Past Blast – El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron

I am not a religious man, but I also don’t like to call myself an atheist either; atheism is just another belief, just another label and just another divide between people. I may not be religious, but I have no problem with religion either – religion fascinates me. The incredible stories, stories that guide people into living a better life, stories that give people hope and stories that help people through tough times; what’s so bad about that?

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron

Behold El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron, a hack and slash platformer developed and published by UTV Ignition Games. The game was released for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in 2011. Development was led by none other than Takeyasu Sawaki, the character designer for classics such as Okami, Devil May Cry and Fatal Frame. It featured voice acting from Jason Isaacs who played Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter Movies.

So, with this class A talent working on the project, why haven’t you, most likely, heard of this game? I’ll tell you why, because you were too busy playing some Western FPS game, (probably).

You really should have played this game, and here’s why reader.

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron
El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron

El Shaddai, roughly translated ‘God Almighty’ takes its story inspiration from several religious texts but the main bulk of the story comes from ‘The Book of Enoch’; Enoch being the character the player inhabits.

Enoch is a scribe in the heavens and is the only mortal human to ever be granted access to heaven, lived for thousands of years and is the grandfather of Noah. Enoch is instructed by Lucifel, a guardian angel who acts as the voice of God (The Metatron), to return the Fallen Angels to Heaven.

The Fallen Angels have disobeyed God’s will and have corrupted human life by progressing human evolution, due to this, the humans now worship the Angels more than God. The Fallen Angels have also created Nephilims, half-angel and half-human hybrids that devour each other (and humans).

It’s your job as Enoch, with the help of Lucifel and the Archangels (Gabriel, Michael, Raphael and Uriel) to put a stop to the Fallen Angels’ antics – preventing the Great Flood.

On the surface, this may look like your typical third-person platformer hack and slash, but it is, in fact, more unique than you would think. With only three weapon types: Gail, a long ranged weapon that allows you to dash in mid-air but is weak in terms of damage, Arch, a mid-damage melee weapon that allows you to perform combos quickly, and the Vail, a slow weapon, but powerful. It can also act as a strong shield.

These weapons can only be acquired by stealing them from enemies, and you can only have one weapon at a time – giving the game a little bit of strategy. After prolonged use of a weapon, the weapon will get corrupted and you’ll need to purify it. However, you must choose the right time to purify your weapon as it takes a few seconds to accomplish the action.

It’s the fight mechanics where the game will either turn people on or off. Spamming the buttons quickly will act as a light attack, having a split-second break within the attacks will act as a medium attack, and holding down the buttons is obviously a charge attack. It’s when you realize this that the combat’s nuances really start to shine through.

Not only this, but the game doesn’t give you a health bar (well, not until you’ve completed it once), instead your armour will break piece by piece until you are a shirtless man in jeans (yes, jeans) and that’s when you die… Or do you?

As the screen fades, if you spam all of the buttons, you will get another attempt and carry on from where you left off – but each time gets harder and harder to revive yourself. If that wasn’t enough uniqueness for you, the game also changes from 3D to 2D sections and never feels off when it does.

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron
El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron

Without a shadow of a doubt, El Shaddai is visually the most beautiful game ever made; I can say that with no struggle at all. See, this story is set before Christ and is even set before there was a Hell, so the game has an otherworldly feeling; it looks and feels divine, nothing is man-made here. Like a Roger Dean illustration.

It achieves this through striking colours and shapes, but there’s also mobile phones, disco-dancing and a motorbike section; it’s the mix of old, contemporary and the profound, it’s like everything you’ve seen and like nothing you’ve seen all at once. The game has a charm to it too, with the characters appearing in a cel-shaded manner. The Nephilim? Even these cannibalistic abominations look cute.

The sound design is very THX, it sounds like they have been treated with a circuit board and transmitted by an aerial; natural but perverted by technology.

Then we have the music and what a soundtrack it is. Just like the visuals, it mixes old with new; you’ll have classic pieces that sound like Steve Reich and Philip Glass B-sides, only for the next level to change to what sounds like Vangelis jamming on a Moog synthesizer; obviously it’s not these artists, but you get where I’m coming from: variety, classic and modern fused together.

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron
El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron

The game does have some faults, like the fixed camera in the third-person sections, making the 3D platforming sections rather irritating as you try to judge the platforms. Another is that the gameplay doesn’t really change throughout, with little variety (except the motorbike section), but with its reasonable short length it’s not too much of an issue.

El Shaddai takes what we know from the past – religious text, 2D platforming, a single attack button, classical music, and then puts its modern spin on everything. We get religious characters wearing jeans and using mobile phones, a rhythmic combat system and electronic music that creates an original and unique gaming experience you’ll get nowhere else.

Sometimes you must look to the past to find the future.

What do you think?

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