El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron…

…loved it as much I love collecting Yoshitaka Amano and Ashley Wood books, and/or playing artsy-interactive offerings such as ICO, Okami and even Pixel Junk Eden.

Funny that I mentioned books (or art books for that matter) since I really do like comparing Ignition Entertainment’s visual eye-candy to those pricey coffee-table paperbacks. Particularly the Japanese editions that you can find in this building next to the Akihabara station in downtown Tokyo (dork).

Anyway, level with me if you can and think about those art books: You paid a hefty amount of cash to just flick those wonderful pages, and yet you feel compelled in doing so, for some reason, because you love the art and you appreciate it for what it is.

Same thing can be also said when I invested on El Shaddai. I coughed out a good amount of money for a 10-12 hour game – just like purchasing a semi-expensive art book – mainly because of the art style and trippy visuals, to which I completely fell in love with ever since the game’s unveiling. In fact the very first “Week Of” podcast episode (from the now-defunct World 3) headlined El Shaddai if memory serves me right. In any case— the very cool thing about this game is that instead of “flicking” the pages just like in those art books or having those images play a fictitious war in your head; you’re actually experiencing or interacting with them.

To me, that’s the probably best way to summarize my experience with this game. An interactive-like Japanese art book that has some of the unique and kaleidoscopic visuals I’ve ever seen in a video game. Heck, it just might be the prettiest title I’ve played this year, and surely it’s in my top ten of 2011.

However, I do want to talk about the combat, which I personally believe is the weakest aspect of the game. One word: limited.

Technically it’s a character driven, action title patterned in the likes of Devil May Cry, Ninja Gaiden and God of War. But sadly that really isn’t the case here, because you see Enoch (the game’s protagonist a.k.a. the Brad Pitt-looking dude) doesn’t level up or gain new moves/abilities as you progress further, unlike say Dante, Ryu Hayabusa or even Bayonetta. Well, save for one power up later on, but it’s basically peanuts and nothing fancy. Plus Enoch’s attacks aren’t as combo racking the same way Kratos has with his bizarre, swinging moves. Not that he needs to but, again, the overall combat system does feel limited. It’s still good and, dare I say challenging ala Itagaki’s Ninja Gaiden (the first one specifically), but it’s not as great as I want it to be.

A good comparison, in terms of the combat, actually would be Ubisoft’s 2008 rendition of Prince of Persia. Simple and rhythmic since you have to rely on pauses and not, you know, mashing.

If only (designer/director) Takeyasu Sawaki implemented some upgrades to Enoch as you play further, like gaining new techniques or abilities, then the game would’ve been perfect for me. I really enjoy playing action games like the Devil May Cries and Onimushas ever since they were “popular” during the PlayStation 2 era, and I was hoping El Shaddai would completely fill my need of such this year. Sort of like the same way Bayonetta did last 2010. It was close. Too close I should say.

Fortunately the combat portion takes only probably 35-40% of the game since it’s all about the experience and those lush, psychedelic visuals and vistas. Again, it’s pretty similar to Prince of Persia ’08, but more “traditional” instead of acrobatics and gimmicks. Sure, it bothered me a bit but it wasn’t an enormous issue.

That aside, the game is still phenomenal. Fantastic visuals and presentation, old-school platforming that I totally appreciated (those 2D segments are amazing hands-down), and a story that’s — admittedly, odd and very Japanese to say the least, but mesmerizing if you approach it with an open-minded, post-Mononoke Miyazaki or “Fooly-Cooly” approach —  El Shaddai is a solid, arthouse video game that needs to be experienced if you want to play something fresh and imaginative. It’s not for everybody, that’s a given. But if you’re like me (you know, a graphic designer) who enjoys art, generally, and likes playing action-adventure games: it’s definitely worth check out.

Plus it has a character who communicates to God by using a cellphone. How fucking awesome is that?!


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