El Shaddai: The Ascension of the Metatron

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Nothing like being introduced to a game through your nonreligious friend trying to tell you, a nonreligious person, that you should care about a game because it was based on ancient religious texts, before the friend calls the game rubbish for being a full retail title, having believed it to be a downloadable title.  But it was $3 for a digital copy and got some decent praise, so I bought it like I’m sure a few thousand did, but unlike most people, I hardly find the game to be an ascension.  Damn me and my deadly puns!

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron Review                                                                  Release Date: 16/8/2011                                                                                                Platforms: Xbox 360(reviewed), Playstation 3                                                                  Developer: Ignition Tokyo                                                                                                  Publisher: UTV Ignition Entertainment

It is customary to begin talking about a game through a plot description.  However, the most I could muster up about the narrative is just that, a descriptions worth.  You play as an immortal tanned aryan named Enoch who was taken up by god, or archangels, or whoever, until some archangels fell to Earth and began to lead humans on a path of, “Perverted Evolution”.  Not sure how, why, or where the game is suppose to even take place beyond some massive tower.  Just that you need to beat baddies to save the world from a flood, at least for a while because of canon applied to Biblical texts.

Skimming through Wikipedia, the story of El Shaddai is based on The Book Of Enoch, a religious text that is mostly removed from the majority of Jewish or Christian texts.  And perhaps digging up that two thousand year old tome might help me understand what is going on, but it sure wouldn’t explain why one of the few characters has a smart phone, and why Enoch is wearing some Jeans beneath white armor that is as durable as a ceramic bowl.

But what I did grasp still didn’t make much sense, with no real clear sense of placement in the world, no solid explanations about most of the characters aside from hidden bits of text that I believe may be actual quotes from the source material.  Or an explanation for how a creature that looks like dough is the offspring of two humanoid species, let alone their whole flaming cannibalism thing.  From a basic storytelling standpoint, you need to explain why some guy from 300 AD is wearing jeans and hopping around on floating blocks.  Or, assuming I missed it, explain it well.  With no groundwork, it is more like swimming in a sea of loosely connected concepts than anything.

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I do believe that there is a reason for this that can be answered in the oft used idea of style over substance, which becomes more than evident as you look at the in game world.  With a very unique sense of style that is what you’d expect from the character designer of Okami and Devil May Cry reworking classic religious art.  And above all else, El Shaddai stands as one of if not the prettiest games I’ve ever played.  Using a weird semi-cel shaded touch that runs on Gamebryo of all things, I could almost recommend the game solely based on the visual fidelity at play.  Almost.

For every section that had me smacking my gaw at the beauty of the art direction in the game, there was one that made me groan at how they made something akin levitating grey blocks the theme of an area.  Along with a groan as the bizarre visual fixings along with a fixed camera got in the way of the gameplay.  To the point where I can’t help but feel would make a better video game if it were gutted almost entirely and replaced with 8 hours of walking around, or just mimic Asura’s Wrath and be more QTE than combat.

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Let me begin by first mentioning how during either the prologue or first of the game’s eleven chapters, I forget which, a character challenges you, the player, to try and beat the game in seven hours.  A notion baffling to me in several respects, because it is more or less telling people to skip the cutscenes and try a speed run on their first playthrough.  Looking at the combat, I can see the reason, because it is reminiscent of a combo heavy action game with cards of combat and wandering around pretty looking areas while finding a secret that makes the whole ranking system seem rather dim.  Or in my mind, Bayonetta, except worse.

For at least for the first playthrough, El Shaddai does not let you use any form of an HUD.  No health, no points, no combo tracker, and no meters for bosses.  Everything is ideally told through the status of the armor worn by the enemies and Enoch himself, and you need to beat the game to unlock that, in addition to the privilege of getting a score or replay completed chapters.  Both acting as points where I must wonder if El Shaddai was mandated to have these features when the team really didn’t want to cram them in, so they did so haphazardly.

The levels can last well over half an hour, and very often contain unskippable sequences where you are walking straight down a path with no hazards, acting as a good reason why nobody would want to replay the chapters regularly.  And that is before considering the secrets occasionally hidden about, which is hypocritical of the speed running mentality that game starts up with.  Seeing as how the first ones I found required me to jump onto a rotating platform I could not see, with a fixed camera angle.

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Oh yes, fixed camera angles in a game that, when it is not going through combat sequences with the three same basic baddie archetypes they slightly remodel every chapter, is platforming.  Either 2D sections or 3D ones, they are made needlessly difficult by the loose jump and a iffy shadow system.  Not helped by the abstract look to the world, which often makes it hard to tell how far away something is, something I can’t recall having a problem with since the Nintendo 64.

Although, I would be torn on deciding if I liked the combat much more than simplistic platforming only made dismissible by how falling is a minor setback remedied with a literal snap.  Taking the well solidified hack and slash nature I brought up earlier, El Shaddai is theoretically made interesting by the ability to alternate between weapons stolen from dazed enemies and used against others.  At least before needing to repair or replace them in the midst of combat.  The problem is that there are only three weapons, and I have no idea if there is a rock-paper-scissors system in place for them.

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I certainly found uses for them, although many were situational, and needed the game to tell me which to use during the boss battles through a colored ring that sometimes appears over the boss’s head.  But the other half of the time, I was getting slammed as I couldn’t get in any decent damage to daze the enemies, as the game often slowed down as I attacked more than two simultaneously.  Not that it was a major setback, seeing as how death can be averted by mashing the four buttons the game oddly sets your seven commands to as the default controls.  And even though your “Rapid Fire Recoveries” are limited, you’re not punished at all, other than needing to start a boss phase or run of the mill battle once more.  As much as I can understand the idea, whenever I needed to mash buttons to be revived, I feel like the game is tempted to leave me out in the abyss because I didn’t live up to its standards and need to cling on its gown while banging my head so they feel guilty.

But, in a move that almost made me do a 180 on my opinion, the game throws in chapter where you are in a futuristic city riding a motorcycle, in a metal suit, hitting robotic flies in the face while swerving left and right to get shinies and boosts.  It is easily my favorite section of the game, and it only lasts for ten to fifteen minutes, which actually does a good job at summarizing how I feel about the game.  A glimpse of absolute brilliance hampered by one of the least enjoyable games I’ve played in a good while.

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While I am certain that there is a core of something wonderful in El Shaddai, having something “deep” and interesting to say, is not the same as properly articulating it.  WIth a story, no matter how well presented, the audience needs to know what is going on, or why it is important.  And even then, the almost contradictory gameplay decisions only soften the pedestal the game could potentially stand from.  As the visuals remain the most noteworthy feature in the game, serving as a nice coat of paint over something that crumbles when placed in human palms.  Or perhaps mine were just the wrong ones to ever think they could touch “art”.

Poor (5/20)                                                                                                                         Barely any good in the product, often just being stupid, boring, or unbearably uninvolving.  Might have some neat bits to learn from, but the title is rarely worth your time beyond that.

And if you have anything to say about my listed opinion, go ahead and leave a comment below, I look forward to getting them every time!  Also, art game… just wanted to say that because of the eternally fresh Jonathan Holmes!

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2 thoughts on “El Shaddai: The Ascension of the Metatron

    • I’m fine with your opinion, but unless you criticize and explain it, I see no reason to respect it. If you want to actually explain what makes my review “truly terrible” come back. If not, you aren’t worth my time.

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