El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron Review: In All Its Glory

Embody the wrath of Heaven and bind the fallen angels as you experience cult classic El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron for the first time on PC! Help Enoch on his quest to save humanity and bask in some glorious visuals - even by today's standards.

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron Review: In All It's Glory (PC)

A decade has passed since El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron initially released on the PS3 and Xbox 360. While games from this era receiving ports is not an entirely unheard of phenomenon, El Shaddai carries the distinction of being a relatively obscure one-off that has garnered a cult following of sorts, and is not part of a long-standing series.

This game may have flown under the radar for many gamers even though it received generally favorable reviews back in 2011. To the ire of those who did enjoy it, it never received backwards compatibility on the PS4 or Xbox One and was essentially lost as the 7th generation of video game consoles became obsolete.

While everyone else may have forgotten about El Shaddai, director Sawaki Takeyasu did not and released a sequel in 2017, The Lost Child. It unfortunately was not as successful as one may have hoped. This painted a grim picture for the future of the franchise, until the unexpected announcement that El Shaddai was to get a Steam port. 

This port is brought to you by Crim and is available on Steam for your regional pricing.

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron [PC] Trailer

Story – Emotionally Apocalyptic

El Shaddai is based on an ancient religious text that recounts the story of Enoch as he hunts down seven fallen angels known as The Watchers in an effort to prevent a flood from destroying humanity.

This in itself is a largely unusual premise for a game – developers tend to avoid any explicit references to real-world religions, more often creating their own in an effort to avoid any kind of divisiveness or backlash when marketing their creations. Taking on a story of this nature is as ambitious as it is daring.

The game kicks off with Enoch writing a book in Heaven. He is, after all, a scribe and also one of the few humans allowed to enter. He is then approached by Lucifel, who informs him that it’s time to return to Earth in order to track down the fallen angels. Lucifel also warns him that a lot may have changed since his last visit to the realm.

Unlike Azazel, I didn't expect this

Unlike Azazel, I didn’t expect this

These angels are known as the Watchers. They get this name from the fact that they were sent to Earth to watch over humanity. Their fall from grace came about when they began to lust over humans. This union gave rise to the Nephilim.

Heaven’s Wrath

It takes Enoch some time to find where the Watchers are hiding – a huge tower inhabited by the 7 and their children who drive the entire plot of the game. The children of these angels, the Nephilim, are odd sausage-like beings that devour each other and grow to gargantuan sizes. At this point, they wreak havoc and destruction which, in the end, drove Heaven’s Council to enact the great flood. Enoch is the last hope for humanity.

The angels themselves are interesting characters, each with unique personalities and motivations. They are tragic, corrupted beings who are not inherently evil. The dialogue and ensuing battles are emotionally charged and cathartic, unlike one might expect when dealing with fallen angels.

It's kind of sad, really

It’s kind of sad, really

Besting them rarely feels like an outright victory, it’s more akin to the relief of putting a terminally ill pet out of its misery. This is the kind of emotion very few games can successfully evoke.

Gameplay – Graciously Accessible

El Shaddai is primarily a hack-n-slash type game with some platforming elements, mostly of the 3D variety but occasionally making the switch to a 2D presentation in some sequences. The gameplay, overall, is easy to grasp with no complicated skills or combos to learn. This isn’t the kind of game you will want to play using a keyboard; in fact, the Steam page explicitly states that playing without a controller is not supported.

The controls are as simple as they come, with only a few commands to learn. The commands in question are attack, block, jump and purify. The first 3 are self explanatory, while the purify action is used to cleanse your holy weapon of choice and restore its power.

Lucifel interrupts the flow of time as he sees fit

Lucifel interrupts the flow of time as he sees fit

While this sounds simple on the surface, you will find the combat surprisingly fluid and nuanced. Before I talk about that, I need to mention Enoch’s arsenal.

The holy weapons mentioned come in 3 distinct flavors, namely the arch, gale and veil. To the uninitiated, this might seem like a dearth of choices but they are all fun to play with and unique enough to keep things interesting. They also don’t function exclusively as weapons; for example, the arch allows Enoch to slowly descend as if he had a parachute and alight gently in the platforming sequences.

Fighting With Style

In terms of combat, you would be forgiven for thinking that you could simply mash away at the buttons due to the simplicity of the controls and the absence of any combos. This simply isn’t true, as the game relies more on rhythm-based attacks.

The right holy weapon for the right fallen angel

The right holy weapon for the right fallen angel

Each weapon has its own unique rhythm, which you will want to change up as you go along, since enemies begin to learn your timing and negate your attacks. This keeps things fresh and exciting as the game progresses and throws new kinds of enemies at you.

At this point, you might be wondering how you can tell when your life is running low – there is, after all, no health bar or HUD at all. In an interesting design choice, you can gauge how much life Enoch has left by how much armor he is wearing. As he loses health, parts of it will break off.

When Enoch is throwing down in nothing but a pair of jeans, you know you’re in trouble! Enemies also lose armor as they lose health, although they don’t have the stylish jeans or washboard abs like Enoch, so don’t get too excited about that.

The trouble is in my jeans

The trouble is in my jeans

The platforming elements are generally quite enjoyable, albeit with some of the drawbacks you often find in 3D platformers, such as occasionally awkward fixed camera angles. Some platforming sequences can be a little frustrating, although if you try to ensure that you have an arch equipped it usually helps with its gliding effect.

Graphics and Audio – A Joy To The World

Right out the gates, it’s very apparent that El Shaddai is a visual delight with its surreal and otherworldly presentation. You never quite know what to expect from this game, but you can put money on the fact that you’re in for a treat when it comes to artistic value and level design.

This aspect of El Shaddai has aged incredibly well and is just as jaw-droppingly beautiful as it was 10 years ago. From watercolored vistas to neon hellscapes, with everything in-between. Some levels look like they would be at home in a child’s cartoon, others look like grand-stained glass windows. If nothing else, the gorgeous visuals may be enough to keep some players going.

It's hard to tear your eyes away sometimes

It’s hard to tear your eyes away sometimes

The character designs may not have aged as well as other aspects of the game, but they are interesting and unique all the same. Some of the designs have a slightly unsettling quality to them, although in context they work quite well.

The odd geometry of the fallen angel’s armor is a good example of this, perhaps intended as some sort of visual cue of their perverse natures. The game occasionally reuses some of the more run-of-the-mill character designs, but let’s be honest – they aren’t what you spend your time looking at.

Sonically Sublime

While the mind-blowing graphical presentation may take center stage, there is a lot to be said about El Shaddai when talking about the musical score. It’s every bit as varied and interesting as the visuals. From lofty orchestral pieces with choral chants to more earnest symphonic numbers, and some more minimalistic and contemplative pieces peppered in, one could easily argue that this game sounds as good as it looks.

Is this a dream?

Is this a dream?

It might surprise you to learn that El Shaddai also has quite the roster of voice actors. You may recognize the voice of Jason Isaacs – he also voiced Judge from Netflix’s Castlevania and The Dark Crystal: Age Of Resistance. He lends his voice to Lucifel, who accompanies you throughout the game. Nicolette McKenzie, voicing Ezekiel, may also be discernable to some as the voice of Teersa from Horizon: Zero Dawn, among others.

It’s quite plain to see that El Shaddai packs a punch when it comes to artistic value. It’s rare to find a game with such formidable art direction, and it won’t be a stretch to say that it’s worth playing purely by virtue of this.

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron was reviewed on PC. The review key was provided by PR Hound.

Summary
There are games out there that may do things better mechanically than El Shaddai, but for a game that came out 10 years ago, it holds up. The artistic value of this game is phenomenal and it treads a narrative path few games dare to take, making it uniquely memorable. There really is nothing quite like it.
Good
  • Jaw-dropping visuals
  • Easy to learn yet nuanced combat
  • Ambitious and compelling subject matter
Bad
  • Platforming can be finicky
  • Character designs have not aged well
8
Great

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