What do you get when a Japanese game developer interprets the apocryphal bible tale of the Book of Enoch? You get one of the most original, quirky and slap-yo-momma gorgeous games in years.
“El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron” is more than just a mouthful of a title. It’s also a fanciful retelling of the Deuterocanonical Book of Enoch, in which several angels tasked with watching over mankind begin to breed with them and create a violent race of giants. Enoch must stop the seven fallen angels from recreating the world in their image. Enoch’s sidekick is Lucifel, a pre-fall Satan who saves your progress by calling God on a cell phone and telling him how the mission is going. The story is a little hard to follow, but the sheer shock and awe of the tale will probably leave you satisfied. The strength of the story relies on little incongruent elements like cell phones and modern slang being used by angels who traditionally sport togas and halos. It may be disconcerting at first, but it gives the game a feeling of being “outside of time” and helps carve its own unique niche amongst all the biblically-inspired fiction out there. You may have seen God, the Devil and the archangels before, but never ever like this.
Before you read another word of this review, check out the screenshots above this article. This is one of the most beautiful games ever created--hands down. Its good looks aren’t due to some new processing power or high-tech wizardry, but rather a fearless exploration of light, color and geometric shapes. Combine these heavenly visuals with inventive music that runs the gamut from orchestral to acid jazz, but never fails to get the blood pumping, and you have a great presentation.
“El Shaddai” is primarily a third-person action game akin to “Devil May Cry” and “Okami,” which makes sense considering the game’s lead designer, Takeyusa Sawaki, worked on those games as well. However, unlike “Devil May Cry,” “El Shaddai” relies on only one attack button. The rhythm of your button presses determines what move you perform. The primary focus in combat is to take your opponents weapon with a cool disarming ability and use it against him.
You’ve got three entries in your angelic armory to choose from: a cool-looking laser harp/sword (yes, you heard me), a pair of defensively-minded shield/gauntlets and a ring that fires darts at your opponent. Each weapon also gives you new abilities like air dashes, which are essential for the game’s many side-scrolling platforming sequences.
In fact, “El Shaddai” frequently breaks from its third-person view and puts the player in beautiful 2-D sections that play like classic “Megaman” games. There’s also the occasional motorcycle segment, which features Enoch racing down the streets of the Tower of Babel while battling enemies. These sideshow gameplay moments aren’t as finely tuned as the main game, but variety is the spice of life, and they fulfill their function nicely.
The game is only about ten hours long, and other than a desire to figure out the story or perfect your combat skills, there’s not much to bring you back for another playthrough. I’m not saying they should have slapped on some half-baked multiplayer modes, but a series of challenges would have been nice. Its length is disappointing compared to the designer’s previous work, “Okami,” which clocked in at over 50 hours. The plus side of “El Shaddai’s” brevity is that no moment feels wasted.
The visuals of “El Shaddai” have been turning heads ever since the game was announced, and for good reason. Stunning, surreal geometric vistas and truly strange character designs will please and challenge your eyes and mind. The game looks something like the love child of “Evangelion,” a Lady Gaga music video, the “Zone of Enders” series and a whole fistful of Miyazaki movies. The music is equally inventive, switching from angelic choral and orchestral sounds to dark and hellish tones as the mood requires. The voice acting is also good. Lucifel’s lines are delivered with casual, earthy realism.
Yes, it’s short. Yes, there’s not much to do with it once you beat it. However, this game is simply something that has to be experienced. It’s one of the craziest and prettiest games I’ve ever played, and the go-to game of the year for gamers hungry for something unique.