At the London Gaming Market in March 2019, I bought myself a PlayStation 2. I’d been thinking about getting one for a while and was finally persuaded. I also picked up a copy of Fahrenheit as it never felt the same on PC, along with ICO – one of my favourite releases for the console.
My other-half had never played it so it seemed like a good excuse to set up a stream and introduce him to the world of Ico and Yorda. We completed the game over the course of a weekend and although he didn’t enjoy it as much as I did, he could see why it had received so much praise over the years. He did make one interesting observation however: “I’m surprised you like this. It’s about a girl who’s being led around by a boy, and tells her what to do all the time. I thought you’d have a bit more to say about that!”
I have to admit I’d never thought about it that way before. I could see his point; at the beginning of ICO, Yorda does come across as somewhat helpless. We may not know anything about her history or why she’s there but it’s true Ico rescues her from her caged prison. And he appears to be the leader during most of their journey through the castle, calling her or taking her hand to pull her along when necessary and frequently jumping in when she’s dragged down into dark holes by shadowy creatures.
But I don’t think it’s that simple though, for the protagonists have transformed by the end of the game. Ico is no longer the horned boy exiled from his village to protect it from a curse after becoming the warrior who defeated the Queen. And Yorda has changed too: she realises she has her own power and gains the courage to stand up to her mother. Both characters draw strength from the relationship because it’s one that’s built on trust, regardless of language or any other barriers.
This seems to be a theme in all of Team Ico’s games and it’s easy to compare their 2016 release, The Last Guardian, to ICO. The focus of both releases is the close bond formed between two protagonists from different worlds despite of their backgrounds and the words they speak. The Boy’s initial attempts at helping Trico get him slammed across the room and knocked unconscious but slowly the creature becomes used to his presence, and by the end of the game they’ve even found a way to communicate.
You may think it’s not so easy to compare Shadow of the Colossus, originally released in 2005, but it’s still a title about trust – misplaced trust. Wander puts his faith in a mysterious entity called Dormin when he’s told he needs to slay 16 giant stone beats in order to revive Mono. During the course of the game however, the feeling that something is wrong slowly builds and at the end it’s revealed that Wander was being cruelly used: his loved-one may be alive again, but this has come at a great and unexpected cost.
Although Team Ico’s releases bring on a melancholic mood, there are positives to be taken away from the experiences. Just look at how the rescuer becomes to rescued each time. Ico releases Yorda from her cage, then she releases him from the castle; Wander attempts to revive Mono, then she carries him in his new form; and the Boy cares for Trico, then the creature defends his companion. It’s about building trust in your own strength to save the ones you love, but also trusting in them to have your back too.
They may not be to everyone’s taste and yes, they do have some quirks, but to me the releases discussed in this post are some of the most touching ever made. They manage to convey stories full of emotion that leave the player feeling sad yet strangely positive at the same time, with very few words ever spoken by their characters. Even though we had to wait over a decade for the latest and there’s a chance this could happen again, the thought that creator Fumito Ueda is working on something new fills me with excitement.