Customer Review

47 of 55 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An artful masterpiece that must be experienced, August 17, 2011
= Fun:4.0 out of 5 stars 
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This review is from: El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron - Xbox 360 (Video Game)
We often see the debate rage on about whether games are truly art or not, but rarely do we ask the question: what sort of game would an artist make? El Shaddai would be that answer. You see, the game's director, Sawaki Takeyasu, who was in charge of the game's overall development, has only worked as an artist and even art director for past games he has worked on. Two of them, Okami and Viewtiful Joe, are considered some of the most beautiful and stylistic games ever made. He was also art director for Devil May Cry. His artistic focus, as well as the entire creative teams' purposefully artful approach, is evident throughout the entire game. This game has had a somewhat polarizing effect in the press (Game Informer: 9/10, Gamepro: 4.5/5, IGN: 5/10), with reviews being either universal praise or lots of (undue) criticism. Yes, you need to know what you're getting into when you pop in El Shaddai, a masterfully crafted experience that is meant to immerse and move you.

For me personally, I can already tell you after a bit of time with the game, this game should be bought and bought new to encourage the market to make more products as breathtaking and refreshing as this. It is an exceptional masterpiece that you will never forget, a truly amazing experience. Games this unique and beautiful are extremely rare and El Shaddai ranks among the very best of artistic games. Games like Okami, Viewtiful Joe, Muramasa: The Demon Blade, Odin Sphere, and a few others come to mind. The publishers and developers of El Shaddai need to be rewarded for taking such a huge business risk by putting out a piece of art very different from the 1,001 desaturated shooters that flood the market each year. Also, by buying these sorts of games new, we can show the publishers that we do love beautiful, artistic games, and maybe they'll start making games of this caliber more often than every couple of years or so. With that out of the way, here's some information to help you know what you're getting into with the game. I will keep it all spoiler free. This game is full of amazing surprises that need to be experienced first-hand.

El Shaddai is based on the ancient Hebrew text, the Book of Enoch, found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. Anyone who knows a bit about their Biblical history knows that Enoch was a prophet that was active some time before the fabled flood of Noah. The story of his book, and this game, is that he is sent to "cleanse" the souls of fallen angels, called "Watchers," whose job had been to watch over mankind. They however, grew obsessed with humanity, took women as their own wives, birthed monsters called Nephilim, and now lived among people, corrupting God's divine purpose. It's a fascinating story subject for a game, and the fact that it is a traditionally western scriptural text being interpreted by distinctly Eastern, Japanese sensibilities makes it even more interesting. The characters are fascinating and while the distinct quirkiness of Japanese game design are here (although I wouldn't really go as far as to call it "anime style" per say), it's all a very refreshing experience. As Enoch, you will ascend a massive tower, each floor of which is an entire world devoted to each angel, and that's where the art comes in.

You see, each Watcher became obsessed with a different aspect of mankind, and offered their own unique "gift" to mankind as well. This translates to each Watcher's floor being completely unique in its art design. They're all striking and totally unique. In this game, you will transverse entire worlds that range from ever-shifting water color paintings, a world seemingly pulled from a minimalists' abstract painting in a modern art gallery, an organically rendered world, and even a hi-tech city very reminiscent of Tron: Legacy (Cycle sequence and all). I'll stop there because I really don't want to give anything away, as this game is spectacular when you discover for the first time what it has to offer. The enemy designs all fit their respective environments, and are pretty bizarre and interesting. Actually, all of the character designs are very striking, and some are very strange. Enoch himself is shirtless prophet in designer jeans, with white armor pieces that look like porcelain attached to him to indicate his health level. Archangels wearing black skinny jeans, while talking nonsense (at first anyway) on a cell phone? Yeeeeah, El Shaddai is kind of out there on its own in the world, but that is partly what makes it so spectacular. I really cannot praise the art direction in this game enough. It is one of the most varied, unique, and downright beautifully designed games in terms of art that I have seen since Okami, and I sincerely mean that.

The music cannot go unmentioned either. Composed by Masato Koda, who also wrote the music for the Devil May Cry series, this soundtrack is awesome. This game features music from all over the spectrum, ranging from levitical choirs, to Japanese garden zen-like music with harps and other traditional Japanese instruments, to 1970's jazzy-disco, to majestic Post-Rock. It's all here, and it's all quite excellent. I love it.

The gameplay is probably the most polarizing aspect of El Shaddai, and I can understand why (rhyme unintentional). At its core, El Shaddai is a 3rd person action adventure platformer with lots of beat-em-up moments. This is very well executed. However, this game takes another artistic school of thought and applies it straight to the gameplay. That concept is minimalism. You see, there is no HUD at all in the game. The combat is much more oriented on having encounters with only a couple enemies, with a focus on flow and elegance. Even the non-combat gameplay mechanics are very simple that use few buttons, but are executed elegantly. In fact, "elegance" is the word I would use to describe the gameplay in El Shaddai. This is intentional, and it is done with a purpose. Some in the gaming press have missed that and therefore given the review some poor ratings. Some will hate the gameplay, it's to be expected when it is so deliberately focused on being artistic in its execution and flow. You need to know that going in. Personally, I found it refreshing and very enjoyable, all of it.

Really, whether you enjoy the game or not will really boil down to whether you are in the right mindset to play the game. If you understand that this game, in every single possible way conceivable, is meant to actually stand as an immersive, beautiful work of art, you will absolutely love El Shaddai with your whole soul. Chances are, if you're looking at this obscure game at all, then you will be the type to love it. It is a niche title, that will probably grow to having a very devoted underground following (I truly hope it transcends an underground, cult status though). Personally, I fall in that category, and I am so refreshed after playing El Shaddai. It is a beautiful work of art, poignant and affecting, and I really hope that we get either a direct sequel, or at least a spiritual successor, soon. I said this earlier, but I must reiterate: BUY THIS GAME AND BUY IT NEW! Buy it, immerse yourself into it, and be transported to a magical world where games truly can be masterful works of art!

*As I continue my way through the game, I'll post updates to my review if I feel there is anything important to add to what is here in this review. For now, though, I think this review pretty much sums up the game in a spoiler-free yet informative fashion. I hope it was helpful. Thank you and good day! :)
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Showing 1-10 of 14 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Aug 29, 2011 9:26:52 AM PDT
D. Brooks says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 30, 2011 7:23:05 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 31, 2011 3:01:13 AM PDT
T. Hill says:
With reviews, I don't like reading two sentences, then a simpleton bare-bones list of pros and cons, and finally a two sentence conclusion that doesn't help me identify whether or not its a game I would be interested in at all. That's boring, uninformative, and worst yet, unhelpful.

I attempt to put certain pros and cons into context. I go into detail about the aspects of games I care about the most, which usually break down into story, audio, visuals (art design and graphics), and gameplay categories. Each of these categories usually gets a paragraph. Simple games get less explanation. The more complex and difficult to put into context, the longer the review.

Personally, the reviews I want to read are the ones that go in-depth, so I write in-depth reviews. It's those that convince me to buy a product, not a boring set of lists lacking detail.

Some titles get smacked with less-than-deserved scores because the reviewer is incapable of putting any perceived "flaw," most of which are purely preferential and due to ignorance anyway, into context and objectively giving it a fair, unbiased shake. For instance, knowing what other games the developer worked on may help give gamers an idea of what to expect in the game's focus. It takes more words than people with a short "TL;DR" attention span to do that.

If you don't like it, then don't look at my review. It's that simple. Go ahead and read the other reviews for this game, you know, the ones that are a whopping TWO sentences long and have no informative details whatsoever. Go on, do it. There now, that's better huh? So glad you found writers with the ability to simultaneously botch the English language while still staying true to that "less is better" philosophy of the Twitter generation. Still, my review doesn't deserve an unhelpful vote because you think there's too much text. That's absolutely stupid... ijs }:l

Thanks for the rude tip though, truly! Also, if you had the attention span to make it this far in my comment here, congratulations!

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 5, 2011 4:42:35 PM PDT
Double says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

Posted on Sep 5, 2011 11:36:44 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 5, 2011 11:43:01 PM PDT
T. Hill says:
Why is it, then, that many of the "best" reviews on this site are ones that are as long, if not longer, than what I've written here? I often see super long reviews being considered the most helpful, and yet with my review it's a problem?

The fact is, that the majority of people who have looked at my review deemed it a good one.

I'm sorry if it's too long and rambly, and I'll admit that it can be in this case, but with a game that is this complex in its design, I don't really care to condense each paragraph into one or two sentences, which is what you're suggesting I do. I definitely don't want to go back and try and do that now. Then it would sound stupid.

You're welcome to your opinion. I'll attempt to keep my reviews a bit shorter in the future, but not to the level that you're suggesting. As I said before, it's the long, detailed reviews by people who are obviously passionate about writing and video games that are the ones I enjoy the most. I try to emulate what I like.

I'm genuinely sorry if you don't like that. Seriously, go give the two-sentence reviews for this game a thumbs up. I won't feel bad, really... in fact, I won't really care at all. This review is done, and I'm not going back and doing such a radical rewrite to satisfy the desires of about a quarter of the people who read my review and didn't like it. In the future, I will try to get to the point better. I do aim to improve over time, after all.

Thanks for the polite criticism and suggestions portal, I do sincerely want to get better at this. I'll take your words into consideration for my next reviews.

Posted on Sep 8, 2011 12:43:54 PM PDT
M. Thomas says:
I don't think its the fact that it is long, I think its because you kinda ramble about points that are a bit unnecessary....Very well written nonetheless.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 9, 2011 10:56:12 AM PDT
T. Hill says:
Well, THAT I can accept easily. You're right about my tendency to ramble, especially about conceptually ambitious games like this. Thanks M. Thomas. I'll try to work on that in future reviews. :)

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 17, 2011 6:13:33 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 17, 2011 6:13:55 AM PDT
flutter says:
I didn't feel like you were rambling. Each of your paragraphs and sentences were in the review for a reason. You didn't go off the subject of the actual game anywhere except at the beggining when you were talking about artistic games in general. Since this game is a game that places high importance on it's artsy style I think that was important. Excellent review!

In general I would MUCH rather see reviews that went on longer rather than shorter, unless the reviewer is getting on their soapbox about something.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 24, 2011 9:26:30 PM PDT
T. Hill says:
Thanks a lot for saying that. I really hoped my review would come across as the way you put it. What a relief to know some didn't miss the purpose. :)

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 21, 2011 10:45:30 PM PST
Michael Zack says:
I am getting this game based on your review. Thank you

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 26, 2011 9:01:28 AM PST
T. Hill says:
I'm glad my review helped Michael. Now's a good time to get it, since I've been noticing pretty good Holiday sales prices for it. Enjoy, it's quite a trip.
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