The lights are on
Of all the games I saw at E3 this year, El Shaddai was the one that I knew the least about going in and walked away from most excited to see more. This gorgeous third-person action game puts you into the blue jeans of Enoch, a human called on by God to hunt down fallen angels with the help of God's most powerful archangel, Lucifel.
The story is definitely interesting, but the first thing you're likely to notice about El Shaddai is its striking abstract graphics. The game is being directed by Sawaki Takeyasu, who previously served as a graphic designer on Devil May Cry and Okami. Producer Masato Kimura worked on the Viewtiful Joe series. This is a team that knows how to create visually arresting games.
What do you actually do in the wonderfully colorful world of El Shaddai? Takeyasu told me that about 60% of the game is made up of combat. He wanted the combat to be fun and rewarding but simple enough that anyone can jump in. He referenced Bayonetta, explaining that rather than having virtually every button on the controller be put to use in some hand-contorting nightmare, El Shaddai will stick to three buttons: attack, jump, and guard. The difficulty of combat will come less from mastering intense combo strings and more from hitting on the right rhythm. I wasn't able to play the game to try it for myself, but the way Takeyasu described the combat brought to mind 2008's Prince of Persia reboot.
The other 40% of the game is platforming and exploration. The clips I saw showed Enoch bounding across numerous super-colorful platforms as they broke apart and fell into the abyss below. At some points, the game actually switches to a stylistic 2D for some very old-school but very cool-looking gameplay. Hopefully there will be just enough of this stuff to keep the game fresh.
El Shaddai's story is inspired by the Book of Enoch, a real tome supposedly removed from the Bible, but don't think the religious undertones of the story will keep the game too dry. The trailers I watched had numerous moments of full-on comedy. In one scene, Enoch is preparing for a difficult battle. Lucifel offers him a better set of armor, but Enoch says he's fine with what he has. Enemies approach and almost immediately crush the armor Enoch is wearing and defeat him. The trailer suddenly pauses on what looks like a "Game Over" menu with an option to continue or go to the main menu, and Lucifel's voice blasts, "It's not your time yet."
The scene suddenly shoots into reverse, rewinding back to the moment Lucifel offered Enoch a better set of armor. This time Enoch takes the better armor and walks into battle prepared for victory. Takeyasu explained that this portion of the trailer actually shows off one of the main concepts of the game: When you die, Lucifel will step in and rewind time back to the last checkpoint, another semi-similarity with Prince of Persia.
Lucifel's power over time is just one of many liberties Takeyasu has taken with the Book of Enoch source material. "They say that he is the most powerful angel, but they never specify what that power is. To me, the greatest power you can have is control over time," he reasoned.
Lucifel's power over time also allows him to manifest himself at any point in time. This is where Enoch's aforementioned blue jeans come into play. Though the game takes place far in the past, Lucifel's favorite time period - would you believe it - is 2010. As such, he's brought Enoch the gift of fashion from our time. Lucifel's archangel status also gives him a direct line to speak with God, represented in-game as a cell phone that he can use to call the man in charge at any point.
These weird but fresh ideas mixed with the beautiful art style have me extremely hopeful that El Shaddai could pull through as a very strong title. The game may be out before the end of the year in Japan, but it's not expected in North America until some time in 2011. Hopefully we'll be able to see more from this promising project before that.