TGS 2010: El Shaddai hands-on impressions

In a show of few surprises, El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron stood out as something special. Though cel-shading has become an artistic direction which gaming has become rather familiar with, Ignition Entertainment’s PS3 and Xbox 360 title manages to take that style into an entirely new realm. The term watercolour cel-shading has been thrown around in order to describe titles such as Valkyria Chronicles, but rather than sharing that same sketchbook aesthetic, El Shaddai bears a look so washed-out yet somehow crisp that the effect is ethereal and stunning to say the least.

Simplification and minimalism is the appeal of the visual style. The demo is initially set on a mountain path, and the snowy landscape and pale colour of the protagonist Enoch, combined with the soft light blue tinge of the lighting, creates a surreal and uniquely spiritualistic look to the game. The enemies are of a similar hue and sleekly designed, and the combat reflects the same sleek and elegant style of the visuals. The initial portion of the demo was in the form of a character action game in a similar vein to God of War but set a more deliberate and less chaotic pace. Enoch starts the battle unarmed but after wearing down enemies (who take more damage than the average action game grunt) with a series of punches and kicks, the opportunity arises to disarm foes and claim their weapon as your own. In this version of the game there was only one kind of weapon which could be acquired but it is interesting how Enoch takes the weapon and alters it not only in appearance, but also in functionality as he makes use of it. In this case a scarlet bow was turned into a pale blue serrated sword which he wielded in an entirely different manner to his opponent. The combat system is simple but combinations of light, heavy, air attacks, counters and chained moves allow at least a degree of variation in the manner with which you are able to dispatch opponents. The block button when used in conjunction with an attack leads to a rapid flurry of kicks, for example.

Following the combat action sequences was a section in which Enoch was ascending the screen against the backdrop of a gigantic and beautiful stained glass window upon which the images of various gods were etched. This scene played out as a two dimensional platformer in which by going left and right the protagonist was able to work his way up to higher ground. Although this section didn’t contain any real challenge as it was just traversing the environment, it proved the versatility of the game’s engine and showed that the style of the game as well as the play mechanics could vary significantly throughout the course of the experience. Enoch was a mere small dark silhouette against the vivid stained glass images behind him, but the blue light of his sword and the orange of his soul shone brightly. As a brief demonstration of the potential for the game to play with its own unique washed-out aesthetic and replace it with such a vivid scene, it was impressive.

The final part involved another platforming section in which the character had to be guided from left to right using a series of floating rock platforms. The movement of the character and the feeling of the double jump meant that this section never felt too out of place or overly challenging, but it provided another fresh perspective. Yet again though it was the visuals that drew the attention as opposed to the gameplay. The most impressive thing about the game is undoubtedly the way in which it plays with and manipulates light and colour schemes, so though the section starts with a soft orange hue by the end it turned to a deep shade of blue. Again there is a strong emphasis on the use of silhouettes, and the contrast between dark shades and light for the character and the background really make the visuals pop. Besides the waves which provide temporary platforms the most visually impressive moment of the section was at the end, in which the visage of a goddess appears and aids you by blowing wind to provide a platform. These wonderful touches are something of which I hope there are many in the final product.

Whilst still very vague at this early stage, this is the first time that the game has been playable. The plot and characters seem intriguing and judging by what has already been revealed about the story this won’t be a game simply focused on vengeance. The religious bent to the plot and the potentially interesting situations it provides give good reason to hope that the story of El Shaddai will be as engaging as its unique visuals.

Even at this very early stage El Shaddai is impressive. The look is what initially draws you in, but the deft and slight touches such as the way in which Enoch’s armour shatters as he takes damage hint that the simplicity of the aesthetics will be complimented by attention to small details. With a mixture of game styles, some very bold decisions with the look of the game and a refusal to rigidly adhere to one way of being perceived, the first impression you are left with is that this could be a game that provides a unique experience.

El Shaddai could turn out to be something very special indeed.

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Written by Stevie L.

Stevie Lim is a man in Japan.


  1. KrazyFace /

    Hmm, interesting. *strokes non-existent beard*

    I’ll be keeping an eye on this one, but when I first saw it I thought it was a different game. It (the other game) has a certian cell shade look to it but it’s from thatgamecompany, just can’t remember what it’s called!

    • Stevie L. /

      Journey is the one you are thinking of and yeah, that also looks great. I kind of wish it had been at the show.

  2. KrazyFace /

    Yeah, that’s the one. Any idea on when it’s release date is?

  3. Stevie L. /

    Nothing more specific than 2011, and I assume it will be late 2011.

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