Review by Savok
Reviewed: 02/21/03 | Updated: 02/21/03
Flying high on broken wings
When Silicon Knights created Legacy of Kain: Blood Omen, they gave the world something special, they gave the world Kain and the land of Nosgoth. But after Blood Omen, another company took up the banner, Crystal Dynamics, and this was their first game with what many consider the greatest videogame character ever created, Kain. They did quite well, albeit a very different type of game. Not only that, you don't control Kain in this game, but one of his ''children''.
Story (and for the sake of proper scoring, voice acting as well) - 9/10
After Blood Omen 1, Kain set about building his vampiric empire, to aid him in this, he created six lieutenants, the first of which was Raziel, our protagonist. As time goes on, vampires evolve and Kain receives a new ''gift'' every now and then, his lieutenants follow afterwards, only now, a thousand years on, Raziel has been bestowed a gift before his master, wings. Kain doesn't take this well, he tears the wings from Raziel's back and has him cast into the Lake of the Dead (water is like acid to vampires). After an eternality of pain Raziel awakens, his form distorted, now in service to the Elder God with his hunger replaced by a deeper need, souls. The Elder God wants only one thing from Raziel, Kain's death.
Thus begins Raziel's tale of revenge, going from one end of the dying Nosgoth to the other, killing his brothers and consuming their souls. The plot basically follows that road, the Elder God points you in the direction of the next boss, you go and kill him, consume his soul to get a new power, move onto the next target. There are a few times when this changes and you encounter things you don't even expect, but it does follow that formula for most of the game.
What really makes the story is the way it's done, the writing is superb and the voice acting is some of the best you'll probably hear in a videogame. The verbal jousts between Kain (voiced by Simon Templeman, the man who gives Kain a soul) and Raziel (voiced by the godly Michael Bell)... the only complaint about them is there are too few and they're too short (something solved in Soul Reaver 2). The rest of the voices are wonderful.
The only complaint about the story is perhaps lack of really deep depth, which can be excused because this is really only the first layer of many in the story of Raziel. Some people say the game ends too abruptly as well, I don't share that opinion, it's quite obvious you're on the last leg of your journey. Flaw's impact: minimal
Graphics - 8/10
Your typical PSX game really, pixilated textures that seem to bend as you move, bizarre physics for items (they sometimes sit in midair) and odd clipping problems, you can't really expect more out the machine, there are technically better looking PSX games out there though. Can't say much more then that, except that the warping of terrain in the spectral plane (I'll get to what that is) is extremely well done for something on the PSX.
So lets talk about design and aesthetics instead, which are incredible. Starting with Raziel himself, he looks great with his shattered wings and anorexia, which kind of makes sense since he is missing his entire jaw. Kain radiates command and strength, the other vampire lieutenants all adequately showcase their own power with a slight sense of horror as well. The architecture is also to be praised, from underground ruins to the great human city, it all looks ''right'', even the ridiculous amount of blocks (I'll get to that as well).
The only complaints here are the colours, everything is just a shade of vomit brown. It makes perfect sense since Nosgoth is literally dying, but it's everything, even some of the enemies are that colour! Flaw's impact: moderate
Sound - 7/10
Sound is probably this game's weakest point, seeing as it's not terribly weak says something. The actual sound effects are what you'd expect, the gargled noise vampires make when you impale them are nice, the scratching of Raziel's feet as he grabs onto a ledge, the way the Soul Reaver itself sounds like a broken lightsaber. It's not bad, but it's nothing overly special either. The music however is different.
The music is very well done, from what sounds like a death march to complementing the eerie depths of a stronghold, it's all great stuff. And not only that, but it doesn't sound like every other piece of videogame music, it's incredibly distinctive, there's no ''hey that sounds like Megaman'' in this game. Add to that the way the music ''hollows out'' when you enter the spectral plane, it's fantastic.
The only problem is that the music has a tendency of getting very confused as to where you're going, the music changed 4 times within 10 seconds at one point, sounded like a CD skipping. Flaw's impact: minimal to nothing
Gameplay - 8/10
And now we come to this, the core of the game, and what an odd little core it is. The first thing you'll notice running around (beside the Dual Shock support) is there are no loading times (well, one when you begin), everything is streamed as you play, while this does cause some slowdown at times, it’s usually during the transition between the spectral and material planes, so it acts like a ''feature''.
Your enemies in the material plane are vampires, devolved vampires, but vampires all the same. That means they're immortal, while you can beat them to a state where they just bleed a lot and look dazed, they'll heal fairly quickly. What you need to do is fatally wound them, this can be done a number of ways: you can throw them into water, set them on fire, impale them with weapons, throw them onto something pointy for more impaling, forcing them into direct sunlight (though how that's possible when the sky is filled with smoke and there's no sunlight OUTSIDE is a mystery) and even sticking your Soul Reaver in to make them explode. More interesting still is a vampire's corpse will remain until you absorb its soul, remove whatever killed the vampire and his soul will return and he'll try to kill you again, marvelous!
The spectral plane's enemies aren't so fun however, you just need to beat them until they almost fade from existence then sucking in what's left. Note that when Raziel is ''killed'' in the spectral plane, he's drawn back to the Elder God, for once the story explains a character's immortality.
Now onto the spectral plane itself, Soul Reaver is played through two planes of existence, the spectral plane and the material plane. The material plane is the real world while the spectral plane is the spirit world, only Raziel isn't totally ethereal, although he can't affect the material plane from the spectral plane, he can't pass through walls and can kill other inhabitants of the spectral plane (well, drain their strength and then consume them anyway). And while he can leave the material plane at any time (whether he chooses to or not), he can only return to the material plane through portals.
What this gives us is a puzzlers dream, ledge too high? Go into the spectral plane, the world is distorted there and the ledge may lower, or your position will elevate. Once you have phase ability, the only way to pass locked gates and fences is by phasing through them in the spectral plane, allowing access to different areas. Pulled that switch from across the room but can't get to the door in time, just shift into the spectral plane, time in the material plane stops in the spectral plane. What ends up happening is that you constantly shift between the two to solve puzzles and gain access to various areas.
Add to this a semi-non linear world full of secrets and entire areas that are optional (hell, the entire magic system is optional!), basically rewarding you with extra power, this equates to really good gameplay.
So why isn't this game perfect? Well, Raziel isn't perfect for starters, for the most part controlling him is simple enough, jumping, gliding, fighting and so on, but when it gets to really intricate landings or something similar, you can't help but feel Raziel isn't doing what you're telling him to, not exactly anyway. What this leads to is falling down and doing it again, not a terribly big deal, but it can be annoying. Flaw's impact: minimal to moderate
The magic system is fairly pointless unless you manage to find a lot of it (giving you more magic points to use), while it is helpful in an emergency when you aren't at full health (so no Reaver) and nothing around you can kill the vampire with, a question remains, why bother killing it? At that point you're better off just running past it as it bleeds and looks dazed. Flaw's impact: minimal to nothing
Then there's the block puzzles, pushing and flipping giant blocks to make complete pictures or act as footstools is far too common in this game. I liked these puzzles until 287th one, there's just no end to them. Flaw's impact: moderate
Lastly, the abilities you get from defeated bosses, 4 of the 5 you get are great, and really do feel like proper new abilities. But one of them is just a puzzle device, it's disappointing that after the quality the others had, all you get is a thinly veiled key. I would prefer an actual key, it wouldn't be so insulting. Flaw's impact: minimal to nothing
Long term/Replay - Most likely
You'll want all the secrets, you'll have fun killing vampires in various ways, and you’ll just want to play it again because it's damn good and you get to hear the voice acting again.
Buy? Rent? Cast into the bowels of Hell?
I'd say buy, it's the best Crystal Dynamics has done with the license, you'll play it again for the secrets, and you'll want it as a reminder of what Soul Reaver 2 should have been gameplay wise.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
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