El Shaddai: A gonzo artistic experience

Published 11:25 am Friday, August 19, 2011

3.5 out of 5 stars

I’m not quite sure, but I think I played the equivalent of an acid flashback when I started up “El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron.”

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“El Shaddai” is one of the most beautiful and interesting games I’ve ever played. It’s also one of the most insane and at times frustrating games I’ve ever played, and it’s sure to become a cult classic.

The game centers on Enoch, a jeans-wearing human who acts as the messenger of Heaven, sent 14,000 years ago to dispatch seven Fallen Angels who abandoned Heaven and God to live on Earth. He is assisted by Lucifel, a smooth-talking angel in black who reports Enoch’s progress to God.

Saving your game with Satan aside, this game’s use of Judeo-Christian concepts is marvelous, although more religious gamers may not be thrilled with some of the game’s liberties. The game’s battle system is unique, as Enoch must steal weapons from his enemies in order to fight, and the action switches between 2-D and 3-D on a consistent basis, which keeps you at attention.

The real story behind “El Shaddai” is its wonderful art design. This game is like if Rembrandt and Monet re-made “God of War” in their image. The backgrounds, landscapes and platforms switch between impressionist delights to Baroque wonders to Japanese watercolor-based environments. The artistry in this game is stunning, and will definitely make you feel as though you’re on a different plane of existence.

Yet for all its fantastic qualities, “El Shaddai” fails on a spectacular level in several ways. The load times are atrocious, and it takes the game 10 minutes just to set up. The camera is fixed, which means you can’t appreciate how detailed and gorgeous some of the game’s more abstract levels are. Battles tends to be tedious and somewhat stunted, and there’s not a whole lot of direction on how you’re supposed to proceed in the game. Plus, all of the color and sound makes you feel like you’re supposed to have a seizure at any moment.

You also can’t die. You can revive yourself by button mashing to prevent a game over screen, but you’ll be doing it a lot as the game doesn’t really help you understand what it is you’re doing. You’ll encounter bosses and Fallen Angels, but half the time I lost and I still would proceed with the story. I’m not sure if those wins and losses count, but it’s really jarring to know your actions aren’t making a difference in most of the game, and not just concerning the plot.

This game is an awe-inspiring, gonzo Japanese experiment and I recommend buying it. Just don’t expect to understand what you’re doing the first couple playthroughs, or expect the game’s strengths to always outshine its sometimes glaring faults.