Undeniably one of the best games from the Playstation 2 catalogue, ICO: Castle in the Mist was a game I had rented but never finished and then fell through the cracks of my very growing game backlog. So when I saw that Viz was publishing Miyuki Miyabe’s novelization of the game under their Haikasoru imprint, I was elated. I would finally know how the story played out without the frustrations of actually solving the puzzles.
Ico had the unfortunate destiny of being born with horns on his head, the sign that he is to one day be a Sacrifice for the mysterious Castle in the Mist, an abandoned castle in lands not too far away from Toksa Village. As is the tradition when a horned one is born, Ico’s parents were cast out of the village and he was raised by the village elder and his wife, preparing him for the day the priest would come to lead Ico to his fate. Ico grows up playing with the other children of Toksa, makes friends, and learns what they learn. He also learns of his duties as the Sacrifice from the Elder and his wife Oneh, who love him like he was their own.
There is not too much the Elder will tell Ico about why the ritual of the Sacrifice is held, but he does take Ico on a trip one day to show him another settlement that had been turned to stone. To make sure this doesn’t happen to Toksa or any other place, no matter how hard, the Sacrifice must leave and go to the Castle. As soon as Ico’s horns have grown, he will be handed over to the priest of their lands to make the journey.
The time comes when the priest has been summoned and the village makes all the preparations they need to send Ico off safely. With the help of a book recovered by Ico’s closest friend, at the cost of his own life, the Elder believes there is a chance Ico will be able to return to Toksa and not suffer the same fate as Sacrifices before him. Armed with nothing more than the clothes on his back and the special Mark woven to prove he is the Sacrifice, Ico is handed over to the priest and his warriors and led in silence to the Castle in the Mist.
Ico soon learns that being a Sacrifice means a lifetime of entombment in the Castle. Luckily, his special Mark is different from the Sacrifices who came before him and he is able to escape. But his escape is short lived as he finds that the Castle is a labyrinth with no clear way to leave. Not only that, he finds a young girl held captive in a giant cage that he feels he must rescue and keep safe from the black shadows lurking deep within the stone of the Castle. Ico doesn’t know her language, but when he holds her hand, he is able to understand her thoughts and can see through her eyes the events behind the true meaning of the Sacrifice. Her name is Yorda and she knows all of the secrets of the Castle in the Mist.
With most of the tale written from Ico’s side and the history of the Castle from Yorda’s point of view, Miyabe’s novelization of Ico and Yorda’s adventure to escape the clutches of the Castle in the Mist and right the wrongs of their ancestors was more than I had hoped for. There were some puzzle references throughout the book, as one would expect from any regular story of this nature, but thankfully they were not the bulk of the tale. She wonderfully told the tale of two children overcoming adversities and discovering they do not have to be what others tell them they are – that destinies can be changed, that good will always conquer evil.
As I regretfully read the last page of ICO: Castle in the Mist, I was quick to remember that I have the ICO/Shadow of the Colossus HD collection for the PS3 in my backlog. It won’t be too long before I return to the story, waiting impatiently to see just how close to the game Miyabe’s adaptation is.
Image copyright Viz Media 2011