Developer(s) – Crystal Dynamics & Rixxes Software
Publisher(s) – Eidos Interactive
Director – Amy Hennig
Producer(s) – Amy Hennig, Andrew Bennett & Rosaura Sandoval
PEGI – 16
Developed and released by Crystal Dynamics following a lengthy legal battle with original creators of the Legacy of Kain series, Silicon Knights, Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver, like Blood Omen, was also met wide widespread critical acclaim in what was considered an ideal time, as it coincided with the release of several horror films, such as The Sixth Sense and The Blair Witch Project. It went on to be considered the best game in the series by most critics, and whilst I don’t agree with that assessment, (by far I think the best game in the series is Soul Reaver 2), the original Soul Reaver is still to me, a classic of the fifth generation and still an absolute joy to play through.
Graphics – 7/10
Soul Reaver easily has one the darkest approaches taken to conceptual design out of most games I’ve played throughout my lifetime. It takes the players back into the fictional dark fantasy land of Nosgoth, but in a post-apocalyptic state. There are new locations added to Nosgoth’s landscape, as well as the ruins of some of the previous locations found in Blood Omen, such as The Pillars of Nosgoth and Nupraptor’s Retreat. It also has the player alternating between the underworld and the physical world in order to gain access to new areas, or areas otherwise impassable in the opposite. Gamers may argue that in terms of the technical aspect of the game, it hasn’t aged particularly well, and with that, I would agree to a certain extent, but the conceptual design more than makes up for that in my opinion. For the best version of the game, I would recommend the Dreamcast port, which runs at 60 frames per second and has the most polish to it. The Dreamcast version actually makes it look far more like a sixth-generation game than a fifth. Both planes of existence within the game are as dark as the other, with a wonderfully horrifying soundtrack to accompany the game.
Gameplay – 7.5/10
Somewhat similar to Blood Omen, Soul Reaver plays out more like a 3D platformer than a top-down RPG, but combat is still at the heart of the game’s design, with players having to subdue abominable enemies throughout and being able to learn new abilities and increase their health and magic capacities to use these abilities more efficiently and frequently. Although the main combat system is not as diverse as Blood Omen, it does make up for that by challenging players to strategize in accordance with their surroundings, as the enemies are only killed in a handful of specific ways, at least in the physical world. The boss fights, though fewer, are also far more creative than in Blood Omen; again requiring specific actions to take in order to best each one. Like in Blood Omen, there is also a fast travel system and a plethora of hidden items and abilities to discover along the way.
Controls – 10/10
Even when 3D gaming was pretty much in its infancy during the fifth generation, there were some games like Crash Bandicoot and Spyro The Dragon that handled their control schemes extremely fluently; Soul Reaver is one such example; there are no issues with the controls whilst playing with a joypad, and it also handles stealth combat in a very fluent manner as well, which at the time, was a relatively new concept.
One thing I would advise, however, is this; avoid the Steam version like the plague. Controller support is not officially part of it with players having to rely on keyboard commands, and keyboard mapping doesn’t currently work for some unknown reason. The same also goes for every other Legacy of Kain game ported to Steam. No one at Valve, Square Enix, or Crystal Dynamics has ever seen fit to rectify this, and it’s a great shame. Again, the best way to play this game is on the Dreamcast; in every respect.
Lifespan – 7/10
The game can be made to last for a total of around 25 hours, which was relatively impressive at the time. The one thing I would say is that, although there are a good few collectibles to obtain throughout the game, the game’s world is still a bit too bare for how big it is, and more could have been added to it, in turn, add to the substance of the game. Nevertheless, there is enough in it to make it last for a fairly impressive amount of time.
Storyline – 10/10
The story continues over 100 years following the events of Blood Omen. Having condemned Nosgoth to an eternity of decay by refusing the sacrifice of his own life, Kain has since established his own vampiric empire out of his own contempt for humanity. However, things change after his first-born lieutenant, Raziel, surpasses Kain in terms of vampiric evolution by growing a pair of wings. In anger, Kain tears off Raziel’s wings and condemns him to death by throwing him into The Lake of the Dead. Burnt by the acidic touch of the lake’s waters, Raziel is then resurrected by a god-like entity, known only as The Elder God, as a wraith, endowed with the hunger for souls and other supernatural abilities, unlike any vampire. Raziel then resolves to destroy Kain and his vampiric brothers and consume their souls returning them to the wheel of fate.
Like Blood Omen, the story of this game, as well as the dialogue were masterfully executed. The voice acting of Simon Templeman, Michael Bell, and Tony Jay help to truly bring this title to life in a story centered around the nature of death and immortality and the price of power. To me, The Legacy of Kain easily has the best story ever told in all of gaming, and it’s that more impressive considering how much of a strong note of finality there is to the original Blood Omen. To have picked up where Blood Omen left off and evolved the series into what it would become in terms of story, was truly an impressive feat of video game narrative and helped to establish Amy Hennig as one of the greatest storytellers in the medium, as she would later go on to establish the stories of Uncharted and Assassin’s Creed.
Originality – 9/10
In terms of gameplay, as well as the story, it’s also impressive to think of how the developers took the concept of Blood Omen, made something drastically different from the former, and make work and work well, is also extremely impressive; especially given how young the concept of 3D gaming was at the time and how risky it would have inevitably been to make that transition. Some people have even cited this as an early example of a 3D Metroidvania, predating Metroid Prime by a full three years, which although I don’t think you can consider it a 3D Metroidvania, as it plays out more like a 3D platformer than anything, it’s still interesting to think about, and it all still works to separate this title from most not only released at the time, but most games released since.
Overall, the original Soul Reaver remains a classic to this day, and if anyone can pick up a copy of it on either the original PlayStation or the Dreamcast, I’d highly recommend it. It’s a game with terrific combat, a plethora of gameplay variety, additional sidequests, and a level of storytelling, which in my opinion, has never been topped within the medium of gaming since.