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Video Game / ICO

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The island bathes in the sun's bright rays
Distant hills wear a shroud of grey
A lonely breeze whispers through the trees
Sole witness to history....

ICO is a 2001 Action-Adventure PS2 game 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. This means that the gameplay is realistic, with actions such as climbing, hitting things and making difficult jumps 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 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 weak, 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 ends, however: Yorda is unable to climb chains, lift, or fight anything, leaving the work involving dexterity or pointed sticks to Ico, who tries 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 drag Yorda into their shadowy spawn points if Ico leaves her for any length of time, or if she just happens to enter 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 — on purpose, as the emotional bond that the gamer develops with Yorda grows and evolves over time because of this.

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. (And, possibly, The Last Guardian.)

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" as Anglophone people might assume.

This game provides examples of:

  • American Kirby Is Hardcore: This game has a particularly notorious example of the trope. 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 expressed the loneliness of the setting and the importance of the companionship. The North American cover, on the other hand, features generic shots of a Race Lifted Ico, Yorda, and a windmill, 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 infamous that it later 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 Distressed Damsel or an Escort Mission game, Yorda hints at puzzle advancement by pointing to the place or object of interest and saying Ico's name (though 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, giving the impression that she's helping you look for a way out. In some occasions (like the 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 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:
    • Though not as bad as many other examples of lackluster AI, Yorda needs to be led by the hand 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 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 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 backwards, then tweaked.
  • Award-Bait Song: You Were There.
  • Benevolent Architecture: Several trappings in the castle do not appear to serve any purpose other than to assist in opening a door.
  • BFS: The Queen's sword is huge.
  • Big Bad: The Queen. Understandable, thanks to her parenting.
  • Bigger Stick: Ico doesn't power up, he just finds better things to smack monsters with. This is in keeping with the game's guiding philosophy of "design by subtraction".
  • Bizarrchitecture: The castle can come across as this. While the rooms generally make sense in relation to each other and many of them can be guessed to have had a reasonable function at some point in the past, the path a normal person would expect to traverse the castle is convoluted and nonsensical at times, as if they were designed specifically to be puzzles rather then actual passages. Some parts of the castle also don't really make sense compared to rooms right next to them and there's even a trolley line that seems to serve no real purpose at all.
  • Book Ends: The 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 small 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 short 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 hand. After opening the main gates, they cross a bridge hand-in-hand, which gets divided as they cross, and Ico almost misses the jump until Yorda takes his hand. He gets separated from Yorda, and after a short amount of platforming, ends 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 small 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 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: Ico meets Yorda shortly after his initial escape. Near the end of the game that Ico loses her, fights the queen, and gets her back soon afterwards.
  • Broken Bridge: The bridge breaks while Ico and Yorda are trying to make use of it (rather than being broken before they get there), but the result ends up being the same.
  • Checkpoint Starvation: There are no Save Points in the last segment of the game, which contains some difficult jumping puzzles and few checkpoints. Let's just hope it's not dinner or bed 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.
  • Collapsing Lair: The game climaxes with the castle collapsing into the sea, and Yorda barely rescuing an unconscious Ico by sending him outside on a boat.
  • Context-Sensitive Button: Two of them: the R1 button deals with all actions 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 Helplessness: A variation, considering that until a second playthrough when another player can control her, Yorda is effectively controlled by the player as Ico leading her by the hand, but when the two have reactivated the main gate and Yorda has used a HUGE amount of her power opening it, the player will notice that her hair has lost its color and is completely white. When you take her hand and resume leading her around, every few meters she'll collapse with exhaustionnote . There's nothing you can do to help her but keep trying to lead her forward until the cutscene triggers — which makes it even worse.
  • Cut and Paste Environments: "Symmetry (pt. 1)" and "Symmetry (pt. 2)" 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 jumping over a gigantic chasm as the front bridge quickly retracts.
  • 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 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 hand, 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 whole building - ramparts, gardens, cemeteries - to unlock the one escape door. When you finally open the doors, she gets kidnapped, so you have to climb your way back to where you started out at the catacombs for one last fight.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: After going through this dungeon castle, twice, defeating the Queen and then escaping before the place collapses, Ico and Yorda get to relax 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 blowing 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 Video Game Caring Potential examples below). There are also some frustrating aspects: she's defenseless, can't access the same areas Ico can and moves slowly, 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 proper subtitles. Yorda's speech is rendered into what looks like hieroglyphs to emphasize that whatever language she's speaking, it's completely alien to Ico. (In non-NTSC versions of the game, Yorda's speech is rendered in English subtitles in New Game Plus.)
  • Evil Matriarch: The Queen to her daughter, Yorda.
  • 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. 2)" 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 second time around is pure 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.
  • Familial Body Snatcher: The Queen’s main plan for Yorda. In order for her to live on for more years, she wants to use Yorda’s body as a new vessel.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Ico was designed to look and sound Korean, which is strange, considering most of the setting appears 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 New Game Plus.
  • First Blood: Ico loses one of his horns at the start of his final battle with the Queen, resulting in a gout of red blood spurting from his head. He loses the other at the conclusion of the fight.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: The Big Bad is the queen of the castle. She's responsible for ordering the incarceration and murder of many others like Ico so as to turn them into her army of shadow creatures, and she is obsessed with immortality and was going to use her daughter Yorda as a vessel to transfer her own spirit into.
  • 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: A castle infested with shadow monsters.
  • He Was Right There All Along: The Queen doesn't appear until you try to leave the apparently-empty throne room.
  • Heart Is an Awesome Power: Opening the locked doors also destroys 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 Hands: Ico leads Yorda by the hand through the castle. It's one of the central mechanics of the game.
  • Holler Button: The same button that lets you hold hands 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 considered 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.
    Soldier: Do not be angry with us. This is for the good of the village.
  • Implied Love Interest: A lot of people see Ico and Yorda's relationship ending up like this Lady and Knight style.
  • Infinity -1 Sword: The Spiked Club will kill everything in two hits, tops.
  • Infinity +1 Sword: The Shining Sword will slaughter everything in one hit, period.
  • It's Up to You:
    • Downplayed. 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, the jump is pretty sweet.
  • Lady and Knight: Yorda as the Bright Lady princess with Ico as her White Knight who escorts her out of the castle.
  • Language Barrier: Ico and Yorda speak different languages, and cannot understand each other. The Queen can speak both languages but doesn't ever act as a translator. To keep the player in the dark as well, Ico's language is subtitled, but Yorda's is written in strange hieroglyphs (except for New Game Plus, see below).
  • Lens Flare: Defied. The sun can very much shine on the camera in this game, but when it does, it does the much more realistic thing of blinding the player the way it would when it crosses your sight in real life, with no flare effect at all.
  • Living Shadow: Creatures appear from shadows to capture Yorda. They succeed if they drag her back into the shadow.
  • Load-Bearing Boss: Once the Queen is slain, the castle begins to collapse and sink into the sea.
  • Malevolent Architecture: One can wonder why such a ridiculously complex and difficult to access mechanism is needed to open a door.
  • Master of Unlocking: The core of Yorda's gameplay contribution, once you find a way to get her to each door. The girl is effectively a walking skeleton key, albeit a very cute and endearing one.
  • Minimalism: Two characters in one dungeon; that's it.
  • Minimalist Cast: Ico, Yorda, and the Queen are the only characters with names, and nobody else is on screen for longer than the first cutscene.
  • Multi-Mook Melee: The shadow monsters never show up alone, which usually results in this trope. They prioritize reaching Yorda; if Ico is between them and her, or once one of them has grabbed her, they'll start attacking Ico to get/keep him out of the way. Subverted at the tail end of the game; when Yorda has already been captured and is currently petrified; these shadows don't even try to attack Ico.
  • Mysterious Waif: Yorda speaks a strange language, can open doors with a weird power and is sought after by the shadows.
  • Never Split the Party: Wander away from Yorda at your peril.
  • New Game Plus: Except for the original NTSC (US) version, after completing the game you can enable translated subtitles for Yorda's speech, have a second player control Yorda directly, and the secret weapon is changed from the Spiked Club to the Shining Sword (although you have to have acquired the Spiked Club on the first playthrough for the Shining Sword to appear).
  • Nonstandard Game Over: There are roughly two ways to get a game over here — fall from a great height (in one instance, you fall for quite some time before the Game Over appears), or if the shadow monsters successfully capture Yorda.
  • Notice This: Yorda hints at puzzle advancement by pointing to the place or object of interest and saying Ico's name (though this was left out of the original NTSC version).
  • Now, Let Me Carry You: After spending the game being led by the hand by Ico, Yorda picks him up and carries him after he's injured fighting the queen.
  • One Head Taller: Yorda is noticeably taller than Ico.
  • One-Hit Kill: That lightning sword you saw soldiers use in the opening cinematics? It dispatches shadow monsters instantly.
  • Parasitic Immortality: The main villain is an evil queen who wishes to reclaim her youth by taking over her own daughter's body.
  • Protagonist Title
  • Protectorate: Ico spends most of the game keeping Yorda safe from the shadows, but his willingness to protect her is best shown when he goes back through the castle to save her when she's kidnapped at the exit.
  • Red Is Heroic: Ico is dressed in a striking red shirt.
  • Recurring Riff: 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.
  • Save the Princess: A different take than most games: rather than the hero fighting to get to the princess, the hero and the princess are prisoners in the same castle, so they work to escape together. Played straight near the end of the game, when the queen captures Yorda and Ico goes to rescue her.
  • Scenery Porn: A good deal of it is architecture porn, to be more precise.
  • Schizo Tech: The castle incorporates a number of divergent technologies in its construction. On its own, the place seems to be your standard medieval-esque castle, but several areas incorporate metal scaffolds, pipes, mine carts, and even elevators into their decor.
  • Sequence Breaking: A jumping glitch in the PS2 PAL version can be used to skip roughly 50% of the game.
  • Shout-Out: The original cover is painted in the style of Giorgio de Chirico, particularly resembling "The Nostalgia of the Infinite".
  • Sleep Cute: It's the first thing you see whenever you resume the game from the stone couches. Awwwwww.
  • Smashing Watermelons: On your second play-through, there are watermelons growing at the edge of the beach at the very end. Ico can smash them by throwing them. If he's carrying one of them when he walks over to Yorda to trigger the final cut scene, then the shot of her waking up is followed by a shot of Ico and Yorda, sitting on the beach together, eating watermelon.
  • Sword of Plot Advancement: Ico eventually finds a sword that opens the doors that only Yorda can previously open. It fits the "advancement" angle because Yorda is kidnapped at this point.
  • Take My Hand!: Ico can pull Yorda out of the shadow spawn points.
    • Near the end of the game, when the pair are separated by the retracting bridge, Yorda does this to Ico when he tries to jump back over to her. Unfortunately, her mother's arrival forces her to let go.
  • 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. During the final boss fight, the Queen uses those same magic waves to try and stop Ico, and if he's not behind cover or carrying her sword, he'll be petrified as per norm.
  • Trash the Set: The castle crumbles and sinks beneath the waves after the final battle.
  • Throne Room Throwdown: The final confrontation with the Queen occurs in her throne room.
  • Updated Re-release: Released as The Ico & Shadow of the Colossus Collection, as well as a standalone digital download on the PlayStation Network, it features widescreen HD graphics and a few other goodies. More importantly for North American players, the re-release 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/shoulder-tackle the shadow monsters.
  • Video Game Caring Potential: 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; 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.
  • Video Game Cruelty Potential: Zero. Once Yorda start to jump towards Ico's outstretched hand, the player cannot move away from the ready position. If Yorda is hanging off the ledge by Ico's grip, Ico cannot release her hand.
    • Averted in the demo; at the windmill area, once Yorda makes the big jump towards Ico, the player could press a button to let go of 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.
  • Where It All Began: The end of the game makes you go back to the place where Ico freed himself and met Yorda.

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.
  • Catchphrase: Sir 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.
  • 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.
  • Time Stands Still: For the Castle in the Mist. Yorda has been imprisoned for ten to twenty lifetimes, long enough for generations of Sacrifices.


Video Example(s):


Queen of the Misty Castle

Ico meets Yorda's mother for the first time, a malevolent sorceress who manipulates light and darkness to her evil whims. It is she who rules the decrepit castle that imprisons them both.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / GodSaveUsFromTheQueen

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