El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron Preview

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron Preview

  • By: CM Boots-Faubert
  • Posted 4th Apr 2011

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron

El Shaddai (Hebrew: אל שדי‎) is generally accepted to be one of the Judaic names of God, and strictly translated means 'God Almighty.' Of course like much of the language of that long ago era, there is no simple definition because invariably it finds itself appearing throughout the cultures and the many books of Holy writing with many meanings.

Depending upon who is saying it, the phrase evokes images of the Israelite camp at Mount Sinai where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, the literal name by which God was known to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, God's gifts of fertility to the human race, the Guardian of the Doors of Israel, and a number of other meanings, but in the case of El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron it encompasses the story from the Book of Enoch, and follows Enoch -- who is a priest looking for seven fallen angels to prevent a great flood from destroying mankind.

Assisted in his quest by the guardian angel Lucifel -- a divine hitman in charge of the protection of the world and who exists outside of the normal flow of time -- he is assisted by a crew of four Archangels: Gabriel, Michael, Raphael, and Uriel, in this action-adventure / platformer game in which the player takes the role of Enoch sent down from heaven to participate in a raging war between angels and demons.

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron was developed by Ignition Entertainment's newly formed Japanese studio, staffed by a small group of former Capcom and Clover Studios code slingers with a reputation for getting the job done and delivering high-entertainment for low budgets.

When we first played this game at the Tokyo Game Show last year it was one of the games that we went away impressed by, mostly due to the incredibly vivid art work that helps to create a stunning game world. When the game you are playing is a platformer, you do not expect it to have the same level of care or a heavy investment in eye-pleasing environment like this -- so it is no wonder that we were impressed by it, or that the title stuck in our mind.

At the time we were under the impression that El Shaddai was intended to be a Japan-only release, and so despite its rather impressive impact, we did not cover it, because let's face it, while we have a worldwide audience here at Gaming Update, very few games made for the Japanese markets ever make it outside of that region until they are ported for other region play intentionally.

With a plot revolving around ancient biblical scripts centering around a priest on a mission from God who is looking to stop a great flood from killing all of mankind — by receiving the help of a crew of fallen angels no less -- you will understand why we did not think that this one would have the sort of underground cult appeal that is required to push it from the local market to the international.

The Game Itself
When we saw it on the list for PAX East that was something of a surprise, as there had been no indication from Ignition that they were taking the title worldwide when we last visited with it.

The version of the game -- an abstract platformer and adventure title that is really like no other game, making comparisons pretty much impossible -- that we played in Tokyo was an intentionally simplified version that was meant to showcase the art and environment and the play style, and not demonstrate an accurate level of the challenge of game play. What we saw at PAX East was exactly the opposite -- and what we imagine the real game will feel and play like. Roughly translated that means we had our asses handed to us.

The combat elements of the game are fluid, though there is something of a learning curve between merely adequate and really good -- and when you consider that technically the game only has the single attack button and therefore should be a simple study in pushing the button, once you add in the special weapons and combine attacks with movement, what you end up with is a surprisingly complicated attack system.

Add to that process a game world that can only be described as disturbingly strange, and you get a better idea of what we are talking about, right?

A Surpise PAXed with Fun
When we arrived for our appointment we were not all that surprised to see a long line of interested gamers, or by the groups clustered around the booth having conversations about the game, because as weird as it is, there is a lot of fun packed into that ungainly title!

Most gamers could not get around the religious overtones of the plot, or their feeling that it was very likely to come under fire by the religious right in the USA. It certainly has all of the hallmarks for that sort of reaction, and even though we are very familiar with the naivete and innocence with which many games writers and developers in Japan approach the subject of religion -- all religion mind you, not just the Christan ones -- we could not help but feel for them for what they will eventually encounter when the more sincere nutters get hold of this.

In Japan the game industry has long history of killing Gods in their video games -- in fact that combination of irreverence and blasphemy has existed almost as long as the modern video game industry itself, and when you look at it from their point of view it actually does make sense...

Ask yourself this -- if you had a choice between battling a flesh and blood monster, or a God who has God-like powers -- what would you find more challenging and interesting?

Forgetting for a moment that they don't really see this as an issue of religion -- it is about the game man -- it's a wonder that they don't get into more trouble than they already do with the religious right! We are sure that at least part of it is that they usually fly under the radar of those less tolerant bible-thumping bellowers who still think that crucifixion is sometimes justified, but sadly this is no longer the case.

Games like Bayonetta have put the JRPG genre clearly in the crosshairs of those nutters, and make no mistake, while they may have been largely unaware of these games in the past, thanks to groups like The Christian Gaming Zone, Christ Centered Gamer, and websites like Voont, flying under the radar just got a lot more difficult.

To give you a little perspective here -- in his review of Bayonetta the self-styled "professional video game reviewer" Lucas Bell, writing for Voont, says:

"I noticed the godlessness that pervaded most popular videogames... These games contained dinosaurs, rock and roll, and kissing. Sorry game developers but the only kissing I'll be doing is with the lord, through prayer, so count me out! "

His feelings about video games are pretty common to that side of the street, so we were not really surprised when, as we approached the booth, a woman stepped up and warned us that the game they were playing over there was created by the Devil, and that we were risking our souls to even look at, let alone play it. Sigh.

Despite the risk of damnation -- now there was a game that could get you sent to hell -- we wanted to give El Shaddai another go because it has a lot of talent behind it. In addition to being the first game to be directed by Sawaki Takeyasu, one of the founders of the now closed Clover Studios, some very talented artists who had escaped from Capcom had put their heart and soul (I hope not literally) into the game, so it was deserving of a good hard look -- especially as you will likely be playing it later this Summer!

After playing as much of the game as they would let us, we are relieved to find that our opinions are unchanged, and happy to learn that this title will make its debut outside of Japan after all.

While it was not really obvious at PAX East, we predict that later this year when more of the people who got to taste this at PAX get to actually play the full game, it will be added to the list of the many surprises at PAX East 2011.

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron has yet to be officially rated by either the ESRB or PEGI at press time, but we would not be surprised to see them give it a mature rating. It will release this Summer on the Xbox 360 and PS3, and no doubt begin blowing minds shortly thereafter.

Official Title: El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron
Developing Studio: Ignition Entertainment
Publisher: Ignition Entertainment
Release Date: April 28th, 2011 JP / Summer 2011 Worldwide
Platforms: Xbox 360 / PS3
Genre: Action-Platformer
Ratings: TBA