El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron Review for Xbox 360

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron Review for Xbox 360

Lots Of Art, Less Game

When UTV Ignition set out to create El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron, they were determined to make the most artistic and thoughtful game yet. Considering the plot, graphics, and overall setting, they must have hired countless artists, writers, theologians, and philosophers in order to make the highest quality game they could produce. Unfortunately, they forgot to hire the actual game designers. This is an action game that takes the notion of “games as art” to a truly unhealthy level. It’s far more art than game, going so far to actually sacrifice gameplay for the story. It touches on aspects of Christian mythology no other game has dared to use, but it just doesn’t have that solid framework to keep you playing.

Seven angels have fallen from heaven, and it’s up to Enoch—one of God’s scribes, a descendant of Adam, and a forefather of Noah—to climb the unholy tower these angels have constructed. Inside the tower is a strange abstract world twisted to the very thoughts of the fallen angels themselves. Enoch must survive the tower and return the angels to heaven, or else horrible things will happen to all us mortals down here on Earth.

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron Screenshot

The story is told partly through narration, partly through flashback, partly through the voices of archangels speaking to Enoch, partly through discontinuous narrative, and partly through the actions of Enoch himself. As convoluted as that may sound, it’s actually done well. The game manages to say the right things at the right time to reveal just the right amount of information to the player. The story actually leaves you guessing, not only in relation to the plot, but also in relation to the very make-up of the game universe. It’s very reminiscent of the Shin Megami Tensei series in that regard.

However, as adept as the game is at telling its story, it’s even better at showing you its story. The visual style of El Shaddai is unparalleled. For example, the very first scene in the game starts you off dying in an impressive boss fight. It’s then revealed that the power of the gods can give you a second chance, and the game actually rewinds in front of your eyes all the way back to the title screen. Pressing start will start the game again, this time in a different time and a different place, making the player himself feel almost like a strange participant in these physics-breaking meanders.

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron Screenshot

However, the visual style just gets cooler from there. At the very base you get to see massive angelic landscapes and abstract environments unfolding in front of you. However, at points in the game you will see ages pass in the background as you progress. You will find space contracting and expanding as you move, teleporting you to dark rooms, crystalline mountains, and winding paths suspended in the middle of nothingness. There is one point where you run across the tops of waves as transparent drawings reminiscent of Japanese art control the wind around you. Branching paths take you through different locales, different time periods, even different states of mind. Sometimes all color will fade and the world will become black and white; at other times the world will fade to total darkness. But everything I just described doesn’t even come close to doing this game justice. It’s truly one of the most awe-inspiring visual masterpieces that has ever been created.

Then there is the sound design, which is on par with the visual design. The music changes from Latin chants to pieces composed of violins and bells to jazz to tribal chants and more. There are even pieces with elements of techno and electronica in them. The sound effects also fit the game perfectly. Reality breaks apart with the sound of glass breaking. Some enemies die with a wail, while others are purified in a strange combination of laser sounds and crackling electricity. Frankly, the sights and sounds of this game are just magnificent.

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron Screenshot

Having said all that, the gameplay of El Shaddai is unfortunately rather shallow. There is a single button to attack, a single button to defend, and a single button to jump—that’s about it. Enoch can either spam his attacks for quick attacks, charge them for slow powerful attacks, change the timing of his combos to vary up his assaults, or even counterattack, but in the end all this really amounts to is mashing the attack button while enemies die all around you. Enoch doesn’t really expand his repertoire or get more powerful as the game goes on, so whatever you did to survive in the first few stages will last you clean through the final boss.

Enoch has four fighting styles to choose from. He can either fight unarmed, which he rarely does considering how little damage he deals on his own, or he can steal weapons from enemies. Unfortunately, there are only three weapons he can steal, and he gains access to all of them fairly early on. This also unfortunately means that there are only really three enemy variations that you will come across, with any other difference being purely cosmetic.

As you fight with weapons, they slowly become corrupt, which makes them do less and less damage as time goes on. Enoch can take a second to purify his weapon, but doing this leaves him open to attacks. Frankly, this is just tedious. Enemies are slow enough that Enoch always has enough room to take a breather; if he doesn’t, he’s pretty much fated to die anyway. If a weapon becomes corrupt enough, it does next to no damage, so you’ll frequently end up finding yourself breaking a rhythm of perfectly enjoyable button-mashing just to make sure your weapon is clean.

There is no HUD in the game, and this is downright infuriating. You have to judge the purity of your weapon by its color, and you judge the health of Enoch and his enemies by the amount of clothes they are wearing. Yes, attacking enemies or getting attacked makes pieces of your clothing shatter, leaving Enoch in nothing but a pair of tight jeans. While Enoch’s super bishonen blonde hair and chiseled pecs may be enough to make girls squee, a health bar would have been a lot more practical.

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron Screenshot

There are tons of other poor design decisions littered around El Shaddai as well. For example, there is a depressingly high amount of frustrating jumping puzzles in levels that are abstract enough to warp the definitions of up and down. To revive yourself once you die, you need to mash buttons, but you never really know when to start mashing or how mashing even helps. It honestly feels like the game arbitrarily chooses when to throw a “game over” in your face.

There are points when the game randomly switches up the game type on you. You’ll find yourself suddenly placed in 2D platforming levels, or even racing segments, and this would feel innovative if the controls were good enough to allow for multiple game types. Instead, we have a clunky control scheme that causes cheap deaths, which amounts to untold amounts of player frustration. To top it all off, the game is only about ten hours long, which makes its sixty-dollar price tag feel more than a little excessive.

Frankly, I don’t know whether I like El Shaddai or not. I like about a half of it, and I dislike the other half. I like it as an art piece and I dislike it as a game. Heck, I’d say that its actually much more fun to watch than it is to play. I commend the game for raising the artistic bar, but I think it serves as a good warning to developers everywhere. Games should be art, but that only works if you have a game to start with. That being said, El Shaddai is enjoyable and I would actually recommend suffering through the frustrating jumping puzzles and bland combat mechanics just so you can experience the artful design. And that is probably the only time I will ever recommend doing that in my entire career as a video game journalist.

When I first gazed upon the works of angels, I cried tears of joy and elation… or something like that. 2.5 Control
One-button combat controls. Mash until it works! 5.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music is great, the sound is great, and the voice acting is great. It’s a pleasure to listen to. 3.0 Play Value
Ten hours of three enemies, jumping puzzles, and one-button combat? Ugh. 3.9 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.

Review Rating Legend
0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid 2.5 – 2.9 = Average 3.5 – 3.9 = Good 4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
2.0 – 2.4 = Poor 3.0 – 3.4 = Fair 4.0 – 4.4 = Great 5.0 = The Best

Game Features:

  • Expect the unexpected. El Shaddai defies gaming convention by mixing a wide variety of game play styles, including 2D side-scrolling action and 3D exploration.
  • Lose yourself in the compelling storyline based on the ancient apocryphal tome, The Book of Enoch, but told with a modern flare and uniquely artistic approach.
  • Innovative Zero HUD Player Feedback System’ utilizes dynamic environment, character, and audio clues to keep the player engaged without cluttering the screen with extraneous indicators and information.
  • The three-button control system is simple to use yet surprisingly deep, delivering exhilarating, flowing action that allows both casual and hardcore players to enjoy the game at their own pace.
  • Fluid environments with constantly dynamic elements create a flowing living world filled with a wide variety of unusual landscapes unlike anything previously seen in gaming. This is enhanced by high-production-value cinematic cutscenes to an inspirational full orchestral music score.
  • All weapons are forged from crystalline heavenly knowledge beyond the grasp of humanity and possess supernatural powers. Among them is the Arch, a holy blade with the hidden power to slice through anything.

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