Exploring the Breathtaking Visual Beauty of ‘El Shaddai’, influenced by Apple iPod Ads

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron is one of the most underrated treasures of the PS3/Xbox 360 era. That’s the message from those who have experienced the distinctive action platformer, which was launched in 2011.

An exploration of El Shaddai — Ignition Tokyo’s lone game prior to its closure just before the game’s 2011 debut — reveals a world filled with light and color that is remarkably beautiful. Visually, it captivated people’s attention. However, despite the game selling close to 100,000 units by the end of 2011 in Japan, it failed to gain widespread popularity elsewhere in the world.

Fast-forward to 2024, and the game is receiving a fresh opportunity on Switch. El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron HD Remaster will be released globally on April 28, 2024, with Limited Run Games releasing a physical version. While the game made a return on Steam in 2021, this marks the first time Nintendo console owners will have the chance to immerse themselves in the breathtaking, distinctive world as the protagonist Enoch and fallen angel Lucifel.

Prior to the Remaster’s release, we had the opportunity to converse with the game’s Director and character designer, Sawaki Takeyasu. Known for his work on character designs for Devil May Cry, Steel Battalion, Okami, and Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse, El Shaddai marked the artist’s debut as a game director. Since then, Takeyasu has gone on to establish his own studio, crim, and was able to reacquire the rights to El Shaddai from its former publisher UTV Ignition Games, creating a number of subsequent projects, including the 2017 dungeon crawling RPG The Lost Child.

Our interview with Takeyasu takes a look back at the original release of El Shaddai, the inspiration behind the visual style from the Apple iPod, and the challenges of developing such an ambitious game in 2011, along with the hurdles (and rewards) of bringing it to Switch in 2024.

Nintendo Life: This marks the first release of El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron on a Nintendo console. What makes the game a perfect fit for the Switch?

Sawaki Takeyasu, Director and character designer of El Shaddai: To create the Nintendo Switch version of this game, we developed an entirely new game engine to enhance the game with 60 frames per second in Handheld mode and full HD in TV mode. This engine also enabled the game to run more smoothly than ever on a more beautiful screen and partly reduced its loading times as compared to the past. Additionally, given that El Shaddai involves many jump actions, we believed that playing in Handheld mode on Nintendo Switch would be especially enjoyable.

Sawaki Takeyasu
Sawaki Takeyasu — Image: crim

Overall, we believe that the Nintendo Switch is the ideal platform for playing El Shaddai with these improvements.

El Shaddai marked your debut as a director after working on games like Devil May Cry and Okami. What did you bring from those experiences to your first video game as a director?

Transitioning to a new studio and assuming the role of a director was quite a challenging experience for me. During my time at Capcom, I honed my skills as a technician, but taking on the responsibilities of a director at a new studio meant a significant increase in my workload.

…my biggest inspiration for El Shaddai was the art directors who teamed up with me

While I was confident in my ability to oversee the artistic aspects, establishing a new game studio required me to handle various aspects such as management, team building, recruitment, studio production, and making decisions as a director regarding scenarios, music, 3D models, programming, and gameplay. To handle all of these responsibilities, I made an effort to establish a clear vision and build a team I could rely on to help me achieve my goals.

El Shaddai is based on the apocalyptic Hebrew text, the Book of Enoch. What attracted you to that specifically?

The Book of Enoch was relatively unknown among Japanese audiences, particularly its name at the time.
The fact that foreign audiences were more familiar with it than Japanese people sparked my interest. Additionally, instead of directly using the source material, I chose to construct a fantasy world based on the Book of Enoch, which allowed me to exercise creative freedom.

As a result, the story of Lucifer’s Fall, particularly the bonus after-story included in the game, deviates significantly from the original Enochian text, becoming an entirely original narrative.

The visual style of El Shaddai is incredibly beautiful and it still looks fantastic today. Can you talk us through how you came up with the art style and about any inspirations?

…the idea of bringing El Shaddai to a new audience on the Nintendo Switch is exciting

I sought to create a world that had never been seen before and that would never grow old. I drew inspiration from Apple’s iPod commercials at the time.

However, my biggest inspiration for El Shaddai was the art directors with whom I collaborated. Their presence and assistance allowed me to visualize the intricate visions I had imagined and bring them to life in the form of a game.

Releasing the game in 2024, how do you think themes of religion and self-sacrifice will resonate with players compared to in 2011?

It’s intriguing to note the cultural contrasts in the perception of El Shaddai. While many regions may view the game as a work of fantasy, in Japan, it is generally not associated with religion. Instead, it is perceived as a lighthearted and fun adventure, almost like a game of the internet meme of that famous quote from the game “No problem. Everything’s fine” or “I’ll take the best you have”.

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron Screenshot 1
Image: crim

Hence, I have observed that there are varying perceptions between Japan and other regions, particularly with regard to the emphasis on the visual beauty of the game.

What was it like returning to El Shaddai after you bought the IP rights from UTV Ignition Games and after developing The Lost Child, another game set in the El Shaddai universe?

Talking about the development and release of El Shaddai is quite an extraordinary journey, particularly given that the studio had closed by the time of its release, and I was the only one in the team on the day it launched. This unique situation likely contributes to the fact that the game is still relatively unknown to many people.#

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron Screenshot 7
Image: crim

After 13 years, the idea of bringing El Shaddai to a new audience on the Nintendo Switch is exciting. The challenges of porting the game may have initially led to hesitation, but finding a dedicated main programmer, Mr. Hayashibara, who could make it happen, reignited my determination to revisit El Shaddai. It’s a testament to my dedication and passion for the project, and it’ll be interesting to see how the game is received by a new generation of players on the Switch.

You originally stated that El Shaddai was the fourth game in a planned nine-chapter story. With this Remaster and The Lost Child, do you think you’ll return to the El Shaddai universe and the ‘Mythical Concept’ again with a new game?

The story of El Shaddai is further extended in the bonus novel “Lucifer’s Fall”, covering chapters of 4 to 9.
I also penned related books under the brand “Shinwa-Kosou” (Mythological Concept) in Japan, adding depth to the lore and world-building of the game. I would like to explore chapters 1 to 3 in the future.

If you could go back in time and change anything about El Shaddai’s development, what would it be?

I hope that Lucifer might offer a chance to turn back time one day.

Having all of the fallen angels transform and re-appear numerous times was something I had envisioned for El Shaddai, but due to resource constraints at the time, it was not feasible to include all of them. In hindsight, I believe that by redistributing these transformation elements, it would have been possible to include all the fallen angels.

If I could go back in time, I would reconsider the overall level design. I hope that Lucifer might offer a chance to turn back time one day.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

We greatly appreciate Takeyasu-san for sharing his insights with us about El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron HD Remaster, which will be available on Nintendo Switch on April 28, 2024. If you’re interested in obtaining a physical copy of the game, pre-orders will open on Limited Run Games’ website on January 26.

Are you eager to dive into the world of El Shaddai? Let us know in the comments.

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