El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron Review
Developer: Ignition Tokyo
Publisher: UTV Ignition
Available on: Xbox 360 & PlayStation 3 (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
When we first saw trailers and screenshots from El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron, it looked like one of the most interesting games, both visually and in terms of the gameplay, on the horizon. Well, that time between those first looks and now has well and truly passed and the game is finally out in Europe ready for us to get our hands on.
El Shaddai always looked like a game that may have needed a little bit of an explanation to fully understand, but does that take away from the potential enjoyment of the game? Was it worth the wait between when the Japanese region got the game back in April and now, when we’re finally able to play it?
STORY: The story of El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron is based around the Book of Enoch, a book which tells the story of a group of seven angels who left heaven to be with the women of earth, eventually giving birth to the Nephelim, giant creatures that devour everything that they come across until they reach a size where they turn into the Fire Nephelim, which then proceed to burn the earth. Enoch, a messenger of God, is sent to bring back the angels that created the Nephelim and therefore created the problem that the children of God, us mere humans, are currently facing.
As you can probably guess from my very vague description of the story, it’s very hard to follow at times, it’s always jumping from one fallen angel to another meaning that you”ll start tracking down another angel before you’ve dealt with a previous one, and it’s never explained why either, you’re just supposed to accept it. Random boss encounters litter every single level making a story that was already difficult to follow practically impossible by the simple fact that you could be in the middle of what you think is one story line, chasing one angel, only to have another angel pop up and suddenly, like a child with serious case of attention deficit disorder, Enoch is chasing after that new angel now, forgetting the previous one and leaving you, as the player, to try and mentally catch up with what just happened.
GRAPHICS: One of the things that really help El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron stand out from a crowd is the visuals it presents to the player. Each of the areas look entirely unique and not only are they unique from other similar areas within the game itself but the beautiful imagery is like nothing I’ve ever seen before in video games on the whole. If anybody is looking for something to reference for a “games are art” argument they should look at El Shaddai, they will almost certainly find something to put forward as an example.
A side effect of these artistic elements of the game is that some of the pathways can be hard to see due to the brightness of certain sections. There may be a section of path that you’re supposed to walk along, ideally without falling off, but the path is bright white and so is the surrounding area, often resulting in the player falling off through no fault of their own. This isn’t usually that much of a problem for the player, as they’ll generally respawn close by, but it can get a little bit frustrating at times.
SOUND: The sound design in El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron is confusing at the best of times, it’s as if it doesn’t really know what it wants to be, the music sounds suitably angelic most of the time, often quickly switching to a mix of Irish folk music and rock during the boss battles and intense fights, but it doesn’t switch on the lead up to a fight like a game, or a movie would usually do, it’s when the fight starts. It certainly adds to the unexpected nature of some of the fights that occur throughout the game, but it doesn’t help to get rid of some of the confusion.
The voice acting is also quite bad with most of it being too over the top even for the grand scale of the story, and couple that with the fact that the way a player knows they’re approaching a save point is by listening for a ringing phone (which in itself is mind-boggling) and you’ve got the recipe for a game that really doesn’t know what it’s doing 90% of the time; and it shows in the sound design.
GAMEPLAY: The combat system is one of the most impressive parts of El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron, even if it isn’t the easiest thing in the world to get used to. The sheer amount of moves and combos that you can accomplish simply by pushing one button will make players strive to learn the combat system from the inside out. Weapons that you collect are usually corrupted and you learn from the very start of the game that Enoch is one of the few people alive that can cleanse one of God’s weapons increasing the amount of damage they’re able to do. So it’s a good idea, if you pick up a weapon from an enemy during a fight, to cleanse it straight away; if you’ve got an opening in the battle at least. Getting hit while you’re trying to cleanse a weapon would be a little counter-productive.
While playing the game you’ll have to gain the weapons that you’re going to use against your enemies, from your enemies. This stealing mechanic is what makes the combat system in El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron quite fun to get to grips with. There’s not many things which look as impressive as beating your opponent enough so that they drop to their knees, knocking their weapon out of their hands (complete with obligatory in-game cutscene that follows) and using their own weapon against them. It makes the player feel like they’ve accomplished something rather impressive, and more often than not, they have. The developers clearly spent a lot of time with the combat system of the game tweaking it and polishing it, trying to make sure that it fit in well with both the visual style of the game as well as the rhythmic nature of a lot of the levels, and they succeeded.
One of the main aspects of the combat system in El Shaddai is the ability to collect and use different weapons. You don’t get the variety of weapons that you do in some other games that could possibly class themselves as third person hack and slash titles, you only get a few, but the ones that you do get are divine weapons, so that automatically makes them a lot cooler, right? There are three weapons throughout the game that you’ll be able to your hands on, the Gale, which is a weak ranged weapon, the Arc, which is your standard up close and personal hack and slash weapon, and the last being the Veil, a shield which turns into a pair of fist weapons, by far the slowest of all of the weapons but also the most destructive so the choice is yours which you’re going to use at any one point and against any one enemy.
The biggest downside of El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron is the fact that all of the gameplay is very linear. When I first started the game I thought that I would be allowed to go after which ever angel I saw fit, in the order that I chose, but that’s not the case. You’re sent on the mission and you go down a single path which never has any deviations. I thought that this was the most disappointing aspect of the whole game, at least being able to choose the order which I captured the offending angels would have given a sense of non-linearity but, as it stands, there’s not even that small glimmer of hope.
LONGEVITY: Once the player gets to the end of the game there’s no reason to replay it, there are collectibles but most people will be able to collect them all on their first play through. They’re not exactly hidden. More often than not, it is just a case of coming to a fork in the road, and the game is obviously leading you down the right path so by going down the left one first, you’ll invariably find a collectible – not exactly rocket science. The only reason I can see someone replaying the game right from the start, all over again, would be to see if a second play through the game would help them to understand the story a little bit better. Hindsight is a powerful thing, but is it powerful enough to make the story in El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron make sense?
VERDICT: El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron is a difficult game to play. The combat system isn’t the easiest to get to terms with and the amount of frustration it will lead to is quite high, however, if you can grasp it then you will find yourself defeating enemies, stealing weapons and taking down angels while feeling quite a high level of enjoyment in the process. The story is about as easy to grasp as the combat system and even after about 6+ hours with the game I still have no idea what’s happening, the beautiful artistic nature of the levels help to alleviate any frustrations that the story may have caused. El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron truly is an interestingly gorgeous looking game; too bad the gameplay doesn’t quite measure up to it.
By day I play video games, test video games or just simply write about them. By night I fight crime on the streets of London as a masked vigilante known only to a select few ... damn SECRET identity. Could never get the hang of that.
I've been writing about video games for about 10 years now, and playing them for even longer, starting off with a Spectrum ZX passed down to me in about 1988. Yes, I used to play games that came on cassettes. Yes, they were AWESOME!
I've been writing for God is a Geek since October 2010 and loving every minute of it, aside from that I write for my own website and work as a video game tester for Testology. So, yeah, I'm pretty much living the life of a gamer, and I don't intend stopping anytime soon thank you very much.
Unless I run out of money, then we might have a problem.