ICO You Were There


Little is known about the protagonist and namesake of Ico. What follows are some notes regarding what we do know about him.

What it is that sets Ico apart from other children isn't known exactly. What is known is that it was passed down through the generations and left its mark in the form of the horns on his head. This was seen by the people of his village as the sign of a curse to which they ascribed various unfortunate events which befell them. Whether this was superstition or a real curse isn't known, but following tradition Ico was brought to the Fortress on his twelfth birthday in order to rid them of the curse.
Despite what he represented to them he was apparently not hated by the people, at least not all of them, as the men who bring him to the Fortress seem almost apologetic about it, telling him that it must be done for the good of the village. Precisely how much influence the Queen had over all this is unknown, but she had arranged it to some degree, as this same aspect of Ico is something she needed for her plan.

Why he is referred to as 'Ico' is unknown. The only person in the story who actually refers to him by name is Yorda. When trying to get Ico's attention in order to point something out she calls him by this name - but since they don't speak the same lanaguage they never introduced themselves. Since this is also the name he is given in the backstory it is not just a random way to refer to him that Yorda uses.
It may in fact be a label which refers to what he is rather than who he is. Since Yorda is familiar with the Fortress, and there are images of people with horns throughout it, she is probably familiar with such people and therefore may have a name by which she refers to them.

During his time in the Fortress Ico shows the ability to continue regardless of the difficulty or odds. No obstacle, whether it is a small army of Spirits or the Queen herself blocking his way, is ever enough to stop him. He does not only fight for himself, when he finds Yorda he helps her without hesitation. It is only after he initially helps her that it is revealed that she can also help him, he helps her simply because he sees it as the right thing to do.
Once they have been together for a while it becomes impossible to seperate him from her; he is given the choice between freedom for himself or trying to save her several times, and every time he chooses to try to save her.

Ico's defining feature up until his time in the Fortress is the mark he bears. It is the mark of a curse to the people in his village, and was also the reason the Queen wanted him sacrificed. His fate, as far as anyone knew, was sealed from the day he was born due to this mark.
Directly or indirectly the Queen was responsible for all of this, and in the Fortress he finally gets to face her. In the final battle not only does he kill his lifelong enemy, he also loses the mark he has borne since birth, freeing him literally and metaphorically from his original fate.




The girl Ico finds imprisoned in the tower at the rear of the Fortress is a mysterious person, even by the end of the story. According to the Queen, Yorda is her daughter. The Queen has no reason to lie about this, and herself and Yorda are the only two people in the Fortress, so there is no reason to doubt the truth of this statement.
More doubtful is what exactly she meant by this. The Queen is not the same kind of being as Yorda, and if she ever was it was likely a long time ago. Furthermore the plan that Yorda is to be a part of was set in motion hundreds of years ago, yet Yorda has the appearance of a child. This raises questions about Yorda's exact origins.
How Yorda came into existence, what precisely she is, and how long she actually been alive are all unknown variables due to her vague background. I cover some aspects of this when analysing the magic in the story. For the purpose of analysin her character however, we can take these things at face value and focus exclusively on her behaviour and actions.

The main difficulty in analysing Yorda's behaviour is that her reactions to and interaction with the world around her are very subdued, and the reason for this is never made explicitly clear. Her reactions vary too much from what we would expect of a person in her position to be explained away by personality alone. In order to understand what her behavior and actions tell us about what sort of person she is and how she thinks, we must understand how and to what degree they are influenced by other elements, such as her history and environment.
It appears that she has been imprisoned in the cage for a long time, possibly a significant portion of her life. It is obvious that she has had no contact with anyone else during that time, when someone does finally turn up her behaviour suggests she is amazed anyone else is in this place, she almost seems to want to confirm that he is real.
The initial contact shows what is going to become a recurring theme in this analysis, the passivity of her reactions. While it appears she can scarcely believe that someone has finally interrupted her solitude, she merely asks, quite calmly, who he is and how he got there, as she slowly approaches him. Finally free, she does little more than actually step out of the cage.



There are environmental factors which contribute to Yorda's passive behaviour. Due to her physical weakness she is quite dependant on Ico. Ico has to help her to move around the Fortress, make simpler paths through areas for her, and keep her safe from the Spirits. Having been imprisoned for a significant amont of time she also lacks experience of the outside world, which is also responsible for this high reliance on Ico. This requirement to rely on someone else for so many aspects of their journey doesn't leave much room for independant action.

An important aspect of her passivity is her apparent apathy towards escaping. While she is happy enough to go along with Ico, and ocassionly excited by things relevant to their escape, most of the time she does not appear as motivated as Ico to work towards freedom.
A significant contributor to this may be that the Queen has told her that she cannot survive in the outside world. She says this to Yorda the first time they encounter her on the bridge, and says it in a manner which suggests both that she has said it in the past and that it is for Yorda's own good that she is saying it. Of course, whether it is for her own good is very questionable given the Queen's intentions, but we have to consider the effect on Yorda. Yorda has such a passive nature that she is willing to follow a complete stranger who has a habit of leading her into dangerous areas of the Fortress, all because he seems to have her best interests at heart. When her own mother tells her that she cannot survive in the outside world, and makes it sound like a concerned warning rather than an attempt to stop her from running away, it is likely this would dampen Yorda's enthusiam for escaping.

An aspect which must be considered is Ico and Yorda's differing perspectives on the Fortress. When Ico arrives he escapes quite quickly and immediately sets off, ignorant of the trials he will face before escaping, unaware that the Queen even exists.
Yorda has been imprisoned with no hope for escape for quite some time. While Ico seems to present the opportunity to escape, having never even been outside the Fortress would have made this concept significantly less 'real' to Yorda. Furthermore she shows some knowledge of the Fortress during their journey, and so is probably aware from the outset of what a monumental task escaping it will be, unlike Ico. Finally, she is well aware of the Queen's presence and powers, and knows that even out of the cage, she is not really free of her mother as long as she is in the Fortress' walls.
While she seems content to follow Ico in his attempt to leave, it is possible that she doesn't believe that it is possible escape, and given her long imprisonment up until the point where she meets Ico she may simply not have the same will to escape that he does.



Taking these factors into account Yorda's behaviour when she first encounters Ico is more understandable. Even if she is able to grasp the idea that she is finally free after all this time, she is likely aware that she is not really free, not yet anyway. That she has to be led to escape by Ico, rather than trying herself, is not all there is to her character of course. This element of her character stands out however, and affects her behaviour to a degree that her character cannot be analysed without explaining this element. Having examined the circumstances and environment she is and found that there is a fixed explanation for this behaviour, it can be 'filtered out' so that we can examine her character independent of these circumstances.

While there are many times when one would expect Yorda to act with a desire to escape, times at which the behaviour discussed above affects her actions, there are also times when escape isn't the first thing on her mind, such as when they are trying to figure out what to do next or avoid the Spirits. Even during these times the same passivity remains however.
There are some circumstances in which she will act independently, the most pronounced of these being when the Spirits are chasing her, but for the most part she simply does nothing, whether that means simply being led around by Ico or staying somewhere he has left her. She is being given the first opportunity in a long time, possibly ever, to do what she wants and the the most she does with it is chase the odd bird. This muted reaction to almost everything going on around her could be attributed to her life thus far, but none of the circumstances which seem to contribute to her behaviour are relevant to these smaller moments. The point being that not only are there significant environmental factors contributing to her passive behaviour, but even behind this she has a very passive personality.

One alternative explanation for her passive behaviour is that she is actually disinterested in freedom and escape for some reason, and it has little to do with her personality. her actions tell us otherwise, which is part of what I will address in the next section.


Thoughts on Escape

Yorda's behaviour raises the question of how she feels about following Ico and the prospect of escape. She is quite willing to follow Ico when he rescues her from the tower, but this does not necessarily mean anything in itself. I have established that she is naturally passive, and the one thing she does react to strongly is the Spirits. So when the first thing Ico does is to save her from a Spirit, it makes sense that she would follow willingly when he leads her out of the tower, regardless of how she may feel about Ico or escaping the Fortress.

One thing that is certain is that whether or not she believe's the Queen's story that it is for her own good, she does not wish to remain captive. In her own subtle way she moves towards freedom, in actions as simple as running away from the Spirits but choosing to follow and rely on Ico, or running ahead of Ico when they arrive in an area particularly important to their escape.
The Queen tells her to 'come back' but while the way she says to herself 'I have angered her' shows that she is afraid of the Queen, she chooses to take Ico's hand and carry on nonetheless. She may or may not believe that it is possible but she chooses to try either way.

Given that a significant amount of her life has been spent in the cage, she undoubted appreciates being out of it at all. Even if she does not believe they can escape the Fortress, just having been freed from the cage and protected from the Spirits for a time is a gift and a further reason for her to choose to follow Ico. When she and Ico are finally stopped on the bridge her last words to Ico are 'Thank you'. That her last thought is thanks to Ico for what he has done, despite the fact that they did not escape, shows that she appreciated what freedom she did have and would have been happy to stay with Ico even if she thought true escape was impossible.

From these actions of hers we see that she did want to be free, and did choose to continue regardless of whether she believed escape was possible or not. This means that her passivity is not because she does not want to escape, but is simply the way she is.



At the end of the story Yorda is brought back to life as a Spirit by the Casket Chamber. She looks at herself, and her quick acceptance suggests that she realises what has happened to her. After a moment she goes up to the throne room and finds Ico unconcious. She is much stronger in this form and so is well able to carry Ico down to the dock and send him off in a boat.
Aside from simply being stronger her behaviour is more confident, she seems more sure of herself now, even as the Fortress is collapsing around her, than she did when she was with Ico. This suggests that in part at least her previous behaviour really was due to her inability to fend for herself. Given this stronger body she is able to switch roles with Ico.

Yorda's last action is to save Ico from the collapsing Fortress. However she does not go with him, even though there doesn't seem to be anything physically stopping her from doing so. Why exactly this is remains a mystery. A likely explanation is that she chose to stay behind because there is no place for her or because she has, in a manner of speaking, already died. However the Queen did say that she could not survive in the outside world. Since Yorda is somewhat magical in nature there may have been some truth in this, it is after all true that when Yorda does 'leave' the Fortress she once again changes form. There may have been a real reason why she couldn't have left, or at least believed she couldn't.


Having played the game again for the first time in two years, I feel I have overstated Yorda's passivity in this analysis of her character, as at times she can be quite active. However the conclusions I reach about the reasons for her behaviour stand, they simply might not apply as much as I suggest.


Written by Crumplecorn
Last Updated 23/4/2008


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