This generation of consoles is certainly not wanting for third-person action games. We’ve got all kinds – the God of War series and its imitators with their high production values and carefully tweaked action, Devil May Cry, Ninja Gaiden and Bayonetta with their typical, flashy, Japanese action game style, and even the more in-depth, adventurous kinds like Darksiders, inFamous and Dark Souls. And just when we thought we’ve seen it all, it turns out we haven’t.
El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron is a mouthful of a game, both to say and to describe. On the surface, it appears to be another typical Japanese action game – and it certainly has those elements to it – but there’s more to it than that. For starters, the game is based loosely on the Apocrypha, a collection of books that apparently used to be part of the Bible, but were excluded after their authenticity and relevance was (and still is) debated. It’s fascinating subject matter if you’re interested in religious doctrine and ancient religious texts. Anyway, the game focuses on a character called Enoch, a priest who is (in the game version) called upon to hunt down seven fallen archangels who are really screwing up things on earth.
Another thing that sets El Shaddai apart from other games is the unusual and hallucinogenic visual style. I don’t even know how to describe it, but I’ll try. It’s a mix of cel-shaded anime, acid-trip shading, illustration, cardboard cut-outs and really, really bad cosplay. The closest thing I can liken it to is a seriously pretentious art house movie that makes up for its lack of budget with excessive use of mind-boggling art. And also, I’m sure I’m not the only one who will question why angels and other characters from Biblical times wear designer jeans and suits, sport pansy J-pop hairdos and speak to God using cell-phones – but hey, why not? It’s a videogame, not a documentary.
The gameplay is also quite different. Rather than giving players a whole controller full of different commands to learn, El Shaddai is played with four buttons – attack, block, jump and purify. Using only those four buttons and the three different types of weapon that Enoch can steal from his enemies (the Arch, the Gale and the Veil) players can access a wide variety of moves to deal with the game’s multitude of bizarre enemies and bosses that all have their own strengths and weaknesses. Another interesting thing is that as Enoch uses a weapon, it becomes tainted with his enemies’ filth and loses some of is power, meaning that Enoch must find time to periodically “purify” his weapon to get its damage up again.
With seven archangels to bring to justice, all of whom have hidden themselves inside a massive tower behind legions of minions, you can be sure that there’s plenty of play value to be had here, and it will tax even veteran action gamers skills to the limits.