Review by KnightsoftheRound
An astonishing, epic, story-driven adventure that still amazes me even to this day.
Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver, released in 1999 and developed by Crystal Dynamics is the "sequel" to 1996's Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain. Blood Omen starred human turned vampire Kain who was brutally murdered and brought back to life to seek vengeance on his killers, and eventually pursue a quest to restore balance to the land of Nosgoth. In Soul Reaver, the "sequel" to Blood Omen, you take on the role of Raziel several thousand years after the events of Blood Omen.
Soul Reaver continues the story of Blood Omen, yet very minimally. Only the strongest story elements of Blood Omen are transferred into Soul Reaver, mainly being Kain, Blood Omen's protagonist. However in a bizarre turn of events Kain is now the antagonist of the story and Raziel is the new protagonist. As you begin the game you are greeted to a breathtaking cinematic of Raziel defying Kain's authority. In the past Kain created six generals for his vampiric empire, Raziel being the first-born. Over the years Kain and his general's would evolve, however Kain would always be blessed with a new gift first, and then several decades later the others would follow. One day Raziel evolved before Kain, growing bat-like wings. As Raziel presented himself to Kain, Kain grew angry, and broke Raziels wings. Raziel was than commanded to be thrown into the lake of the dead, where he would burn for an eternity. One thousand years later, Raziel finds himself awoken in what appears to be the underworld and is confronted by a mysterious voice. Mutilated and mentally destroyed Raziel is rewarded with a chance to seek out his destroyer and exact his revenge.
Given away anything else would completely spoil the plot of the game, as everything I have said here is told through the introductory cinematic. The story slowly unfolds in the beginning but soon unfolds very quickly towards the end. Soul Reaver is a story driven game, and thus has a story that could be qualified as "RPG worthy".
Soul Reaver is a very mentally draining game, but not in a bad way. It is a story-driven action adventure that involves an equal amount of puzzle solving as combat against your enemies. The combat is simple yet it never becomes stale. When you commence the game you are armed with only your claws, however since you fight vampires for the vast majority of the game you will need to find other means of defeating your enemies since vampires can only be killed by being impaled, or thrown into sunlight, water or fire.
Early on you will be fighting with mostly your claws and weapons, with the weapons you can easily impale your enemies to destroy them, however you can not always carry a weapon with you. This is due to the fact that you will constantly be switching from the material realm to the spectral realm, which will be explained later on. Not to far into the game you will encounter an event that will grant you a weapon that will be eternally bound to you, the "Soul Reaver". The Soul Reaver is always with you on the spectral realm, however on the material realm it is only available when you are at 100% health. As soon as you as struck and lose HP the soul reaver will de-materialize that return to the spectral realm.
The spectral realm is basically where all things "dead" go. Inhabited by scourge and lost souls. For example, if you kill a vampire it's soul will emerge from it's corpse. However if you do not reave its soul it will go to the spectral realm, turning into a vampire wraith. If you switch to the spectral realm a vampire wraith will appear where the vampire was slain. The only way to completely destroy the vampire is to either destroy the vampire wraith on the spectral realm, or revive the vampire on the material realm (only if impaled) by removing the spear from it's corpse, reviving it, and then killing it again and reaving it's soul.
The material realm is where all living objects and species lie. Objects can only be moved on the material realm, and you can only "die" on the material realm. However there are certain abilities that can only be used on either the material realm or spectral realm. For example eventually you will gain the ability to swim, but you can only swim on the material realm, as water is exactly like air on the spectral realm.
When switching between material and spectral realms the world itself will change. When in the spectral realm objects usually take odd form, while in the material realm objects will shape to how they should be. On certain occasions you will need to return to the spectral realm to jump across certain platforms, because in the material realm they are to far apart.
In the material realm you constantly lose health, and you must sustain your life force by regularly feeding on the souls of your enemies. If you sustain too much damage you will be returned to the spectral realm where you will slowly recover and can return to the material realm by means of special portals. However you can abandon your materialized body and return to the spectral realm at any time.
Another interesting part of the combat are the glyph spells that you obtain by solving complex puzzles. All of these glyphs are completely optional and not required to beat the game, but they are extremely helpful, especially when you don't have a weapon handy.
Other than combat the most significant part of Soul Reaver is puzzle solving. You must be hard headed and must be able to make good use of your wits or you will make it absolutely nowhere in Soul Reaver. The puzzles are confusing and mentally draining. You will be doing A LOT of block moving and flipping during your adventure. The puzzles are rewarding enough, since after you do them you get a certain sense of satisfaction because you realize that you just cleared an extremely tough puzzle. Although some of them are unnecessarily frustrating as enemies will drop down into the room every few minutes to harass you, and this can be especially annoying if you do not have a weapon to dispose of them with.
Soul Reaver also has several boss fights for you to enjoy, although they arn't as enjoyable as you might have hoped for. These boss fights tend to stick with the traditional "3 hits and your defeated" routine portrayed in the games of the past. Every boss is destroyed in either 3 or 1 hit. The best thing about the bosses though is that they are entire puzzles of their own. Just figuring out how to beat the boss is half the battle, as you cannot physically go up to them and start hitting them because they are unaffected. You will have to use objects in the environment to defeat them and figuring these out while avoiding their attacks is more than half the battle. The boss fights are entertaining, but once you know how to defeat a boss, there really is not much entertaining left if you ever want to challenge them again.
However for the most part Soul Reaver is paced very well and is rewarding enough in itself.
While not very impressive to today's standards Soul Reaver is one game that actually seems like it was able to stand the test of time. Especially since games of the N64/PS era were the beginning of the 3D genre of gaming they are perceived now to be extremely ugly looking games. This is mostly because of the blocky characters and low-resolution textures.
What still makes Soul Reaver so amazing is that even though it's dated it still looks extremely good for a PS game, and the cinematic at the beginning is just breath taking. The world of Nosgoth is an amazingly huge and detailed world that you will be literally amazed that this is all being streamed from the CD with no loading times at all. The only downside to this is that in certain areas you will notice some minor slowdown. This is especially noticeable playing the game in our current time, since we are used to generally perfect frame rates.
The biggest problem with Soul Reaver that I had was that there are a lot of noticeable clipping problems with certain objects. Also with the 3D rotating camera you can often cause tears to occur on-screen, but this is generally forgettable. The only other thing I found annoying, which probably was not uncommon during the PS era, was that you cannot see very far into the environment before your view is just greyed out by what seems to be just grey sky or the "fog" effect. Other than these minor things that are really caused by the hardware the graphics in Soul Reaver are generally very exceptional.
Soul Reaver is one of the only games on the Playstation that I would ever dare comparing to Final Fantasy VII in the sound department. Soul Reavers soundtrack is so amazing in everyway, from the main theme to the eerie music of the cathedral and all the other themes for every other part of the world. The vampire grunts and growls and the effects for everything are just amazing. I really can't describe it in any other way. The first time you walk out into the open seeing the entire world with the amazing sounds of the music and environment it is just phenomenal that this was feasible on the PS. Soul Reaver has without a doubt one of the best musical scores I have ever heard from a PS game, yet alone any game in general.
The voice acting is also phenomenal. For once a company has decided to get what video games deserve from voice actors. Michael Bell as Raziel, Simon Templeman as Kain and Tony Jay as the Elder God are perhaps some of the best, IF not THE best video game voice performances I have ever heard in any game, ever. They deliver completely wonderful and believable voices to the characters, that really brings them to life and gives them personality, and this is what most games are lacking. Excellent voice actors. I also watched some of the "Making of Soul Reaver 2" on the Soul Reaver 2 CD and watching these actors perform their voices in the studio was almost as amazing as hearing the voices, as they were so into their role that you can see how hard they are trying to bring life to their characters. Simply amazing, is all I can really say.
Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver really is an epic game. Playing on your own without any help from strategy guides, or walkthroughs could take you up to 20 or more hours to get through, and this is just doing the bare minimum of what the game has to offer. Although the game is actually linear, once you know how to do everything it has a very open-ended feel, as you really can go wherever you want to go. There are also many "sidequests" where you can go to get new powers and discover more about the world of Nosgoth, and enjoy some of the harder puzzles of the game. For instance, one play that exists in the game that you don't ever even have to go to is the last remaining human city. Since the world is basically controlled by scavenger vampires aimlessly roaming the world the humans have been confined to one last remaining city in Nosgoth that is protected by vampire hunters armed with flamethrowers and crossbows. Areas such as these are amazing to explore and contain many more hours of optional gameplay, if that is what you seek.
I highly recommend Soul Reaver to fans of action adventure games, but be warned, as there is a much larger emphasis on puzzle solving than action. And if you detest puzzles or get easily frustrated this game may not be for you. However, if you enjoy complex puzzles that challenge your ability to problem solve you will find a very enjoyable and rewarding game with an amazing story. Highly recommended, just be prepared for some frustrating elements in the puzzle solving.
Everything in Soul Reaver just fits so perfectly into the game that it is hard to not recommend. High production values truly do create amazing games; nothing in Soul Reaver feels like it's there just to be "there". The only thing that is noticeable is that it seems as if Soul Reaver was cut a little short with it's abrupt ending and it's pacing does seem to get a little off towards the end, with a large amount of confusing puzzles thrown at you in the last hours of the game. Otherwise, it is a very remarkable game that is highly recommended to people who still don't mind playing old games.
Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
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