ICO at 21 – Remembering Fumito Ueda’s seminal PS2 classic
ICO is a video game that makes me realize things. Things I can’t quite describe.
Ever since I first set foot in the castle’s looted hallways, I’ve heard Aiko’s footsteps echoing through the abandoned corridors, and practically felt The gentle breeze wafting through its silent, long-forgotten courtyards was a feeling I couldn’t shake.
Its ethereal, dreamlike world – Ghibli-esque in its spirit – is so steeped in mystery, oozing with atmosphere, and so perfectly crafted, that, over the years, I’ve almost convinced myself. That it is a real place.
It’s one of only two games that has ever made me cry an actual tear (well played, The Last of Us) and it’s been at the top of my all-timers list for a long time, INSIDE Despite the best efforts of , Celeste, and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
But we have a strange relationship, ICO and I – in more ways than one.
A changing landscape
Despite being released in Europe 21 years ago, it wasn’t until much later – in 2013 – that I first got my mitts on the ICO and Shadow of the Colossus Collection for PS3. To my surprise, I found that it aged like a fine wine.
In retrospect, the shock was unjustified; Actually there is not that much in ICO to Age In some ways, it’s barely even a video game — at least, not one of its time.
In 1997, as the industry was raging all over FMV, multi-CD-ROM epics such as Final Fantasy VII, Fumito Ueda – who would famously go on to create. Shadow of the Colossus And The last guardian – was imagining a different kind of experience.
“I personally don’t like very complicated games,” he explained Continue the magazine In 2005. “If there are too many figures and numbers, I immediately lose interest”
And so, while many consumers were craving increasingly complex and sophisticated experiences, Ueda kickstarted development on ICO, a game she would later come to describe as “defined by what is. No there”.
It was this minimalist, design-by-reduction philosophy that served as the guiding principle for development, and ultimately what would make ICOs so unique.
Less is more
At its core, ICO is a very simple story in which boy meets girl, and in order to bring that emotional bond into the spotlight, any elements that were deemed overly gamey or distracting from the central mechanic were completely removed. was removed.
There’s no quest log, no navigation system, no mini-map, or complicated combat mechanics. No health bars, no skill trees. Or weapon upgrades. No character customization, side quests. or dialog options. There is hardly any music – although what there is is Absolutely sublime.
What remained was beautiful simplicity – a boy and a girl, holding hands.
“I wanted to create something that no one had ever created. Whatever genre or type of game I made, I knew I wanted to do something unique. I also had this feeling […] That the gameplay should be simple.
In this sense, Ueda and his team succeeded; At that time there was really nothing like ICO in the market. Sadly, this originality turned out to be its detriment; Simply put, ICOs lacked the blockbuster appeal of the 2001 heavy hitters.
Games like Metal Gear Solid 2, Grand Theft Auto III, and Devil May Cry were great showcases of the power of the recently released PS2. They were bigger, brighter, more cinematic, and far more ambitious than anything attempted during the previous generation.
The ICO, for all its wonderful qualities, was none of those things. Its use of keyframe animation and bloom lighting was certainly influential for the time, but its developmental roots were firmly planted in the PS1 era. It was beautiful, it was unique, but it wasn’t – mechanically speaking – anything that couldn’t be done before.
Thankfully, history has looked kindly on its more nuanced sensibilities, and it has since become a cult classic, a defining game of its era, and one of the most influential games of all time.
Dark Souls creator Hidetaka Miyazaki said it awakened him to “the possibilities of the medium”, serving as the catalyst for a career in game development, while Guillermo del Toro described it as a “masterpiece”. Exactly, too.
Castle in the fog
ICO’s castle is fascinating. It’s simply the most believable video game world I’ve ever inhabited.
You are not told of its existence by quiet legend or passed-down stories. There is no 20-hour advance time to stage a dramatic siege. You simply wake up inside its dungeon, and are left to your own devices to uncover its mysteries. That is for a game Literally about holding hands, The ICO can’t be much less than a handheld-y experience.
Exploring the fort is instantly fascinating. Everything about its design, construction, and execution is so amazingly perfect that it truly feels like a place that exists in the real world. It does not hide behind smoke and mirrors. It’s not just a hodgepodge of fragmented, claustrophobic rooms, or a linear series of one-and-done areas with closed-off, invisible walls, hastily put together.
The purposeful arrangement of its interconnected rooms, chambers, courtyards and bridges creates an unparalleled sense of place, and as you delve deeper into its heart, you will soar above its battlements, its walls , and look back at the towers you’ve already scaled.
You will look across the impossible bridge that leads to the distant mainland and feel hopelessly trapped, lost and alone. You’ll watch the sun bounce off distant cliffs as birds soar across the sky, hear the piercing wind, and for a moment, you’ll swear you can almost feel it. You’ll sit back and wonder, “Where the hell is This place? Who made it? And where did they all go?”
It echoes the atmosphere through its visuals and soundscapes, but also through a number of clever design choices, such as the camera system. Instead of a more traditional, over-the-shoulder affair that follows the main character closely, we watch Aiko and Yorda struggle in the castle from afar.
This may seem like a fairly inconsequential detail on the surface, but its impact on the overall feel of the game cannot be overstated. Through this, the castle becomes not just another video game environment to run around in, but a character in itself – it’s living, it’s breathing, and it’s watching Aiko with us. has been
It also reduces Ico from a powerful, combo-unleashing video game hero who the camera swings, pans and struggles to keep up to, just another lost little boy with a wooden stick, this ancient. Trapped in the labyrinth of the castle. He is just passing through this eternal fortress, like countless forsaken souls before him.
You never forget your first time
In March last year, I did the NC500 – a 500-mile road trip around the north coast of Scotland – with my brother. We absolutely nailed it. There wasn’t a single flippin’ caravan on the road, not a cloud in the sky—a fact which, if you’re familiar with the Scottish climate, is nothing short of a miracle.
If we play it 50 more times, we will never experience it again. So we will never try.
The same is true with my experience with ICOs. That first playthrough in March 2013 was so completely and utterly perfect that I boxed up the memory of it and locked it away in my head forever. And while the temptation to see my old friends again arises from time to time, truth be told, I’m a little scared.
I’ve read a lot of LTTP threads about the ICO since I finished it 10 years ago, and I’m strangely afraid that maybe it’s not the innocent game it’s been in my head. Perhaps this time the enemy will be confronted will do Be repetitive and boring. Maybe platforming will do Be clumsy and impure. Maybe Yorda will do Try to unlearn yourself at every given moment.
But when I played it, they weren’t, it wasn’t, and it wasn’t. And that’s the way I’ll remember it, thank you very much.
In his review for The New York Times, Charles Harold summed up his thoughts by concluding: “ICO is not a perfect game, but it is a game of perfect moments.”
If I had to guess, Mr. Herrold probably had the windmill scene fresh in his mind when he wrote this summary, but mine The perfect ICO moment was something completely under-scripted.
I remember drifting in and out of that hazy, calm state between sleep and the waking world. It was March, the long days of spring were on the way, and the birds were chirping outside—but a more beautiful noise filled the room. do well – The game’s heavenly save screen music – was coming out of the TV. It rocked me to sleep.
I was sitting on my couch – already completely engrossed with the game at this point – saw Iko and Yorda on the screen, and couldn’t help but crack a smile; They were also sitting on a sofa. Just like them, I fell asleep on the couch, to that ethereal save music.
It was at that point that I honestly felt like some kind of serendipity had happened, and the screen was actually a mirror. It was me and the game one Now I relaxed into pure, dreamlike bliss, and ICO’s lullaby transported me once more to the land of presence.
I couldn’t really remember being that blissfully at peace before, and ten years later, that music still makes me feel things.
Honesty is not so scary
I turned 30 last Saturday – about the same age Fumito Ueda was when the ICO was released. And, like him, I find myself longing for simplicity as the years go by.
To change the way a bit, the same goes for Matty Healey – front man of Brit pop-rock band The 1975, and another 30-something whose world I found myself caught up in recently. He built his career on wildly pretentious and sharp lyrics that only an A-level philosophy student would be impressed by.
But with his latest album, the words have taken on a much more grandiose flavor. When asked by Amelia Diemoldenberg about one of her famous Chicken shop dates To name his favorite song from the band’s latest album, he somewhat surprisingly chooses the relatively timeless “I Love You.”
“Of all the lyrics to choose from, you chose ‘I love you,’ which one could say?” she questions.
“Absolutely,” Matty says.
The angst and toughness of the teenage years, the uncertainty of early 20s, and the existential crises that your mid-to-late 20s can bring—all seem to melt away as I get older. Leaving a new peace, clarity, and contentment with who I am.
This is a fairly laborious point I’m trying to make here, but what I’m trying to say is: simplicity is underrated. And ICO is a reminder that, no matter what life throws at us, we always need someone to hold our hand. And what could be more simple than that?
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