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VenusInFurs avatar 12:36 AM on 09.04.2011  (server time)
Game + Book = <3

Spoilers for Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, and Castle in the Mist.

Their cries would not reach that ancient castle perched upon the cliff at the end of the world, far to the west where the sun sank after its daily journey. The only thing that could lessen the rage of the master in the castle, that could strave off the castle’s curse for even a short time, was the chosen Sacrifice.

Ico begins with a boy with horns being carried to a castle and shut forever in concealment. We know nothing as to why this is being done to the boy, but it’s safe to assume that the isolation the boy is sent to is a direct cause of him being born with horns. Castle in the Mist by Miyuki Miyabe tries to answer these questions in her novel. The game, unlike the novel, is more of an experience and less of an actual story. In contrast, Miyabe novelization of Ico is less of a retold of events in the game, and more of a glorified fan-fiction. In the preface she writes, If you picked up this book hoping for a walkthrough of the game, look elsewhere. The order of events, solutions to puzzles and even the layout of the castle have changed. While it is certainly not “spoiler-free,” someone who reads this books and goes on to play the game will find much there that is not here. I find it interesting comparing the book and game; two total different mediums that assist each other. The developers of the game had no say in the book, but they did give Miyabe permission to write her own version of the story. For me, first playing the game and then following it up with the novel helped bring the world of Ico, and some cases Shadow of the Colossus , more alive. The games were no longer minimalistic and “ambiguous” with its message and story -- the book bought life to an otherwise lifeless (story wise) game.

Miyabe created a detailed account of Ico’s horns and the reasons why he is cast forever in isolation in the Castle in the Mist. Ever since the boy was born, Ico knew he would be cast out. The boy’s soul resides in the castle. In a way, Ico being cast out is good because he can now reclaim it and finally be whole. He was raised as a normal child until the age of thirteen. The elder of the village took Ico to the “Forbidden Mountain.” He brought Ico there to show him the horrors the Castle in the Mist brings when it’s angry. They had ridden on horseback for three days north, going where not even the hunters dared tread. They saw no one on the road, no birds flying overhead, no rabbits in the underbrush, no tracks of foxes in the soft mud left by the rains the day before. Why were the mountains forbidden? Why did no one come this way? Why were there no birds or animals to be seen? This location reminds me a lot of the isolated world of Shadow of the Colossus. In the end of that game, our hero is born again as a child with horns in a world with no life.

The book brings what I like in a story: details. I’m all for ambiguity, but it seems that if any criticism is put forth to games like Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, Limbo, The Path, Journey, etc then you’re considered a philistine because you don’t “get it” or can’t use your imagination to fill in the blanks. In my opinion filling in the blanks only works when enough information is given. Think of it as a puzzle piece. You have a puzzle that creates a picture of Mario (you are not aware what the picture is about), but are only given 2 pieces; those 2 pieces are not enough to interpret what the picture is about, you need more, not all, but enough to be open to interpretation. Having only 2 pieces of a puzzle just comes to show you how the creator didn’t know what he/she was doing and decided to be “ambiguous” to hide the fact that he/she was clueless about the story. I find this to be a common thread in most artsy games. The scenery is always beautiful and awe inspiring; sometimes you stop just to absorb the beauty like a good painting; however, unlike a painting, most of the beautiful imagery means nothing (there are some exceptions). It works as a short mini game, but the gamer starts to notice the blemishes and the magic, for me, seems to always disappear. It’s the reason why I take so long to finish games. Atmosphere is good and can take a game to new heights, Demon’s Souls is perfect example, but sometimes I want more. Sometimes I want a good story told to me. Many of these artsy games have great ideas (they’re the most original in all of video games), but do nothing with it. Anyway, I’m glad Castle in the Mist was written because I now see these games in a new light. For me, the games are now more than just pretty colors. They’re games with characters and events I truly care about.

The book spends a good 60 pages before Ico is sent to the castle; during those 60 pages we are introduced to Ico’s friend, Toto. Before Ico is taken to the castle he is put into a cave (a sort prison). Toto visits Ico there and tries to convince him to run away with him. Ico refuses and warns Toto to not do anything stupid. The next day Toto runs away from home with a horse. Toto runs to the castle so he can meet up with Ico when he is brought there, but before he can make it there, he must pass through the Forbidden Mountain and there Toto sees the horror the castle brings. The world around him was petrified and gray. The people in the streets around him had been frozen in time. Some pointed towards the sky, others ran, holding their heads in their hands, while still others held their mouths open in soundless screams. Toto wondered how many years they had stood there like this. When he reached out hesitantly to touch one, it crumbled into dust beneath his fingertips.

The first 60 pages are like a prologue to the game, and I made an effort to not talk about anything more than that in fear of spoiling more than I wanted, but if you have played Ico, I highly encourage you to pick up this book. I promise it will make for a better experience. Your outlook on the game will greatly change.

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