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El Shaddai (PS3/360) It might be shit?


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El-Shaddai Makes the Old Testament Look Awfully Pretty


Ignition's apocryphal adventure features simple action and stunning graphics.


By Jeremy Parish

Posted: 09/17/2010


Japanese games and the Bible have a very strained (and sometimes very silly) relationship. For every one that does something interesting with what is, for Japan, a foreign faith -- the Shin Megami Tensei  series, for instance -- you have half a dozen others that toss some slapdash Christian references into the mix for the hell of it, regardless of the source material's intent or meaning.


Ignition's El-Shaddai could go either way at this point. The game's title alone is a Hebrew term for God (not to mention an Amy Grant song that safe money says won't be licensed for the game), and its subtitle -- Ascension of the Metatron -- refers to an angel that classically serves as God's scribe or herald. The protagonist is Enoch, which could be a reference to any number of biblical figures by that name, and he was selected for the game's leading role as a test of faith to see if any truly good and selfless humans still walk the earth -- shades of Job's trials. Oh, and his constant companion throughout his quest is a time-traveling angel named Lucifel, better known by the name John Milton gave him after his fall from grace: Lucifer.


So yeah, El-Shaddai is going for the gusto. But you have to give the developers credit; they've done their research. According to Ignition's Director of Business Development, Shane Bettenhausen, the game's story is based on the Book of Watchers, one of the Apocrypha of the Dead Sea Scrolls. However, he's quick to clarify that the biblical references shouldn't be taken too seriously; much like the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion, El-Shaddai doesn't seek to present itself as the "true" story of the Bible, but rather as an interesting improvisation on its themes.


Given its overt religious references, you might expect El-Shaddai to be a role-playing game. Nothing could be further from the truth, though. El-Shaddai is a streamlined action game deliberately designed to minimize screen clutter; instead, the creators hope to draw your attention to the game's visuals. This is a fair ambition, because El-Shaddai is gorgeous. With art direction by Okami's Sawaki Takeyasu, the game presents an ethereal, almost watercolor-like fantasy world with bold patches of light and white, delicate (but not especially feminine) pastel colors, and striking backdrops. Portions of the game play out as a 2.5D platformer, and one particularly striking section of the TGS demo is set before a massive stained glass mural of the four good Archangels who guide Enoch's actions in his battle against seven fallen angels. The scene is rather reminiscent of Kingdom Hearts, but the scenery is far more beautiful.


El-Shaddai conspicuously lacks a heads-up display of any sort. Enoch's health is depicted through the state of his armor, and his enemies display similar telltale signs of damage during combat. The battle mechanics are equally minimalist, with only three buttons controlling Enoch's actions: attack, jump, and guard. Despite the seeming simplicity of this setup, combat isn't some dull button-mashing affair. Both timed attacks and combined actions are essential parts of Enoch's arsenal. Attack and guard together allows Enoch to dodge. Mashing the attack button will unleash a standard chain combo, but a tap-pause-tap strike executed properly will allow you to leap over an enemy and launch a surprise attack from behind. And by approaching a stunned enemy and pressing both attack and guard, Enoch can swipe its weapon, empowering himself and leaving his foe far more vulnerable to attack.


Surprisingly, this ability works even with bosses: The demo's boss is a massive bruiser wielding a protective shield. While Enoch spends most of the demo brandishing the curved blades he can swipe from minor foes, he can swap them out by grabbing the boss' shield. The heavy protective device slows his actions considerably and changes the timing of his combos and skills, but it also makes him far more resistant to his foes' attacks.


It remains to be seen whether El-Shaddai's minimalist approach to gameplay will ultimately leave it feeling repetitive and shallow. To the game's credit, though, the demo at least feels fluid and varied, with enough factors to keep things interesting. The 2D platforming sections help as well, mixing things up by focusing on precision movement rather than combat. According to Bettenhausen, the game features a third play mode that has yet to be revealed. (In light of the heavy biblical themes on display, I'm going out on a limb to predict the final mode is a driving game featuring Jehu.)


You certainly can't fault El-Shaddai for lack of ambition. It's a great-looking game with an ambitious story and an interesting approach to combat. Still, it seems like something of a risk, at least in the U.S. market; the soft artwork, feminine-looking lead character, and Fractured Fairy Tales approach to Judeo-Christian lore could make for a tough sell. But who knows? Maybe Ignition has some savvy marketing tricks up its sleeve to convince gamers that they do, in fact, want to play a game about the watercolor Apocrypha.








Could be either shit or amazing when it comes out, but the look of it alone has me intrigued.

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