El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron’s opening credits where Enoch side-scrolls through a hundred years of time sets the tone for the game. The highlight of Ignition Japan’s first and sadly final game is its striking scenes.
Ignition’s game is based on the Book of Enoch, which tells the story of Noah’s great grandfather. Don’t worry if you’re not familiar with the source material, director Takeyasu Sawaki took a liberal interpretation of it. I’m pretty sure Lucifel didn’t give Enoch denim from the future in the scrolls. Enoch has to find an invisible tower on Earth where fallen angels live and have been creating Nephilim, a new race that look like the Haniwa from Final Fantasy Legend II. Enraged that they have worshipers, God vows to flood the Earth unless Enoch can round up the defectors. Before Enoch was tasked to save Earth, he was peacefully writing scripture in Heaven. He’s a quiet protagonist, so Lucifel does most of the talking to God (via a cell phone at save points) and the player. Early on he says, it’s possible to beat the game in just a few hours and challenges players to do so. Although there are some lip syncing issues, El Shaddai is Ignition’s best localization to date. Enoch sounds dull, but that matches his character, Lucifel is the real star and his voice fits nicely. In addition to the English language track, El Shaddai retains the original Japanese voiceovers.
The actual game is a mix of close combat and platforming. 2D and 3D platforming. In one early area, Enoch vaults on to floating platforms while fallen angels, immortalized on stained glass, are in the background. Later, he’s surfing on waves. These images are a treat in 2D, but the living painting graphic style makes 3D platforming segments harder than they should be. Sometimes its unclear where Enoch can land since black spots can be holes and solid ground. Fortunately, El Shaddai is forgiving. Miss a jump and Enoch is teleported to safe ground with a finger snap. The Gale, one of three divine weapons you can acquire, is helpful during these segments since it grants Enoch an air dash.
When you’re fighting the game’s odd enemies, the Gale acts as a long range weapon. Enoch can toss projectiles that lock on to enemies and knock them down with a Gale powered dragon punch if they get too close. Enoch can also grab a Veil, a defensive weapon that lets Enoch walk up to enemies will blocking, and the Arch, a glowing blue bow that acts like a sword. I suppose as a fourth "weapon" Enoch has his fists, but since you can steal weapons off enemies Enoch doesn’t have to worry about breaking one of his (presumably) well manicured nails. El Shaddai has a rocks-paper-scissors system with the three celestial weapons. However, it’s mostly ignored because Enoch can only hold one weapon at a time and disarming enemies takes precedence. Removing an enemy’s weapon changes their attack pattern and usually makes them more vulnerable, but you’re also stuck with whatever weapon they had.
While most action games have separate buttons for light and heavy attack, El Shaddai only has a single attack button. The key to the system is pressing it at different times. Delay for a second and Enoch will flip over an enemy and break their guard. Hold the attack button down and you can counterattack. The system Ignition created is rhythm-like and to Sawaki’s credit the player gets better instead of learning new moves. To mix things up, each weapon also has two multi-button special attacks, like holding guard and pressing attack. The controls are simple enough that anyone can pick up El Shaddai. The problem with combat is it’s repetitive. Battles tend to take place in dark, comparatively bland arenas and because enemies use the same tools they repeat attack patterns. There isn’t much variation until you get to the far out boss battles. It’s like Sawakai and team took the creative energy they used to make the environments and poured into those fights. (Chapter 7!) As a mid-boss of sorts, Enoch also meets fallen angels that overpower him. You can win these fights, but the angels have no mercy for Enoch and his mission. Lose and the game simply moves on.
Enoch and his enemies do not have life bars. Instead everyone has breakable armor. When Enoch is naked, he’s defeated, but you can bring him back to life by mashing buttons before his eyes close. This gets harder to do (you need to mash faster) with each near death experience. Outside of forced arena battles, combat is optional. You can run past enemies straight towards the goal. While the levels look inviting El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron is a linear game. Branching paths may have collectables or hidden areas, but the game has one route to follow.
While the ideas come off as disjointed, El Shaddai is flowing with them shifting players from platforming to driving a motorcycle… in the past and then to a disco battle. It’s odd, but that’s also what makes El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron interesting. The game takes a bit to pick up, say around chapter three is when El Shaddai ramps up beyond being a pretty world to gaze at.