When you have a pedigree like Takeyasu Sawaki, the character designer behind the incredible Capcom classics Devil May Cry and Okami, you’d expect a game with a memorable cast of characters and a story that expands far beyond the action game norm. El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron is the newest from Sawaki, taking cues from religious texts and narratives while mixing in some stylish graphic design and combat that allows the player to steal weapons from enemies. El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron’s concept seems to have the potential for sleeper-hit status, but while it has a visual style with intense resonance, the end product is a tedious, pretentious, and uninventive action game that is best forgotten.
El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron follows Enoch (inspired by the character from the Jewish text, The Book of Enoch), who after being sent from Heaven, is out to stop a massive flood from destroying mankind. In order to avoid the catastrophe, Enoch must purify the seven fallen angels who are behind it. Enoch is cryptically led by Lucifel, one of God’s main informers who reports to him through cell phone. Along the way, Enoch encounters a young girl, some surreal holy creatures, and plenty of enemies to tear up. While the actual adaptation of the text is relatively simplistic, the entire storyline is so convoluted and confusing that following the different characters is absolutely torturous. None of the characters have any kind of personality and the overall story development is slow and drawn-out. The worst part by a mile is that nothing anyone does in the storyline seems to have any sense of purpose. Aside from one or two chapters, there’s zero connection with the characters. El Shaddai is an ultimately empty narrative that doesn’t do anything to make the player’s role meaningful throughout the drawn-out and tediously paced story mode.
El Shaddai’s story mode leads Enoch through a treacherous tower of worlds with the fallen angels guarding their realms. The typical stage includes Enoch running and jumping through lazily constructed architecture that rarely differs throughout, approaching a wide platform, and having a slew of enemies appear from thin air to battle. Defeat the enemies, continue on, rinse, repeat. Occasionally, the game will throw a very simplistic switch puzzle in the mix, but a majority of the game is the same, boring repetition over and over. Even worse, navigating the tower stages is flooded with poor camera work. There’s no camera control for the player, making the already painful jumping puzzles all the more unbearable. But if you’re not jumping through the frustratingly designed tower structures, you’re running through empty hallways with nothing to do. It’s a bleak and absurdly uneventful journey with only a few diversions, and even they don’t reach anywhere near the bar that other action games have set. On some occasions, the perspective will shift into a 2D side-scroller, where Enoch can jump and dash about without having to deal with the clumsy camera. Though there’s no ledge grabbing or fancy Mario-esque leaps, there still remains a bit of fun in jumping around in two dimensions. When these ideas all come together, however, the end result is underwhelming. From the poor camera work to the boring architecture, El Shaddai’s exploration is downright weak.
[pullquote_right]The combat is ambitious, but in practice, it’s just as soulless as the storyline.[/pullquote_right]The combat is El Shaddai’s trump card, but even it is struck down rather early. The big idea is that after weakening an armed enemy, Enoch can steal their weapon and use it himself. The weapon types come in three forms: arc (balanced, sword-style), gale (long-range, projectile), and veil (slower, defense-oriented). Though it’s great to see some variety in the combat, you don’t see any more weapon types throughout the entire game. In fact, the three weapons don’t differ as much as you’d like in the long run. There isn’t much incentive to experiment, especially since the actual combos are simple button-mashing patterns. The lack of a dodge action doesn’t help either (though you can block quickly with the bumper command). That’s not to say the game is easy. On the contrary, even on normal, contending with the enemies in packs is a challenge, especially when they use different types of weapons and you’re being attacked from close, middle, and long range. However, while the combat and enemies offer a fair challenge, the camera work doesn’t. The bigger enemies love getting between you and the camera and it usually leads to an untimely demise for Enoch. The combat is ambitious, but in practice, it’s just as soulless as the storyline.
El Shaddai’s story mode lasts around six hours with additional difficulty levels being unlocked after taking out the final boss. The oddest unlockable, however, is the HUD, which for some weird reason isn’t available in the first playthrough. Until the game’s story is complete, there’s no way to track your score for the leaderboards, so knowing how well you’re playing the first time around is a guessing game at best. Aside from a few Achievements, El Shaddai’s replay value is crutched by the multiple difficulty levels and high scores, neither of which repair the boring exploration and repetitive combat design. Unless you’re a fan of tedium, El Shaddai isn’t worth revisting.
Fortunately, El Shaddai is a gorgeous game. The graphic design feels like a mix between Japanese tapestry and modern Tron-esque construction. For the most part, the artistic design is fluid and takes a few risks in stage variety. One stage may have a Limbo-like silhouette aesthetic, another might have a full-on cel-shaded design. The artistic intensity of the levels is impressive. Even the combat has a nice style to it. The different acrobatics are smooth and stealing enemies’ weapons flows well during combat. The flair and bombast of the battles is made even better by the more powerful moves, which would make even the Final Fantasy crew take notice. Audio, however, suffers from some overly simplistic level themes and voice work that is painfully hindered by the poorly presented storyline. The actual vocal performances by the cast aren’t bad at all, but a solid collection of voice actors doesn’t help El Shaddai from being buried under the pretentiousness of the storyline.
Games like El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron manage to bring out the visually artistic qualities of games, and on that note, the game succeeds. However, it’s the “game” part that falls flat. The graphics are wondrous and stunning to see, but are shoved aside by some of the most tedious exploration segments and sloppy camera control seen in years. The story is poorly told and confusing, filled with characters that never seem to have purpose or meaning. Derivative enemy design, bad jumping puzzles…the list goes on. The subtle risks that El Shaddai takes are negligible when compared to the repetitious gameplay and absolutely dull story. While the artistic elements of El Shaddai are nice, they never integrate themselves into the gameplay. El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron feels more like watching a drawn-out movie than playing through an epic fable and even that claim is pushing it. There are a few edge-of-your-seat moments, but at the end of the day, El Shaddai doesn’t do anything substantial in pushing the third-person action game beyond the limits that have already been set for it by other, much better games.
Stunning art design
Repetitive combat | Poorly told story | Clumsy camera | Boring level design
It began with a hand-me-down Sega Genesis from his cousin and since then, he's been fascinated with video games. He enjoys the blissful platforming of the 16-bit era and the rich adventures of the 64-bit era. Favorite games include Metroid Prime, Banjo-Tooie, and practically every 16-bit Sonic the Hedgehog title.
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