It’s not often that we get obscure, decade-old Japanese action games ported over to PC – but it’s definitely a trend I can get behind, especially when it’s something as unique as this one.
Okay, so to be honest, I do not even know where to begin with this game. It’s just so unlike anything I have played before that it is hard to really compare it. If I had to, I would say it is something like No More Heroes, but with far more platforming and a story that is just as off the wall, yet with a ton of religious symbolism.
The title – El Shaddai – literally means “God Almighty” and it is also one of the names for the God of Israel. The game itself is inspired by the Book of Enoch and you yourself play as Enoch on a journey to save mankind by preventing the great flood. To do so, you will need to seek out seven fallen angels and enlist the help of Lucifel – and that’s just scraping the surface of the weirdness that goes on here.
Because if I am being honest, most of the story completely flew over my head. The plot structure is kind of simple, but there is just so much heavy-handed religious symbolism here that it’s hard to get a grasp of what’s really going on. There’s all these big names, cryptic pieces of lore handed to you, and the story is constantly on the move, not leaving any time to really get into it.
As I mentioned before, it’s comparable in its level of absurdity to that of No More Heroes, just not quite as entertaining. I am sure some will like how completely bonkers the story is here, but I could not get into it – and this is coming from someone that loves watching Criterion films and all that. Length-wise, it took me just under eight hours to clear, which I find to be pretty standard for this genre.
That leaves the gameplay – and again – this is yet another weird spot for the game. It’s somehow both clunky, yet satisfying, if that makes any sense. Like, there’s this really cool combat system, but then it’s matched with this straight-up stiff and just badly-designed platforming – of which some is done in 2D and others in 3D. The perspective changes a lot and there’s even some minor puzzles thrown in here and there to shake things up. In fact, that’s probably the game’s biggest strength: its gameplay diversity.
Because in spite of how clunky the platforming may be – it is at least constantly changing. You’ll go from some 3D Mario-esque platforming level, to some 2D fever dream with big noodle dudes flying everywhere. There are even some parts where it completely drops the platforming for something else entirely – like one level where you’re on a bike speeding down some highway. The gameplay is all over the place like this and while a lot of it may not stick – I was at least never outright bored with it. There was always some new change or something else completely unexpected in store.
And then there’s the combat, which is perhaps some of the most deceptive I have ever seen from a Japanese action game. Because on the surface, it looks like yet another 1, maybe 2 button spamfest with no real depth to it – but there’s where El Shaddai gets you. The combat may involve maybe three buttons at most, but it utilizes those to their maximum.
As in, the literal timings of those buttons lead into different strings and such. Spamming basic attack may do one string, but delaying the press of the 2nd, 3rd, or whatever button in that string will lead into a new one and so on. Then there’s the fact that these can be combined with your block to do even more attacks. And then there’s the fact that there are three entirely different weapons to use and they each have their own special ability. The shield, for example, allows you to block and dash a short distance at the same time – whereas the blade allows you to bring enemies up into the air for a short aerial combo.
What started off as some simple and – quite frankly – boring combat quickly evolved into something much better, something with actual depth. And this is only bettered by the sheer amount of bosses the game throws at you. Yeah, sometimes it does some repeats, but most of the bosses have some pretty cool designs and some even encourage you to swap between the different weapons to get optimal damage.
And you’ll definitely want to do that as this is by no means an easy game. Playing on normal difficulty, I still struggled with numerous bosses (and even normal enemies) and had to constantly make use of the revive feature to keep going (which basically allows you to spam buttons on death to come back, but only so many times). Overall, the combat is definitely not bad. It can be a bit repetitive at times, but I grew to appreciate it’s “simple, yet nuanced” approach and it was easily the highlight of the experience.
Something else the game does really well are its graphics and environments. Looking past its age, it’s a very colorful and diverse experience. Some levels go for that “heaven-like” look, with environments designed of clouds, white architecture everywhere, and super-bright sunlight. There was one 2D level that had a cool stained-glass background, all while dialogue was playing to tell the story. And then there are several levels that I straight-up can’t really explain.
The designers definitely had some fun here and it makes for a really vibrant game – also one of the highlights of the experience. The music is some good stuff too. In fact, it’s actually the only reason why I was familiar with this game prior to its Steam release. It’s composed by Masato Kouda and Kento Hasegawa, whose works collectively include Devil May Cry, Monster Hunter, and Wild Arms. That same level of quality translates here to El Shaddai, with epic orchestral themes to match the game’s epic scale. I listened to the soundtrack well before actually playing the game and will continue to listen to it in the future – it is that good.
Now the PC port. This is yet another one of those “I’m glad it’s finally come to PC, but I wish they did more with the port”-kinda ports. Like, the game runs well at 1440p and looks great at that resolution, but it is still capped to 60 fps. It plays flawlessly on controller, but does not include keyboard and mouse controls of any kind. That and the loading times are a bit long and I did run into one crash that I was able to reproduce.
It’s a serviceable port at best, hopefully one we can see improved with some future patches, but that might be a bit too optimistic. Still, I would say it’s the definitive way to play the game now at least – performance and visuals are far better than what the game originally had on Xbox 360 and PS3.
El Shaddai is a bit of a unique one. On one hand, you have some really nicely done combat – simple to pick up, yet with a nice sense of depth. On the other though, the story and platforming aren’t really that good and the PC port is a bit barebones. It’s honestly a bit of a hard game to recommend given just how weird it is, but it’s definitely a game I’m going to remember – if not for that very weirdness.
Quote: El Shaddai is a bit of a unique one. On one hand, you have some really nicely done combat, but on the other, the story and platforming are not really that good and the PC port is a bit barebones.
El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron retails for $30 USD on Steam. That or you can hunt down the original version for Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3.
I was provided a review copy of the game in order to write this review. Read more about how I do my game reviews here.