A Strange Tale Of Cellphones And Godly Weapons
HIGH Still an incredible aural and visual experience ten years later.
LOW Repetitive hack-‘n-slash gameplay leads to fatigue.
WTF Having to find the cellphone guy to save the game.
Originally released in 2011 for Xbox 360 and PS3, El Shaddai was one of the weirdest experiences one could have at the time. It was a blend of simple platforming and fighting mechanics mechanically, but it featured an art style so unique that even today I struggle to think of anything that comes close.
El Shaddai, now a worldwide PC release, tells a complex story taken from the Book of Enoch, inspired by ancient religious texts. The player will inhabit the jeans and blond hairdo of Enoch himself, sent by God to seek out seven angels who are plotting to destroy mankind with a huge flood. While it may seem a simple story, the narrative will soon spiral out, anime-style, into a whole lot of characters with dubious motivations, subplots and obscure references. It might not make for great storytelling, its weird tone goes hand-in-hand in with the rest of the experience.
Mechanically, it’s a third-person action title, with a few very basic puzzles (push button to activate platforms to jump on) and a whole lot of fighting involved. Enoch can double jump right from the start (thank Heavens!) but has very few commands — attack, guard and steal weapon. The attacks can be chained together and, with the use of the guard button, a few additional specials can be performed. Weapons can be stolen from enemies, which is a mechanic that is mainly useful to shorten fights since they do tend to take a bit too much time and can’t be skipped.
The fighting is mostly… okay? That said, the repetitive nature, limited combo system, and enemies that take ages to defeat all contribute to fatigue.
At this early point, I’ve very nearly summed up the entire gameplay experience — jump from platform to platform, arrive at a platform where a fight will take place, defeat enemies, rinse and repeat. There are a few variations like one notable sequence where Enoch transforms into a motorcycle and runs throughout the level, but El Shaddai is a pretty barebones package.
Now on PC, El Shaddai has been upgraded to support higher resolutions, along with added video setting options so obtuse that I couldn’t make heads or tails of them. There are no other new graphical improvements otherwise — this is important to note since those interested in the title are probably drawn to its visuals, and this is amazing since El Shaddai is still a visual standout now, even as it was back then.
Each level carries a unique visual style, with the first having a sort of impressionistic vibe, the second an incredibly beautiful symbolistic/cubist neon approach, and it progresses from there. Each one brings something new to the table and it’s telling that despite El Shaddai being ten years old, I’d be hard-pressed to find something that looks as uniquely interesting as it does. That said, I was never entirely convinced by Sawaki Takeyasu’s character designs, which seem more Western-inspired than anything — after all, Enoch is a blonde-haired blue-eyed guy ricking a generic California surfer dude vibe.
Like the powerful visuals, the soundtrack is nothing to scoff at thanks to former Capcom composers Masato Kouda and Kento Hasegawa giving their all, from lush orchestral sweeps with a full-blast choir, to tribal percussion with mysterious voices, to the mandatory rippin’ hard rock during the boss fights. It’s a true pleasure for the eyes and ears, indeed.
Ten years later, the fact that El Shaddai remains so unique is a great testament to the vision of its creators, with interesting designs, tremendous avant-grade art style and a fabulous soundtrack. Despite its basic hack-‘n-slash mechanics not being terribly interesting in the long run, the off-the-wall narrative and luscious aesthetics are more than enough to warrant a recommendation.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Crim. It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on PC. Approximately 5 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode and the game was not completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: The game is rated T by the ESRB for Animated Blood, Fantasy Violence and Mild Suggestive Themes. Despite not being very violent, I would recommend the game to a teen audience since the overall religious narrative is a tad too complicated. Apart from there being little blood and violence appropriate to a fighting title, there are some mild suggestive references to sexual intercourse that come up a couple of times.
Colorblind Modes: there are no colorblind modes.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game features subtitles for all spoken dialogue, and audio cues are not used to communicate enemies’ attacks. Text cannot be altered or resized. In my view, the game is fully accessible.
Remappable controls: The game does not support a keyboard and mouse — a controller is required to play. There is no control diagram. The main controls are mapped on the main buttons (X to attack, A to jump), with guard mapped to the right shoulder buttons. The triggers are not used. The controls are NOT remappable.