El-Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron, the new adventure/platformer/fighting game from UTV Ignition is an interesting choice for a games market becoming increasing fat on realistic war sims, HD re-releases and sequels. Basing your game on a re-imagining of a religious text is a bold step for any developer, although we might have expected something of the like from Creative Director Sawaki Takeyasu. Your intrepid Citizen Game reporter chatted to Sawaki-san about life, the universe and his latest game, and whether he gave anything thought to potential anger about his interpretation of a crucial Biblical text.
Don’t say we never bring you anything nice.
Can you explain a little about the background to El Shaddai for those who might not know the story?
Sawaki Takeyasu: Well, the project first began several years ago. The concept for us to base the game on the Book of Enoch actually stemmed from UTV Ignition’s London headquarters, but they gave me a great deal of freedom to adapt it into something unique. I find the themes and characters to be quite interesting, and it’s not a story that Japanese gamers have likely been exposed to before. The basic premise of Enoch’s story, how he is tasked with travelling from Heaven down to Earth to bring the fallen Watchers back to justice… it made for an interesting framework to forge a game around.
Score attack action gameplay might seem to some to be a strange choice to tell a story about fallen angels. Why do you think games like Bayonetta and Devil May Cry, as well as El Shaddai, have drawn their inspiration from gothic and religious themes?
ST: I feel that it’s wise to take inspiration from such themes. The Book of Enoch is a very old story, yet it’s not one that everyone is entirely familiar with… but the underlying themes resonate even today. So I found it exciting to be given the opportunity to create something new based on something very old. These old parables have survived for thousands of years, being retold through the generations, so it’s interesting that I’d be able to fashion a video game around this story and bring it to a new group of people all over the world.
The first thing that strikes a new player is the beauty of the artwork, and the tremendously unique aesthetic vision. To what extent did the art influence the game design, and vice versa?
ST: I was lucky to have been given a great deal of creative freedom to design the game’s stages how I saw fit. And since I had previously worked as an Art Director on Okami, I could empathise with the demanding job that my art team had to undertake. With El Shaddai, I wanted to forge a game that presented environments that were always changing, and that your journey through the story would continue to surprise you with new visuals. I’d say that my concept for the art style and the gameplay were both present from the project’s outset, and I was able to stay very close to my original vision.
You were heavily involved with the development of both Devil May Cry and Okami, are there any lessons the team as a whole learned from either of those popular and critically lauded games?
ST: I doubt that I could have approached El Shaddai if not for the work that I had done on Okami. In fact, I’d like to think that this game is a culmination of all of my previous work on games, including Devil May Cry. And since it was my first experience directing an entire team, I now look back on the entire development experience as a real learning experience and a special opportunity to grow as a creator.
Clearly, the team drew a great deal of inspiration from the Old Testament, but are there any other sources that guided development?
ST: Much of the artistic inspiration came from deep within my own mind… which is a strange and wondrous place to explore. Very few games allow their creators to channel such abstraction into a finished project. But I did take a few inspirations from other things that I like.
I really enjoy the work of famous “kiri-e” artist Masayuki Miyata. Another inspiration was “Kachina’s Stone,” a collection of Native American mythological relics and artifacts. Also, German artist Horst Janssen his use of expressive lines in his pencil drawings, and I wanted to capture that here. And, I was also inspired by the characters of Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, one of the most well known Gundam artists.
Drawing from a religious source is something that not many devs have dared to do thus far. Were there any discussions about potential backlash against your re-interpretation of Biblical imagery?
ST: We are concerned that some people might not understand our intent with El Shaddai, but since it is not based on the canonical Bible, I don’t think there will be too much backlash. It’s been an interesting learning process for all of us.
In Japan, we often view religion as more a spectrum of beliefs, and citizens here often will describe themselves as following multiple belief systems and philosophies. Being exposed to other belief systems is always interesting, in my view. I don’t worry about offending anyone, and I secretly hope that this inspires players all over the world to learn more about the roots of religion and belief. Exploring these sacred texts is a noble pursuit.
Do you think the blending of a Japanese aesthetic and gameplay style with Western mythology is something that could bring mass market appeal in both territories?
ST: I certainly hope so. We’ve had a lot of great feedback from the game’s many Japanese fans, and I’m encouraged by the response in North America so far. I’ve always felt that European gamers might be even more willing to accept things that are visually outside of the norm, so I’m eager to hear what they think of the final game!
Now read about what we thought of the game in our review of El-Shaddai.