Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver (1999)
In 1999 Crystal Dynamics and Eidos released Soul Reaver, the second in a series of 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 that 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 that is. 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 his 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.
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, 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.
Soul Reaver has few flaws fifteen 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. 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. That said, Soul Reaver remains the best of the Legacy of Kain series. Despite the unfortunate ending 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.
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