El Shaddai: On A Mission From God

Apocrypha is the catch all for texts which are not part of the biblical cannon, some because they belonged to esoteric groups which jealously guarded their secrets while others were of dubious value to the establishment while others still were considered bunk. The relevant text is the Book of Enoch, and within that text is the Book of the Watchers: this tale elaborates on the events of Genesis which lead to the Flood.

The Watchers descended to Earth and took human women for their brides. This results in their unholy offspring, the Nephilim, and to throw fuel on the fire the Watchers bestow humans with knowledge of technologies alien to mankind. In the original text, Enoch was a just man who went to plead the case of the Watchers when they realize that the jig is up. Enoch ascends to the Heavens and in time becomes more than a man, best known as Metatron. There’s also a Metatron who is known as the Scribe of God, but some debate about whether they were the same entity, or different ones by the same name. However, El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron makes it clear that they are one and the same, but Enoch started as a scribe and when the Watchers make trouble he is sent to Earth to drag them back for judgment.

So we have a game based on an unofficial biblical text, one can’t help but wonder if it turns out to be a dud like The Bible Game which has insipid minigames with vague biblical connections. Turns out the end result is one of the most visually striking and sometimes flat out bonkers game I have seen in a long time.

Combat is simple in concept, but can be demanding in strategizing. Among normal enemies you can steal their weapon, and the three weapons in their arsenal have a rock, paper, scissors relationship. However, on easier modes you can coast with the long range weapon and spam attacks. Interestingly, El Shaddai has weapons which degenerate over time, but with the push of a button the player can restore the function of the weapon. Also, I’m pretty sure if you time it right, the enemy will even back off as you purify the weapon in your possession.

Another big chunk of the game is the platforming, and to be honest the 3D platforming is something of a pain in the neck. On the other hand, your handler Lucifel will snap his fingers every time you fall and you’ll restart at a pretty generous checkpoint and enemies you already defeated will stay defeated so it can be sadistic without being damn near impossible. Where the game really shines is in the 2D platforming sections, and the imagination really comes out.

There have been overtly religious games which are too caught up in orthodoxy or being kid friendly to be any fun. El Shaddai sometimes takes a turn which makes me wonder whether or not they are being a little subversive in the subject matter. In the opening the player gets that Assassin’s Creed disclaimer, so maybe I’m reading too much into the reunion between Enoch and an old buddy of his.

As fun as the game can be, the dialogue can be a little too corny, and the characterization is befuddling. The central character Enoch says so little, so when he does speak it should carry weight. Yet, he has the single dumbest catchphrase ever. Then again, one Watcher throws an insult at Enoch that was so good I had to pause a moment to marvel.

An especially hallucinatory moment is when a Watcher will inexplicably challenge Enoch, but you’re not expected to win the fight. My guess is that this was included for the score attack mode in which the player is fighting for points rather than advancing the plot. This also reminds me of how the game gets started: Lucifel gets Enoch a suit of Greco-Roman armor, Enoch charges headfirst into battle, and in a confrontation with a Watcher I got the tar smacked out of me. Then I start a new game again and then the game proceeds as normal.

While it may not be game of the year material, El Shaddai is one of the most unique and quirky games I’ve played in ages and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to try something fresh in a market oversaturated with imitators. Word is that a sequel is in the works, and I’m not surprised that was intended from the start. In some ways the ending was fulfilling, while on other points it was nonending. I can’t wait to see what they do with the gameplay, or in what completely insane direction the plot takes. So play the original and get caught up now.

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