El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron is a character action game made by Ignition Tokyo and published by UTV Ignition Games in 2011 for the PS3 and Xbox 360. It's a loose adaptation of the Book of Enoch and it revolves arounds Enoch's quest to hunt down and purify the fallen angels who are corrupting mankind before the counsil of heaven lets another apocalyptic flood loose.
Being an adaption of something so confusing as religious text, it's no wonder that El Shaddai is such a wild ride. A good chunk of it feels like nonsense, but it manages to keep a story thread going throughout (in spite of the near-non-Euclidean geometry you traverse and all the narration provided by characters you barely know), which is commendable.
Enoch is a human scribe who was given a place in paradise before dying. Now he's been sent by god to save humanity from the sinful world of the fallen angels before the flood begins. At his side, he has Lucifel and the archangels (in majestic swan form) who provide the bare minimum of support.
Lucifel is really classy and it feels like he stepped out a Suda51 game, or perhaps an SMT game. This is before his fall, but the game drops some small hints towards his eventual descent into devildom. He spends most of the game on the phone with god, reporting Enoch's progress very dryly, even questioning the player's ability to use weapons correctly, which is a bit fun.
Enoch himself only has one line (”No Problem. Everything's fine.”), but the game still manages to showcase his determination and kindness as it reflects from the other characters. He's very much a knight in shining armour.
The rest of the cast is less noteworthy, but still good. You run into the fallen angels at regular intervals and the game goes through great lengths to explain their vision for humanity and shows how this vision created their respective worlds.
It's an intriguing journey, but had it not been for the sections where the plot (and gameplay) jumps off the rails, it would be merely ok.
I really have to give props to the visuals of the game. They consist of these really vibrant enviroments that mostly use shading to give the assorted platforms and backgrounds depth.
Every world uses distinct colours, making for some relly memorable places to explore. I think the word ethereal best describes it.
The game also has these wonderful 2d levels where the background artists just get to go nuts with detail and weird geometry. Playing the game on acid would probably make for a good day, if that's your thing.
The complexity of the combat surprised me a bit. It's not on DMC's level of crazy, but it is a tad more involved than God of War (2005. Side note: Screw you, Sony, learn to name stuff!).
Enoch can fight with his bare hands, but you'll spend most of the game with the three divine weapons on offer: The Arc, the Gale and the Veil.
These weapons work like rock-paper-scissors, with the weakness of one being the strength of another. The whole game is built on this concept, as the biggest decision to make in combat is what weapon to steal from what foe and when.
It's fun, but it stops being interesting a bit before the game ends. Many fights feel identical, as there are only a few enemies per weapon. I wanna say there are two per weapon, recolours notwithstanding.
It's a shame, because the concept of constantly stealing weapons adds variety without making the actual fighting more complicated. Every weapon has a regular combo, a guard break, a special dodge move and a special attack. Most of these also work in mid-air, giving Enoch a decently big moveset. The framerate also stays in about the 50s, which is really nice for an action title on the PS3.
To further complicate matters, weapons absorb corruption as you use them, which lowers their attack power something fierce. This means that you either have to find the perfect moment to ”reload” them with purification, or steal a new one, which starts off pure. It's a nice incentive to keep the combat fresh and it adds a bit more challenge to it. Same goes for the perfect block and the oppurtunities it provides.
Though sadly, many fights go on for an eternity, even if you're careful with corruption. Bosses (which are often simple with clear wind-ups) especially, as you really need to work out their weakness if you are to kill them within a resonable timeframe. Which is rather hard, as you need to go by the hitsparks of a freshly purified weapon to do so normally.
They'll only be blue (good damage) for a bit before corruption takes hold and they go down to yellow (ok damage). You can get a power-up to help you with this, but I think it's random when it spawns in a weapon or at the very least limited, so you really need to pay attention and remember what weapon to use. Of course, certain bosses SWAP weaknesses, so it's not always a sure thing to stick with one weapon.
To help immersion (beyond Enoch basically being a mute protagonist), there isn't an UI. Instead, health is displayed by Enoch's armour and the Overboost just makes him glow slightly when it's ready. The game sorta obfuscates the way health works, which might also be due to immersion reasons.
It's difficult to tell Enoch's exact health, so you can usually just focus on fighting. And even when you die, you can revive on the spot MULTIPLE TIMES. The game essentially has extra lives that reset (to maybe 4?) once you make enough progress or die.
It's interesting, but loses it's charm when you get a feel for how many lives you have left depending on how fast the screen fades before you die. But the game is more interested in making sure you keep going, so I see where they're coming from. Enoch spouting his one line after reviving also further reinforces his determination to save mankind.
As far as super modes go, Uriel's Overboost is a bit of a wet fart. It takes a while to charge and even when you pop it, combat barely changes. You get reset to full health and low corruption, but the extra attacks Uriel perform at the end of combos feel lackluster. Hell, even with upgraded Overboost time, you barely see him attack. It's only really good for the super attack you can use to burn through all your boost, but even that fails to make much of an impact due to the high health of many enemies.
I like the combat as is, but they could have gone a bit further with the concepts presented.
The platforming is rather forgiving, but still engaging. Enoch controls well in the air and with the help of the Arc's glide and the Gale's dash, you can easily make corrections to jumps. It's only at the end where the game starts playing with interesting setups of platforms, something I feel they could have done earlier. At least in the 3d sections.
The 2d sections implement some fun gimmicks early and the control scheme translates well between the two dimensions. The nephilim 2d level is particulary fun, if only for the absurd aesthetic.
Outside of health, you're collecting three things. Those being orbs for the Overboost, Freemen and bones of Ishtar. As previously stated, the orbs don't really amount to much, as you can always use the super attack early instead of wringing out some lackluster support attacks out of Uriel, which is the only thing the orbs improve. An actual upgrade system would've been nice.
Freemen are people still faithful to god who give you some exposition on the surroundings and the current angel, which helps keeping the plot from being too confusing. It still is, but it could be much worse.
The bones are used for unlocking a super costume after beating the game, which is cool. But the way you get them is the interesting part, as you must escape a rising tide of darkness whilst looking for the fragment among all the platforms in the area. And should you fail, Enoch will become a Watcher, just like the fallen angels, which triggers the bad ending and a hilarious fast-forwarding of the credits!
What a strange little game.