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Number 13


Precious few games have ever touched me like ICO did. I am not of a mood where I can pontificate effectively; I will summarize it quickly.

ICO is a game that relies on the ability of the player to become engaged in its world; I do not pretend that this game is for everyone, because it isn't. THere are two characters in this game: Ico, the boy, and Yorda, the girl. You play Ico, and you interact with Yorda by leading her through a haunted castle. Most of the time you will hold her hand, and she reacts to the way you pull her, stumbling if you change directions too quickly, giving a sense of real weight in spite of the fact that she doesn't slow you down.

Almost immediately Yorda begins to feel very real. All of a sudden you are not just a boy leading out a girl; you are a boy leading a damsel in distress. And it is very real, if you can get into it. You care about Yorda as you might care about any person who you desperately want to help, because you do want to help her. A word is never spoken between thse two characters, and the most interaction they have is the holding of hands while Ico leads, but you will come to care.

The word in which they exist is a stark land of ghosts, both in actuality and in design. The castle is immense and bathed in light that eats away at its edges, or else in fog that has a more somber achievement of the same effect. Danger seems to lurk everywhere, even though combat is both rare and easy. THe castle itself is enormous, like the entirety of a world, and it imposes itself on you, ancient and unyielding and uncaring for your plight, a series of barriers through which you must pass to gain your freedom.

The environments are excellently designed and puzzles are neatly and fluidly integrated, but that doesn't mean much except that it adds to the way the world feels.

There is a sequence near the end of the game which merges into a cutscene after a frantic leap - and when it happened I was on my feet, having jumped out of my chair in the thrill of panic and fear and dread and hope. "HOLD ON!" I said to my television set.

I invested a great deal of myself in this game, and when it was over I cried. My wife played it some years later, before we were married - when she finished it she was inconsolable, so heartbroken that I could not calm her down for half an hour.

ICO is not a game of universal power, but when that power touches you it borders on incomparable.