|Leading the princess through the castle
|Yorda opens up another gate with her powers
|An example of the game's beautiful architecture
|Hang on for dear life
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