El Shaddai Review

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron (Available on PS3 and 360)
ESRB Rating: T
Players: 1
Genre: Action
Publisher: Ignition Entertainment
Developer: Ignition Tokyo
Release Date: July 26, 2011

Parent Talk: El Shaddai is an action game inspired by ancient religious texts, specifically the Book of Enoch. The book describes the fall of the “Watchers,” an order of angels charged to keep an eye on humanity. Unlike other modern action games with macho characters and gratuitous violence, El Shaddai’s religious tone sets the stage for a different experience. The complex narrative may turn off younger players.

Plays Like: Devil May Cry, in combat and platforming.

Review Basis: Completed on Normal, started again on Hard.

El Shaddai is quite the antithesis to modern action games.  Most action titles seek to embolden the player with macho power trips filled with guns and explosions. El Shaddai is dramatically different. The religious tone, humble lead character, and surreal visuals make for a unique and fulfilling experience.

The Great:

Amazing visual art. We love to analyze graphics and discern which games best represent what a console is capable of. You can have insanely high polygon counts or ridiculously realistic character models, but there’s something even greater out there. El Shaddai appeals to the group that clamors for excellent artistic aesthetic. Each world is full of splendor. They resemble works of gallery-worthy art rather than typical game set pieces. El Shaddai ranks high on the visually-impressive games list. The bright, vivid colors and sweeping environments help the game’s narrative move along and give it a sense of wonder and awe.

The Good:

+ Simple but satisfying. El Shaddai is beautiful, but ultimately an action game, and must be fun to be recommendable. Thankfully, Shaddai is well-designed; the mechanics are engaging and easy to grasp. Enoch can perform a jump or double jump, and attacking is all done with one button. Platforming sections are a joy thanks to tight, responsive controls.

+ Excellent combat. Enoch performs combos with continued presses of the attack button, though changing the timing of those presses results in different techniques, especially effective for countering enemies. Enoch has three available weapons: the Arch (a blade), Gale (a projectile), and Veil (shield/gauntlets). The weapons’ attributes make them effective in certain situations. However, Enoch doesn’t always carry weapons; he must acquire them from enemies. This evokes a Mega Man feel, with the weapon trio acting in a Rock-Paper-Scissors relationship. Enoch can also purify weapons with God’s grace, imbuing them with holy power.

+ Unique storytelling. Ignition issues a disclaimer, stating the game was put together by a multicultural team of various faiths and beliefs. Enoch is a priest chosen by God to find seven fallen angels and implore them to return to heaven. In doing so, he can prevent a cataclysmic, worldwide flood. Guiding Enoch is the angel Lucifel, along with four archangels Michael, Raphael, Uriel, and Gabriel. God and Lucifel exist outside the flow of time, so they can freely travel between them at will. Thus the story flows like a stream of consciousness—it’s also why strange things like Lucifel talking to God on a cell phone occur. Like a layered film, repeat views are beneficial.

+ Balanced difficulty. It’s tough to make a game accessible and challenging. Battles can be surprisingly tough, forcing you to adapt and learn to maximize the three unique weapons. However, Enoch can be prevented from dying. When his health is drained, mashing buttons can instantly revive him. You’re limited in doing this though. Easy and Normal modes offer what you would expect, but the harder ones dramatically increase the challenge.

The Bad:

– Difficult to follow. Not everyone enjoys a surreal story. El Shaddai may not be for everyone, especially those who prefer a more focused and consistent plot. El Shaddai is like the layered, art house film.

– Environments lack depth. Everything is eye candy, but the game can be bare if it’s stripped down to basics. Most sets are linear. There’s hardly room to explore and rarely any alternate pathways or secrets, aside from collectible texts. It’s true that action games don’t need to be as concerned with exploration, but some secret routes or optional quests would have greatly enhanced the experience.

– Platforming sections can be more difficult to traverse than perceived. This is due to visuals making some aspects difficult to discern.

– Repetitive combat.

The Ugly:

– Low polygon count. The art is fantastic, but more polish was needed.

The Lowdown:

El Shaddai is a love or hate it game. The slower, surreal tone, bizarre visuals and narrative, simplistic combat…everything about is just different. This is a rare case where none of those elements can plainly be called bad, but instead, they’re distinct design choices. If you love Japanese action games or want to explore outside of the mainstream, this is definitely worth a look.

Score: 8.0/10


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