El-Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron is a game that many people may have overlooked when it originally released back in 2011. But 10 years later, with a PC port, you have the chance to experience this cult classic. And you really should.
What’s It All About?
The story of El-Shaddai is inspired by the Book of Enoch, an ancient Hebrew text regarding the apocalypse. You play as the man himself; Enoch. A human who had served in heaven and is now called upon to undertake a massive quest. Seven fallen angels, or Grigori have descended to Earth, bringing about a “false evolution”. This means rapid human development, but at the cost of freedom. It’s up to Enoch to bring these renegade angels back to heaven for Judgement. All before the Earth is hit with a second great flood, like the story of Noah. Enoch is not alone though, he is accompanied by four archangels: Raphael, Gabriel, Michael, and Uriel. They provide support and advice, and Uriel even gives you a hand in combat through an overburst mode.
The story sounds simple enough, but there was more than one occasion where I was seriously stumped as to what I was watching. Things get pretty wild, with all kinds of lore being thrown at you from all angles. Like Nephilim, the hybrid offspring of Angels and Humans that have the potential to devour each other and grow into giant beings of destruction. Or the prophet Ishtar, who leads the freemen against the fallen angels on the ground.
There’s a lot of ancient Hebrew religious inspired lore to take in and it’s at times a bit abstract. While you never feel hopelessly lost in the plot. There will be moments where you’re questioning what is actually going on on-screen.
Jabbing and Jumping
El-Shaddai’s gameplay is broken up into two parts essentially. You spent equal amounts of time in combat and platforming.
Combat is deceptively simple at first, but ended up having more depth than I had expected, without becoming overly complex. You have access to three holy weapons. These are acquired by grabbing them from set points, or by stealing them from a stunned enemy. Enoch will grab the weapon from them and purify it, allowing him to use it to dispense holy justice. The Gale allows the player to shoot projectiles at enemies. It’s the fastest, but also the weakest weapon in the game. Speed is your friend. There’s not much in the way of defense, forcing you to time a parry. The Veil is the slowest, but strongest weapon, which means you can block a lot more and not worry about timing. And then there’s the Arch, a blade that strikes a balance between offense and defense.
Each of these weapons have different attack animations and areas of effect. However, the simplicity in combat comes from the fact that the control scheme for all of them is the same. You can mash the attack button for a string of hits. Hold the button down and you can time a counterattack for enemy hits. Combine the guard and attack buttons for special moves and use them when in the air, on the ground and mid combo. Air attacks, guard breaks, dashes, and air-to-ground attacks are all on the table. There’s a great variety of moves that come from easy to learn controls that just require a little timing. This makes for a simple, yet robust combat system that can be a lot of fun.
My only complaint in its combat were a couple of boss encounters, where its great system was underutilised. Such as a fight with a giant pig that amounted to baiting a charge into a wall, and wailing on him while he was out. Rinse and repeat until the fight is over. However, these moments were a couple of small blemishes on an otherwise great string of fights.
The other end of the gameplay spectrum is the platforming. This one is a tad more straightforward. Only taking things a bit further with the Arch’s ability to slowly descend from a jump and the Gale’s ability to dash forward. Otherwise it’s simply a matter of timing and placement like any other platformer.
El-Shaddai has platforming segments that are more flat and 2D-like, and others that are more 3D. The 2D platforming sections are far better and much more enjoyable than their 3D counterparts. Which requires a bit more to land safely. Enoch usually casts a shadow which shows that it’s safe to land. But I still found myself plummeting to the depths of a level because of this feeling of poor depth perception. Overshooting or undershooting my jumps woefully. I feel like some camera control may have helped me out a bit. Luckily none of my failed attempts made me want to quit. However, if you’re not a fan of, or good at platforming this might be frustrating.
I love this game’s art style. The fallen angels you go after, each rule their own realm. You travel from one to the next and let me tell you, not one of them disappointed me visually. Every realm was a painting, even the most artistically tame area, Arakiel’s realm. The use of colours, lighting and scale all contributed to some beautiful levels. However, it wasn’t all beautiful. While art direction and environmental design was great, the character models were not.
The characters were where the title’s age was the most evident. There’s not all too much texture or refinement to character models. And close ups make this painfully obvious, even for a game from 2011 it was surprising. Part of me felt like most of the budget went into other areas of the visuals. But honestly, with how great the environments and lighting are, I can forgive it. To an extent at least, because man, were some of the fallen angels ugly.
To complement the stellar visuals, we’re also treated to some seriously good music. Just straight banger after banger in the soundtrack. From the epic choral menu song and Enoch’s theme to the soothing arrangement of to those of the beloved past. If you’re anything like me, you’ll end up searching the OST and adding a couple tracks to your video game soundtrack playlist before long.
Hidden Gem is an apt description of El-Shaddai, when I first loaded it up, its older and slightly potatoey graphics threw me off. A small part of me suspected that this would be an underwhelming experience. I hadn’t realised how spoiled the evolution of visual quality in modern video games had made me. But it’s art style, music and combat all won me over. It’s a fun game, with a lot of character and some serious food for the eyes. Whatever negative aspects can be found in El-Shaddai, are easily overshadowed by the positives. Making this a great experience overall.