Thursday, September 8, 2011

El Shaddai Review - Poetry in Motion

Score: 8.25/10
El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron
PS3 - Xbox 360
Developer: Ignition Tokyo
Publisher: Ignition Entertainment
Release Date: August 16, 2011


  • Stunning and unique art direction
  • Constant shuffle in combat and platforming
  • Weapon choice affects both combat and travel
  • Combat, though easy to pick up, can be challenging
  • Platforming can become tedious at times
  • Story is a blur and will take replays to fully grasp
  • Camera can become an additional obstacle to overcome
  • Recycled enemy models become predictable after a while

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron is one of few original IPs released this year. This one flew in under the radar with little advertising, but the incredible visuals caught my eye and convinced me to check it out.

Poetry in Motion

From screenshots, trailers, and the first few minutes of the game you begin to notice El Shaddai's strongest feature; this is some of the best art direction showcased this year. A vivid color palette coupled with unique worlds result in eye candy for the player and viewer alike. Each chapter features a different atmosphere; ranging from luminous Tron-esque city streets, to highly reflective glass shards scattered about a fiery landscape, and even cel-shaded cartoonish platforms. Each chapter is a fresh and interesting take on the elements backed by an appropriate musical score, and encourages you to continue forward to see what else the game has in store.

While the visuals are sharp, the story is a blur. The basic idea is that you are an archangel named Enoch who must chase after fallen angels for God...even though his previous job as a scribe gave little combat training. You are given a guide, who happens to be your hipster tourist, Lucifel. He not only saves your game but talks to God on his cell phone to update your progress...cause standard prayer does not have WiFi. The game chronicles your journey to capture each angel and bring them back, but most of the time leaves you scratching your head wondering what is going on. An intricate story is in place with cutscenes and spoken dialogue as you traverse, but it will take multiple playthroughs to fully grasp the tale of the angel in blue jeans.

Thou Shalt Have Variety

The game transitions between combat and platforming to keep the gameplay fresh, and it balances the occurrences of the segments pretty well. Just when combat loses steam, the game throws you into the platforming aspect for a nice breather and even an instance of a motorcycle chase.

Combat is much like a traditional third person hack and slash, but if you play it as such you are sure to lose. Straight forward button mashing is a sure route to pain, and carefully timed attacks are key to succeed. Enemies are smart, and I found myself constantly switching up tactics and approach to adapt to what enemies appeared. Besides the few bosses, the enemies tend to repeat with recycled character models in place of others with the typical "this one has should pads" look.

When you are not hacking away at evil minions you are traversing the lush and colorful environment. The game switches between fixed camera platforming and side scrolling segments. At most, each has you simply jumping from platform to platform with a few baddies in between. It's nothing really new, but the constant shift in viewpoints really keeps the game engaging.

If only the shift were assisted by the fixed camera, making some segments of platforming a chore as you attempt to judge depth through a multi-colored world. Luckily, the penalty for death is small and you will instantly be put in a position to try again with no load time at all. This alleviates some of the frustration, though you will encounter an incredibly annoying tower in one of the later chapters that almost rivals God of War's infamous spike wall.

Thy Holy Hand Grenade

Combat and platforming center around three weapons; the Gale (ranged), the Arch (all around melee), and the Veil (heavy hitter). Each has its strength and weakness that you must use to adapt to each situation. Sticking with one weapon in combat will usually end up getting you killed.

After you stun an opponent, you steal their weapon and "cleanse" it in turn. A cleansed weapon deals increased damage and disarms the opponent, so it is highly encouraged. Even sticking with one weapon too long will result in it losing its purification, in which you must tap a button and take a few seconds to re-cleanse it for ideal damage at the cost of being open to attack. This encourages you to keep disarming and switching up weapons, along with your tactical approach as enemies begin blocking your predicted attack pattern. Weapons cannot be upgraded or augmented, so the game nudges you to mix things up for the best result.

In addition to combat, the weapons shift how you traverse. The Arc allows you to hold the jump button and gently float to a landing, the Gale allows you to dash in mid-air, and the Veil allows you to break through certain surfaces. Some weapons made other platforming segments much easier, and it was interesting to pass by a few breakable surfaces wondering how it would change if you had a different weapon.

Conquer Death with Buttons

Boss encounters in the game prove a true test of skill, as the combat setup of not sticking to one weapon comes full circle. Most of the time icons will appear that allow you to grab a different weapon to tackle the situation, with a voice or circle over their head usually instructing you on which weapon would fit best.
Bosses act as the true test in your ability to adapt, as their attacks lay into you if you are not prepared.

Needless to say, having to physically move and grab a weapon during a boss battle is a chore, as they continually float around the battlefield out of reach of both you and the fixed camera. Weapons are trapped in orbs, which you attack to release them, but eventually fade after a time to reappear later. I lost count of the amount of hits I took searching for the correct weapon only to have two more pieces of armor knocked off.

This brings up the health system, as boss fights are where you will die more often than not. You start with full armor and after taking a few hits, are stripped of a few pieces. Once your armor is gone and only your stylish blue jeans remain, the next hit will end it. The game does offer you the chance to mash a series of buttons together to recover and hop back into the battle. This becomes increasingly more difficult as you get knocked out over and over. It's an interesting system that gets you right back into the action.

On certain occasions, the Watchers will hop in to challenge you. Victory is satisfying, but the result of winning is unclear. It is one of those "suppose to lose but you don't know it" situations. Sure these showcase the bosses as intimidating and allows you to see how they attack, but their appearance soon blurred when I was suppose to actually fight them or not. Unpredictable, yes; but its common occurrence became a bit more irritating than interesting.


Clocking in at about 10 hours at most for the story mode, your first experience will be a short one. Hidden collectibles, stage rankings, and an online leaderboard provide incentive to return, if not for another glimpse at the worlds to drool over.

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron is one of the best looking titles offered this year. The small issues and frustration will pester you for a little while, but quickly fade as each new world is unveiled. It's a unique experience of a game, and a great new IP for the year.

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