||Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver
Take a bite out of crime - Review By Subskin
Vampirism, mutation, mutilation, infanticide, purgatory, and resurrection. That's just some of the fun things you'll encounter in the opening cutscene of Soul Reaver. Eidos has ported the PC\Playstation hit to the Dreamcast, so now we get to take part in the wholesome vampire retaliation fun!
That opening cutscene is incredible. Terrific pre-rendered vampires interact while the "hero," Raziel, gives a voice-over. The background story is presented as Raziel's flashback. Both the script and the voice acting are well done - a true feat for a video game (or a porno).
Here, Raziel takes time out of his busy schedule to impale a nasty beast and feed on its very soul. Being a vampire is cool.
Here's the deal: After Legacy of Kain: Blood Omen, vampire Kain established a
vampiric kingdom. Kain birthed six original lieutenants, including the hero Raziel. Each lieutenant turned more humans into vampires to create underlings. A millennium passed… almost all humans were wiped out, and Kain and his lieutenants evolved with greater powers. When Raziel developed the gift of flight before Kain, the elder vampire and his lieutenants cast Raziel into an acidic lake.
With me so far? Okay… After a millennium of painful decomposing, Raziel was awakened by "The Elder." The Elder offered Raziel reincarnation. The only requirement? Raziel must stalk and slay each of his brother lieutenants and Kain himself. Fortunately, The Elder bestows upon Raziel the ability to devour souls for power. Thus, Soul Reaver begins.
Confused? You'll understand it more after watching the cutscene yourself. As if that background story wasn't original enough, Soul Reaver has more plot twists than the Matrix. It's refreshing to see such depth in a game that is basically an evil Tomb Raider clone (more on that later…).
The controls in Soul Reaver are next-to-perfect. You begin the game with only a few moves - punch, grab object, jump, and eat souls. Through discovering secrets and devouring the souls of his brothers, Raziel develops new skills. The control progression is great - just as you master your current moves, you develop a new one that drastically changes the game. Raziel can also shift between the normal Material Plane and the ghostly Spectral Plane. The landscape and Raziel's abilities are different in each Plane, so shifting opens up entirely new areas (ala Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time).
The music in Soul Reaver is the best horror mix I've heard since Eyes Wide Shut. At times a devilish chant builds to eerie crescendos. Other places strange whispers and scratching noises quietly scare the bejeesus out of you. Glenn Danzig would be proud.
The awesome introductory cinematic isn't just eye candy, it sets up the intriguing story as well.
The sounds also complement the game's atmosphere. The dialogues and Raziel's monologues are well scripted and well delivered. Raziel speaks with dry agony; Kain speaks with deep contempt. Soul Reaver's sound effects convey the message as well: when a vampire burns to death, his scream sounds dangerously real.
The upgrade from Playstation 32-bit to Dreamcast 128-bit is apparent in the level graphics. Each texture looks vividly real. Shifting from the Material Plane to the Spectral Plane is quick and creepy; pillars twist and bend, and flames dull to an ethereal blue. The flames in the Material Plane cast some of the best lighting effects to date. Picking up a torch changes the lighting on characters and the surrounding environment. For the improved lighting alone, Soul Reaver is worth the upgrade.
Jumping back and forth between the two planes opens up all kinds of possibilities.
The Dreamcast's version's load times are also improved over the Playstation's. Raziel changes environments so quickly and fluidly that it's barely noticeable. In fact, it took me awhile to even recognize when Soul Reaver was loading new levels. These quick transitions really help the game's mood by keeping the pace.
The player models limped through the Playstation to Dreamcast port. None of the characters has a sufficient polygon count. This is, and will continue to be, a huge problem for PSX to DC ports. It's like making a paper airplane with only 3 folds when the machine is capable of hundreds more: no matter how detailed the textures on each edge, it still will not appear as real as it should.
While Soul Reaver looks much better on the Dreamcast than it did on the PSX, the characters could have really benefited from some additional polygons.
In Soul Reaver this problem is particularly evident because of the dialogue. When Raziel meets someone, they generally exchange intelligent conversation. Unfortunately, most of the bosses' heads are little more than a cube. Since Eidos did not provide him with a jaw, even Kain simply nods when he speaks rather than opening his mouth. This may have been acceptable four years ago, but in 2000 video games need more detail.
Another potential problem with Soul Reaver is its limited replay value. Soul Reaver is extremely linear - kill one brother, use his ability to get to the next stage, rinse, and repeat. There is very little incentive to return to Nosgoth once you have beaten the game, since you will already have seen every little speck of the map.
Within each level are some intelligent puzzles. However, even these puzzles must be solved in a single, linear order. Moreover, they are very Tomb Raideresque - flip and move blocks around to set off machines and open new areas. The point is: if you enjoy Tomb Raider, check out Soul Reaver; if you don't dig Lara Croft at all, you probably won't like Raziel either.
I also found Soul Reaver to be a bit too easy on the action side. When you die in the Material Plane, you automatically shift to the Spectral Plane and regain some health. The Spectral Plane enemies are generally very easy and provide you with more souls to rebuild your health. As soon as you reach 100% health again, you can return to the Material Plane. Throughout the game I was forced into the Spectral Plane a number of times. As soon as I recovered, though, I was back in the same place I died at full health. Since there is no limit to this ability, it's like invincibility in Zelda.
Look familar? If you don't like Tomb Raider, you probably won't like Soul Reaver.
The Final Word
Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver is one of the Dreamcast's first fantasy adventure games. It offers a murderously good story and innovative action. Had Eidos updated the models to a higher polygon count and perhaps tweaked the gameplay a little bit, it may have contended for game of the year. Even with the dated player models, it's still one devilishly good game.
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Highs: Exciting and original story, great controls, haunting sounds.
Lows: Player models have low polygon count, linear gameplay.
Other: 1 Player, VMU Compatible (saves require 50 blocks), Jump Pack Compatible.
(out of a possible 10)
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