Game Review: Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver

Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver

In 2009 I began working with Mrs B on her website FemaleGamers reviewing the latest console games. Sadly, our other commitments meant the website couldn’t continue and we brought it to an end early in 2010. I’ll be using this blog to review all the games, recent and not so recent, that I encounter. With Mrs B’s kind permission, I’ll also be posting some of the reviews I previously worked on, so don’t panic if they refer to previous years and months.

Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver (1999) – PS1

Legacy of Kain: Soul ReaverVampires were all the talk in 2009 with Let the Right One In wowing critics while Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight and New Moon continued to retain their popularity in bookshops and on the big screen. Back in 1999 Crystal Dynamics and Eidos released Soul Reaver, the second in a series of five Legacy of Kain games and still regarded by many as the best.

Set in the vampire kingdom of Nosgoth, Soul Reaver opens with a stunning cinematic sequence where Kain, the unopposed vampire monarch, has called his six ‘sons’ or lieutenants to a meeting. The last to arrive is Raziel, Kain’s second in command, who dons a freshly grown pair of wings, a gift not even Kain possesses. As Raziel narrates the opening sequence we learn that vampires are constantly evolving and that as king, Kain enjoys such advances decades before his sons until Raziel overtakes him. For this act of betrayal, Kain rips Raziel’s wings off before throwing him into a whirlpool known as the Lake of the Dead where water is like acid to vampires. After enduring an agonising and burning descent to the bottom of the lake, Raziel awakes centuries later to find he has been revived by a mysterious Elder God whose blessing is to give Raziel the means to seek revenge against his brothers and ultimately against Kain.

In Soul Reaver, Raziel must explore a series of landscapes and ruins throughout Nosgoth in pursuit of vengeance. An added element to the game is that Raziel begins as a spirit dwelling in the Spectral Realm and only after completing some initial training at the Elder God’s behest is he able to transport himself into the Material Realm or the land of the living if you prefer. To remain in the Material Realm, Raziel must keep his energy topped up or face being transported back to the Spectral Realm. To maintain your energy levels Raziel must kill the vampire children of his brothers that roam Nosgoth and consume their souls. Anyone familiar with vampire myths will enjoy the variety of ways you can dispatch your enemies – impaling them with spears or on spikes protruding from walls, hurling them into water or onto fires, and exposing them to sunlight. You are never short of options when faced with Nosgoth’s threats.

As Raziel wanders Nosgoth, the Elder God is on hand to describe the different locations and offers guidance of where you need to go to find each of your brothers before eventually meeting Kain. At the start, Raziel has numerous abilities such as being able to perform high jumps or use his ruined wings to glide across gaps but only in slaying your brothers and devouring their souls do you acquire unique abilities, such as climbing walls and invulnerability to water, that help unlock previously inaccessible areas. Raziel’s treacherous brothers can be found in some fantastic settings, including a derelict cathedral, a remote fortress and, my personal favourite, a drowned abbey where one slip will see Raziel fall into deadly water and be plunged back into the Spectral Realm. To progress through the lairs of your brothers, you will face numerous puzzles often involving the moving of blocks and flicking switches, while a boss fight with your siblings involves you having to decipher some cunning means to kill them. An added element to the game’s appeal is the need for Raziel to voluntarily return to the Spectral Realm, for in doing so often manipulates your surroundings creating openings or ledges that are not available in the Material Realm. Shifting between the planes is something you will have to do regularly.

Soul Reaver has few flaws even ten years after its release. The main issue is that the brilliant story is cut somewhat short by an abrupt and unsatisfying ending. This was such a concern that Crystal Dynamics were compelled to deny that the game was released unfinished. Despite such assurances something does seem to be missing in Soul Reaver, especially when you only get to exact revenge on four of your five brothers. The story continued into Soul Reaver 2 and Legacy of Kain: Defiance and though it retained its appeal, it is a shame Soul Reaver couldn’t have ended with a more satisfying denouement.

Soul Reaver remains the best of the Legacy of Kain series. The unfortunate ending seems a minor issue to pull Soul Reaver up on but it cannot compensate for the deflated feeling one is left with on completion. That aside this is still a terrific platform game with some great voice acting and it begins one of the most memorable storylines I have ever enjoyed.

Final Score: 91%

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Dave Brown

I was born in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, England and have always been a bookworm and enjoyed creative writing at school. In 1999 I created the Elencheran Chronicles and have been writing ever since. My first novel, Fezariu's Epiphany, was published in May 2011. When not writing I'm a lover of films, games, books and blogging. I live in Barnsley, with my wife, Donna, and our six cats - Kain, Razz, Buggles, Charlie, Bilbo and Frodo.
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