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El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron




From its obscure title to the fact that it’s based on an ancient, religious text, “El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron” promises gamers something different, but is different necessarily better?

“El Shaddai” takes its inspiration from the Book of Enoch, a noncanonical Old Testament-era text. Enoch, a human scribe for God, travels to Earth to retrieve seven Watchers, powerful fallen angels who have fallen in love with humans and begotten a race called the nephelim. These Watchers have taken up residence in an enormous tower and, in typical video game fashion, have constructed their own distinct worlds. At Enoch’s side is Lucifel, yet to become the Prince of Darkness and still very much God’s right-hand man.

 
El Shaddai Game Cover Art.png

Developer(s) Ignition Entertainment
Publisher(s) Ignition Entertainment
Distributor(s) Konami (Europe)
Designer(s) Takeyasu Sawaki
Composer(s) Kouda Masato
Hasegawa Kento
Platform(s) PlayStation 3
Xbox 360
Release date(s)
  • JP April 28, 2011
  • NA August 16, 2011
  • EU September 9, 2011
Genre(s) Action
Mode(s) Single-player
Rating(s)
Media/distribution Blu-ray Disc
DVD

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron (エルシャダイ アセンション オブ ザ メタトロン Erushadai Asenshon obu za Metatoron?) is an action video game for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 video game consoles. It is developed and published by Ignition Entertainment. The development is led by Takeyasu Sawaki, who was a character designer in Devil May Cry and Ōkami.[1] The game was released on April 28, 2011 in Japan, on August 16, 2011 in North America, and will release September 9, 2011 in Europe. Ignition has stated that a version for Nintendo Wii U and PlayStation Vita may be developed.

Gameplay

El Shaddai is a third-person action game featuring platform game elements. The player's character, Enoch, starts the game unarmed and is able to steal weapons from his enemies. The game has three primary weapons. The first is the Arch, a curved blade which also allows the user to float for short periods. The second weapon is the Gale, a ring like weapon that provides a quick dash ability, and the power to fire small darts in rapid succession. The third weapon is the Veil, a shield that also acts as a pair of gauntlets, providing the strongest defense and a strong punch. The Gale is the fastest weapon of the three, the Veil being the slowest. All of the holy weapons become corrupt as they are used and routinely they have to be purified. A corrupt weapon is weaker than a purified weapon. The player performs combos with the rhythmic use of one button.

The levels flow and pulse with the energy and vibrancy of a living watercolor, making “El Shaddai” worth playing for its unusual look alone. Whether you’re jumping along the tops of billowing, wave-like clouds or racing along a skyway amidst a field of neon, there’s usually something fantastic to catch your attention. Complementing these gorgeous levels is a majestic, celestial soundtrack befitting an epic quest to hunt down rogue angels and spare humanity the purge of a great flood.

Enoch the scrivener doesn't mind getting his hands dirty. Originally chosen to document the deeds of the elders, this courageous human is cast down to Earth to round up fallen angels before God washes away their sins (and the lives of countless humans) in a devastating flood. That's no small task for a man who's far more comfortable with a quill in his hand. This intriguing setup is based on apocryphal tales from ancient Judeo-Christian texts, and those unfamiliar with the source material may find it difficult to follow along. Characters are introduced and then forgotten without much fleshing out, so absorbing details can be tricky. Although you might not understand everything being laid before you, the manner of storytelling is intriguing. Plot details are conveyed in a number of unique ways, which goes a long way toward keeping you invested. Animated cutscenes alongside still shots sprinkled with expository text make up the bulk of the narrative. But the more interesting story elements are woven into the gameplay. There are times when you run through simple 2D canvases with dialogue filling in important pieces, and the integration of story within the action gives added weight to the experience.

Though the levels are stunning to behold, they’re not always fun to play. “El Shaddai’s” gameplay is a blend of 2D and 3D platform jumping, plus third-person action combat akin to what you might find in a game like “God of War.” The 3D platforming is most difficult. Because of some frustrating camera angles, the only sure-fire way to judge where Enoch is jumping sometimes is the circular shadow that appears beneath him. But shifting backgrounds and occasionally inelegant controls make things harder than they need to be. What’s more, in a couple of spots, Ignition applies a visual filter that blocks your view of the action. (The effect is as if a small child fingerpainted on your TV screen. It looks cool and arty but ultimately impedes gameplay.)
Mercifully, there’s little penalty for Enoch’s falling to his death, short of having to replay that particular section. But it would’ve been nice if the solution to, “These jumping parts are too hard,” was, “Hey, let’s fix them,” rather than, “Let’s eliminate penalties for dying.”

While it's true that you may not grasp the esoteric story, you'll be hard pressed to tear your eyes from the screen thanks to the extraordinary visual design. El Shaddai takes place in an incredible-looking world that is an absolute pleasure to stare at. The abstractly-rendered environments defy description, exhibiting a wealth of imagination. Landscapes use a blend of flat textured surfaces with sharp colors to create a realm that is easy to lose yourself in. In one area, crosshatched black plains close in, suffocating you with their bleakness, and this confining sequence clashes wonderfully with the icy brightness of a serene outdoor vista. In another level, obsidian-black platforms encircled by an orange ring hover above a fiery red backdrop that conjures images of burning hellstone. In the distance, pastel fireworks dot the sky. Tribal chants interposed between psychedelic trance beats create an atmosphere that's difficult to shake out of your mind. The music enhances every step of your journey. Religious hymns, pulsing rock anthems, and calming guitar riffs cue up in key moments to temper your mood and keep you invested. 

With each successful strike, you visibly damage your maniacal foes. El Shaddai is played without a HUD (you do unlock an option to use one once you finish the game), though the expertly designed visuals ensure you're aware of all the information you need. Both you and your enemies wear armor that gets destroyed as you take damage. When you land a particularly powerful attack, you can see the effects of your anger displayed on their ravaged bodies. It's an empowering feeling to knock your well-armored opponents silly until they're just running around in their skivvies. That almighty feeling goes both ways. Enoch loses his precious protection as fights wear on, too, and there's no better feeling than when you win a fight after digging in your heels when you're at your end. If you do fall in battle, you can revive yourself if your fingers are quick. Slamming on the shoulder or face buttons brings you back to life, though each successive attempt is harder than the last. Waking up at the last possible second and then tearing your stunned opponent to shreds is absolutely exhilarating. 

This makes these fights both demoralizing and tedious. After about the third such conflict that Enoch had no shot at winning, I lost interest in trying. The first time I got to a fight against a Watcher that Enoch could actually win, it was a surprise when he fell in battle. Instead of watching yet another post-failure movie, I was prompted to mash buttons to help him rise to fight.

Plot

The story is inspired by the Deuterocanonical Book of Enoch, and follows Enoch (イーノック Īnokku?) (voiced by Blake Ritson[2]), a priest seeking seven fallen angels to prevent a great flood from destroying mankind.[3] He is helped in his quest by Lucifel (ルシフェル Rushiferu?) (voiced by Jason Isaacs[2]), a guardian angel in charge of the protection of the world who exists outside of the flow of time, and by four Archangels: Raphael (ラファエル Rafaeru?), Uriel (ウリエル Urieru?), Gabriel (ガブリエル Gaburieru?), and Michael (ミカエル Mikaeru?).

Underneath this abstract and ambitious surface, you find that El Shaddai is a straightforward action adventure that blends combat and platforming in both 3D and 2D settings. Although gorgeous, the various stages you inhabit are mostly linear, allowing only slight steps off the beaten path for the rare hidden item. This confinement does limit your chance to shake free of the shackles and stretch your legs in this pristine world, but this design choice is not without benefits. What El Shaddai lacks in freedom it makes up for in razor-sharp focus. There is a strong push to move forward at all times, and you find yourself running into fights, leaping between platforms, and sprinting across magnificent lands without a moment's hesitation. The visual and audio design do a great job of keeping you excited to push on ahead. New landmarks spring into view every few steps, calling you onward, and the varied soundtrack shifts between songs to ensure your ears are just as happy as your eyes. 

Development

El Shaddai began development in 2007 and was formerly known as Angelic: Ascension of the Metatron. A work in progress trailer featured different designs of the characters.
The game's aesthetic is anime-styled, loosely drawing on sources such as Studio Ghibli.
El Shaddai was promoted with a trailer shown at the 2010 E3 press conference , as well as the Tokyo Game Show. It was met with strong feedback, which has been attributed to a line of dialogue spoken by Lucifel to Enoch: "You sure that's enough armor?". This quote earned first place of the Net Buzzword Awards 2010 Grand Prix in Japan. Despite the trend being the creator's intention, it exceeded their expectations. Other than the game's promotional movies, pre-release merchandise such as Edwin jeans and action figures were available for sale. Bandai also produced several figures of the game's protagonist, which were featured in a Tamashii Features event in Akihabara, Osaka and Taipei.

El Shaddai is such a gorgeous game that it would have been worth playing even if the combat was merely average. But developer Ignition Entertainment gave reasons to play beyond its outstanding visual design. The combat system makes excellent use of its narrow moveset to create an enticing experience that demands focus and determination to prevail. And when you finish the game the first time, you unlock score attack missions that give you leaderboard challenges to strive for. There are some rough patches--camera troubles, repetitive enemies, and occasional framerate hitches among them--but nothing glaring enough to distract you from this wonderful journey. El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron is a delight to play, engaging your thumbs and your senses in one tidy package. 

That’s not to say “El Shaddai” isn’t enjoyable. The track record of video games based on religious texts is dominated by the Bible and isn’t particularly lengthy. The source material, gorgeous levels and stirring soundtrack will mean the game appeals to players on the lookout for something new. While some critics have slammed “El Shaddai’s” story as convoluted and difficult to follow, I had no such problems. But “El Shaddai’s” flaws are noticeable and frustrating enough that for many players it will be a more appealing buy at $30 or $40 than for its current $60 price tag.

Watch El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron trailer for more details. 
































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