Why I Love Soul Reaver – An unnerving legacy

I remember the very first time I heard about Legacy of Kain. It was a feature in a magazine we had in the UK called Game Master. Every week, I’d put aside the £2.50 and treat myself on a Friday afternoon to the latest in video game news. I remember finding out about the latest bleeding-edge consoles and the potential you could do with this new technology. “The Dreamcast has a dsl port? My God, you can play with people who aren’t in the same room!” Likewise, I remember turning the page of my magazine one time to be greeted with one of the most glorious things I’d ever seen. There was a character, stood reaching out toward me. Eyes blazing, holding a glowing sword. The words “Soul Reaver” carved across the top of the page, I was dumbstruck. I’d never seen such an awesome looking game. I knew I needed to play it, and for the next year until it was released I absorbed every facet of information that I could. It was honestly the first time I can remember being so excited for a video game. Everything about it looked phenomenal. The gameplay, the graphics, the story. They all were exactly what I wanted in a game, and my young impressionable brain was taken, hook, line and sinker.

So, upon this insatiable desire I have to put my nostalgia-tinged memories to the ultimate test, I booted up the PlayStation and sunk into Nosgoth once more.

You play as Raziel, one of the lieutenants of the titular Kain, a vampire lord ruling over the land of Nosgoth. Betrayed by his master and cast into the swirling abyss of souls, Raziel awakes thousands of years later to seek vengeance on his former master. Replaying this game was an utter delight from a story standpoint. There was nothing that had been lost in the intervening years, it’s still as encapsulating as I remember it. It’s so well-executed, every single character is written in such a way that you want to know more about them. Akin to more modern dark-RPGs, the story is gleaned from fragments and relics that the player can discover. I’ve always loved that, it enriched the world unbelievably by not laying everything out on a silver platter.

In a highlight so large I’ve decided to put it in it’s own paragraph, the voice-acting in this game is nothing short of perfect. I’ve never, and this is not something I’d say without a lot of thought, been so moved and awestruck by the voice acting in a game. Last of Us. Bioshock. 50 Cent Blood on the Sand. Psh. You all pale in comparison hearing the elder god say:

“From this moment, and ever afterward, you and this blade and inextricably bound. Soul Reaver and reaver of souls, your destinies are intertwined.”

The cinematics and cutscenes are also mind-blowing. It’s incredible how much was obtained from the PlayStation at that time, these are easily on the same level as Final Fantasy 8. No question. The gameplay graphics are definitely dated however, and it’s such a shame too. The design in the game was clearly crafted with such love and passion that the processing power was just unable to deliver at the time. Once I was adjusted to it, the fidelity didn’t really hinder my playing the game, I just had occasional pangs of “Oh man, that’d look incredible if it were made today”.

The only other downside is the gameplay. Much like when I revisited Metal Gear Solid recently, it’s so obvious that this game was laying the groundwork for others to follow. In a sense, I’ve always felt Soul Reaver as a spiritual forebear to the God of War series. The combat and movement feels rife with potential, but it’s just on the clunky side. Later games of the same genre would come to refine this and allow for incredible combat systems. This game though, it definitely feels dated.

Ah. Now we come to the elephant in the room. When Soul Reaver is brought up, this is always the major detraction from the game. If you’ve ever played it, you’ll know the pain and frustration associated with what I’m about to talk about. The camera. This game used a fixed third-person camera. And it sucks. It was my main source of worry going into revisiting Nosgoth, and my worries were not unfounded. The issue is this. Say you’re in the middle of a jump, the camera will cut to another angle to show Raziel try to make the landing. The problem is, the controls re-map to the new camera angle. So now, up is left, down is right and you’re immediately jerked in the opposite direction. It’s maddening. It’s such a shame to see one small technical decision almost ruin a game. Eidos, I don’t know what you were thinking, but good lord.

Having said that, I came away from the game not upset or disappointed. The main feeling I had was desire to see an update. There was a PS2 sequel which was great, and a free-to-play MMO which, yeah, we’ll not talk about here. This game would be a phenomenal addition to a remastered series, and I would buy it in a heartbeat. I’m in no way holding my breath though, I don’t expect anything like this to happen. Maybe, just maybe, in a few years, there could be enough nostalgia and fondness for Soul Reaver to warrant a sequel. Now that would make me one happy person.

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