As I was waiting for UTV Ignition Entertainment’s Shane Bettenhausen to arrive at SCEA HQ on a recent afternoon, I played through the El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron demo currently available on the PlayStation Store. Co-worker after co-worker popped their head into my office to ask “What is that?” With vibrant colors, buttery-smooth animation, and an uncluttered presentation (no HUD!), El Shaddai is a real head-turner.
The game’s premise is as unusual as its visuals are striking. “This is a retelling of the Book of Enoch, part of the Dead Sea Scrolls,” Ignition Entertainment’s Shane Bettenhausen told me. “It’s not meant to be a complete retelling – we’ve taken some liberties.”
Liberties such as mobile phones, designer jeans, and a driving level which would be at home in a TRON or Final Fantasy title. Despite the biblical angle, I wouldn’t consider El Shaddai a religious experience any more than I would Bayonetta a treatise on witchcraft. Instead, the source material offers up an interesting story and guides some of the gameplay elements.
“Enoch, as a character in the bible, is immortal,” Bettenhausen told me. “He cannot die. So when you die in this game, you always have the chance to come back to life. If you jam on the four buttons that you use to play the game fast enough, you come back to life. But each time you do that, it gets a little harder, like Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!!”
“When you start out, the game is mostly 3D action adventure, and it starts shifting more to a 2D platformer,” Bettenhausen elaborated. “This level is kind of cute, it’s based on these characters called the Nephilim – the unholy offspring of humans and angels. They’re the reason why the world needs to be fixed, because these Nephilim would take over the world.”
A number of PlayStation.Blog readers have asked about the influences and origins of the game’s unique art style, so it wasn’t surprising to hear that the game’s director, Takeyasu Sawaki, was art director on visually arresting games such as Devil May Cry and Okami.
“Enoch is tasked with hunting down seven renegade angels,” Bettenhausen added. “Each of the angels has built a utopia inside the Tower of Babel. So the fact that it didn’t need to make physical sense freed us up from the normal constraints of graphical design. One of Sawaki’s design tenets was that ‘the world should always be changing around you.’ So you see different art styles, different types of gameplay, and you really never know what’s around the next corner.”
Among the differing styles demonstrated for us were platforming, puzzle solving, Devil May Cry-style combat, and the aforementioned racing level – all beautifully rendered in a wide variety of styles. “He drew from lots of interesting artistic inspirations,” Bettenhausen elaborated. “With this game, I think Sawaki designed a new aesthetic. Because there’s so much variety in the levels, and some of the really crazy graphics towards the end of the game are unlike anything I’ve seen. Clearly colors are very important; we feel like a lot of games these days don’t use many colors. The animation was crucial too, and having a really clean frame rate of 60 frames per second is really important because when the combat is all about reading characters animations, reading when to parry, you can’t have slowdown getting in the way of that.”
Performance issues won’t be an issue for El Shaddai on the PlayStation 3. “Its always 60 FPS on PS3,” Bettenhausen explained, “and the controls just feel better. I always tell people that ‘by far, the lead SKU is PS3.’ It is a Japanese game, and in Japan, PlayStation is just so much more relevant than Xbox. It’s sold more than 10 times as many copies on PS3.”
Another key detail: El Shaddai will allow players to select the game’s original Japanese voiceovers in addition to English voice work. Bettenhausen noted. “We definitely wanted to keep the Japanese voices in because, in Japan, the actors they use are famous anime guys,” Bettenhausen noted. “But I will say that the English voices are the best dub we’ve had yet, and Lucifel, who’s probably the character with the most lines, is voiced by Jason Isaacs from Harry Potter.”
It’s been reported recently that Ignition’s in-house development studio closed down. But according to Bettenhausen, that news won’t affect El Shaddai’s North American PS3 release this July 26th. “The dev team wrapped up full development at the end of March, and Sawaki has his own company so he was a contractor the whole time. We definitely would like to do future El Shaddai brand extensions, and I would love of course to work with all the guys from the original game on those, but right now… nothing new to announce on El Shaddai. But we’d definitely love to bring all those guys back.”
The final game will be in stores soon, but if you want to get a feel for the striking visuals and fluid gameplay found in El Shaddai right now, check out the demo on the PlayStation Store. And be sure to let us know what you think in the comments!