Ico’s secret language and the scenes you never got to see

Ico isn’t a wordless videogame. But memories of our time with it tend to playback in our minds as if it were. It’s all waving gestures, holding hands, slumped sofa sleep. The reason for this is obvious: it lacks dialogue. The relationship between the two main characters—and what much of the game works around—is one without a shared tongue. Ico, the horned boy, speaks in an unknown language acquired from the village he was outcast from. While the ghostly prisoner of her mother’s stony coastal castle, Yorda, communicates in “Runic”—a fictional language invented by Team Ico member Kei Kuwabara using a simple cipher method (a symbol for each letter in our alphabet). Runic is produced by writing Japanese words in the English alphabet, getting rid of the vowels, and then reversing the spelling.

The reason you probably haven’t seen the Runic language before is due to it being exclusive to the Japanese version of Ico. It appears as subtitles when Yorda and her mother, the Queen, are speaking. It’s there to reinforce the communicative distance between the game’s characters, as we’re only ever allowed to understand what Ico says (apart from in New Game Plus—also exclusive to the Japanese version—in which the Runic subtitles are replaced with English ones).

While Runic is a neat detail to observe inside an already mysterious game, translations of it recently led to a breakthrough: the discovery of Ico‘s deleted scenes. GlitterBerri did the majority of the work. She’s a self-confessed Ico fan and translator who enjoys delving into games to excavate the information that was previously hidden away from our eyes. On this occasion, she was spurred on by a recent examination of Ico‘s script files, which revealed that the game comprises 115 subtitle cards, of which a massive 77 are completely unused. In other words, Team Ico created scenes with plenty of dialogue at one point, but cut the majority of it before the final release.

If you’ve played Ico you can understand why this decision was made. It’s a stronger game without words as this forces us to pay better attention to smaller expressions that tell us how a character is feeling. That said, any curious fan can’t possibly resist acquiring new information about Ico, and it turns out that what GlitterBerri’s translations of these unused subtitle cards revealed was a whole side of Yorda we never got to know.

a whole side of Yorda we never got to know. 

There are a few scenes in particular that were not realized in the final version of Ico that tell us much more about Yorda. We know Yorda as a timid and fragile spirit, but the first translated scene, titled “Yorda’s Rebellion,” shows her to be made of something thicker. It takes place near the end of the game not too long before Ico and Yorda manage to open the main gate of the Queen’s castle. Here’s how it goes:

Queen: I have had enough of waiting. Yorda, please try to understand. I do not wish to hurt you. You have always been at the forefront of my thoughts, and yet… You say you intend to leave me and run off to who-knows-where? You cannot live outside these walls.

Yorda: I know that…

Queen: Then why aren’t you here by my side?

Yorda: I’m not coming back. You’ve got it all wrong, Mother. I’m going to live the way I want to. Even if I have to pay for it with my life. It’s far better than surviving on the sacrifices of an innocent people.

Queen: What are you saying, Yorda? You have always been so obedient… Do you still not understand?

Yorda: That’s right. I’m not going to back down.

Queen: Is it the horned boy who has caused you to change so?

Yorda: He has nothing to do with this!

Queen: In any case, I shall have to issue him a little punishment. It will also serve to put his people in their place.

(The Queen presumably issues the punishment here.)

Queen: Ohoho. Are those horns of yours mere ornament? There, the wicked one is gone. Now, let’s go home, Yorda.

As GlitterBerri observes, this recovered dialogue “suggests that the ruler of the castle is prolonging her life by feeding off the life force of the sacrificed horned children, who continue to serve under her as shadows.” The shadows are the main enemies we fight as Ico in the game, as they try to pull Yorda into black pits, stealing her away from the boy. Some of them do resemble horned boys like Ico, and it’s known that Ico certainly isn’t the first from his village to have been locked away in the castle, so all of this adds up. 

She isn’t completely weak 

Moving on, we don’t know what the punishment is that the Queen throws at Ico in that scene, as that entire part is also cut and without subtitle cards so there’s no chance of it being found. But there is a scene after it we do know about thanks to GlitterBerri’s work. Appropriately titled “The Queen Punishes Ico,” it sees Yorda trying to stop her mother and then trying to help Ico, leading to an interesting revelation. Here’s how it goes:

Yorda: Stop! Are you alright?

Ico: Y, yes…

Yorda: I’m sorry… It’s my fault that this happened to you.

Ico: Where is she?!

Yorda: She’s not here… She vanished. Everything’s alright now.

Ico: You understood what I said just now, didn’t you?

Yorda: Yes…

Ico: In any case, we have to hurry…

While it seems that Ico is still unable to understand what Yorda says at this point, Yorda reveals that she can, in fact, understand what he is saying. Whether she has always known or if this is something that she acquires over the course of the game will remain an unknown for now (however, it’s worth noting that the Queen can understand Ico’s language too and speak to him in it, so perhaps Yorda has always had this ability). And so these deleted scenes offer a strange reversal of what our perception of Yorda is. She isn’t completely weak, nor does she seem to require the interdependence that exists between her and Ico—in fact, it’s Ico that seems to require it the most with this new perspective.

There are other, much smaller exchanges that GlitterBerri has revealed that further Yorda’s stronger personality so it’s worth going through the entire translation. You can read it here. You can also support GlitterBerri’s work on Patreon.