2011-08-25

El Shaddai: Ascension of Metatron – Unique Visuals, Average Adventure

by Yo Snyder

I always appreciate it when someone is willing to try something new. I
mean, let’s face, that’s kind of a risky proposition. When I go to a
restaurant, I’m often faced with the dilemma of trying something new or
sticking with what I know. If I get something new, there’s always the
chance that I won’t like it and regret not having what I already know
that I like. On the other hand, if I only stick with what I know, I’ll
never discover new things that I may end up liking just as much or maybe
even more. Video games are faced with a similar dilemma. Sure you can
try something new with game design, but there’s always the chance that
gamers won’t “get it” and then they won’t get it, and you don’t make
enough money to continue doing game production. On the other hand, if
all we get are Call of Duty clones, well, it doesn’t take long for that
to get boring. So I admire it when games try to do something if not new
then at the very least different. El Shaddai: Ascension of Metatron is a game that’s bold enough to do just that. Unfortunately, it all doesn’t work out quite as well as one might hope.

From
the start, you can tell this is a different kind of game. There’s an
almost surreal quality to the art design and graphics. Colors swirl and
flow, landscapes are sparse on details but rich in color. There are
times when it almost looks like you’re viewing a moving painting. In an
industry that’s typically filled with ever more realistic imitations of
reality, to see something that so freely eschews reality for mere art
and color is rather…refreshing. (It’s also nice that this isn’t yet
another shadow or silhouette art design, which was fresh but quickly
grew stale with the many imitators of that bold design choice). Even the
character designs have a unique look; sort of a Renaissance art design
blended freely with anime. So from the very moment you start El Shaddai, it gives you a bold impression that this is something different, something new; but that impression doesn’t last too long.

While
the art design is strong (and in fact, is this game’s best feature and
worth at least renting just to see it in action), the rest of it is a
bit less bold. Gameplay consists of straight-up combat with the
occasional platforming segments to break up the pace a bit. Combat is
simple. You have one button for attacks, but there are a few ways to mix
that up with some special moves. Still, you never exactly have a huge
repertoire of attacks.  However, your enemies aren’t exactly push-overs.
You’ll only face three or so at the most at one time, but they can take
a lot of damage. Combat consists of moving in for a strike, and then
quickly moving to the next target or moving out of the range of a
counter-strike. You can also steal weapons from enemies, which becomes
important as some are better affected by certain weapons. However, your
arsenal isn’t extensive, so even that gets fairly repetitive rather
quickly during the course of the game.

 

The other issue with the game is the story. Again, it’s an area where El Shaddai
was trying to do something different, but I just don’t think it came
across very well. The story is based on the Book of Enoch, an ancient
Jewish text that is not apart of the Biblical canon (for various
reasons, which would actually take a whole other article to adequately
explain). The Book of Enoch is actually made up of five separate books,
the first of which, The Book of the Watchers, gives the basis for the
game’s story. In this story, there are seven fallen angels (which in the
Book of Watchers are described as the angels who fathered the Nephalim
in Genesis 6). These fallen angels will only cause trouble for the
inhabitants of Earth, so it’s up to Enoch, with a little help from
Lucifel and a few others (presumably angelic beings who haven’t fallen)
to return the rebels to their prison. I know, sounds pretty epic, right?
However, I learned more about this from Wikipedia than from the random,
scattered moments of exposition in the game. While the basic outline of
the story is set in place, things like motivation and the whys of all
this happening are, well, ambiguous at best. Does that really matter? I
suppose it’s not a huge deal, but I do like to know why things are
happening as I progress through a story, and I don’t get much of that
here. Maybe I’m dense I just missed it, but nevertheless, I missed it.

Finally,
there are few other design choices that just don’t work out that well.
For instance, there’s no HUD, which in and of itself isn’t a bad thing.
The only way you can keep track of your health (at first) is by seeing
how much damage your armor has taken (it breaks off in pieces as you get
hit till you’re basically running around in jeans with no shirt; yeah, I
know, a little weird). You also have a bar that indicates if you’ve
built up enough energy to quickly tap some buttons to return to the game
immediately after getting KO’d. However, you don’t see these bars
because as I said, there’s no HUD. However, play through the game and
start it again and you can have those things on a minimal HUD. I get
that you don’t want a HUD to get in the way of the art design, but if
you have those elements any way, why not leave that choice up to the
gamer?

El Shaddai: Ascension of Metatron is a game that
stretches out to achieve something different, but it never reaches out
to fully grip its ambitions. There’s no denying the beauty and boldness
of the art design, unfortunately the gameplay and the story don’t quite
reach the same level of bold freshness. This is a button mashing brawler
at heart, and that can get repetitive. The nebulous story is peppered
with extremely random and arbitrary statements that oddest time (I’m
running along and all of sudden, for no apparent reason, a disembodied
voice says “The Lord bless you”. Ooookaaaayy… did I sneeze?). It’s
hard to follow along with why you’re doing any of the things you’re
doing, which makes it difficult to sustain interest after the third for
fourth very similar experience of defeating one of the fallen angels.
Besides the fun of how it makes people think of that popular Amy Grant
song every time you mention the title, El Shaddai is worth a
rental to at least see it’s amazing art design and pretty graphics, but
beyond that, you may find the experience to be a solid “meh”. It’s not
as fresh and innovative as it wants to be, but it’s not terrible either.

Score out of 7:

Graphics:
6 – One of the best parts of the game. It’s colorful, it’s surreal,
it’s pretty impressive to behold. It’s like a painting that flows and
moves. Some of the character animations can be a little stiff, but that
doesn’t detract from the overall beauty.

Sound: 5 – The sound does
a good job of reflecting the surreal visuals. There’s an almost
dream-like echo to everything in the game. From the music to the
dialogue, none of it sounds like it’s quite grounded in reality. It’s a
good compliment to the visuals.

Gameplay: 4 – Things are a little
less interesting here. The simple combat can get repetitive, and while
the occasional platforming helps break up the pace, the floatiness of
the physics can make that a little frustrating. Plus, each battle
against the fallen angels feels fairly similar to the last.

Controls:
5- Controls are tight and responsive and fairly easy to pick up,
although there were times where it was either my reaction time (which is
very likely) or it was the controls not being quite quick enough that
caused a little trouble in battles.

Story: 4 – It’d help if I had a
better idea of not just what was going on, but why. I think there’s an
interesting story here based on a non-Biblical spiritual text, but I
could never quite grasp what it was all about.

Content: 6 –
There’s lots of talks about angels, God, fallen angels and their affect
on humanity, which can spark some interesting discussion. There’s lots
of fighting, but nothing gory or brutally violent.

Final Score: 4 – As I said, I always appreciate a game that’s willing to be different, and El Shaddai: Ascension of Metatron
is definitely different. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite succeed in
everything it attempts. The amazing visuals are accompanied by average
gameplay and a story that isn’t all that easy to follow. Again, it’s
worth a look to see it’s unique visuals, but beyond that, you probably
won’t find much to hold your attention.