Ten years after it’s initial release on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron has made its way to Steam. Inspired by biblical apocrypha, El Shaddai sees Enoch – a human scribe – embark on a quest to purify the souls of seven fallen angels and prevent a great flood from destroying mankind. To achieve this, players guide Enoch through a dynamic mix of hack-and-slash action and 2D/3D platforming.
Combat is easy to grasp thanks to its simple mechanics, but has enough nuance to stay interesting. Enoch can wield any of three weapons, each with their own strengths and flaws. The combo-centric Arch is fast, fluid and easy to use. The long-ranged Gale is weak, but can be safely fired from a distance. The heavy-hitting Veil is slow, but doubles as a sturdy shield. You’re encouraged to choose the right weapon for each situation, and switch weapons often by disarming your foes.
Although the combat is fun, enemies could be too bulky for my taste on Normal difficulty. I never got stuck, but over time fighting did begin to test my patience. With the benefit of hindsight, I might have played on Easy just to make the battles more brisk. Unfortunately, you can’t switch difficulties without starting a new game.
When Enoch isn’t busy brawling, he’ll be making his way through an array of platforming stages. Thankfully, El Shaddai‘s controls are tight enough that these segments go by pretty smoothly. There are some awkward jumps here and there – particularly in the 3D stages – but never so many that it gets frustrating. Generous checkpoints mean you’ll rarely lose much progress when you fall, and the static camera is only a problem on a few occasions.
However, what really makes El Shaddai special is the presentation. The game’s aesthetics are awesome, in the truest sense of the word. Through the game’s eleven chapters, you’ll be treated to a spectrum of vivid, alien landscapes, with no two stages truly looking alike. Each level is a treat for the eyes, and the distinct art style has aged beautifully. Dream-like visuals and a sweeping orchestral soundtrack create the sense that Enoch is embarking into a world well beyond the mundane, on a journey that feels genuinely epic.
El Shaddai also features almost no UI from start to finish. Both Enoch and his enemies’ health is represented by how much of their armour has broken, or another change in appearance. It’s easy to become entirely immersed in the adventure, pushing onward to see more.
As a quick aside, it’s important to note that the PC port runs very well, but it is somewhat bare-bones. The graphical options are very basic, and can’t be adjusted inside the game. You’ll also need a controller, as there’s no keyboard and mouse support. Still, barring a few known issues, it’s an otherwise solid port and is easily the best way to experience the game at this point.
Given how much I enjoyed it, I’d be hard pressed not to recommend El Shaddai – though the recommendation comes with caveats.
If you don’t care about presentation and artistry, then El Shaddai has little to offer you that games like Devil May Cry or Bayonetta couldn’t do better. Judging El Shaddai strictly as a video game, it’s perfectly average. Competent, enjoyable, but rarely truly exciting.
However, as a complete experience, El Shaddai is quite special. At around 7 hours long (if you’re good), it’s a pretty comfortable length and the game rarely drags it’s feet. With it’s emphasis on immersion (you can’t even turn the UI on until you’ve beaten the game), it’s easy to be drawn in. If you haven’t played El Shaddai, then it’s definitely worth checking out.
While El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron doesn’t reinvent the wheel for action games, it stands out with it’s unique and outstanding presentation. Guiding Enoch through El Shaddai’s fantastical landscapes easily becomes an engaging experience. Worth checking out for it’s art alone.