Whether it’s an Italian plumber or the world’s fastest hedgehog, gaming has created many recognisable heroes over the years. But surely, these characters couldn’t have saved galaxies and rescued princess on their own? In G Minor is here to celebrate the little guys of gaming, the supporting characters, the NPCs, the ones that make it possible for the heroes to achieve their goals, and sometimes even outshine the heroes themselves.
In order to discuss some characters in depth, we have to refer to a game’s story. Spoilers ahead!
For their relatively short time in the industry, and an even shorter development history, Team Ico has left a considerable impact on contemporary gaming. Their first release, the eponymous Ico presented a boy-meets-girl narrative through a Japanese folklore-inspired fantasy filter, in which the main character navigated through a series of beautiful environments with his companion, Yorda. The unique gameplay was lauded for the use of Yorda, giving players a heightened sense of responsibility for her as you helped her navigate castle ruins and defend her from otherworldly monsters. Ico quickly became one of the most original and memorable games of the previous console generation, breaking away from conventional narrative storytelling and gameplay, while still echoing the framework of the early 3D games which influenced it. “Filmic” has often been a word used to describe Team Ico’s games, due to their conveyance of themes and concepts rather than emphasising enjoyment or entertainment as the sole purpose of videogames, acting as positive candidates for the everlasting argument of “Can games be considered art?”, with director and lead designer Fumito Ueda even being cited as an “auteur” of videogames.
Having already been established as a promising face on the games industry, Team Ico took many of the minimalist themes, art style and parallels from Ico to develop their next game, Shadow of the Colossus. Much more action-oriented than its predecessor, ‘Colossus’ received critical acclaim for its expansion on Ico’s engaging game mechanics of exploration and adventure, while still feeling like a standalone game, often cited as a ‘spiritual successor’ rather than a sequel due to the recurring themes overlapping both games. For example, the boy-meets-girl skeleton of Ico’s story is seen in Shadow of the Colossus through the implied relationship between the hero and heroine, Wander and Mono, but also through the other main character, Agro.
It might seem odd to be analysing how something as mundane a character a horse can be so important to a game. In our last article on Zeke Dunbar from Infamous, we discussed the feelings of companionship that resonates between the player and the character on screen through the avatar of Cole MacGrath. This is very true for Agro as well. Like Zeke, the relationship between Agro and Wander is already established within the game’s canon, so there is no need for it to be justified to the player, though rather than a buddy-buddy relationship, Agro’s role is more akin to a willing servant.
One of the main factors that make Agro so integral to the game’s experience is how necessary she is to the player. Team Ico correctly juxtaposed the expansive, desolate, and beautiful game world of Shadow of the Colossus with only one means of travel: Agro. Tackling your entire journey on foot may be doable, but it makes for an incredibly more arduous and more lacklustre experience. The inherent nature of a horse as a mode of transport, your only mode of transport eases the player towards the idea of bonding with Agro as a result. Unlike other adventure games, Shadow of the Colossus doesn’t have any fast travel, NPCs to hire or taxis to drive you around the world. Your sole mode of transportation is Agro so the player feels a sense of responsibility, much like Princess Yorda in Ico, to make sure no harm comes to her, because the player knows that if they lose her, they can’t continue on in their quest. As such, the necessity of Agro’s existence in the game brings the player much closer to her, and also helps players perhaps appreciate how grateful they are for the modes of transportation in videogames which are often taken for granted. You’ll need Agro for traversing landscapes, jumping chasms, even fighting colossi, and building your relationship with your relationship with her because you’re doing it together.
The player also bonds with Agro very closely for more basic reasons. Consider the following: She’s a horse. Much like parents are attached to their babies, humans naturally find animals very easy to sympathise with because of their “inferior” nature. A more contemporary device used in not only videogames but also film and other mediums are the qualities of a mute character. Silent characters in videogames are often very endearing fan-favourites due to us as viewers and players linking their actions with connotations of childlike-ness and innocence, sometimes cluelessness. Generally speaking, a player can attach any kind of characteristic to a mute character and it will almost always be a characteristic they will be fond of. Agro is an example of this. She is the Silent Bob to your Jay, the Companion Cube to your Chell, and much like the Companion Cube meets a similar fate. Agro sacrificing herself to save you on the way to the final boss fight was a tremendously risky move for Team Ico, but a necessary test to gauge how invested players can be with a game’s characters. It’s a devastating feeling seeing a companion get killed off in a videogame, but Agro’s was an important factor in the fight with the final colossus. Having adventured throughout the entire game with your companion, your friend, fostering a dependent relationship with them, only to lose them leaves the player in total despair, which works in conjunction with the atmosphere, the sound, the looks and the sheer difficulty of the final boss fight so that it makes a far deeper emotional and experiential impact on the player, one that many games cannot successfully achieve.
Thankfully, Agro is revealed to have survived in the final cutscene, much to the relief of, well, everyone who completed the game. Agro is an example of how players can bond with characters given the environment they are in. Agro is vital to not only the game, but also the player. Both are dependent on each other and your relationship increases with each obstacle you help each other overcome, be it a dark ravine, an ancient city or a giant hulking golem. Combining many of the most endearing aspects of what a character can be, Agro acts not only as your trusty steed, but your loyal companion.
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