This is a guest post and review written by a friend of mine who goes by the name Walking Virus. He runs the Youtube channel Walking Virus Gaming where he streams 3-4 times a week, with a mix of Retro gaming and new titles. Feel free to check him out on Twitter as well!
Recently I found myself thinking more and more about the Legacy of Kain series, I always remembered the games fondly and thought it was a great series, but when I got to thinking about it more I could barely remember anything about the actual events of the story other than 1 or 2 key moments, or anything of the actual gameplay. This started me asking the question, “Was it really as good as I remember it being?” Which led to me playing through the original Soul Reaver again, and I just thought I’d share my feelings about my experiences after playing it so many years later to see what I feel holds up and if I would still recommend anyone who hasn’t played it yet to go out and find a way to do so.
Basic Plot Synopsis
(Raziel coming to grips with his servitude to an Elder God)
Soul Reaver follows the journey of the fallen vampire Raziel. After being thrown into the swirling vortex for daring to evolve wings before his master, Kain, Raziel finds himself in the service of an elder god as a means to stop the Vampiric menace that has stopped the cycle of life force into the well of souls. But Raziel cares not for the fate of the world but begrudgingly agrees to begins his quest through the land of Nosgoth, not to save the well of souls, but to get his revenge on Kain. To do so Raziel needs to use both his physical body and his ability to enter the spiritual realm to traverse the land and slay his Brothers to gain their abilities.
What’s Held Up?
(Raziel acquiring the titular weapon, Soul Reaver)
When I initially dove back into this game I set aside my nostalgia glasses and was expecting that the vast majority of the game’s features would be dated beyond belief, but a few managed to surprise me. For one thing the Voice Acting has held up surprisingly well. The delivery and effect work is far above other games of that time, almost up to about early-mid PS3 standards, particularly in regards to Kain’s lines. I also found myself to still be a fan of the way they dealt with exposition in this particular game, having Raziel narrate information that would be differing from his previous mindset and knowledge, felt more smooth in the delivery as opposed to some games tendencies to just deliver large chunks of exposition through other characters, and while there still is a bit of that in the game they tend to keep it in smaller chunks and use it sparingly. And while the graphics have obviously become dated at this point, the actual art style itself has held up and aided significantly in the immersion in the world. Which brings me to the plot itself, all of the previous elements are all well and fine on their own, but the plot itself was very engaging to me and helped bring those elements together to form a better cohesive whole, which makes it even worse that the things that don’t hold up start breaking down the atmosphere this game worked so hard to create.
What’s Become Dated?
(Raziel’s progress keeps getting blocked…)
There are so many unfortunate things that kept this game from being the well crafted storyline it was shaping up to be, and one of those things is most definitely the “puzzles”. Almost every single one either involves going to the spirit realm, which was an interesting set of puzzles the first couple times, or a sliding block puzzle, or in some cases both. Now neither of these puzzle types are inherently bad when used sparingly, but when they make up the vast majority of your game it becomes more of a chore than an engaging experience. And speaking of chores, the game had a lot of neat ideas for combat that also tossed any sense of fun out the window with extremely dated, simplistic, and yet somehow still clunky controls.
(Raziel getting to the point of the matter)
Soul Reaver also suffers from a problem a lot of the 3rd person platformers of the time did, having the camera be more of a hindrance than an actual help. Often times the camera will need to be manipulated in such a way to reveal the path to the next area, or just to reveal a portion of the puzzle you are currently trying to complete, as well as fighting it to be able to platform with any sort of precision, it can become a massive source of frustration when the camera suddenly decides to jerk to the side as you attempt to land on a tiny platform. The remainder of the puzzles involve an upgrade acquired later in the game that just results in more busy work by running around an object repeatedly to get it to turn, again, not very engaging and kind of brings down the pacing and world building that the rest of the game had built up. But the big question is, does this make the game worth someone’s time if they haven’t played it yet?
(Raziel catching up with one of his brothers)
Soul Reaver is kind of a mixed bag for me, I did thoroughly enjoy the world building and storytelling themes they used for the game, as well as the performances delivered from the vast majority of the characters, but the extremely dated puzzles and mechanics just made the game so much more of a slog than it really needed to be. I would say that the story itself was worth the playthrough again for me personally, so it really comes down to how much of a slog you are willing to put up with. If you’re willing to put up with the painfully slow combat and puzzles, than the story is well worth the playthrough (just be prepared to play through the second game as well because it kind of ends on a bit of a cliffhanger.) If those things drive you away from a game, I really can’t blame you for not wanting to sit through it, but regardless, we can all hope they do something with this somewhat forgotten franchise, whether it be a reboot with better mechanics, or just an entirely new game, I personally hope to see something else come out of the world of Nosgoth, and bring a bit of Gothic glory back into the gaming spotlight.