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Played Out - El Shaddai (Addendum)

The morning after my last post, I read it over in the hopes of being awed by my own lexical splendor, as I am wont to do. Instead, I discovered some underdeveloped opinions that would surely shun me from the prestigious world of new games journalism. I would like to address said shortcomings here, with the simple caveat that I become a literary hero after doing so.

What's that? Literary heroes are better defined as people who are able to convey an authentic human experience through story? They don't simply beg you to accept their point-of-view by arguing it in a blog post? Well, I don't want to brag, but I just read Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms, and it was totally sad, and that's gonna make this two point add-on to what I wrote last week really good.

The first point I stumbled on was being a bit too whiny about the confusing plot and lack of substance in purely mythological tales. Granted, it's in my nature to be whiny as an overexposed American; yet I feel the game deserves more credit than I seemed to give it. El Shaddai succeeds automatically through its exclusion of aliens and the military, and it's probably the only surreal, anachronistic take on a Bible story any medium is going to see for years. Whether or not that experiment works on an emotional story level remains debatable, but it definitely works on enough levels to warrant a play test.

This playing part segues into my bigger failing, which was to curtly dismiss the fighting mechanics. I said something about not feeling comfortable translating my button inputs into onscreen actions, and this concern is legitimate; however, its legitimacy may be largely personal. I have played a number of 3D action games, yet I've never excelled at executing the complicated combos that ostensibly determine the player's success against various opponents. I over-rely on techniques I find to work early on, sometimes struggling to adapt to enemy pattern changes later. El Shaddai seems to react against these possible complexities through a limited control scheme and a simple 3 weapon, rock-paper-scissors... but it adds a different layer of complexity by not clearly revealing the success of your attacks. Enemy armor does break off during the battle, but between these strict visual changes progress can be hard to decipher. I don't even know whether I would have figured out the rock-paper-scissor mechanic without reading the instruction booklet.

In comparision, I've been playing Zelda II for the NES lately, which -- despite its limited technological capabilities -- delivers obvious and pleasing visual and audio cues that you're damaging your opponent. Sure, doing so makes the game more gamey, and El Shaddai does not want to distract from its immersive art environment. However, I don't think inserting some aesthetically appropriate effects to demonstrate that you are effectively fighting would have been distracting or difficult, and it would have personally encouraged me through some of the dragging battles. Interestingly, after beating the game, the option to display the enemy's health status does appear, suggesting that its absence during the initial playthrough is an entirely creative decision.

Regardless of the effectiveness of this decision, knowing that such a decision can be made in so profit-dependent an industry made me happy enough to feel guilty enough about the resultant feel of my last post to return here. And maybe I failed and ended up whining again, but it doesn't matter, because A Farewell to Arms is really good, and I read it, and you effectively read it too by reading the above, awesome prose.

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