El Shaddai is one of the most surreal games ever created.
NeonNinja wrote this review on .
Takeyasu Sawaki is the main man behind El Shaddai, and he was clearly a fan of Hideki Kamiya's own Okami. El Shaddai's combat system is derived straight from Okami. You will find yourself placed in arenas where timing-based attacks will determine how you play. Button-mashing may help you get through the first few chapters, but once all of the weapons are introduced and the enemies become faster the game's combat system begins to shine. Rapid taps will make quicker, weak attacks, holding the button for longer periods will have stronger attacks. I was surprised at how many different combos I could chain together with just the one button. The weapons are a major part of the experience as well, and again feel similar to the weapons in Okami. The Arch is great for quick attacks and chaining combos but not so much for defense. The Gale is great for long distance attacks and lets you easily evade attacks. The Veil is great for defense and hits the hardest of all weapons but is by far the slowest. Have the wrong weapon handy and opponents will easily find openings, have the right one in hand and the advantage will be in your favor. Each weapon has different counterattack as well as different special moves, so there is more variety than initially meets the eye.
Meanwhile, damage taken or inflicted is not displayed through a HUD or health bar, but rather by Enoch's armor as well as the enemy's armor, as it shatters during combat. The thing is, with the armor damage, Enoch basically has five health points. It may seem like a low number, but the developers have included an option that should you fall in combat you hit the two bumpers and the A and X buttons to have Enoch revitalize himself, with the help of the Archangels. This is not a system that can be abused though, each time you use it becomes more difficult to make it work, until it stops working and you receive a game over. From there though it resets and lets you go at it again. It's a smart decision and one that helps to allow for some experimentation with the boss battles.
Combat is a major part of El Shaddai, but it's also a great platformer as well. I enjoyed every single platforming section in the game, whether it was in 2D or 3D. Often the most amazing visuals were on display during the platforming sections. The 2D sections are artistically the most amazing of all. One level has you riding waves to reach higher ground, another takes on a storybook vibe, another has Enoch in a silhouette as he jumps higher and higher with the painted glass images of the four Archangels in the background. The 3D sections are well done too, though these are more used to break up combat sections. Towards the end, the game's platforming gets fairly challenging as platforms move and obstacles get in your way. There will be a few times where you will miss a platform and it has to do with how insane the visuals are, but the problem is infrequent and by the time you figure out to just watch for Enoch's shadow over the platform you'll have forgotten about the issue altogether.
The story and world are what makes El Shaddai stand out though and help enhance the platforming and combat. You'll guide Enoch into the light to purify him, ride a motorcycle through a cyberpunk world where evolution is limitless and more. Each floor of the tower is like its own world and no environment ever repeats. Each of the fallen angels has modeled a floor of the tower based on how they perceive the world so the difference between the worlds will help you to better understand the type of opponent you will be facing. The musical score is spectacular as well, from soft music to set the atmosphere to playful music in certain sections to very heavy and emotionally charged tracks that help build a true sense of urgency. The English voices are very well done as well. Lucifel is one smooth cat, and the developers very smartly included a line where he suggests to God to take a break from running Heaven and that he let him run things for a bit in his place.
At its core, El Shaddai is a basic game. One button combat surrounded by creative platforming levels round out the experience. But that's the thing; El Shaddai walks the line between being an action game and a platformer. This isn't a game that's comparable to Bayonetta or Ninja Gaiden. It carries more in common with Okami, just in a different genre, or combination of genres. But the characters are excellent, the visuals are absolutely stunning, the music is beautiful, the concept is shockingly well-executed and it all ties into the tight gameplay. El Shaddai could have been a good game, but the end result is a fantastic game.