Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver (Video Game Review)
What’s scarier than a vampire that drinks blood? A vampire that consumes souls!
Soul Reaver is a 1999 dark fantasy, horror, action adventure title for the Playstation 1 and the Sega Dreamcast. It is the second game in the franchise, the first being Blood Omen: Legacy Of Kain. Although the game is far from a perfect experience, it was a memorable one.
YOU ARE REBORN
In a bold move, Soul Reaver sees the vampire protagonist of the first game, Kain, elevated to near god status among his people some 1500 years after the events of the first game. Players take control of Raziel, a lieutenant among Kain’s horde, but he is betrayed by his creator and sentenced to eternal agony. Raziel is revived as a wraith by an eldritch being known as The Elder God, who wields the Wheel Of Fate(a cycle of life and death fueled by returning souls). The Elder God seeks to free the souls of the immortal vampires, who are exempt from this cycle. He bids Raziel, now a shadow of his former glory, to become his angel of death, his Soul Reaver. In return, The Elder God would provide the means for his vengeance against the vampire lord, Kain.
More than anything else from this title, the story is the one thing that I have never been able to shake and one of those formative titles for a young budding horror fan. For me, this is the definitive vampire game. As a ten year old, I could not identify all the elements that made this title so wondrous to me. Here Lovecraftian elements collide with gothic and dark fantasy to create a world that I’ve been yearning to explore again with the help of current gaming technology. The Elder God, with his mammoth, bulbous tentacles, could easily be one of Lovecraft’s Great Old Ones. Even the concept of The Elder God is straight from his literature. As for the gothic, it it represented in the architecture of Nosgoth(the world the game is set in), the vampire hierarchy, and the structure of the story itself.
The story has stuck with me so long that in my original draft for the novel I’m working on, the protagonist was named Raziel and the antagonist was named Cain.
YOUR BLOODTHIRST HAS BEEN REPLACED BY A DEEPER NEED. YOU HAVE BECOME A DEVOURER OF SOULS.
As a former vampire turned wraith, Raziel benefits while in ways still suffering the flaws of his vampirism. He is changed and must now consume the souls of his fallen foes to sustain his health. Raziel may also travel through the material world and the spectral world, but at great cost. Should his health diminish in the material world, he will be forced back into the spectral plane. There are advantages to each plane. Obstacles filled with water can not be traversed safely in the material plane as water is acidic to vampires in this mythos. However, in the spectral realm, water is insubstantial, allowing Raziel to pass with ease. Manipulating physical obstacles for puzzles can only be done in the material world so there is a strategic element to knowing which plane to traverse through. Platforming also plays a huge part in how you navigate the environment.
Later in the game, you shed some of your weaknesses and learn a kind of magic through vampiric glyphs. Combat is where the game fumbles as controls are simplistic and wonky. The game uses a kind of hack and slash system that just doesn’t feel refined enough. The camera can also be a pain in the ass to deal with, especially in combat, and locking on to targets doesn’t always behoove you. In the spectral realm, you fight Sluagh, scavengers of the underworld, and other wraiths. In the material plane, you will fight five different vampire types, each with abilities relative to their clan leader. Since vampires are immortal, you must exploit their natural weaknesses to water, sunlight, and impalement.
The sound design in this game is hit or miss. Slurping down souls has an eerily ethereal quality to it, while enemies sometimes make less than satisfying death shrieks. One thing that can be called excellent through and through is the music. Tracks convey the bleakness of the spectral realm, while others convey the epicness of a particular engagement. Every note of Ozar Midrashim is etched into my temporal lobe and continues to be one of my favorite tracks from a video game of all time. It was specifically named after Julius Einstein’s Ozar Midrashim, a collection of over 200 minor midrashim(biblical interpretations). In Hebrew, it roughly translates to “Treasury of Studies.”
KAIN HAS CONDEMNED THIS WORLD TO CATACLYSM. WILL YOU RECTIFY THE SINS OF HIS VANITY AND BRING BALANCE TO NOSGOTH?
While not a perfect game, its legacy has captured the hearts and minds of those who dared to venture into its ruined world. There has not been a true sequel to these games since the Playstation 2. I honestly believe its hopes lie in a reboot, much like they did with Tomb Raider. There have been attempts to rekindle the flames of Nosgoth with the ill-fated Legacy of Kain: Dead Sun, which never made it out of development. It’s planned multiplayer mode was reworked into a new title called Nosgoth. Even though it was free to play, fans of the series were not clamoring for a multiplayer experience. Its heart lies in its story and its world. Only a true single player experience can revitalize that which is lost.
If you’ve got a PS1 or Dreamcast laying around, you can purchase the disk from Ebay or Amazon. If you own a current gen Playstation device, both this game and the first, Blood Omen, can be purchased for $6 each from the PSN store. If PC is more your thing, you can use an emulator such as ePSXe and download the ROM files from any number of websites.