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Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver (PC, PlayStation & Dreamcast)

Developer(s) – Crystal Dynamics & Rixxes Software

Publisher(s) – Eidos Interactive

Director – Amy Hennig

Producer(s) – Amy Hennig, Andrew Bennett & Rosaura Sandoval

PEGI – 16

 

Developed and released by Crystal Dynamics following a lengthy legal battle with original creators of the Legacy of Kain series, Silicon Knights, Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver, like Blood Omen, was also met wide widespread critical acclaim in what was considered an ideal time, as it coincided with the release of several horror films, such as The Sixth Sense and The Blair Witch Project. It went on to be considered the best game in the series by most critics, and whilst I don’t agree with that assessment, (by far I think the best game in the series is Soul Reaver 2), the original Soul Reaver is still to me, a classic of the fifth generation and still an absolute joy to play through.

 

Graphics – 7/10

Soul Reaver easily has one the darkest approaches taken to conceptual design out of most games I’ve played throughout my lifetime. It takes the players back into the fictional dark fantasy land of Nosgoth, but in a post-apocalyptic state. There are new locations added to Nosgoth’s landscape, as well as the ruins of some of the previous locations found in Blood Omen, such as The Pillars of Nosgoth and Nupraptor’s Retreat. It also has the player alternating between the underworld and the physical world in order to gain access to new areas, or areas otherwise impassable in the opposite. Gamers may argue that in terms of the technical aspect of the game, it hasn’t aged particularly well, and with that, I would agree to a certain extent, but the conceptual design more than makes up for that in my opinion. For the best version of the game, I would recommend the Dreamcast port, which runs at 60 frames per second and has the most polish to it. The Dreamcast version actually makes it look far more like a sixth-generation game than a fifth.  Both planes of existence within the game are as dark as the other, with a wonderfully horrifying soundtrack to accompany the game. 

 

Gameplay – 7.5/10

Somewhat similar to Blood Omen, Soul Reaver plays out more like a 3D platformer than a top-down RPG, but combat is still at the heart of the game’s design, with players having to subdue abominable enemies throughout and being able to learn new abilities and increase their health and magic capacities to use these abilities more efficiently and frequently. Although the main combat system is not as diverse as Blood Omen, it does make up for that by challenging players to strategize in accordance with their surroundings, as the enemies are only killed in a handful of specific ways, at least in the physical world. The boss fights, though fewer, are also far more creative than in Blood Omen; again requiring specific actions to take in order to best each one. Like in Blood Omen, there is also a fast travel system and a plethora of hidden items and abilities to discover along the way.

 

Controls – 10/10

Even when 3D gaming was pretty much in its infancy during the fifth generation, there were some games like Crash Bandicoot and Spyro The Dragon that handled their control schemes extremely fluently; Soul Reaver is one such example; there are no issues with the controls whilst playing with a joypad, and it also handles stealth combat in a very fluent manner as well, which at the time, was a relatively new concept. 

One thing I would advise, however, is this; avoid the Steam version like the plague. Controller support is not officially part of it with players having to rely on keyboard commands, and keyboard mapping doesn’t currently work for some unknown reason. The same also goes for every other Legacy of Kain game ported to Steam. No one at Valve, Square Enix, or Crystal Dynamics has ever seen fit to rectify this, and it’s a great shame. Again, the best way to play this game is on the Dreamcast; in every respect.

 

Lifespan – 7/10

The game can be made to last for a total of around 25 hours, which was relatively impressive at the time. The one thing I would say is that, although there are a good few collectibles to obtain throughout the game, the game’s world is still a bit too bare for how big it is, and more could have been added to it, in turn, add to the substance of the game. Nevertheless, there is enough in it to make it last for a fairly impressive amount of time. 

 

Storyline – 10/10

The story continues over 100 years following the events of Blood Omen. Having condemned Nosgoth to an eternity of decay by refusing the sacrifice of his own life, Kain has since established his own vampiric empire out of his own contempt for humanity. However, things change after his first-born lieutenant, Raziel, surpasses Kain in terms of vampiric evolution by growing a pair of wings. In anger, Kain tears off Raziel’s wings and condemns him to death by throwing him into The Lake of the Dead. Burnt by the acidic touch of the lake’s waters, Raziel is then resurrected by a god-like entity, known only as The Elder God, as a wraith, endowed with the hunger for souls and other supernatural abilities, unlike any vampire. Raziel then resolves to destroy Kain and his vampiric brothers and consume their souls returning them to the wheel of fate. 

Like Blood Omen, the story of this game, as well as the dialogue were masterfully executed. The voice acting of Simon Templeman, Michael Bell, and Tony Jay help to truly bring this title to life in a story centered around the nature of death and immortality and the price of power. To me, The Legacy of Kain easily has the best story ever told in all of gaming, and it’s that more impressive considering how much of a strong note of finality there is to the original Blood Omen. To have picked up where Blood Omen left off and evolved the series into what it would become in terms of story, was truly an impressive feat of video game narrative and helped to establish Amy Hennig as one of the greatest storytellers in the medium, as she would later go on to establish the stories of Uncharted and Assassin’s Creed.

 

Originality – 9/10

In terms of gameplay, as well as the story, it’s also impressive to think of how the developers took the concept of Blood Omen, made something drastically different from the former, and make work and work well, is also extremely impressive; especially given how young the concept of 3D gaming was at the time and how risky it would have inevitably been to make that transition. Some people have even cited this as an early example of a 3D Metroidvania, predating Metroid Prime by a full three years, which although I don’t think you can consider it a 3D Metroidvania, as it plays out more like a 3D platformer than anything, it’s still interesting to think about, and it all still works to separate this title from most not only released at the time, but most games released since.

 

Happii

Overall, the original Soul Reaver remains a classic to this day, and if anyone can pick up a copy of it on either the original PlayStation or the Dreamcast, I’d highly recommend it. It’s a game with terrific combat, a plethora of gameplay variety, additional sidequests, and a level of storytelling, which in my opinion, has never been topped within the medium of gaming since. 

Score

50.5/60

8/10 (Very Good)

Couse Gamer 88 Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain Header

Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain (PC & PlayStation 1)

Developer(s) – Silicon Knights

Publisher(s) – Crystal Dynamics & Activision

Director – Denis Dyack

Producer(s) – Rick Goertz, Lyle Hall & Joshua Marks

PEGI – 18

 

Released in 1996 as the first installment of the Legacy of Kain series, Blood Omen was met with immense commercial success as well as critical acclaim. A top-down adventure RPG inspired by the likes of The Legend of Zelda series, it stands as one of the earlier examples of a game containing a cinematic story, influenced by such novels as Bram Stoker’s Dracula and the works of Shakespeare dealing with themes such as birth, death, rebirth and moral ambiguity. To me, everything about this game is every bit as unique and refreshing for the time as what the developers set out to accomplish and stands out for me as one of the best games ever released on the original PlayStation. 

 

Graphics – 7/10

Blood Omen, as well as the entirety of the Legacy of Kain series, is set in the 15th century inspired land of Nosgoth, where sit nine skyward pillars, which each govern nine different aspects of the world; time, death, balance, nature, conflict, states, dimensions, energy and the mind. The game’s conceptual design also marks one of the earliest examples of the portrayal of dark fantasy in gaming; everything about Nosgoth feels ominous and gritty, and the 16-BIT rendered pixel art used does extremely well to invoke these feelings with some disturbing character animations and deeply atmospheric locations such as Vorador’s mansion, Dark Eden and Nupraptor’s retreat. The game’s soundtrack does nothing but adds to its overall sadistic feel in addition; even in times where relevant safety is to be had in villages and towns etc. 

 

Gameplay – 8.5/10

The game is a traditional adventure RPG, heavy on combat across the vast open world of Nosgoth. Players must travel in accordance with the story objectives, through the land, air, and even time at one point. It is also one of the earliest games to feature a conventional fast travel system, predating the likes of The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall, as Kain is able to transform into a flurry of bats in order to travel to different locations more quickly. But where the gameplay truly shines is in its amount of variety in combat. Different weapons are acquired to adopt different styles of fighting, as well as the player having access to a number of magic spells to strategize in accordance with what kind of enemies they are fighting. Having already been familiar with the series before playing Blood Omen for the first time, since I started with the original Soul Reaver, I was at first quite surprised to discover just how much variety there is to be had in gameplay; but pleasantly surprised. It’s a game whereby although its story is a huge part of it, it, to me, still doesn’t take precedence over the gameplay completely.

 

Controls – 9/10

The only gripe I would have with the game’s control scheme is that the command of attacking with melee weapons can be quite inconsistent at times. The way Kain’s sprite is animated doesn’t work well with trying to time each strike and can cause delays in doing so, it would seem. But apart from this one minor issue, there are no further major concerns with the controls to address. It’s as well the developers added a fast travel system since unless Kain is in lupine form, moving around can be quite slow. 

 

Lifespan – 7/10

To complete the game 100% can take there around 20 hours, which was fairly impressive for a game at the time, but it also gave players an insight early on into the direction whereby games were going at that point. Titles that last only a few hours at a time were no longer cutting it with players, and so developers seemed to start making longer games to accommodate for this; no longer was it just Squaresoft and Enix making games lasting hundreds of hours each, but developers like Konami, Silicon Knights, and Crystal Dynamics would also follow suit, and Blood Omen is simply an example of this increase in standards. 

 

Storyline – 10/10

The story of Blood Omen is morally complicated, tragic, and wonderfully dark. It follows the story of a nobleman named Kain, who is one night attacked and killed by a group of assassins. Finding himself in the underworld looking down at the abyss below, the necromancer Mortanius offers Kain a chance for revenge. Kain takes up the offer with the price being that he now walks the earth again as a vampire thirsty for human blood. However, his revenge against his killers turns out to be only a bit part of a far bigger plot embroiling Kain in an entangled nest of intrigue, death, manipulation, moral ambiguity, mental and physical pain, and loss. 

Blood Omen plays out very much a traditional Shakespearian tragedy, but with its mythology, settings, and set of shady and deceitful characters, it made for something very fresh in terms of storytelling at the time, which in all honesty, has never truly been replicated to this day. The story of The Legacy of Kain series, in general, would go on to become something even deeper and thematic, but the foundations laid down for all this with the first game were silently groundbreaking at the time.

 

Originality – 9/10

This game did a lot of things in terms of both gameplay and story that had not been seen before, and in terms of story at least, have rarely been seen since. Similar combat systems have been worked into many different games following the release of Blood Omen, and this game certainly had its influences in terms of gameplay, but regardless, it still stands as an experience unlike any other, and still mightily enjoyable to play today. To complete every quest and uncover every spec of expertly written dialogue and backstory is still a very rewarding gaming endeavor. 

 

Happii

Overall, Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain is a must-have for any fan of video games tackling the dark fantasy theme. It may never get the remaster it deserves, due to the legal issues between Crystal Dynamics and Silicon Knights, but this doesn’t take anything away from the original game; it’s a certified pleasure to play through every time. 

Score

50.5/60

8/10 (Very Good)