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Game Review: El Shaddai

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if the Japanese reinterpreted Christian scripture?  No?  Well, they’ve done it anyway with El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron.  But to be fair, it’s not the scripture per se.  Firstly, El Shaddai (which in Hebrew roughly means “God Almighty”) is based on the Book of Enoch, which is only used in Judaism & not Christianity.  Secondly, there’s a caption at the beginning of loading the disc that states the game was developed by a diverse group of individuals (similar to Assassin’s Creed).  So, what’s the result of this unlikely combination?

Since when did Heaven get blue jeans?

In El Shaddai, you play as Enoch, the great-grandfather of Noah.  While working as a scribe in Heaven, Enoch learns that God plans to flood the world because a group of angels have rebelled against him, fallen to earth & are leading men astray.  In order to prevent this flood, Enoch begs God that he will go to earth & purify these fallen angels, thus freeing men of their influence.  So Enoch is sent, along with the aid of his guardian angel Lucifel & the archangels.  In order to defeat, & thus purify the fallen angels, Enoch must climb the Tower of Babel the angels built.  Along the way, there’s a prophecy of Ishtar, a woman who will defeat the angels & free the nephilim, the offspring of angels & humans, who are cursed to eternally live in sin & suffering.

Combat has its own rhythm

Gameplay-wise, El Shaddai is an action-platformer.  You’ll spend a lot of time guiding Enoch through platforms, ledges & pitfalls.  Along the way you’ll fight with various enemies using three different weapons, which you can steal from any enemy once you’d knocked them unconscious.  The Gale is the fastest, a long-ranged set of projectiles, followed by the Arch, a curved blade that gives you the ability to hover when you jump, & the Veil, the heaviest but strongest of the weapons that also doubles as a shield.  Each Chapter in the story involves a new floor of the tower, ruled over by a fallen angel.  After making your way through the different stages on each floor, you’ll face off with a boss before moving on to the next floor.  Stages switch between 3D & 2D areas, which the 2D areas consisting almost entirely of platforming.

Story: To be completely honest, I spent most of the game going, “What the hell is going on?”  Most of what I know about the story came from the synopsis on the packaging.  That’s not to say that you can’t follow what’s going on during the game.  It’s pretty straightforward: defeat the angels.  But it seems like there’s a lot of back-story the game never explains but assumes you know.  If this is a ploy to get more people to read the Book, it might work.  Another problem is there isn’t a lot of characterization of the… well, characters.  Enoch doesn’t really say much, but we assume he’s a good person since he’s going to all this trouble to save humanity.  But who’s the Nana girl following Enoch?  And why do I get a sinister feel from Lucifel?  Is the game hinting at a sequel where he tries to overthrow God (Lucifel/Lucifer was the Devil’s name)?  Explain, please!  Score: 2

2D sections are pure platforming

Gameplay: Gameplay works but gets repetitive.  The platforming is solid, & can get challenging at times.  Platforming in 3D is made a little easier by watching Enoch’s shadow on the ground, but you won’t always have time.  There were also two sections that almost made me want to give up on the game because the jumps seemed impossible & when you fall you restart at the last section before the platforming.  The change between 3D & 2D is nice.  Each is in its own area, so the shift doesn’t get confusing.  On the other hand, combat works well, but gets predictable.  Anytime you get to an open space, assume enemies are going to spawn in.  Combat is fast & easy to pick up.  Stealing weapons from enemies never gets tiring.  But for most of the game, it’s just jump some platforms, fight, jump some more platforms, fight, run down a corridor… it gets a bit boring.  But I will say El Shaddai has three good gameplay features.  One is that if you fall in battle, you can continue the fight by rapidly pressing the left & right shoulder buttons.  This means you should never have to restart from the last save.  Second, the boss fights are impressive & each have their own strategy.  My two favorite bosses were the Fire Nephilim, which is a massive boss you fight on a tiny platform waiting for it to attack, & the first fight with Armaros, whom you don’t actually fight but instead fight his back-up dancers while he dances in the front (& sometimes right on my screen).  The third excellent feature was in Chapter 6, where you spend the entire level on a motorcycle in a futuristic world, trying to outrun enemies before fighting a Transformer wannabe.  However, these sequences are few & far between, & the repetitiveness of the rest of the game pulls them down.  If anything, it’s worse, because it shows the potential for some really unique gameplay elements.  Score: 3

Visuals & Audio: The first thing you’ll probably think when you start this game is, “Oh my god it’s gorgeous!”  El Shaddai’s presentation is top-notch.  One of the lead developers was Takeyasu Sawaki, a character designer for Devil May Cry & Okami, & he definitely knew how to bring the style.  Visually, the game is stunning.  Characters have an appealing, anime-inspired, cell-shaded design.  But it’s the environments that deserve most of the praise.  Each chapter has its own unique look.  But it’s not about pixel count, it’s the style.  It’ll be the desire to see what the next level looks like that keeps you playing this game.  One level I was in a barren tundra with a shiny glass surface, the next I’m transported to something that looks like it belongs in Akira, then I’m underwater, then I’m getting sucked into darkness.  Really, I could keep gushing about the visuals, but it’s easier to just show you:

         

The audio is also very nice, with a variety of scores matching the mood the stages, most of which include chorus vocals, which I typically always enjoy.  The voiceacting is pretty good as well.  Score: 5

Replayability: Low to medium, depending on the player.  Personally, I only played through once, but there are lots of features to unlock.  Beating the game once unlocks Hard & Extra mode.  You unlock better armors for Enoch.  You also unlock the ability to select which chapter you want to play & get scored on your performance.  Score: 3

Overall Score: 3

Final Words: I’m disappointed I couldn’t give this game a better score.  If the developers had taken the same risks with gameplay as they had with the visuals, this could’ve been a great game.  There are a few shining moments of what could’ve been, but sadly it falls a bit flat.  That being said, I still highly recommend renting this game for the art style alone.  It really is amazing & gamers owe it to themselves to see what’s possible.  It’s definitely an experience.

– GamerDame

Title: El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron
Console: 360 & PS3
Rating: T
Developer: Ignition Tokyo
Publisher: Ignition Entertainment
Release Date: August 16, 2011

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Filed under Action, Platformer, PS3, Reviews, XBox 360

First Impressions: El Shaddai

I can honestly say that I have no idea what’s going on in El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron.  I made it to Chapter 03, which is actually the fourth chapter because it started on Chapter 00, & I know as much about the plot as I did when I started.

What I can tell is that El Shaddai is based on the Book of Enoch.  This is a non-canonical book (meaning not part of the traditional Bible) believed to have been written by Noah’s great-grandfather, Enoch, before the Flood.  Now, as I’ve never read the book, I can’t say how closely El Shaddai matches it.

Everything I know about the plot of El Shaddai I got from reading the plot synopsis on Gamefly’s website.  Basically, you play as Enoch, a human who worked as a scribe in Heaven.  After several angels rebeled against God & go down to Earth, God became angry & planned to flood the world.  However, Enoch pleads with God to instead let him capture the seven fallen angels, thus protecting the world from God’s wrath.  I can also tell you that it takes Enoch over 300 years to locate the Tower of Babel where the angels are hiding.  Each level of the Tower is home to a separate angel, & Enoch must traverse each to capture them.

The game gets confusing right from the start.  It opens up with a dark-haired man in trendy dark clothing telling me about a man who had 72 names who was essentially immortal.  Then the scene cuts to the same guy talking to a blonde man, who is Enoch, dressed in centurion armor.  Then the game drops me into a sumo fight with some cyclops the game caption tells is a Watcher.  Because it doesn’t tell me any controls, I promptly die.  But apparently I was supposed to, because the story goes back some & starts at a semi-proper place.  I say “semi-proper” because it starts with Enoch going to Earth but doesn’t explain anything really before then.

I don’t typically use this term, but this game is trippy.  The first level I’m lowered to Earth by what I can only assume is the hand of God.  I run around this shiny ice wasteland, breaking alien-looking containers & fighting shadow imps (that’s not what they’re called, but that’s what they look like to me).  After a mini-boss fight, I get this weird loading screen where I can practice fighting while the game loads, which scrolling images in the background tell the story up to 300+ years after Chapter 00.  Note to game developers, I can’t pay attention to what’s in the background when I’m trying to fight.  But basically it was Enoch meeting different people while searching for the Tower.

After finding the Tower in some space rift, I swear I’ve fallen into a scene from Akira.  Even the music sounds like something from that movie.  But why is the scene so diabolically futuristic when I’m fighting men wearing tribal masks?  I stopped questioning the game right around the time I fought shooting stars using space lasers.  I guess the game gets around this by saying all knowledge comes from the Fruit of Knowledge, & therefore from God, so angels have advanced technology.

Oh, & the dark-haired man I mentioned before is Lucifer, my wing-man.  That’s right, the Devil acts as my save point.  (For those of you unfamiliar with Christian history, Lucifer is the proper name for the Devil, & he was an angel before he was overcome by pride & tried to overthrow God, after which he was cast out of Heaven).  Enoch talks to Lucifer, who in turn calls God on a cellphone of all things, keeping up with my progress & saving the game.  He also narrates the story in between chapters & occasionally gives me advice during the game.  If he betrays me later, I’m going to be so disappointed, as it will be the most blatant betrayal in the history of gaming.

But for all of its trippiness, the game is unique so far.  The visuals & sound are absolutely stunning.  Characters are anime-styled & cell-shaded.  The environments, while linear & very limited, are beautiful.  Each floor of the Tower is distinct.  The game switches from 3D to 2D levels, which are just as beautiful & trippy.

Gameplay also switches from combat to platforming.  Mostly you run along the path given, jumping over gaps & whatnot.  But occasionally enemies pop up in designated areas & you’ll fight them.  Combat is fast but not overwhelming, & you have three different weapons which you can steal from enemies, which has yet to cease being amusing.

I’ll have to wait until I finish before I can say if the story ever starts making sense.  But what I can say now is that, in spite of the game’s incoherence & general sense of WTF-ness, I feel compelled to continue.  Even if it’s only to see what weirdness it has in store for me.

– GamerDame

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