ICO You Were There

Light and Dark Magic in Ico

Of all the differences between our world and the world of Ico, the most significant is probably the magic which permeates the fortress. The magic is the part of that world which is most dissimilar to our own, and so it is not surprising that when examining the events in the story which we do not fully understand, we are invariably drawn back to how the magic seen in the game works. Since all attempts to understand that world lead back to this point, it is here that I will start my analysis of the background of Ico.
As you can see from the title I divide the magic in Ico into two broad categories, Light and Dark. This goes back to when I first started examining Ico and assumed that the two kinds of magic were opposites, good versus evil, light versus dark. While I still do not understand exactly how these two kinds of magic relate to each other, I quickly realised that it is simply not that clear cut. It is in fact possible that the two kinds of magic are actually one and the same, simply seen in different forms. I do not believe this is the case, but even if it is, there is enough difference between the two 'types' and enough consistency in the way each of them appears to divide the magic in Ico into these two broad categories.

The Light Magic is the power Yorda has throughout the game. Its colors are white and cyan. It usually manifests as lightning. Many devices throughout the fortress are activated by Light Magic, and these devices are usually covered in runes which glow when Yorda is nearby or the device is activated.
The Dark Magic is not a tangible power as such. It encompasses the Queen and the spirits she controls. Its colors are black and teal, notably these are darker versions of the Light Magic's colors. Unlike the Light Magic, which seems to be a power which can be possessed by people or objects, the Dark Magic encompasses the Spirits' physical being. The Queen does not possess powers of Dark Magic, rather she is a being of Dark Magic, and as such has other powers.


Light Magic

Light Magic appears to be what makes everything in the fortress work. Throughout the fortress are various objects and devices, such as the Idol Doors, which are covered in runes. Usually the runes start to glow when there is a source of Light Magic near by. These devices are usually activated by Yorda, though Ico later gains the same ability using the Sword. If Yorda activates a device through physical contact it simply glows and activates, but if she activates them from a distance then something like magical lightning arcs between her and the device in question as it activates. When Light Magic is seen it is almost always as the lightning, however on two occasions it manifests as a beam of light. It is unclear exactly what is happening when a device is activating; Yorda may be supplying the power it needs to activate, or it may be more akin to a key being used in a lock, or possibly both.

Light Magic is simpler than Dark Magic in that there are clearly defined sources. The only things which are seen which are related to Light Magic aside from actual manifestations of it, are sources of it and devices which are activated by it.
The main source of Light Magic seen in Ico is Yorda. Given her unusual appearance, it is likely that Light Magic is an intrinsic part of her being rather than, say, a borrowed power. She activates any Light Magic devices when she is near them, but whether she does so intentionally or it is drawn out of her due to her proximity, we do not know.
A somewhat similar source is the Sword, seen at the beginning and end of the game. It is similar in that it possesses Light Magic, and activates any devices near it. The sword has runes on it, just like those which light up on the devices which it can activate, but the ones on the Sword glow constantly on their own. The usual lightning manifestation also runs along the edge of the sword constantly.
A more unusual source is the pair of Orbs over the main gate which are used, possibly among other things, to 'activate' the Main Gate. The orbs are unusual in that they in turn need to be activated by other devices, the Reflectors, which seem to be a source of Light Magic in a different form.
Two final sources I will group together as they are both much harder to understand, and are related, the Spirits and the Casket Chamber. The Spirits seem to have eyes made of Light Magic, the resemblance is striking. The other source is the Casket Chamber, but I will explain later how both the source and use of this Light Magic is extremely unusual.


Dark Magic

Dark Magic is utterly different to Light Magic. There are no devices which are activated by Dark Magic, and it never manifests in a form which appears appropriate to such a task anyway. There do not seem to be sources of Dark Magic, just the Queen, who appears to control this power, and in some way is composed of it as well. Dark Magic is used in and manifests in far more varied ways than Light Magic. Due to this instead of examining the sources in detail, I will examine the manifestations.

The most obvious manifestation is the Queen. She seems to be composed of pure darkness, save her face. Dark lightning crackles where she touches the ground. Yorda is seen in this form for a brief period, though she appears as pure darkness without even a face. Similar to this 'darkness' is the darkness of the portals from which the spirits emerge. When they close, they emit a puff of smoke which is in turn similar to the smoky substance the Spirits are made of.
The Spirits seem to be composed of part this smoky substance, part a body of darkness like the Queen's, but which fades away when the smoke around it disperses, and a very small part Light Magic. Lightning does not arc between them and the ground; however they do seem to leave 'splashes' of darkness when they come in contact with the ground.
The final manifestations are the Queen's more direct powers. Her attack is a dark sphere which expands from wherever she is and petrifies anyone caught in it. Along the edge where it meets the ground a border of green and white surrounds the darkness. Her shield appears as more of a teal sphere which surrounds her.


Interactions between Light and Dark

The relationship between Light and Dark Magic is one of the most difficult topics to analyse in Ico. The nature of each type of magic and how they relate ties into their independent manifestations as listed already, and into their interactions, which I will examine briefly now.
In general, Light Magic beats Dark Magic. The lightning form of Light Magic can be used to attack. This is seen when Yorda activates the Idol Doors with spirits nearby, the lightning arcs from the doors to the Spirits and destroys them instantly. The Sword, which has this lightning along its edge, destroys Spirits on contact as well, and is also able to dispel the Queen's shield and kill her. Items which contain Light Magic can be used to defend. In the final battle, both the statues in the throne room and the Sword protect a small area around them from the Queen's attack.
However, it is more complicated than that. The Casket Chamber appears to use Light Magic to bring Yorda back as a Spirit. The Spirits which chase Ico and Yorda around seem to have some element of Light Magic about them.

All of this is not even enough to give us a complete picture of how the two powers interact. It is certainly not enough to tell us what each power actually is. However, observations about the major elements related to each kind of magic can tell us something about it. And so, it is time to begin the analysis proper.


Written by Crumplecorn


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