Monday, 28 July 2014

Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver (PC)

Legacy of Kain Soul Reaver PC title screen
The final 'L' game on my site this year is action-adventure sequel Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver!

Today Crystal Dynamics are best known as being the guardians of the Tomb Raider series (seeing as they've made nothing else since 2006), but a decade ago they were more famous for another 'borrowed' franchise they'd decided to make their own. And a decade before that they were making 3DO games and Gex sequels, but hey everyone's got to start somewhere.

The Legacy of Kain series started in 1996 with 2D action RPG Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain by Silicon Knights, with Crystal Dynamics as the publisher, but the two companies had a bit of a falling out and Crystal Dynamics was the one that walked away with the IP in the end. They also walked away from publishing, deciding to develop the next game in the franchise themselves by merging their original concept for a game called Shifter with the Legacy of Kain mythos, while Silicon Knights were left to make Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem for Nintendo instead.

Sorry I thought all that was interesting for some reason. I guess I've been overly fond of Soul Reaver ever since I got my hands on the Dreamcast version and found myself helplessly playing it through right to the end. The sequels bored me, but this first game was really something special. Or maybe I just grew out of the entire series when the gameplay became dated. I suppose I'd have to replay this to find out for sure. So I'll go do that then.

And the Super Adventures Award for Best Menu Screen in 2014 goes to... the PlayStation version of the game (because the PC screen came out far too blurry). I really hope that the PC version I'm playing has some higher resolution content in here somewhere instead of just upscaling the PSX art or else I'm going to start regretting buying it off GOG instead of just playing my beloved Dreamcast version again.

It's funny, the game is actually right at home on a Dreamcast controller, as even though it was originally designed for a PlayStation DualShock pad, it only uses the left analogue stick. I'm gonna to force it to make use of my 360 pad's second stick though even if I have to use JoyToKey to do it.

Oh cool, 640x480 resolution cutscenes, that's a definite step up from the PlayStation game.

These are the Pillars of Nosgoth, representing the physical and spiritual health of the land, and the fact that they look all beat up like this means that Kain likely chose the 'bad' ending for Blood Omen and ruined everything for everyone everywhere. He's not a very nice vampire lord.

The narrator introduces himself as Raziel, the first of Kain's lieutenants. He's served the guy for a millennium now, meaning that this is set a long long time after the first game. Raziel continues to explain that their vampire powers have continued to evolve over the years, with Kain always being the first to undergo a change. Until now.

Seems that Raziel here's gone and sprouted himself a pair of bat wings, which seem a lot more useful than the forehead hair mutation that Kain's ended up with. I love Raziel's frowny face here as Kain examines his wings behind his back.

Oh damn, he just went and tore his best friend's wings right off in front of all his lieutenants! Jealousy hurts like a bastard sometimes.

Well it's important to make an example sometimes I suppose, or else everyone else will start growing wings too and then there'll be chaos. He could've been a bit more surgical though; poor Raziel's going to be stuck with useless wing skin dangling from his back after that.

Oh never mind, it turns out that the punishment wasn't quite over yet. Kain has also sentenced him to burn in lake of the dead for all time, or until his immortality gives in at least. The moral of the story: evil employers don't have their employees best interests at heart. Or maybe it's 'don't turn into a bat monster, it freaks people out'.

These vampires seem to do just fine outside in the sun on a cloudy day, but water hurts them like acid, and Raziel's skin is burned away as he thrashes around helplessly in unspeakable agony during his long descent to the bottom of the lake.

Oh don't feel sorry for the guy; he was the main henchmen for the evil lord of vampires for a thousand years. That's like Darth Vader x 50. If this is what Kain does to his allies, imagine what they've been doing to his enemies all that time.

An eternity passes and Raziel awakens to find that he's lost weight. The water has claimed his pants, his jaw and his abs, but at least he still has that shoulder curtain to wrap around the gaping hole in his neck. Plus his hair, weirdly enough.

The intro then cuts to in-game graphics as a voice booms from from the ceiling... sorry, I mean Tony fucking Jay's voice booms down from the ceiling, laying out how it is. Not that Raziel's voice acting isn't A-grade itself; Michael Bell is very good in the role of the miserable dead vampire thing.

The creature (which apparently covers the walls in this cave) explains that Raziel didn't actually survive his ordeal, but he has spared him from total annihilation. He's not very happy you see, that Kain has been turning everyone in the land into immortal vampires, as that traps their souls and prevents them from eventually ending up down here to ride the wheel of fate.

Basically he wants Raziel to go out into the world and crack open a whole bunch of vampires, to release the souls trapped within their immortal flesh.

The good thing about being a ghost vampire is that Raziel doesn't need to drink blood anymore. He never has to sink his teeth into strangers and use their necks as a straw ever again. Though there is a slight downside to this: he has to consume their souls instead. He's a Reaver of Souls you could say. Fortunately souls are glowy green balls of light with a particle trail, so once they're floating around they're hard to miss (presuming I've got the camera facing the right way.)

The game thankfully avoids Resident Evil tank-style movement controls, but the camera's a bit on the dated side and the narrow FOV isn't letting me see much of the room.

Well there's one downside of mapping all my keys to an Xbox pad using external software; now I have to figure out what I set D + Z to.

Oh, it's just a duck jump! If I crouch immediately before jumping I get way more height. Man, it's been ages since I've played a game with a proper duck jump move. I've also got a Arkham Asylum-style glide move with my ruined wings if I hold the jump button down in mid-air, and the way this game is I get the feeling I'm really going to need those extra few seconds in the air if I'm ever required to make a precise landing.

Whoa, I've been underwater the whole time! I figured that the lake had drained dry over time, but nope, ghost vampires pass through water as if it was air while in this spectral realm. He can even talk in it and still sound awesome, which is doubly impressive seeing as he has no lower jaw. Fortunately he still passes through air as if it was air in the ghost dimension, so he can still glide here.

Our friend in the lake keeps pausing the gameplay to give me tutorial cutscenes (they keep having conversations as if he's on the radio), and my next lesson is 'how to use a conduits to summon matter and manifest in the material plane'. When I've got full energy from eating souls I just step on a blue circle, bring up this ability menu, select the right power, and I'm back in the world of the living again!

Turns out that the world of the living is just a slightly less crooked version of the spectral realm with the blue dialed down, and my spirit energy bar replaced by a mortal coil. Raziel still moves the same with a real body, but I can't help but notice that his health bar has begun ticking down. Must be all the moisture in the air.

Okay there's a few paths leading out of this circle of pillars, but one's blocked by a gate and the one I came through is now under vampire melting water, so I only really have one choice.

Vampires feeding on a helpless human being? This looks like a job for Batman!

Oh damn, vampires sure got ugly during the years our miserable hero was busy burning to death in the lake. They look like Quake II enemies! Makes me wonder what Raziel thought he was eventually going to mutate into himself after growing those huge bat wings.

Autoface, the only thing that can tame this camera!

There's one one attack button (with a standard three hit combo) so combat seems to be about getting myself in a position where I can stunlock one enemy without getting hit by his buddy. We've both got supernaturally quick dodge moves, so I have to be ready to leap out of the way by hitting 'jump' while holding 'autoface' when I see them about to do something.

They may look like ugly green lizard monsters, but Raziel informs me that they're still basically vampires and they still follow the same rules. I can smack them around all I want, but it's not going to kill them. To finish them off I'll need to pick them up and throw them into something they're weak to, like direct sunlight or water. 

Or a spike on the wall will do I suppose. Dumb vampires, defeated by their own architecture. And now their soul is mine! Their body doesn't fizzle away until their soul is consumed, but I have to eat fast or else the soul flies off, depriving me of my health bonus. Kind of hard to stand still and suck up a soul while his buddy's still smacking me around though. Also there's no XP in this, or any other reward for a kill other than health.

Well now that's done, but I'm still stuck in this tiny room with my remaining health ticking down. The camera has an unnatural obsession with the floor right now, but I don't think I'm going to find a way out down here.

Aha, I've got a freelook button! Seems like all I have to do is shove that block over to the wall and I can duck jump my way out of here.

A teleporter room! Now I can return back to the bottom of the lake where I started! I can't think why I'd want to do that, but I can.

Wow, it's suddenly become very obvious to me what kind of game this is. It's Metroid isn't it? Or one of the later Castlevanias. I'm exploring this maze of rooms and corridors, opening up new paths and finding teleporter rooms. I can save the game any time I like, but loading puts me right back in the Tony Jay cave at the very start, so I need to activate these portals as I go to keep my progress.

Well this place is definitely familiar. Though it sure looks a lot smaller than it did in the intro. It seems like there must be multiple paths leading off from here, but I can't really risk getting my ankles wet right now. Especially not with this much health left, holy shit I had no idea the spiral had gotten so low.

Raziel says that his clan's territory is over to the west, so I'll head that way. There's no compass in this, but he helpfully pointed the camera over to a cave passage I can take. A map would sure be handy right about now though.

Aww crap, I was swiped by a lone vampire in the passageway leading from the cave just before I could open the door! Ghost vampires can't open doors, they're just too physical for them, so now I'm screwed here. I'll have go backtrack back through the cave and across the lake in the blue dimension until I find one of those conduit respawn points. It's cool that I can switch to the spectral realm whenever I want, but the game seems really keen on the player making most of their progress in the land of the living.


Well this changes everything! I can use these spears lying around as finisher and skip all that tedious throwing business. I can even reuse them after the kill as long as I remember to eat the soul before removing the stake from their heart.

Throwing enemies is a nice idea, but the game just doesn't pull it off well at all, with the camera making it awkward to even see the spike/sunlight/water/bonfire etc. that I'm supposed to be aiming at. Much better to just bring a stick along I reckon.

Whoa, it's an actual living human... I think! The graphics actually look fairly good in motion with the camera pulled back, but when it zooms in on characters things start getting a bit GoldenEye. Hey maybe I can ask him where Kain's gone!

Nope, got killed off before the cutscene ended.

These torches are pretty good as a finisher. I can set one guy on fire, then beat up his friend and throw the wooden handle into his heart. I wasn't likely to get any info out of these guys either, as the vampires all seem to have degenerated into mindless monsters. Fortunately the voice of Tony Jay jumps in with an explanation of how this happened, revealing that Raziel's been lying at the bottom of that lake for a little longer than he thinks. Centuries in fact, long enough for Kain's empire to fall into ruin.

The game's pretty much been a two man show starring Michael Bell (Raziel) and Tony Jay so far, and this isn't actually a bad thing as they deliver their lines with absolute sincerity. Sure these constant interruptions would likely get old on a replay, but for now I'm content to sit back and hear what they have to say.

I love the staircases in this, he bolts up them so fast. Top to bottom in a second and a half.

I'm actually meant to be heading downwards here, but it loops better like this and I'll do whatever it takes to get the best looking shot! Plus it's not like his health is ticking down during every second I waste... oh wait.

Crap, it's an actual platforming challenge, with each step surrounded by instant death water! I get the feeling I'm going to be very thankful for my wings in a minute or two. The control isn't actually bad, it's just not quite as good as modern games. Plus I'm playing it with a 360 controller disguised as a keyboard right now, so my analogue stick is giving me digital movement.

I made it across, but it led me to a dead end? I could try dropping back into the spectral realm, but that's not going to help me walk through those solid metal bars blocking my exit. Water yes, metal bars no.

Aha! The spectral world gives me new ledges to jump up on! These shifts are more subtle than I remembered them being (and this is the first time so far that I've had an actual reason to deliberately shift back to ghost mode), but I can't argue with the results.

The top of the room has a conduit back to the brown dimension, a few ledges... and another row of metal bars blocking my exit. So that turn out to be a big help.

Actually wait, that looks like a slot for a box up there on the right. So I bet that box-like thing over on the left is actually a box! Though I'm not sure how that helps me, as there's no way I'm going to slide it up a level.

Oh right, I can just shove the thing up to the next level using my undead super-strength. Raziel's trying to steal the block puzzle crown from Lara Croft here!

I love the animation in this game by the way. No matter what Raziel's doing he looks great doing it. This may basically be a PlayStation 1 game, but it's got a lot of.... well, soul to it.

With the block slotted the gate blocking off the next room opens up for me and... now I can't figure out how to get to the ledge on the other side.

I think I can actually blame the level design for this one, as it's really not clear what's going on with those two hanging platforms on the sides. Turns out that jumping on one pushes it down and pulls the other one up, so then I can just switch to spectral plane and jump across the raised one without my weight affecting it, but there's no obvious connection between the two platforms on screen so you can only find this out by jumping on all the scenery out of desperation.

By the way, after I reached the other side I couldn't help but notice that the puzzle room had kind of disappeared behind me. The game's all one connected world without loading screens, so it has to drop sections out of memory like this when it's done with them. It just got a little impatient this time I guess.

Anyway, I'm across now, so I'm free to...

... solve another block puzzle? But where are the... oh right, stacked up in the corner. Took me a while to notice them there, camouflaged against the wall.

This time I have to make sure they're facing the right way so that the symbol on the side plugs into the symbol at the back of the socket. You know, if they're trying to make me look forward to hitting vampires again they're going the right way about it.


Oh crap, this used to be one of Kain's lieutenants? Raziel man, I think he was actually doing you a favour when he dropped you in that lake.

Melchiah here isn't really interested in giving Raziel a straight answer, but he seems pretty eager to tear his head off. I'm on to him though: there's a giant circular fence in the middle of the room, and a crank handle behind him... seems pretty obvious what I need to do next.

Damn, he can walk right through the metal bars? That's kind of disturbing.

But while he's stomping around over here I can run back around to the crank and...

...the lever isn't working. Crap.

Okay, plan B: I'm going to go over there and hit Melchiah with my stick a bit.


Oh shit, the screen's turned blue again. That means he's actually killed Raziel, and now he's about to kill his ghost as well. Well, knock him right back to Tony Jay's cave anyway. Why does Melchiah get to manifest in both worlds simultaneously? So unfair!

There ain't no way I plan to walk all the way back here again from the last portal room, so I need to find souls fast.

Huh, I didn't notice these side rooms earlier. I won't be any safer behind those bars, but at least I'll have something to snack on.

Oh hi Melchiah, let me get the door for you... and then drop it on your head. It's so nice to be able to interact with things again!

Fortunately manifesting in the physical plane through a conduit gives me a full health refill, so I can last a few hits in this world now. I'll survive long enough to get over to the next lever and drop another gate on his head, that's for sure.

Two gates down and I'm finally allowed to turn the crank to finish him off. To be fair the guy was kind of asking for it. I mean he was deliberately hiding out in the one place in Nosgoth equipped with all the machinery needed to quickly finish him off! That's practically begging for death.

Hang on, his special boss soul comes with a new superpower for Raziel...

I can walk through metal bars now myself! Now I have this new power I have to remember where I saw all those fences I passed along the way. Man this really is a Metroidvania kind of game isn't it?

Tony Jay tells me to head for the Sanctuary of the Clans, but I honestly have no idea where that is or what it looks like, so screw him, I'm going exploring.


I have to admit that I just can't judge Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver fairly, as there's too much nostalgia attached to it for me. I can't help but give it every chance to impress me and dismiss any flaws as being minor. Though on the other hand, it may actually still be a really good game! The pieces all seem to be there: solid gameplay, plenty of atmosphere, good writing, great performances, an interesting world... well, an interesting backstory to explore anyway. Also block puzzles; lots of block puzzles.

One of the biggest problems it has (for someone with no memory like me), is the lack of a map. If I'm told to go back to somewhere specific, all I can do is backtrack and hope I notice somewhere new to go along the way. The fast travel portals are cool, but the places are all labelled with symbols rather than names, and there's no reference for that either. If I took a break from the game and came back to it later I'd be doubly screwed as there's no way to look up what my next goal is.

Plus at the risk of turning this into an actual review, I remember that the game eventually ends on a big 'To Be Continued' message before anything is really resolved, and three games later Crystal Dynamics still hadn't managed to finish the story off. They just kept making the mythology more convoluted and confusing until it could give the Metal Gear series a run for its money.

I also had a few issues with the PC port, especially with environmental sounds that kept playing even when I left the area. A few times I had to save, quit and reload just so I could hear what the actors were saying. Plus getting it to work with my Xbox 360 controller was a bit of a pain as well. My nostalgia is demanding that I have give it a shiny trophy of excellence, but it's just a little too dated and a little too rickety for that.

Definitely recommended though. I mean c'mon.

Okay okay, I'll stop talking about Soul Reaver now. You folks can keep chatting about it though if you want, or even drop me a comment about my writing or the site in general. I mean there's no point to me putting a comment box down there if you're not going to use it.


  1. This game was awesome, I really liked back then. It surely is in my top ten list of best games of playstation EVER, among titles like Macross VFX-2, Crash Bandicoot 3, Mega Man X 4.... MORTAL KOMBAT TRILOGY, IS THAT THE NEXT GAME o__________o!?

    1. Good guess! You didn't quite nail it, but the game uses the same graphics so you got close enough. Next game is going to be... the original Mortal Kombat 1.

  2. Here's a nice article about the history of the game and the original ending:

    1. I really don't have time to read that I'm afraid. Not because I'm extremely busy (though I am), but because it has about the same amount of written content as the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy (plus The Hobbit and that other book). I know that sounds strange coming from someone who inflicts as many words upon people as I do, but that's around three times what I wrote about the game!

      I'll remember it though. I'll remember it and I'll get back to it at some point. Socksmakepeoplesexy is a good site and I'm sure it'll be interesting.

  3. I remember being really excited for this game, and it getting delayed a total of like a year...


Semi-Random Game Box