Heavily influenced by biblical events, El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron is the latest game from Ignition Tokyo. The title itself, El Shaddai, translates to “God almighty.” When a game developer delves into a mature storyline, there are a lot of ways for the story to go wrong or the gameplay can suffer from neglect. Keep reading to find out if El Shaddai belongs with the fallen angels.
The main story of the game is based off the Deuterocanonical Book of Enoch. Seven angels, known as the watchers, have defied God by going down to Earth to establish their own society of angels and humans. Enoch is ordered to find the watchers and imprison them for all of eternity. Enoch is aided by a special guardian named Lucifel, yes the same Lucifel who falls from heaven and establishes the domain of Hell. Lucifel gives Enoch advice, but spends most of his time talking to God on a cell phone about Enoch’s progress. It seems the angels are found of some human technology like cell phones and umbrellas. Enoch is also aided by four archangels, who take the form of swans and whose voices guide Enoch along his path.
The story is both engaging and told in a manner that is approachable to the player. There are few cutscenes in the game. Most of the story comes from the archangels that speak as you play through a level. This flows very nicely, since you don’t need to break up the action, and it disguises the empty parts of the environment.. If you have to run across a stretch of the environment, you might as well have some story to listen to. Story is also presented through Lucifel, who serves as a save point for the player. Whenever you start to approach Lucifel you will hear him talking to God. Most of the time, he will just be restating your progress, but he does provide some foreshadowing and extra details. For example, he’ll say “yea, he’s got all three weapons now.” It is a little odd that Lucifel is talking about Enoch with Enoch standing right in front of him, but it is still very useful dialogue.
El Shaddai is one of those games that is really hard to put down, because you can’t wait for the next piece of the story. Throughout the length of the game, the player is given little pieces of information that don’t seem important when you first hear them. Later on, all the little pieces come together to give you a clear picture about what is going on. For example, Enoch will be told that the fallen angels are shielded. Then in a later level, the player will see a large tower in the distance. As Enoch approaches the tower, Lucifel mentions something about a society. Finally, Enoch will learn that the fallen angels built the tower as a new society for humans and to hide from God, and the children of angels and humans are weird blobs known as nephillim. Before you know it, you have played several levels into the game and there are still more breadcrumbs for the player to follow.
The level design is some of the best that has been presented in a video game. Every single level is different and has its own unique feel. For example, one level is bathed in light and waterfalls, there is a level with greyish green sky and a silvery floor, another is simply a platform of floating pieces of thin metal, that sag under your weight, and there is also a rocky mountain pass that is destroyed by fire balls. The third person action is broken up periodically by 2D platforming levels. These levels remain just as unique as the 3D levels, with some levels being light and colorful and other levels being dark and filled with obstacles. The music for each of the levels is also really great and adds to the uniqueness of each of the levels.
Unfortunately, gameplay lags behind the level design and story. There are three weapons in the game: the Arch, the Gale, and the Veil. The Arch is a quick melee weapon, the Gale is a ranged attack weapon, and the Veil is a slower but stronger melee weapon. All three weapons are unlocked fairly early on in the game, so you will have plenty of time to get used to them. Most of the enemies you fight also use the same three weapons. One of the major mechanics in the game is the ability to steal weapons from enemies. Once you hit an enemy a few times, and a quick press of a button will let you steal their weapon and use it yourself. At first, this feature was a little annoying, but later on as more enemies are thrown at you, it is easy enough to get whatever weapon you want to use. There is a rock, paper, scissors element to the combat where a weapon is effective against one enemy type but not another. If you are using the wrong weapon against an enemy, you can still take them down, but it will take a few more hits. Initiation of combat becomes predictable and it is easy to tell when you will have to fight a group of enemies. Also, hitting square is really the only thing you can do to attack. There are additional heavy attacks you can do, but mostly you are going to be mashing square. At least the animations are stylish and Enoch swings a blade as if he is dancing to the level music.
Boss battles have plenty of variety to them, with bosses changing up their attack patters quite a few times. The arena where you fight the bosses will have tokens to switch between weapons. These respawn after a short time, so switching weapons on the fly isn’t that difficult. This also comes in handy for fighting the bosses with whatever weapon they might be weakest against. For example, Enoch fights a giant bat early on in the game. Since it is a fast boss that can easily hit you, the Gale is a good choice for attacking it at a distance. After enough hits, the bat will fall down and this is a good time to switch to the Arch and do a lot of damage.
El Shaddai took a gamble that paid off for them. Religion is a touchy subject. If developers aren’t careful, they can alienate gamers that think the story was handled too immaturely. Ignition Tokyo takes enough liberty with the biblical material to create a fresh feel to the game, and the story doesn’t feel forced at all. Although the combat is very simplistic and strategy isn’t very deep, the boss battles will make you use all the tools at your disposal and larger groups of enemies will have Enoch dancing around the arena like a deadly ballerina. Indy games may have help a monopoly on “artistic” games, but El Shaddai shows them how beautiful a game can be on a big budget.
PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score
+ Amazing Level Design
– Combat is Simplistic and Predictable