Many video games will use gods as characters or base the game’s story on the mythology of gods.
“El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron” (Ignition Entertainment) is adapted from Christian Old Testament writings about Enoch, a man originally written about in the Book of Genesis and later gets his own stories called the Books of Enoch. In his Books, Enoch is taken up to Heaven and becomes chief of the archangels.
In “El Shaddai,” Enoch is a priest who attempts to stop seven fallen angles from destroying the world. Ignition’s director of business development Shane Bettenhausen said there have been plenty of games set in other kinds of mythologies and developers wanted to tell a different story.
“The mythologies of the Western world are kind of off limits in neo-modern, popular culture. Everything biblical is off limits unless you are trying to make something didactical,” Bettenhausen said. “We felt most Christians in the Western world don’t know this story.”
“We felt there was some value in presenting this story (of Enoch), modernizing it, and basing a game on it because it does have a good template of hunting down these fallen angles, bringing them back to face justice in Heaven.”
Bettenhausen said they changed the story enough so it is a new retelling of the Books of Enoch, while being very careful not to step on any toes. The game is not being released in Ethiopia, the only place where the Books of Enoch are considered canon.
“There is nothing in there that will offend anybody, but there is a lot of content that will make traditional Western Christians wonder about this version of Genesis and where these (game) characters relate to the characters they know.”
Developers hope they challenge players to look beyond the game itself and find out more about the Biblical story after playing “El Shaddai.”
“It is a slippery slope, but one we aren’t afraid of,” Bettenhausen said. “We aren’t doing any faith-based marketing. A lot of the religious groups have actually said they are encouraged that a game is pushing religion and not just using it as a selling point.”
Released in Japan in April, the game became an instant hit with the anime fans who appreciated the art style and movements. Early release trailers were shared, fan groups were formed, and gaming conventions in Japan saw groups of cosplayers dressing up as characters from “El Shaddai.”
“We were blown away because rarely, in Japan, do you get a hardcore fans contingent even before the product is available,” Bettenhausen said. “In Comic Con in San Diego (in July), we did have cosplayers. It was really cool to see it happening (in the US).”
Anime fans have been drawn to the game by the development work of Takeyasu Sawaki, who was also a character designer for “Okami” and “Devil May Cry.” Bettenhausen said the anime style lends itself to be more colorful, creative and expressive, which was perfect for the “El Shaddai” style of surreal and wacky.
Female players have also been drawn to the game. In Japan, nearly half of the fan base are girl gamers – a surprising development since most girl gamers don’t normally go for the action-adventure type games.
“Because of the characters, the story, and the art, girls and women really gravitate towards (the game),” Bettenhausen said. “Here in America at the conventions, hardcore female gamers and casual female gamers were coming up and playing a game they normally wouldn’t play.”
He acknowledged that they were concerned about producing an original title in the “year of the sequels” in gaming. But because the story was original and it appeals to male and female gamers, developers think they can make their own mark and stand out from the crowd.
“What’s really going to surprise you about ‘El Shaddai’ beyond the graphics, which are weird, and the story, which is unlike anything you’ve ever seen, is the moment to moment experience,” Bettenhausen said. “Enoch doesn’t know what to expect, and the player definitely doesn’t know what to expect. By the end of the game, you’ve experienced multiple, different game play styles.”
“El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron” is rated T for Teen due to animated blood, fantasy violence, and mild suggestive themes. It is available now in Japan, on August 16 in North America, and on September 9 in Europe for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.