El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron is one of the coolest video games names of all-time, but for that very same reason, we can probably surmise why so few people actually played the directorial debut of Devil May Cry and Okami character designer Sawaki Takeyasu.
But in a year where other contemporaries of that era, like Nier, are getting reconsideration, maybe El Shaddai will receive the same treatment, as it arrives on Steam this week.
The 2011 action game influenced by the Hebrew religious text Book of Enoch, in which players fight as a scribe trying to prevent a flood from wiping out mankind, has not seen a re-release until this moment. It was praised at the time for its unconventional premise and eye-catching aesthetic, but went largely ignored. Those eccentric design choices might be better received in 2021, as collective notions of accepted design have continued to widen.
Gaming culture is, broadly speaking, into weirder stuff these days. And El Shaddai is weird! It looked like nothing else, and even a decade later, El Shaddai still stands out. At one point, they even produced an official line of branded jeans for this game. (I tracked down one person on Twitter who bought—and still owns—a pair. They described them as comfortable.)
Is it good? I have no idea, but I'm curious. I, like others, adored the colorful trailers for El Shaddai, but never gave the game a real chance when it was released. Cult word of mouth means I'm pretty sure there's a copy of the game buried in a box somewhere in my house.
What was true in 2011 and remains true in 2021, however, is that El Shaddai director Sawaki Takeyasu is interesting. You never quite know what you're going to get when you send random interview questions to someone you've never met, knowing the questions are being filtered back and forth through a translator, but let me tell you: Takeyasu does not disappoint.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Waypoint: 10 years later, what's your strongest memory about making El Shaddai?
Sawaki Takeyasu: El Shaddai team dissolution.
But more than that, the reaction around me after I got the rights to El Shaddai is the most memorable. [Editor's Note: Takeyasu bought the rights to El Shaddai in 2013.]
At first, when I was wondering if everyone would say, "Wow, let's do something" when I got the rights, surprisingly there was almost no one like that. Looking back now, I don't think there was anyone in Japan who had the same experience as I [had].
Do you enjoy revisiting old games, especially ones you've worked on? How did it feel when you picked up a controller and started playing around in El Shaddai again?
I feel mixed, because there are lots I want to remake. To be honest, after the release, the criticism was almost unimaginable. That's why I don't want to go "there" again.
However, El Shaddai has a world that other games do not have, so if you haven't played it yet, you should definitely experience it. For questions after playing, we have prepared a special novel, so I would be grateful if you could supplement your questions there. I would be grateful if you could read it after clearing the game and have more delusions about the world of El Shaddai.
From what I've read, Ignition came to you with the idea of a game based on the Book of Enoch. What attracted you to the idea of adapting that to a video game?
I simply thought that the interesting project came to me.
The Old Testament was not well known in Japan, so I enjoyed looking it up myself. However, there is still a religious element, so if I can work on the next work, I'm thinking of reducing the religious color a little more in the form of a reboot.
“I am not interested in a specific religion, but I basically think that my real life will start after death. It seems like killing time bound by gravity and breathing for me to live in this world.”
What was your impression of religion prior to making El Shaddai, and how has that changed over the years? Has growing older given you a different perspective?
I am not interested in a specific religion, but I basically think that my real life will start after death. It seems like killing time bound by gravity and breathing for me to live in this world.
In that sense, if I can die comfortably without pain, I would like to die soon. To tell the truth, such an idea appears in Enoch's character, and Lucifer's words also have such a message.
The reaction to El Shaddai was very divisive. The people that loved it, really loved it. While you were developing the game, were you thinking about how people would react to it?
I targeted to propose a new world view, so I directed to develop this game under my egocentric spirits.
There are pros and cons to such content. Rather than making something that sells, I put in a message that I want something that is necessary for the development and prosperity of human beings in the future, and there are pros and cons to that. Also, I feel that [such] pros and cons are meaningful to my life, so I think that will be the case for the content I create in the future.
Around the game's release, there was a lot of discussion about whether the game would provoke a religious backlash, because of its subject matter. Did that ever happen?
I thought there [would be] some, so I was rather relieved to hear that, but one thing unexpected was there were lots [more] female followers than [we expected].
I have held many solo exhibitions in Japan, but most of the people who visited there were female fans. I'm glad I was able to make something that women like. Because I think that many women have delicate sensitivities. I am happy as a creator to be recognized by such people.
El Shaddai marked your debut as a game director. That's a lot of control and power over a project, along with a lot of responsibility. Was that experience a memorable one?
I wish I could [have] made it by myself, so I will try [with] my company’s project if there will be a chance in the future.
Equal to a mighty God, please give me a chance as an elect to show the wisdom of living strongly to ordinary people.
2011 was a long time ago. What's changed in your life in the 10 years since
I think I have matured enough to be a game creator as I have gone through many businesses.
However, I learned that there are many people in the game industry who are more business-oriented than I expected. When I was at Capcom, I was thankfully allowed to pursue my ideals, but now that it's a business with great risks, I find it difficult to get one person's will recognized. However, when I see many creators creating a wonderful world in such a situation, I feel it is reliable and envious.