ICO: Castle in the Mist

A comic review article by: Amelia Ramstead
ICO: Castle in the Mist is a new English translation of the 2004 book by Miyuki Miyabe, one of Japan's best-selling authors, based on the classic Playstation 2 game, ICO. ICO is a dark and unusual game in which you, playing as the horned Sacrifice child Ico, must escape the castle controlled by the Queen, while guiding Yorda, the Queen's daughter throughout. With elements of action-adventure and a strong puzzle-solving aspect, the game was a hit with players and critics, winning several awards.

In the novel, the story opens in Ico's village, painting a picture of Ico's life prior to the events of the game. Unlike the story told in the game's manual, in this version the Sacrifice is treated kindly and loved by the village and the Elder and his wife, committed by tradition to raising the Sacrifice as their own. When Ico's best friend Toto, wishing to aid Ico and help him escape his fate, encounters a city and its inhabitants who have been turned to stone, he escapes and manages to pass on the strange book to the Elder, before succumbing to the curse himself and turning to stone.

The Elder realizes the power of the book brought back by Toto and enlists his wife to help create a special Mark for Ico to wear when he is taken to the castle that will hopefully allow Ico to defeat the castle and return to their village.

ICO: Castle in the Mist is told in four parts. The first section details life in Toksa village and Ico's preparation for his Sacrifice. The second part opens up exactly where the game begins, with Ico being brought to the castle by the priest and the guards. Unfortunately, after the excellent storytelling and intriguing plotline laid out in the first chapter, the second chapter winds up being a bit of a disappointment. It reads like a narration of the action of the game, depicting Ico breaking free of the sarcophagus, encountering Yorda and beginning his travels through the castle. My advice? Rather than struggling through 50 pages of exposition, pick up the game and play it through, at least until the Queen blocks you from leaving the castle. Then come back and read the third chapter.

The third chapter takes us back into the past and we get to learn Yorda's backstory. This chapter was really the highlight of the book. Yorda becomes a fully realized character, rather than a device meant to enhance the puzzle-solving aspect of the game. The chapter also more fully develops the character of the Queen, laying the groundwork for her actions and why the castle exists. The writing and story flow well and you feel an attachment for Yorda, which ultimately enhances the game.

It occurred to me that the flow of the book might have been improved by combining the second and third chapters and jumping back and forth between Ico's trip through the castle and a look back at Yorda's former life. It would at least make it easier to get through the gameplay narration, knowing that something intriguing was waiting right around the corner.

We are returned to the game in the fourth chapter, but the narration seems more filled out now that we know the secrets of the Queen and Yorda. We are now invested in the outcome and in the characters. As the action unfolds, we are also left with the question of why sometimes the "good guys" do the wrong actions for the wrong reasons. It's a question that is timeless and addresses the atrocities that are done over and over in the name of religion. It gives the game and the story a deeper significance.

Although the book was a bit uneven, it truly enhanced the game. I'm unsure if someone unfamiliar with the game and the characters would really enjoy the book, but it could attract a whole new audience who want to experience Ico's journey for themselves.

Amelia Ramstead has been playing games since her family first received an Atari 2600, lo these many years ago. She continues to play, primarily on PC these days. An avid World of Warcraft player, Amelia writes about WoW topics for her blog and as a guest poster on WoW Insider. Especially interested in how gamer culture reflects in family dynamics, Amelia herself has two kids, one of whom has two WoW characters and can barely keep his nose out of his DS. Amelia is excited to join the staff of Comics Bulletin and is looking forward to the chance to converse with others on one of her favorite topics! Find Amelia on Steam as ameeramstead.

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