Soul Reaver is a dark fantasy action game with a great emphasis on story. Part of the Legacy of Kain series, which began with Blood Omen, developed for PlayStation 1 in 1999 by Crystal Dynamics and published by Eidos Interactive.
This was the first instance where a game story just gripped me at the start, carried me all the way through to the end and left me wanting more. Parts of the game still resonate with me today. I still wish this was rebooted or remastered in the newer generations.
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Soul Reaver, like Blood Omen, takes place in the dark fantasy land of Nosgoth. The prosperity of Nosgoth is linked to the skyward-reaching Pillars of Nosgoth, and to each pillar, a Guardian chosen to protect it. During the events of Blood Omen, the Guardians are all killed by Kain, a recently converted vampire, but also the Balance Guardian. Kain uncovered his destiny was to sacrifice himself so another cycle of Guardians could be selected, and he chose to rewrite his destiny and live. As a result of this choice, the Pillars, and Nosgoth, fell to ruin. Kain decides to rule over Nosgoth with his Vampire Lieutenants and their clans. Soul Reaver takes place 1,500 years after these events take place.
Kain, the protagonist of Blood Omen, now takes the role of antagonist and the protagonist role moves to Raziel, Kain’s first Lieutenant.
On top of the setting and protagonist change, the game changes from a top-down RPG to a third-person action game focused on exploration and ability upgrades to gain access new areas, similar to a Metroidvania.
The opening scene shows Kain sitting on his throne, located at the base of the destroyed Pillars, while Raziel narrates. He explains how Kain and his Lieutenants would evolve over time, earning new gifts. Kain would always change first, then his Lieutenants, never surpassing him.
We see Raziel take the centre of the court and kneel, then spreading two bat-like wings from his back, showing his ascension before his master. Kain shows a look of shock and disgust but then begins to inspect the wings. While taking in his Lieutenants new gift, a look of rage covers his face, and he tears the bones from the wings in one fell swoop.
A wounded Raziel is carried by two of the Lieutenants to a whirlpool within the Lake of the Dead. Kain walks away from Raziel and just orders “cast him in.” Raziel is launched over the edge, hits the water and begins to burn in white hot flames. He writhes in agony for 500 years, his body changing drastically, before settling down on the ground. He rises to an ominous voice “I know you, Raziel. You are worthy.”
This voice is that of the Elder God, a being that inhabits the Spectral Realm, and operates the Wheel of Fate, the cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth. The curse of vampirism suffered by Kain has disrupted the balance in both Nosgoth and the Wheel of Fate.
Raziel is told he is no longer a vampire, changed by the Elder God for a new purpose, he now feeds on souls. He is given the chance to avenge himself by killing Kain, his brethren and all vampires so the Wheel of Fate can turn again. He is told “Use your hatred to reave their souls – I can make it possible. Become my Soul Reaver, my angel of death.” He finds he has been given the ability to shift between the Spectral and Material Realms, altering the look of his surroundings in order to progress.
So begins Raziels’ journey through a far different Nosgoth than he knew 500 years previously. He must defeat each of his brothers, earning new abilities on each victory and eventually take on his former master, Kain. Along the journey, Raziel finds Nosgoth in ruins, a shell of the world he left 500 years previous. The story deals with betrayal, revenge, destiny and breaking free from it. There are a lot of twists and turns along the way to keep you gripped.
The Wraith Blade
Raziel is the Elder Gods’ Soul Reaver, but there is another. Kain wields a sword called The Reaver. A vampiric blade that can drain the victim of its blood. Raziel confronts Kain in his throne room and a ferocious battle ensues. Raziel is bested and Kain tries to strike him down with the blade but it shatters on contact. Kain seems oddly satisfied by this, then escapes.
Raziel slips back to the Spectral Realm only to find the soul of The Reaver has been released. He touches the wraith blade and it bonds to him, becoming a symbiotic weapon, an extension of his own arm.
Raziel, armed with the wraith blade, continues his path of vengeance.
Now there is a major bone of contention amongst the fanbase with the story. While the story is great and well executed throughout, about 2/3 through the game it starts to feel a bit botched and rushed which, as it just so happens, it was. Overly ambitious content and not enough time or staff to complete it led to some major cuts. The original ending, which would have been conclusive, was replaced with a final fight, time travel, a cliffhanger and that dreaded “To Be Continued” screen.
That is why I would love to see a reboot of the original story. There would have been more enemies, areas, abilities and a whole new ending.
As the game is right now though, I still love the story and the characters within it. Just don’t expect a closed-off story upon completion.
Combat in this game falls under hack and slash. Raziel, while unarmed, can slash with his claws, deliver powerful kicks and throw stunned enemies. Throwing is a necessity in the early game as claws and kicks can only stun vampire enemies. They must then be thrown into water, sunlight, fire or wall spikes in order to finish them off.
There is a small selection of weapons available, such as staffs, boulders and torches. The Soul Reaver becomes your go-to weapon once you acquire it. It can kill standard enemies and can also deliver fatal blows to vampires. Can’t help but get lightsaber vibes while it swishes.
Exploration, Puzzles and Realm Shifting
In order to explore areas, Raziel can jump, crouch jump to reach higher ledges and also grab his tattered wings to glide short distances. More abilities are unlocked along your journey, like scaling walls, phasing through gates and swimming.
Numerous puzzles will block your way, most are simple switch or block puzzles but others require the abilities you unlock along the way and Realm Shifting.
Realm Shifting causes drastic changes to the world around you. The Material Realm warps and distorts as you shift back to the Spectral Realm, opening new paths previously inaccessible in the Material Realm. This mechanic never gets old. Seeing how each area is affected by shifting is a sight to see.
Even by PS1 standards, Soul Reaver is a good-looking game, albeit with blocky textures and character models. The cinematics, however, are just magnificent. The facial animations and visual quality are amazing for such an old game.
Music and sounds are executed very well, from the ominous, chant/organ heavy backing music, to the sound of Raziel’s feet thudding with every step, changing depending on the conditions he is walking in and the sounds during combat, the claws connecting with enemies, their cries as you deliver the fatal blow. Everything here just sounds great.
Voice is where this game really outshines itself. There aren’t too many characters in the game but each one is voiced perfectly. Raziel, Kain and the Elder God are the true highlights. Raziel and Kain speak with such eloquence and conviction that there is a sophistication to them coming through in every conversation. The wise, booming voice of the Elder God from the opening scene to the end is just brilliantly done.
While there is no new game plus or anything like that, the game can be as long as you make it. The main story can take anywhere up to 12 hours to complete. There are still elements of the cut content areas that remain to be explored and there are magical spell glyphs and warp gates to find in most areas. I found myself finding a hidden human sanctuary full of wandering humans and vampire hunters.
I find myself coming back to this game every couple of years just to experience it all over again.
Soul Reaver is a great game that delivers a good story with amazing characters you cannot help being drawn into. Everyone needs to experience this game at least once. It delivers characters so expertly done that you can’t help being gripped from start to end. The ending of the story is the only drawback I can find with this game. There is still hope we will get the uncut game one day.
- Amazing characters
- Deep story
- Great combat and exploration
- Abrupt and unfulfilling ending