PlayStation 2
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Introduction

First of all, this game is not for everyone. If you like games that are packed with action, are light-hearted and humorous, or follow complex stories with dozens of characters, you will probably find this game boring. When you first glance at it, you will most likely ask, "What's so special about this game?" The answer to that question is obvious to anyone who has played ICO all the way through. To summarize without giving much away, you play as a twelve-year-old boy named Ico who has horns like a bull growing out the sides of his head. This is seen as an ill omen in his village, so Ico is taken away to be sacrificed at an old, ruined castle. Ico is left to die in a coffin-like vessel, but by a "twist of destiny" as the manual puts it, his coffin breaks open, releasing him from his prison. The game follows Ico's desperate attempts to escape from the castle with a strange, pale-skinned girl he meets named Yorda. This girl, while virtually helpless to protect herself, carries a mysterious magic within her which is vital to progress through the castle. Ico and Yorda help each other in their mutual quest to escape from their enormous prison.

Game Play (17/20)

As stated above, as long as you\'re not expecting spectacular explosions or high-speed, death-defying feats, this game is very enjoyable to play. The majority of the game is devoted to puzzles, which Ico must solve to open the way for him and his friend to continue. These puzzles are usually made up of ledges, levers, chains, and large gaps to jump across. Probably the best part of the gameplay is your companion. Since Yorda is not as agile as Ico, he must help her along by catching her, helping her climb up ledges, and urge her on when she is hesitant (which is most of the time). The enemies in the game are also after her, and ceaselessly try to capture her. You must protect her at any cost, because the game is over if Yorda is captured. About fifty percent of your time is consequently taken up by rushing to her rescue. While sometimes this can get frustrating (if you leave Yorda behind in a room for more than a minute or so, Yorda will call out to you and you'll have to go rushing back to save her from the enemy), this also engenders a unique bond between the player and Yorda. After letting Yorda be captured once and seeing the darkness turn Ico into stone the first time, I became almost frantic every time I was forced to leave Yorda's side. Something that has always puzzled me is the difference between the American release of ICO and the European release. The European release has many secrets you can unlock and find, including a small extra scene at the end and a multiplayer option. All of these, however, cannot be found in the American release. There is more incentive for an owner of the European version of ICO to play the game through a second time, but some players might wish to play it again just to experience the story once more.

Graphics (9/10)

The visuals in this game are truly spectacular. Surfaces are very detailed, down to individual leaves on trees and cracks in the walls. You can zoom the camera in quite close to get a better look at something (you can even watch Yorda blinking). Characters' shadows, which in most games are not very realistic, are very well done in this game. The screen even blanks out almost if you look directly at the sun. While each puzzle uses most of the same techniques, there is still a large variety between "levels". For example, at one point you must leap onto the oscillating sails of a windmill, and another time you are required to break one of the support beams of a stone bridge. The few cut scenes scattered throughout the game are very good, progressing the story without resorting to monologues or long expositions. Emotions are conveyed well, especially on Ico's part. Though he doesn't say much, the player can easily see when he\'s feeling angry, afraid, or sad. However, the lip animations aren't very sophisticated; they're little more than simply opening and closing the mouth. The camera is in a fixed position, and it snaps to Yorda when she is captured, or when she begins to sink into a shadow portal. This makes it a little difficult to race to her rescue, since you can\'t see where Ico is. Also, when you call to Yorda, the camera fixes on her, again making it hard to see where you\'re going.

Sound (9/10)

There is very little music in ICO, but those few songs are very fitting for the environment. There is a peaceful little tune that plays when you save the game that is very calming - which is appropriate, since you can save the game only when you reach one of the many odd glowing couches scattered about the castle and sit on it. There is also a very haunting...not song exactly, more like an ambient sound...that plays whenever enemies assail you. Many times, you will be blithely trotting across a courtyard, holding Yorda's hand, when you suddenly become aware of that low, inhuman wail (for lack of better description; it's a very hard sound to describe). Then you see Ico gripping his weapon tighter, and your own fingers tighten around the controller in anticipation of another battle. The song that plays during the credits, called You Were There, is simply beautiful. Sung by a young boy whose voice hasn't matured yet, it's perfect for the story of a twelve-year-old boy. The interesting thing about the voice acting is that everything is spoken in another, made up language. From what I\'ve heard, the language that Ico speaks is not actually Japanese -which I initially assumed - but a sort of backwards Japanese mixed with Latin, or something of the sort. This renders the subtitles absolutely necessary to understand the story. Yorda 's language is completely different from this language, and is represented by strange hieroglyphic characters in the subtitles. This complete reliance on subtitles might annoy some gamers, but I thought it made the whole world ICO is set in more believable. ICO takes place in such a different setting, with the horned children and the amazing architectural impossibility of the castle; why should we expect the people who inhabit this land to speak English or even Japanese? Even so, the voice acting could have been better. Yorda half-whispers everything she says, and Ico's speech has little emotion in it other than gasps every now and then. The Queen's voice is a little better; her voice is very deep and echoey, which makes her even more creepy than she already is. A couple times, she allows herself a sinister chuckle that is very fitting. Still, she tends to talk rather slowly (almost sluggishly). All the sound effects are good, from metallic creaks to the fluttering of birds' wings to the sickening crunch that is heard when Ico fights off his enemies.

Stability (5/5)

I have never come across any glitches while playing.

Controls/Interface (5/5)

The menu is quite simple and straightforward, as are the in-game controls. It doesn't take long to learn what buttons do what, and there are no confusing combos. There is one button to attack with whatever weapon Ico has at the moment (which can range from a glowing magical sword to the horns on his head). The most original aspect of the controls is the R1 button, which you use to call Yorda to you, to take her hand, or to let go of her hand. Unless you have the rumble function disabled, you can feel a rumble in the controller whenever you take her hand, and there is an ingenious rumble that mimics Yorda's footsteps when you walk. This adds to immersion and the connection between the player and Yorda. Unlike most games, ICO does not have any health bars or anything of the sort. Ico will die if Yorda is captured or if one of them falls a long way. Any other time he is hurt, he simply gets back to his feet again. This also adds to the realism; how many people do you know who have a health bar hovering above their head?

Current Game Points: 45

Violence Category

- Killing non-human, fictional beings -3.5 pts For most of the game, you battle ghost-like creatures with glowing eyes and insubstantial bodies. You hit them with your stick, sword, or whatever other weapon is at hand until they fall to the floor and fade away. They are only vaguely human-shaped. At the climax, Ico plunges his sword into the chest of his ghostly adversary, who explodes in a burst of magic.

Blood

- Small Red Blotches or Drops -1 pts For the majority of the game, no blood is spilt. The aforementioned enemies emit something like puffs of smoke when they are hit, and even when Ico falls great distances, no blood is shown. At the climactic cut scene, however, he is wounded in the head and blood drops from this wound to make a puddle on the floor. This puddle can be seen after the cut scene as well. Later, his head is bloody from this wound.

Gore

- No Gore -0 pts Again, through most of the game there is no gore. However, at the climax Ico's horn is broken off and he is obviously in excruciating pain. This horn can also be seen later, lying on the floor.

Language Category

Foul Language - No Foul Language -0 pts

Sexual Dialogue/Innuendo

- No sexual dialogue. -0 pts

Sexual Content/Nudity Category

- No Nudity -0 pts When Yorda is in her 'spirit form', she does not appear to be wearing anything. However, since she is completely black and her form is indistinct, it is not suggestive in any way.

Sexual Content

- No Sexual Content -0 pts

Occult/Supernatural Category

- Game takes place in an environment with minor occult references. -3 pts The enemies you fight against are referred to in the manual as spirits. The Queen is in charge of these spirits, and it is possible she called up the spirits from former horned children sacrifices. She also speaks of transferring her soul to another body. All of these things, however, are portrayed as evil. There are also doors made of squarish blocks of stone that have statues of horned children. These doors are called 'idol doors' in the manual, but no one uses these 'idols' for worship in the game. They merely serve as rather bizarre doors. - Fairy tale type magic is used in game by player. -1.5 pts Ico never casts any spells as such, but he does position Yorda so she can use her magic (which looks like white electricity) to open doors and vanquish the spirits attacking them. Later on, Ico finds a sword with this same ability and uses it once or twice to open doors. He also uses this in the final battle, as it nullifies the enemy\'s waves of petrifying magic.

Cultural/Moral/Ethical Category

- No authority issues involved with this game. -0 pts Ico defies the cultural norm of horned children being sacrificed in the crypt of the castle. However, human sacrifice is obviously a cultural norm that should be discontinued. It should also be noted that Ico's actions effectively put an end to future child sacrifices, at least in the castle. - Characters are clearly demeaned or negatively biased by race, or ethnicity. -2.5pts The manual tells of how, in Ico's village, a horned child is born in every generation. This child is accused for any misfortunes suffered by the villagers: failed crops, sickness, etc. The horned children are thus feared and mistrusted.

Gross Humor

- No gross humor in the game. -0 pts

Traditional/Family Values/Decision Making

- Good value decision making is required to progress in the game. -0 pts If you make Ico abandon Yorda or let the spirits take her, you cannot progress in the game. There is also a point in the game where, in theory, Ico could have escaped from the castle on his own and left Yorda to her fate. However, to continue the game and the story, you must lead Ico in an act of selflessness and bravery to rescue her as well.

Bonus Points

- This game shows the consequences of evil and/or messing with the occult. +3 pts The antagonist, who has control over the spirits, eventually gets what's coming to her. She dies, and all her works of evil are undone. - The story in this game delivers a good moral lesson. +3 pts If nothing else, this game shows how unselfish love and friendship win out against the forces of darkness. Even though Ico and Yorda cannot understand each other's speech, they risk their lives to help and rescue each other.

Conclusion

ICO is a true masterpiece. Its beauty comes in its simplicity and simple statement of the facts. It gives little by way of explaining or interpreting the events of the story, allowing players to take away from the game what they will. Some people might be bothered by the presence of spirits who seem to be shadows of the dead, but that should not stop you from experiencing this game. If you allow yourself to forget about combos and weapon upgrades, and enjoy the simple beauty of ICO, you might catch yourself liking this game more than you expected.

Final Ratings

Game Play - 17/20 Graphics - 9/10 Sound - 9/10 Stability - 5/5 Controls/Interface - 5/5 Violence - 5.5/10 Language - 10/10 Sexual Content/Nudity - 10/10 Occult/Supernatural - 5.5/10 Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7.5/10 Bonus Points - 6

Final Score - 89.5/100

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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