Soul Reaver: Legacy of Kain


   When the original Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain was released in 1996, it drew favorable reviews for its taking familiar gameplay from the Zelda series and twisting it to fit a unique, darkly corrupt world. Between then and now, however, Zelda went 3D, and so a couple years later comes another Legacy of Kain game in the Zelda mold. Unfortunately, the essential conceit didn't quite survive the transition.

 Step on spider!
Spider! He is our hero!

   Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver puts you, as vampire-turned-ghoul Raziel, in a Nosgoth hundreds or even thousands of years after the ending of Blood Omen. Kain has changed from a justice-seeking vampire into a cruel, tyrannical overlord who has all but wiped out the human population. Raziel, one of Kain's lieutenants, has the misfortune to evolve more quickly than his master and gets sent into the abyss as punishment. Ages later, the mysterious Elder revives Raziel and charges him with a simple mission: hunt and kill those who ruined him so that the souls of the world will be free to pass on.

   It's a gloomy story, and the world matches it perfectly--perhaps a little too much so. The graphics are nice, with lots of textures and colored lighting running at a smooth 60 frames per second in the Dreamcast edition, but in some ways the game's world doesn't really deserve this treatment. Muddy browns and dark greens dominate the landscape, never letting you forget this is a serious and brooding kind of game. What it does let you forget sometimes is just where in Nosgoth you are, especially in the opening stages before you get used to the world's layout. There are no signposts or maps to aid you, and benevolent NPCs refer to "north" and "south" far too often for a game without a compass.

A monument of granite
The statue got me high

   Fortunately, the gameplay makes things interesting enough to keep playing after the initial frustration of constantly getting lost. Soul Reaver sports some very interesting design, most notably the lack of traditional "lives." According to the developers, "in any game, [death] is an artificial construct" that gets in the way of actually playing the game. Playing the game, you start to agree with them. Setbacks are handled in a much more interesting way than being arbitrarily sent back to a spawn point; rather, you're cast into the "spectral world." To get back into the material world, you'll have to refill your energy gauge and find a transformation point. The spectral world isn't always a punishment, though: sometimes you'll voluntarily go there in order bypass barriers in the physical world.

I want your soul / I will eat your soul / Come to Daddy

   The spectral world is a pretty boring place, though, as you're unable to interact with anything and there are only two enemy types in the entire realm. On the other hand, there are only five or six types of vampires in the material realm, and the things you can interact with are limited to blocks for the first four-fifths of the game. The lack of variety in puzzles and objectives is one of Soul Reaver's biggest problems. Aside from the boss battles, which are in a way outstanding and challenging puzzles, advancement through the realm comes mostly through strategic block-pushing. Push blocks to form stairs, push blocks to make wall murals, push blocks to reroute air flow. Surely with all the thought that obviously went into designing the world and graphics, some different puzzles could have been included.

When the skullhead is in front of you
Where your eyes don't go

   Finally, while it's been addressed before, the game ends far too abruptly, due to a last-minute decision to put the rest of the game's story into a sequel. This wouldn't be such a problem if the slapdash placeholder ending wasn't so lame; Crystal Dynamics put more effort into the 15-screen "special thanks to" credits than the one screen of text which comprises Soul Reaver's ending. No one should have to spend 30 hours of occasionally tedious exploration for a payoff that weak.

   Soul Reaver started out as a good idea, but needed a lot more development time and consideration. As it stands, the final product is enjoyable for a time but wears out its welcome far, far too quickly. Here's hoping the problems are fixed in the sequel.

Review by Nich Maragos, GIA
Soul Reaver: Legacy of Kain
Developer Crystal Dynamics
Publisher Eidos
Genre Adventure
Medium GD-ROM (1)
Platform Sega Dreamcast
Release Date  01.27.00
Soul Reaver release date, intro
94 Dreamcast screenshots
7 high-resolution Raziel renders
Box art