Ico + Shadow of the Colossus HD Collection
Genres: Adventure, Platformer
Developer: Team Ico
Note: The following contains spoilers. You have been warned.
The narrative of almost every fairy tale is pretty straightforward. Boy meets girl, girl is imprisoned by an evil force, boy rescues girl and protects her from that force, and they eventually conquer their enemy together. It is a cycle we see in nearly every medium, from books to films to video games. Rescuing the damsel in distress is pretty much the precedent for all objective-based motivations.
In recent years, many games have become less subservient to this mold, often inverting the trope through gameplay, dialogue, or even just major “twist endings” that cause you to question all actions taken previously. But sometimes a traditional cliché can be used to surprising poignancy.
For example, take Yorda from the now cult classic Ico. Like Princess Toadstool before her, Yorda is a literal damsel in distress in almost every sense of the word, imprisoned by her mother because she is to be used as a “spiritual vessel” to keep her alive. But in many ways, Yorda is more than just a mere damsel. True, in the terms of the game’s mechanics she is often derided for being completely helpless in any given situation. So much so, in fact, that Yorda has been charged for being a detriment to the experience of Ico; a sort of dead weight you have to carry around to progress through the game and escape the castle in which you are both imprisoned.
But (in a sort of pretentious way), Yorda is far from a helpless character in terms of her presence. For one, she is presented as the antithesis of what surrounds Ico. These shadowy beings that chase you around every corner contrast with how Yorda appears: white, glowing, almost like a ghost that shines brightly against the shadows you fight. Yorda’s appearance is a stark juxtaposition against her surroundings, a shining beacon in the darkness that Ico is drawn too, even in his dreams.
This disparity between her ethereal form and the shadows is a symbolic personification to show that Yorda is at odds with her mother, the Queen of the Castle. In many ways the Queen is a controlling parent, overbearing to the point of radical protection of her child from “outside influences” such as Ico. True, her motivations are selfish, but in a symbolic way the Queen does what she can to force her daughter into coercion of her ideals. This does give Yorda another quality that is often unstated, that of a conflicted adolescent on the cusp of making her own decisions.
This helps explain why Yorda is “dead weight” in regards to the game mechanics. She is still shackled in a sense, trapped in the cage she can’t escape on her own because of her mothers’ actions. Ico needs to fill that gap for Yorda. Hence, the narrative of Ico is predominantly based on actions, instead of words. It is easy for Yorda herself to say she is trapped, but it is another thing all together to show it through interaction, body language, and game mechanics. This not only is a novel approach to show off the more symbolic moments of the games design, it makes the relationship between Ico and Yorda more intimate through actions and reactions over dialogue.
That interaction gives Yorda the ability to escape the cage. Yorda’s dependability on Ico is just as symbiotic as Ico’s need of Yorda; both characters are two halves that would be vulnerable in the castle alone. Yorda is a burden from a mechanical standpoint, but in the narrative sense Yorda is on equal ground as Ico. It is easy to say that her usefulness is limited, but without her Ico has no reason to go on. He would be trapped forever in the castle without her help, despite how much she has to be guided to get through the game.
This does make the relationship between Ico and Yorda a forced one, but it is a relationship that blossoms out of that necessity for each other’s abilities. The intimacy Ico and Yorda share through their ordeal is the crux of the plot, which gives the ending of the game more weight in terms of its narrative and symbolism, where Yorda essentially breaks free from the cage. After being trapped by her mother, Ico valiantly fights the Queen for Yorda, despite the Queen’s objections to Ico’s intentions. She is finally defeated as the castle begins to crumble around them both. Ico, exhausted from the battle, collapses, with Yorda turning the tables and saving Ico from certain doom.
This moment is significant in a number of ways. For one, without the use of much talking, Yorda finally asserts herself as more independent and capable as she saves Ico’s life. We also see Yorda transform into her shadow form, an all black version of herself that is reminiscent of the entire castle denizens, including her mother. In a way, this form represents Yorda’s own maturity through her journey with Ico. She grows, shedding her “pure” self and taking a more assertive role, that of the new ruler of her mother’s domain.
Yorda essentially becomes the new Queen. She takes on the form and abilities of her mother, but due to her interactions with Ico, not her persona. Because of this, instead of staying caged and cut off from the outside world, she rescues Ico, and herself, from a fate of pure apathy and vanity. Against her mothers intentions, Yorda uses her experience to fuel her final decision, creating an ending that is completely symbolic of what Yorda becomes. The castle begins to decay around her, her prison no longer existing as Yorda makes her escape, proving her mother wrong that she can survive in the outside world, instead of staying isolated and dependent on her.
So with the help of Ico, Yorda learns to become assertive and self-dependent. She escapes her prison, both physically and mentally, becoming well rounded as a person in the process thanks to her relationship with Ico. Like a caged bird she learns to fly, shedding her “damsel” role in this well told fairly tale in the final moments of the journey. Through this, her interactions, growth and depth, Yorda makes her mark a true Character with Character.
Well, we are back with season 3 of Characters with Character! I hope the wait wasn’t too long for you guys, and that your appetite for some character analysis is large.
As for the winner of the second CwC contest, the winning entry will be the next article you see in the series. So stay tuned to find out the winner. Remember though that you can contact me at Robert@blisteredthumbs.net or on twitter @LinksOcarina. Until then, see you next time!