Soul Reaver is a sequel to Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain but you wouldn’t know that on first glance. The difference 3 years makes is unbelievable when comparing the 2 games.
If you remember the ending to Blood Omen (SPOILERS HERE) then you will remember that you have a choice: Heal the world, sacrificing your life & making the vampire race extinct or damning to world to destruction but living on as the ultimate being.
Whatever choice you made…Soul Reaver plays out as if Kain doomed the land of Nosgoth, made himself some Lieutenants & set about destroying the human race. Soul Reaver is set 1500 years after the events of Blood Omen…the human race has been petty much been wiped out & the vampire is the dominant species with each clan claiming a section of Nosgoth for themselves led by Kain’s Lieutenants. They have become solitary creatures concerned with internal issues & not caring for the decay of Nosgoth.
An ancient deity known as the Elder God controls the wheel of fate that moves souls in a cycle of reincarnation. Vampires are immortal so the wheel has stalled & it is this that is destroying Nosgoth, on the brink of collapse it is nothing more then a wasteland. This is were you come in…
In an epic opening cut-scene we see Raziel (one of Kain’s Lieutenants) walking towards a throne amongst the Pillars of Nosgoth. Kain is seated in the seat flanked by the rest of his Lieutenants. Over the years vampires have evolved & the cycle starts with Kain changing first before the rest follow. This has changed now with Raziel sprouting wings. Kain is furious & slashes his wings leaving them in tatters then has Raziel thrown into the Lake of the Dead, a massive whirlpool.
For a very long time Raziel burns in the whirlpool before he is resurrected by the Elder God & tasked with killing Kain & restoring Nosgoth. Raziel is less then impressed with his tattered body & his new need to feed on the souls of the creatures he kills but the need for revenge quickly takes over.
In the underworld the player takes control of Raziel from the third person perspective. Controlling Raziel is exceptionally simple & even with the damage done to him he still feels powerful. His tattered wings allow a certain amount of gliding which is useful when it comes to exploration.
Raziel is free to explore Nosgoth, although some areas are only available once upgrades have been earned. Gameplay involves you needing to shift between plains. We have the material world…in which door/switch/puzzle manipulation is possible & we have the spectral world….in which impassable gates are passable & water is like air allowing Raziel to walk on the waterbed.
Most puzzle solving involves having to shift between the 2 plains as there are often big differences. A blocked way in the material world might be a route in the spectral world. Watching the scenery twist as you move through one world to another is fantastic & you get a real good feeling of satisfaction when you’ve solved a tricky puzzle using elements from both worlds.
It’s not all exploration & puzzle solving though…combat makes up a big part of the game. Other vampires, humans & spectral creatures make up the majority of enemies & require different tactics, particularly with vampires as each clan has evolved. Raziel can attack with his claws locking onto his target & slashing away as well as picking up weapons dotted around the landscape. All enemies but vampires can be killed using Raziel claws but with vampires you need to attack them into a stunned state then either impale them, set them on fire, submerge them in water or in sunlight. It makes dealing with a vampire threat a lot more interesting & provided you don’t collect their soul the body will stay wherever you put it.
Raziel has a health bar that can be extended throughout the game. In the material world it will constantly decrease but in the spectral it increases. When Raziel gains the Soul Reaver weapon (happens early on in a confrontation with Kain) his health will no longer decrease in the material world until he is attacked. Health is regained by devouring souls of those you kill.
Your Soul Reaver progression is much more noticeable as you gain upgrades & evolve Raziel to do things he couldn’t do before. These come from defeated bosses…Raziel’s former brothers & Kain’s Lieutenants. These boss battles are varied & challenging coming after a long trek through their territory. All of the changes to Raziel are super-useful & allow progression to the next area & the next clan territory.
I loved that moment were a new ability became available & the realisation that I had so much more freedom to explore now. Back-tracking to uncover hidden areas & secret rooms is a lot of the fun. It’s worth doing as most areas have something worthwhile in them. It also stops the game feeling too linear which at times it might feel.
Raziel can find glyphs that allow him to make use of magic attacks but these aren’t part of the main plot & will require more exploration & puzzle solving. Finding everything is a welcome challenge in an otherwise empty world.
Which brings me to my biggest criticism…Nosgoth feels dead already. I’m not asking for a bustling world filled with people going about their business but it just feels so empty. Even vampire clan areas only seem to have a handful of enemies & there is this constant impression that there should be more. Exploration would have been much improved if you were uncovering new threats or NPC’s as you went along.
Another complaint relates to the ending which at the time felt like such a disappointment. It’s easier to appreciate it now that the series has been fleshed out some more (Soul Reaver 2, Blood Omen 2, LOK: Defiance) but Soul Reaver’s exciting & interesting story ending on a cliff-hanger preceded by an anti-climax boss battle was poorly thought out.
Finally Soul Reaver has some of the best music in a PS1 game, it excites & intrigues. Mixing in sound effect noises such as birds calling really added some serious authenticity to the otherwise quiet, Nosgoth. The music that plays in the opening cut scene does more for the game then an hour long FMV could have.
An excellent game that offers plenty of gameplay, fun & challenge. The story is satisfying except for the abrupt ending & combat is fun. The puzzles are well-balanced & the combination of a material world & spectral adds some much.
Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver