I’m going to start with a bit of background on the inspiration for this game. The game is based on the Book of Enoch, a Jewish religious text that, although studied, is not considered to be part of ‘Biblical Canon’ by most religions. Enoch is said to be the great grandfather of Noah and is the protagonist of the game, so we’re talking Old Testament here. As the game tells the story Enoch has been tasked by God to return seven fallen angels to heaven thus preventing God from needing to unleash a great flood.
It’s a fair story but on this premise alone you’re looking at a pretty heavy subject matter for a video game. Luckily El Shaddai’s development team was led by Takeyasu Sawaki, character designer of Okami. With that in mind it’s no surprise that El Shaddai is visually stunning, and not just stunning in the sense that it is beautiful but also that you will be stunned by how the world changes and morphs as you play. It’s not unusual for a game to feature a dream section where your character is taken out of the game world and into a strange ethereal landscape, usually a conceit to reveal some hidden plot element to the player. El Shaddai is a game composed in its entirety of sections such as these. This can be a little jarring but bear with it and you’ll soon learn to go with the flow and expect the unexpected. The heavy nature of the subject matter is also lightened by the wry sense of humor and the matter of fact nature with which your task is presented to you by your pre-cast-from-heaven, angelic companion, Lucifel.
I feel like I should start with by describing one of my initial gripes with the game, not because I’m vindictive and bitter but because it’s the start of the game that is the issue. The first third of the game is extremely confusing in just about every area. This is acceptable when it comes to the story but the flow and explanation of the gameplay is infuriatingly disjointed. While it will eventually make sense as you make progress you may have a hard time figuring out what’s going on as you are pulled in and out of areas, into boss encounters that you can’t win and then being dumped at what appears to be a check point. The only advice I can give here is that you just go with the flow, the explanations of combat techniques frequently interrupt you and are generally unclear but once you’re a few chapters in they’ll leave you alone and you’ll have time to work it all out at your own pace.
You will spend your time with the game following a more or less linear path through the environment, jumping over chasms and from platform to platform. This is where I encountered my main issue with the game: fixed camera 3D platforming. You’d think developers would have taken note by now, trying to judge the distance of a jump without a moveable camera is an inexact science at best. This is only exacerbated by the games ethereal nature and constantly shifting colour pallet. The frustration wrought by inexact platforming is tempered by the fact that falling does not cause you to die. You are usually set back on your feet a few platforms prior to your fall, so not a game breaker, just an irritation.
The real action is what will punctuate the following of paths: the combat. Other than a few minor enemies you will meet along the way combat takes place in a sealed off environment against one or more enemies, with more will spawning in as you defeat their predecessors. While at first this seems to be a button mashing affair you will soon find that mashing just won’t cut it. Correct weapon selection and timing is the order of the day here and once you start to master it the combat becomes extremely rewarding. You’ll need to watch your enemies movements carefully and use your weapon of choice to its strengths in order to triumph. It’s a challenge for sure but infinitely rewarding when you get it right.
At several points the gameplay will switch to a 2D platforming, usually accompanied by some voice over dialogue filling in some of the story. Having recently played Shadows of the Damned, where the shockingly tedious 2D interludes destroyed game pacing, I was very concerned when El Shaddai seemed to be pulling the same trick. My concern was unfounded, they deliver legitimate gameplay that offers a change in setting from the core 3D platforming and combat.