Ico: Castle in the Mist Review: Everything a Video Game Tie-In Should Be

Ico: Castle in the Mist is a novelization of the video game Ico as imagined by a dedicated fan – Japanese author Miyuki Miyabe. Published in 2004 in Japan, it has finally been brought to our shores, translated by video game localizer Alexander O. Smith. The book is not a direct explanation of what happens in the game; rather, it’s a retelling of the story, with details that flesh out the missing pieces. Instead of coming out a horribly uncreative jumble, as books based on video games often are, Miyabe has woven an intricate and beautiful tale that embellishes and enhances what the game creators have already made.

Author: Miyuki Miyabe
Publisher: Viz Media
Release Date: August 16, 2011

Miyuki Miyabe was so taken with the video game Ico that she wrote her novelization of it, basing it around the background we didn’t get to see. Not only does she give dimensions to both Ico and the girl he finds in the castle, Yorda, but she also gives explanations to everything – why Ico is chosen to break the spell, how the Castle in the Mist became the way it is, why Yorda was locked in the cage, and even what significance the sword has to the characters. She’s also added in some new characters and scenes, giving even more layers to the book.

She takes us through Ico’s role as Sacrifice, starting with his imprisonment and the making of the Mark, which he must wear to the castle. But we are given so many extra layers – everything the characters are doing holds a meaning for later in the story, and part of what happens changed the way I felt about the story in the game. In fact, reading this story made me feel differently about entire sections of the game, and I’m looking forward to playing the HD remake more than ever before.

The writing is gorgeous, and flows in a way that is simple and graceful. The fragility of Yorda, the persistence and determination of Ico, the pure evil of the queen – these things come through in both descriptions and dialogue. While the characters remain mostly mute in the game, Miyabe has given them the ability here to explore one another and discuss not just how they got to where they were, but how to free themselves. Their relationship blooms and is almost more precious on the page than it is in the game. But I have to admit – one of the sweetest things I’ve ever experienced in any medium is the fact that in the game, you save your progress by grabbing Yorda’s hand and pulling her down onto a couch with you. It’s a special touch that shows the affection the creators have for their own characters.

While there’s nothing here that will spoil aspects of the game for you, there are things that will definitely color how you see the game. If you read this novel before ever playing the game, I feel that you might be cheating yourself of a mysterious and enchanting experience. My advice is to play the game first, absorb those characters and enjoy the story, and then, if you decide you want to add to what you already found to be a satisfying and beautiful experience, pick up the book – and inhale it. Of course, this isn’t only relevant if you like the game – unlike many novel adaptations of books, this story could stand on its own as a strong piece of art without any experience with the game. But with the Ico and Shadow of the Colossus Collection coming out on September 27, it’s worth the wait.

Ico: Castle in the Mist is a simple yet compelling novel, and is a worthy read for a wide audience – from dedicated fans of the game to those who enjoy reading fantasy. It’s not just an excellent video game novelization – it’s an example of what video game novelizations should be, and could be if companies hired authors who were passionate about them. I can’t recommend this book enough. It’s a quick read, yet has a nice depth and density to it. Smith’s translation is smooth, drawing out Miyabe’s elegant writing style. And I honestly can’t think of a better way to spend my time than by finding out more about Ico and Yorda – even if it’s not by the original creators of the game.

Review Disclosure: A retail copy of Ico: Castle in the Mist was purchased by Warp Zoned for the purposes of this review.

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Nicole Kline is Warp Zoned's Senior Editor. She first began preparing for the job by climbing a milk crate to play Centipede in an arcade. You can find her on PSN under the name toitle or you can email her at nicole AT warpzoned DOT com.

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