On occasion I will get the urge to float outside of my online FPS comfort zone and try some single player video games for funsies. When I decide to do this, nothing so much as budget determines what it is I will check out. I tend to be easily disappointed by single player games so I am not going to drop 60 bucks on the latest and greatest if there is something used and/or dirt cheap from the past that has already earned tried and true praise. This is how I ended up playing Ico...roughly ten years after its release.
Ico is, in a nutshell, phenomenal. To explain why, it is necessary to avoid conversations about graphics, game-play, degree of difficulty and so on. So while I might touch on them I can assure you they are of little importance. The story itself isn't all that important. If any story even exists, Ico is just a small paragraph of some epic the author doesn't even know in full. Ico is about emotions and if you tough it to the end, I promise you, you will feel something.
The game begins with cut-scenes showing you (Ico) being imprisoned in a Castle by some subservient type guards most likely because you have horns on your head. You escape your "tomb" and are left very alone in this large empty castle with no particular goal. You can jump, climb and hang on ledges, climb and swing on ropes. Standard platform stuff (Think early tomb raider with a stubbornly fixed camera) With a little bit of exploring, you will find Yorda, a girl who is also imprisoned in the castle. Once you help her escape from her cell, you will be stuck with her. You will find out rather quickly that powers of the castle have zero interest in your escaping, but are extremely concerned that Yorda is free from her cell and might leave the castle. So here's the plot of the game. You have to get Yorda out of the castle. If you stray to far from Yorda or leave her alone for too long, the castle will send shadow demons to reclaim her. Its all on you to protect her until you find a way out together. This is the brilliance of the game.
The rooms of the castle are very large. You will feel small in scope comparatively. You will want to explore, but with no sounds except for howling winds, you will feel alone. Yorda will make you feel less alone, but very early on you will realize that you can't explore very much without bringing her along, either by grabbing her hand and taking her wherever you go, or by calling out to her beckoning her to follow. I was so annoyed with Yorda early on. She was keeping me from playing the game. Then the game tricks you. At some point a long the way, you will lose Yorda and that's when you realize you miss her. She comes in handy once in a while for solving puzzles, but mostly she keeps you from feeling the loneliness and emptiness of the castle. Not to mention, without Yorda, you have no purpose at all.
After I played the game I did some research and learned that this type of emotional response was the exact intention of the games inventor, Fumito Ueda. So kudos to him for making a gaming experience so amazing that I felt it necessary to google and learn more after the fact. Anyhoo. When it comes down to it, the graphics are early second generation...acceptable but certainly lacking by todays standards. I played the 'remastered' edition for ps3. I have no idea how much better it is than the original ps2 version. I doubt the change was that drastic if even noticeable. The puzzles you need to solve to get from room to room aren't difficult except to say that the game offers no hints. You have to figure out each goal on your own. Other than "escape the castle", you wont get any short term objectives or directions. The game is just long enough to make you miss Yorda when you lose her, plus the effort you will put in to getting her back.
If you want to play a game where the reward of the game has nothing to do with the effort you put into beating it and everything to do with the emotional experience of taking a journey that enhances who you are as a person, then I seriously recommend checking out Ico. It's that good - and I am not nearly as queer as I sound when I talk about it. So whats that tell you?
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