In an industry that has always run with the idea of "bigger, better, and faster", Ico
was the milestone of the PS2-generation that implied the true future of video games lies in minimalism and player connectivity.
You can almost feel the testosterone of a Gears
fanboy spiking the Ico
lovefest of recent years. The game, when played by the wrong person, can be outright offensive. "I've played Zelda
, dammit! I know you can do more in a video game than this!" they might yell. The idea of Ico
being a piece of art isn't reinforced by its overly sentimental fanbase, but by the way it feels completely alien to some players even though it remains grounded in gameplay not too distant from more popular titles.Ico
's presence as minimal art can be narrowed down into a list: no HUD, IDM score, no real dialogue, etc. It's a matter of class. Team Ico who-- you guessed it! --developed Ico
modeled the game entirely around what the core experience is and what would detract from it. The idea that your character cannot die in combat would break a The Legend of Zelda [ゼルダの伝説]
game, but since Ico
's main concern varies from those games it works as a strength. At Ico
's core is the player's connection to Yorda, the girl you have at your side for the better part of the game, dragging her along every step of the way. While the audio and art direction are sublime, it is the core experience delivered through the platforming and puzzles that makes it a timeless adventure.
Since the PlayStation-era, games have grown more and more obsessed with player connection through cinematic presentation. Instead of deep storytelling, Ico
creates a tangible emotional connection in the player through subliminal elements. The way the controller vibrates when you grab hold of Yorda's hand, the loneliness of the game's world, and the haunting music all exhort an emotional reaction out of the player that most games would try to attempt forcefully via FMVs and lengthy cut-scenes. It's remarkable how well Ico
works without these things, as only an hour into the game I would feel my heart rate escalate when I had to leave Yorda behind or when I had to make a jump I wasn't quite sure I could manage. I didn't know why I was at this castle, I didn't know who Yorda was, but I wanted to escape it with her by my side. Through crafting a believable world with elegant presentation, Ico
turned the 8-bit joke of saving the princess into an actual concern.
Between Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
and Final Fantasy X [ファイナルファンタジーX]
, the PS2 era came into its own in 2001. Even with all Ico
's heart and ambition, I can't say it's a superior game than those two. Yet, as a pure experience, Ico
will forever be put in the hall of fame for the simplicity of its design (have I mention how the game is actually fun?) and its brilliant presentation. The "games as art" discussion has become null in recent years, between the chiptune scene and 8-bit decals in the walls of every nerd's home. Games have always been art. It wasn't until Ico
that gamers got a real taste of games that stirred up emotion in the player through sheer interaction and existence in a different world. Ico
's ending won't make you cry and the games making you feel lonely dates back to Metroid [メトロイド]
, but 2001 brought about the first game to fill gamers with an intangible connection to an unrealistic scenario. And, it was all done through the player convincing his or herself through a personal connection to the world, not in-game cinemas and plot devices.