El Shaddai Hands-On Preview: The Most Refreshing Thing I've Played All Year
I know that some videogame writers are firm believers of the whole “no cheering in the press box rule.” And, to some degree, I can definitely see where they’re coming from. So with that in mind, normally when I attend preview events I’m all business. I say hello, ask questions, play the game — get in and get out. And that’s what I had planned with my recent demo session of El Shaddai, but it just didn’t work out that way well, because, for the first time in a while, I was too busy being completely blown away.
The title comes to us from UTV Ignition Games and is the product of the collaboration of some well known names from Japan. Leading the helm is industry veteran Sawaki Takeyasu, who you should recognize as the man behind the beautiful character designs found in games like Okami and Devil May Cry. Joining him in the audio department is composer Masato Kouda, who’s well known for his work in the Monster Hunter series. The two have come together here to create a game that’s unlike anything you’ve ever played.
It’s All About the Story
El Shaddai’s story is definitely one filled with plenty of lore considering it’s pulled straight from the dead sea scrolls. It’s a Biblical tale, yet it’s not included in Hebrew or Christian Biblical canons, and actually the only faith left on the planet that does consider it canon is the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. It’s kind of like when you get a book from the library and one of the pages is missing — yeah this is just like that, except something really awesome happens on the missing page here.
You play as Enoch (whom the book is named after), who was once a mortal man but was summoned to heaven by God because the almighty needs a favor. It turns out that God has seven angels who are rebelling and they think that they have a better idea of what the earth should look like. This was at a time where angels were free to come and go as they please, even if it meant going down to earth to have some fun; and by fun I mean reproduce with humans.
Enoch is chosen by God to go back down to earth along with the help of four “still good” angels, and ironically with the help of not-yet-fallen-angel Lucifel is as well, to take down these seven bad seeds. God provides Enoch with an armor that will allow him to fight against such beings and he is then sent on his way. Now, if that’s not the baseline for one hell of a videogame, then I don’t know what is.
Eye Candy is an Understatement
It was Shane Bettenhausen, the person who demoed the title who said “this game is Devil May Cry meets Okami by way of Evangelion”, and that’s exactly what came to mind when the screen first lit up and the beautiful colors exploded through the conference room plasma screen. Out loud I let out “wow, this looks f*cking awesome” because first: I couldn’t help myself, and second: it was as if a water color painting had come to life on the screen. These vibrant hues of blues and pinks and other colors that I can’t even name, they all just came out at once. Let’s just say that I was in awe, and once the character starts moving on the screen and the camera comes in tighter, that’s when you realize that this work of art you’re looking at is actually a videogame.
It was because of those very visuals that the design team went the route they did in terms of a heads up display (HUD) integration. What they did was both genius and simple at the same time. There is no heads up display at all. Instead the player can determine the amount of damage taken by the real-time condition of Enoch’s armor.
As our hero takes damage, he’ll lose piece after piece until he is left in nothing but his blue denim jeans. You’re probably saying “what, blue denim jeans?” I know I didn’t mention it but not only does Lucifelis have the ability to time travel, he also has a knack for bringing things back from the future, including things like blue jeans and cell phones (which he calls God on).
Combat that Doesn’t Get in the Way
To keep the player engrossed in the narrative as well as the art style, all the controls for the game have been mapped to four buttons. At your disposal, you have attack, jump, steal (weapons), and, of course, block. When I first heard that there was one button for attack I was a bit nervous, but then after playing it and seeing how deep the combat could be with taps, holds and hesitation presses, it all just started to feel really natural.
Don’t think for a second this is a cake walk though, as even I got my butt handed to me during my time with the demo. The key to this game’s combat, just like any Japanese action game before it, will be blocking and parrying. Shane told us that on easy, pretty much anyone can walk through this title; on normal, the later parts of the game can get about as tough as Ninja Gaiden or Devil May Cry 3. And, because of that difficulty level, you can expect this one to last you about 13 – 15 hours.
There are three angel weapons used in combat, and you can only carry one at any given time. The first is the Arch, which looks like a cross between a bow and a saw. It provides for the most balance out of the three, and can also be used to provide some extra help during the platforming sections. The second is the Veil, it’s the heavy weapon in the game. Essentially, it’s like two angelic gauntlets that can come together to create a shield; it also allows for movement while blocking. The third happens to be the light weapon and, because of that, it’s by far the hardest to use; it’s called the Bale. The crazy thing about this last one though is that it allows for “in-air-dashing” and will allow you to access certain areas of a level you wouldn’t normally be able to — areas that will probably determine whether or not you get the “good” ending, because this game has two of them! So you want to make sure to keep your eyes open for new areas to access as you’re playing through the game’s 11 chapters.
What To Expect
For those looking for some variety in their games, this title has it. Following the game’s gorgeous opening credits, you’ll start out in a few 3D areas, but after a couple chapters, you’re then introduced to 2D/3D-hybrid side-scrolling sections as well. In these sections you have some combat here and there, but there will also be arena’s along your path where you’ll be thrust into battle as you make your way through. While in an arena, the game does shift back into 3D. The game even has a driving section later on in the story!
The game was released last week to a nice reception in Japan and is still in the process of being tweaked and polished for its big western release. Purists will be able to play the game (the way it was meant to be) with the original Japanese voice work along with subtitles. Those that do choose to play it with its English track will also be pleased to know that it does have some Hollywood help and it comes in the form of Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter films) who voices Lucifel in the game.
Going in to this demo, I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I knew that guys from this site were all over this one at PAX East, but I never made my way to the UTV Ignition booth to see it for myself. After playing this demo, I can’t wait to see how everyone else receives this game at E3 in a few weeks, because, as far as I’m concerned, this game should easily be in the running for many people’s ‘best of show’ lists as it’s the most refreshing thing I’ve played all year. And the best part about it is that we should be expecting it to be released this summer.