ICO You Were There

The Spirits

Constantly pursuing Ico and Yorda as they make their way around the fortress are the Spirits. These shadow-like creatures serve the Queen and are tasked with returning Yorda to captivity. They are weak enough that Ico can fight them and win, but there seems to be no limit to their numbers.
Throughout the story the Spirits provide a constant threat, but towards the end one group of harmless Spirits gives Ico a hint as to his fate had he not escaped. The destruction of these Spirits seems to be the final step in the Queen's plan to take over Yorda's body.
The Spirits initially appear to be Dark Magic creatures, however they are also seem to have a connection to Light Magic, as well as people long since dead. Who they are and how they became what they are are of great significance to the overall story.


The origin of the spirits

There are two areas to examine when considering where the Spirits came from; who they are and what they are. I will start with the former. The biggest suggestion of the true identity of the Spirits is towards the end of the story, in the Casket Chamber. The Spirits Ico encounters here bear a striking resemblance to himself. As Ico destroys them one by one the caskets light up one by one, suggesting that each of the Spirits is somehow connected to one of the caskets. Since boys like Ico were sacrificed in each of the caskets, it is not a huge leap of logic to conclude a link between the Spirits and the boys who were sacrificed there. The obvious link is that they either are the other boys, or are some part of themselves they left behind after they died. There is further support for this idea in that the purpose of the sacrifice of the boys was very likely the activation of the Casket Chamber and destroying these Spirits seems to be the final step in doing this. Thus it seems the Spirits are in some way the sacrificed boys, and it is likely that the other Spirits in the fortress are also dead people.
While the fact that the Spirits in the Casket Chamber look like Ico makes this all relatively obvious, it is less apparent with the other Spirits as for the most part they do not look like people at all. There is evidence which supports the extension of this explanation of the Spirits identity to cover all the other Spirits as well though. Some of the Spirits that Ico encounters outside the casket chamber do look quite like people; one type in particular actually looks very like an adult version of Ico. There is a statue outside the Tower which also appears to be an adult version of Ico, which suggests a link between the adults with horns and the Fortress, and thus opening the possibility of adult version Spirits.
As for the ones which do not look like people at all, the biggest difference is that they have wings, whether functional or not. While the Spirits of the boys in the casket chamber do not have wings as such, they do demonstrate a limited ability to fly. Since they are obviously magical or supernatural in nature, it is not difficult to imagine that their physical form may change over time, forming wings to enhance their ability to fly. Thus it is possible that the Spirits seen outside the casket chamber are simply older Spirits, which have changed their form over time. This makes sense as the boys who were sacrificed were apparently brought to the Fortress after it was already devoid of living people, thus making them younger, less developed Spirits.

Having determined in some general sense who the Spirits are, or were, the next thing to look at is what exactly they are. This is related to the nature of Dark Magic, as they are Dark Magic beings of some kind. Whether Dark Magic is actually magic or is more supernatural determines the nature of the Spirits. That is a separate topic related to all the magic in the story and how it all fits together, however it is the idea that the Spirits are dead people that suggests that Dark Magic is more supernatural than magical.
There is another part of the Spirits which is even more significant to the relationship between Light and Dark magic however. The 'eyes' the Spirits have appear to be Light Magic. The colour and glow of these 'eyes' is reminiscent of the glowing runes on the devices in the fortress. Given the consistency with which the magic in the story manifests, this is unlikely to be a coincidence, and suggests that some part of the Spirits is actually Light Magic. This may be related to how the destruction of the Spirits in the Casket Chamber can activate Light Magic devices, the caskets, despite the fact that the Spirits are Dark Magic beings.

An important topic to consider is how the people who become Spirits do so, and why they do so. I mentioned in the section on the Casket Chamber that it is possible that being sacrificed in this manner is the common thread, but it in unlikely since there are a large number of Spirits throughout the fortress, and completion of the sacrifice seems to require the destruction of the Spirits anyway.
Given that almost all of the Spirits appear to have horns similar to Ico's, it seems likely that in life they all shared the trait the results in these horns. This is likely the link between all the people who become Spirits. It is possible that anyone who bears this mark is fated to become a Spirit after death.


The types of spirits

Thus far I have only discussed the Spirits which chase Ico and Yorda around the fortress. The Queen and, for a time, Yorda are also Spirits, however their appearance and power suggest they are different in some way from the rest of the Spirits. This is why I often refer to them in particular as 'Dark Beings'.
The most obvious distinction between them and the other Spirits is the differences in their appearance. The Spirits throughout the Fortress appear to have bodies made of a black smoke-like substance, which is damaged by Ico's attacks. They have eyes of a sort, which appear to be Light Magic. Their overall appearance generally falls somewhere between people and some sort of flying creatures.
Yorda and the Queen, while apparently similar, seem to be made of a purer darkness rather than the tangible smoky material which comprises the Spirits. This gives them a more defined shape, such that Yorda in this form actually looks like a silhouette of her other form. Neither of them show any sign of Light Magic, although the Queen is apparently capable of showing a more human face when she so desires.

While the Spirits which chase Ico and Yorda seem to be fairly simple creatures, relying on physical strength to complete their task, the Queen at least commands some impressive powers. It is in this that the two types of Spirits are truly set apart. The ease with which Ico dispatches the Spirits throughout the fortress suggests that, if they truly are something left behind by the dead, they are a remnant weakly hanging on to existence. Despite some interesting abilities, such as flight and the use of the portals, they could actually be considered an inferior form to that of a living person. The Queen on the other hand is indisputably a far more powerful being than normal people, and rather than hanging on to existence she is actually far stronger than those who are still alive. Rather than simply being a person in another form, or a remnant of a person, she has become something more.
How exactly Yorda fits into this is unknown. She shares the same form as the Queen for a time, but we cannot tell if she shares any of her powers during this time as well.

The basic difference between the two types of Spirits seems to be what part of the original person they are. Exactly how the Spirits throughout the Fortress relate to the people they apparently came from is unknown. They might not even be related to the original people in anything other than physical appearance. They do not seem to have distinct personalities or a will of their own. When Yorda becomes a Spirit she seems to be the same person, only in a different form, and the Queen is quite obviously a complete person. The Queen and Yorda seem to truly be dead people brought back in another form, whereas the other Spirits, while related, seem to be something else.


I will at some point write a second section about the Spirits speculating more about how they may relate to life and death.


Written by Crumplecorn


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