Every once in a while, a game that truly attempts to do something unlike anything else comes out. More often than not, these games become destined for obscurity, mainly because they're overlookeed by the majority of gamers. Therefore, it's hard for that game to achieve genuine mainstream acceptance.
El Shaddai: Acension of the Metatron will most likely become that game. The game's source material will certainly alienate many gamers because of it's what it's about: a game based on a long-forgotten Jewish text about the Book of Enouch. Unless you have a considerable knowledge on historical religious texts, expect a lot of El Shaddai's story events to go way over your head. El Shaddai follows the story of Enoch, a priest who is seeking seven fallen angels to provent a Great Flood to destroy all mankind. Guided by mysterious voices and Lucifel, a guardian angel in charge of the protection of Earth, Enouch has to find them and set things right. The following story I just explained is a very loose translation of the actual text, so if you haven't read the text, you really needn't worry here. El Shaddai mostly has influences from many other religious tales, and re-tells them in a modern and quirky manner. Even though the story does confuse at times, El Shaddai still manages to keep the story interesting. By switching between in-game dialouge, and actual cutscenes, El Shaddai adds an element of mystery to it, and has enough obscurity to it to keep you playing. The English dubbing is very good and entertaining, and Lucifel's chats with God on his cellphone give the game a nicely-welcomed sense of humour. It can be very heavy stuff at times, but El Shaddai's religious undertones and themes are never an intrusion in the game itself.
The gameplay of El Shaddai can most accurately described as a third-person actions that features many platforming elements. Enoch has three different primary weapons to choose from which are the Arch, the Gale and the Veil. Each one of these weapons has a primary purpose. The Arch is a fairly standard melee weapon, but it also allows Enough to float for short periods of time during platforming sequences. My personal favourite of the bunch, the Gale provies Enouch a quick dash abilty, alongside the abilty to shoot darts in the air for long range enemies. The Veil, another melee weapon, is a big, white shield which is ultimately the slowest weapon out of the three, but it is a very effectice melee weapon to use when you want to finish enemies off quickly. Whilst on the suface, El Shaddai seems like a typical third-person action game, but the combat is surprisingly very rhymtic, smooth and flowing. Whilst you won't execute insane combo chains with Enouch in the same way as a certain spartan or demon hunter, El Shaddai has fun combat which is also very tactical. Since you don't have a weapon inventory to choose your main three weapons from, the key is to swipe these weapons when your enemies are in a vulnerable position. This adds a surprising level of depth to an otherwise, often-used combat system.
Another combat mechanic El Shaddai uses is Purification. Purfication allows Enouch to enhance the abilties of his three weapons, and ultimately, break the defense enemies more effectively. El Shaddai is a game that bursts will niche concepts, and to it's credit, they're nicely hued and balanced for the most part. However, El Shaddai does have problems which considerably taint the gameplay at times. The main criticism for me with El Shaddai was the lack of a lock-on targeting system. Since you cannot target your enemies, fighting a lot of the same enemies in El Shaddai become long streches of tedium and annoyance. It also becomes very much an issue of trial-and-error; hoping that your attacks will finish off the enemies quickly so you can move on. Another problem is that El Shaddai suffers from a lack of visual clarity during platforming. Since the game combines so many styles at once visually, it makes it difficult to judge your distance when your jumping. Expect to plunge to death many times, but it's no fault of your own. The camera can get touchy during fights, often getting stuck in a tight corners, and the bosses can be a bit on the overpowered side. However, the atmosphere, visual design, and the sensual mood of El Shaddai more than makes up for it all. The game always offers something different, whether it be with the gameplay with charming 2D side-scrolling sections to exciting driving sections, to the visuals ranging from painterly backdrops to Tronesque futuristic cities, El Shaddai is never lacking in variation, imagination and artistic creativity.
Now, here we come to the part where El Shaddai has been recieving a lot of it's attention: the drop-dead gorgeous visual design. The visual design of El Shaddai is just magnificent. Right from when you start playing, it feels like you've stepped into an interactive painting. It's quite simply alluring to look at, and joins games such as Okami where the art enhances the experience. The music in El Shaddai ranges from sweeping and epic choral and orchestral pieces, to pumping rock and ambient, subtle music. The music and sound design adds to El Shaddai's almost aural and sensual mood, and fits the action rather fittingly.
For a game based inspired by the Deuterocanonical Book of Enoch, El Shaddai will certainly surprise people. It's a testament to games artistically as an industry, in terms of how creative games can be visually, and proof that sometimes, doing something different can actually end up being a satisfactory experience. It's saddening El Shaddai won't find a true audience, as it's heavy focus on art and style mixed with a religious text will not appeal to everyone. However, if you're willing to take the plunge, El Shaddai is a trippy, physcadelic, and intriguing action game, with ideas of it's own that on it's own merits, are to be commended.