Ico’s soundtrack, just like the game itself, shrouds you in mystery, throws you through melancholy and back again. The soundtrack holds 16 tracks, which only comes to just under half an hour of music, but for what it lacks in quantity it makes up for in quality.
Full of ambience, Ico’s composer, Michiru Oshima, has used three chords as a main base and constructed them in numerous ways to provide a sense of loneliness, loss, confusion and emptiness. This is done through ancient sounding guitars, ambient noises and little twinkle flurries in the background. Sometimes these chords are only barely noticeable, but the more you listen, the more appreciate the sheer intricacy of sound.
“Prologue” begins the album with an ambient breeze tune, which sets up an epic, tense atmosphere for the journey ahead. “Coffin” deepens this and adds grating sounds of confusion and isolation with music you’d more likely associate with Silent Hill! The combination of the two and the grandeur of the percussion and choir synths make it a track that will blossom with you the more you listen. “Impression” is where the soundtrack begins to take form though, introducing the three chords used for the female lead in the game, Yorda. This song comes across as a mirage, just like the flowing sounds have floated out from the mist.
“Castle In The Mist” is the first full-length song of the album, and makes up one of the two “real” songs of the album. It once again uses the three chords to fantastic effect with a couple of acoustic guitars and a bass one. The result is a fascinating blend of hypnotic chords, enhanced with layers with emotive guitar playing that captivated the listener with awe. The album is worth buying for just this song alone.
“Beginning” is an empty piano track that reflects the start of a friendship. The piano lingers after every line to give emphasis on the slow-but-steady Yorda’s need for help, almost as if it’s taking the song one step at a time. It’s a lovely song, if a little too short.
“Who Are You” reverts back to the three chords again, but with blunted synths to bring out surprise and unease, while “Darkness” is the first song to so far in the soundtrack to actually have a drum beat! The song comprises of ambient noises, which reflect darkness, pain and fear. This song is best listened to in the dark at night. In complete contrast, “Heal” is a happy little ditty, that is both melodic and angelic in the way it is played and the way it swings around the speakers. Sadly this too is a short piece and it always has you on the repeat button, it’s that soothing.
“The Gate” is back to normal again, with ambient sweeps of bottle whispers and hearts beating in the background, while “Queen” is a lengthier, dramatic song involving the same instruments.
“Continue” is the final melodic song in the game apart from the ending song, and it doesn’t disappoint. If you’ve ever heard raindrops falling down and thought you could make a song out of it, this is it. The drops spin round and round with lonely echoes, which continues the themes of loneliness and emptiness that’s held throughout the game. This song is truly hypnotic.
“Déjà vu” returns to the ambient slices and noises of before, before “Shadow” gives you a truly haunting song with muted flutes and xylophones with a female voice in the background, nearly screaming a tune out. That placed on dark humming noises makes for a terrifically dark piece. “Entity” continues the theme but with much more urgency with what sounds like a very convincing orchestra pounding out the strings to an operatic background vocal. The collection but together builds you up for the climax, which is the very empty “Collapse” which brings back the three chord pattern again to echo sounds through the mist and then out again into the open world.
Of course, the Vocal song “Ico – You Were There” rounds off the album nicely. The songs sung in a very high key, with a lovely melodic keyboard overriding ambient noises in the background. The song uses minimal instruments to emphasis just how strong melodies can be (i.e. the bond between Ico and Yorda) and gives us a climactic heartbreaking song, which leaves us shrouded in mystery once more in the ambient waves.
To get the maximum feeling of this journey through the mist, you need to listen to it uninterrupted and maybe even in the dark, but rarely does ambient music capture such raw emotions and leave you in a hypnotic state all at once. Mesmerising.