Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Beautiful Moments in Gaming: Ico

Ico and Yorda by Megakay

Ico is a beautiful game that stripped down a game to its purest elements and removed everything that would detract from the experience. In an age where it was about the end of the PlayStation 1 and the dawn of the PlayStation 2, a lot of big games were about making theirs as big and grand as possible with fancy FMVs that took half a game's budget.

One of the things I love most about Ico is that it expresses a story about a boy and a girl through gameplay and not through the traditional way of cutscenes, and any cutscenes there are in the game tell just enough about the setting, a whole 3 cutscenes throughout the whole game. As Ico and Yorda try to escape the castle, they rely on each other not because a cutscene said so but through gameplay mechanics.

It eventually all culminates into that bridge scene which I think is one of the most beautiful moments in gaming. It's a moment that's made much more powerful in that the player should innately know what to do without ever being told what to do within that frantic moment. Because it's the player that performs the action, it makes the moment carry much more weight than if there was a cutscene that took control away and did it for you. A ton of other games at the time would've probably gone the cutscene route.

Incidentally, this is one of my most favorite excerpts and interpretation of the game written by a Jared Matte years ago:
It's been about three years since my single run through Ico... I've long since meant to play through it a second time, but knowing of the additional content added to all the non-US versions of the game, I decided to wait until I got my hands on one of those. As I believe I mentioned not long ago, I just splurged on the Japanese version, so I finally sat my skinny ass down for a second investigation of my favorite PS2 game.

Firstly, I remember just how fucking awesome it is, even in light of everything that's come out since. Of course I didn't really forget how cool it was, but y'know, after a while you just sort of take it for granted, and accept almost in a religious manner that Ico is the best fucking thing ever, though you aren't ever immediately conscious of the passion that instated that mindset.

But anyway, the sexual innuendo associated with this game is even thicker than I recalled. Firstly, and most obviously, you have Ico's horns. Even if you brush off the contemporary associations with the word "horny," horns, probably as reference to the bull, have, throughout history and in many different cultures, been a symbol of male fertility. It could even be construed that this is why he was banished from his village, or tribe, or whatever society we are to presume he came from -- he was, perhaps, considered a sexual deviant.

Of course his weapon of choice is a stick, meaning that he runs around swinging his wood. Interestingly, he doesn't acquire the wood at all until he meets Yorda for the first time, when the stick seems to have magically appeared on the ground.

Another very obvious association are the save points... they're love seats. Love seats. Of course you'd expect to see such furniture in a game with a contemporary setting, but the fact that such items are found scattered around a crumbling, abandoned medieval castle can't be a coincidence. As soon as Ico sits on the stone couch, he calls over his spectral woman, who, after a bit of reluctance, slowly joins him on the sofa. If you quit your game here then load it later, you find that the young lovers are awakening from a slumber, and you are left to infer what must have happened while you were away.

Perhaps most interesting of all is the Star Wars light saber, which you can't acquire until your second time through the game and was not in the original US version. The light sword is normally very short, but as soon as Ico holds Yorda's hand, the sword triples in length. We are well beyond the realm of coincidence, here.

If I really wanted to go out on a limb, I could probably make associations with the black specters and their relentless desire to shove Yorda down their holes. Or Ico's offering of melons to Yorda in the ending.