Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver
Storyline aside, Soul Reaver looks and plays much more like the popular Tomb Raider series than the original Legacy of Kain. The gothic feel and ambiance of the first vampire title from Eidos has been combined with the gameplay and mechanics of Tomb Raider. Though the game has already existed for quite some time on the PlayStation console, Eidos felt that the power of the Dreamcast would do wonders for the graphical appeal over its PlayStation predecessor. By enlarge they are correct, and for those who have not played this game on the other platforms, the Dreamcast version would be the one to play.
The polygonal three-dimensional world is one of the largest existing on any console system to date (c. 2000) and for most gamers it will take quite some time to become familiar with all of its different areas. The smooth granite surfaces that most areas possess will become somewhat monotonous, though there is certainly enough variety in other facets of the environment, such as structures, lakes and lighting, that will keep the look of the game fresh. Add to this the fact that at any point and in any area of the huge virtual world it is possible to switch modes from material to spectral. Plus, you have an environment that is literally twice as large as it originally seems.
Cut-scenes are seamless and offer a great feel to the game as well as enhance the storyline tenfold. These cut-scenes offer fantastic dialog and better than average voice acting. What's more important to the flow of the game are the perfect intervals at which these cut-scenes appear, not being too scarce or over bearing as to break the flow of the game. Characters are identical in both in-game scenarios and cut-scenes. Each character is a conglomeration of many polygons and is detailed down to their facial expressions. Enemies that will be seen most often are similar to Raziel (the character you control throughout the adventure) in size and detail.
The boss characters offer a bit more to witness, as they are extremely large foreboding creatures that contain intricate detail. Some players feel that the detail in these boss creatures is a bit lacking and that perhaps Eidos rushed things in making this port for the Dreamcast. Though this may be true, the manner in which they flow from cut-scene to actual battle is without pause and aids in creating an atmosphere of suspense. Perhaps the next chapter in this series will showcase the true graphical power of the Dreamcast, but for now most will look past the slight blockiness of the occasional boss character and enjoy the game for the adventure that it is. This being said, there are very few areas of the game's look that will warrant any true criticism.
The most memorable aspect of the game's look is undoubtedly its lighting. Making use of the 128-bit power, the atmosphere that existed on the PlayStation console, is able to be manipulated far more via lighting effects. The result is an incredibly eerie ambiance. Torches, blasts of energy and bonfires will aid in the visual experience, as their glow will manifest itself in an extremely life-like manner throughout the game.
When shifting from world to world (more on that later) there is a morphing that takes place within the world's structures. While in the spectral mode, there is a blue tint to everything that is to be seen. This effect is similar to placing a blue lens on a motion picture camera. It is in the material world that you will see the true beauty of this game in all of its graphical detail. Here is where you will notice several different pieces of eye candy such as hypnotic waterfalls, awe inspiring views from high cliffs and christened white snow covered terrain.
Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver possesses an environment which, along with its music and sound effects, truly transcends the gamer into a different world. This is the goal of all 3D action games but Soul Reaver succeeds where most tend to fail. The sheer size of this world is previously unsurpassed in a game that contains the amount of detail that Soul Reaver does. It's the complete package (characters, terrain and scenery) that gives this title the graphical presentation that it has, which is one that publishers will undoubtedly look to for future reference. This type of environment was first seen in the original Tomb Raider (being both massive and thoroughly detailed) and since has grown in its complexity.
It's safe to assume that the audio presentation adds almost as much to the game's presentation as its graphical appeal. From the opening introduction we are treated to voice acing that is scarcely paralleled in console games. Aiding the actors in their vocal challenges is a terrific storyline and an even better script. The gothic theme of the game is represented almost flawlessly through its dialogue. Furthermore, there is no shortage of this dialogue to be found in the game for the GD contains over 45 minutes of voice acting.
The actual sound effects are well above average and seem to suit the presentation perfectly. From the "swoosh" of the sword to the sound of the energy projectiles, everything seems to be just right. Footsteps as well as flowing water are to be heard along with the subtle (yet at times intense) background music.
The score itself, while not overly memorable, does a suitable job. While not quite reaching the edge of tension like a game such as Resident Evil, the subtle background music in Soul Reaver is never a bother or nuisance. Most gamers will be quite content leaving the music set to the default volume of ten. However, because of the superior voice acting, some may choose to tone down the game's music and sound effect levels in the options screen so that when a voice is to be heard it is simply monstrous, overshadowing all other sounds of the game.
The option screen where you can toggle sound effects, music and voice levels is really the only options menu in the game to speak of aside from the ability to configure your controller. There is no difficulty level to set or anything else in the way of playable options. Being the one-player adventure game that this is, this shouldn't surprise most gamers for this genre has seen little or no options in the past in the manner of gameplay.
The gameplay, being by far the most important aspect of any game, is yet another area where Soul Reaver shines. The mechanics are very different than the Tomb Raider series that most people thought Soul Reaver would emulate. In Soul Reaver there doesn't seem to be any predetermined mechanics involved. An example of this is in Tomb Raider, when making a long jump, one would stand at the edge of block, hold down the walk button and take two steps backwards. Once doing so, holding the joystick forward and pressing the jump button would ensure a jump of the maximum distance. It seemed as if every movement in Tomb Raider was based on a mathematical predetermined formula.
While this is not at all a bad thing, this type of movement simply doesn't exist in Soul Reaver. Yes, it's possible to walk to ensure that you won't fall off the edge of a cliff, but taking two steps back with the analog stick doesn't seem to be exact by any means. Now, rather than taking calculated jumps, we have to continue to try for a platform we can't seem to reach. Only after an exhausted effort can we be sure that we aren't able to make a certain jump. This is unlike Tomb Raider where after the very first jump one could easily determine whether or not the jump is actually possible. This will frustrate gamers at first but most will get the hang of completing difficult jumps after practicing control over the main character for a few hours. Since this adventure will last well over fifty hours with no strategy guide use, it's safe to assume that by mid-game even novice gamers will have a full command over Raziel's movements.
The puzzles in the game vary a great deal both in design and difficulty. Early on in the game there are several block pushing type puzzles that aren't all that difficult. While at the end of the game, it will take a bit of ingenuity to complete these same style block puzzles. Most of the puzzles in the game require you to pull several switches or push over pylons in order to complete a difficult task. Usually after two or three lever pulls and a pylon push, a cut-scene ensues showing you exactly what you've done. More often than not you will have no idea what you are doing.
Since there is nothing you can do that will prevent you from completing a task in the proper manner, it's beneficial to simply go at it relentlessly pushing over objects and pulling levers. This is true in almost all cases. The exceptions are when you must complete two tasks simultaneously. Not wanting to spoil anything for gamers out there it is difficult to expand on exactly what it is you must do in these situations. Suffice it to say, it will require a little brainwork and a large amount of gaming experience. All but the most experienced gamers will never make it through the game without a hint manual at one time or another.
As mentioned before, at anytime it is possible to switch realms (worlds). When doing so, all of the structures on the screen will morph and new passages may appear. At times steps will grow or shrink, allowing you to make certain jumps. Not only this, but actions such as swimming are only available in the material mode. In the spectral mode the water has no substance, allowing you to walk through it and into many of the games caverns. There are countless differences between these two realms and the player must master both realms in order to complete the game.
The fighting and battles are done perfectly, starting off with hand-to-hand combat and ultimately, when finishing the game, you are armed with a variety of spells, swords and projectiles. Simply killing an enemy is only half of the work to be completed when destroying foes. As a vampire set on the quest for souls, you must devour the soul of each enemy after they have been destroyed. Not doing so can have severe consequences as these enemies can be reincarnated into stronger beings. Once into the game a good portion of your fighting will entail you hurling energy pulses at your enemies from a distance, which can in itself can be great fun. Other means of destroying enemies are burning them and impaling them. It's quite enjoyable from beginning to end and you will never seem to get tired of impaling an enemy.
Killing bosses will take a bit more strategy for usually it will require you to trap them in some sort of cage, or to pick up objects they themselves are hurling at you and returning the favor yourself. Only one of the six bosses will require a face-to-face beating, all others are subject to destruction via trickery and guile.
Though it may seem that Soul Reaver is without flaws, it's better said that it is without any major flaws. There are several aspects of the game that will leave you a bit bewildered. All of these aspects concern the actual layout of the game. Though there are portals that enable you to warp from one section of the world to another, there is no map available. Since this isn't a level-based game like Tomb Raider where you set out to complete a level and the object is to get from point 'A' to point 'B', it can get very confusing at times.
The world being absolutely massive only increases the difficulty of knowing exactly where you are at any given time. Most would benefit a great deal by making a map themselves and writing down notes about the location of certain villages. This is not a game you can simply pick up and expect to win with little effort. This game will take dedication and determination if it is to be completed without outside assistance. Perhaps Eidos would have done the user a real service by providing them with a bit more in-game information concerning what the next task is or at least the next area that the task must be performed in. Few of us want to extend ourselves into a great deal of written work when playing a videogame and this is exactly what Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver requires us to do.
Kudos to Eidos for publishing such a thoroughly engrossing game but shame on them for making it too vague as to what it is we have to accomplish next. Dealing with a massive world in two entirely different realms can be quite difficult to say the least. This effects the replay value in a twofold manner. While ensuring that it will be quite some time before completing the adventure, at the same time it will frustrate gamers to the point that most will seek outside help (in doing so, destroying the replay value of the game).
If you already own the PlayStation version of the game then there is little warranting a purchase of this title for the game is essentially the same. If you have yet to give this game a shot, I would definitely recommend a rental. After two or three days you will have a great idea of what this game is all about and know for certain if this game is for you. More than anything else, Soul Reaver makes us look forward to the next title in this gothic series. Building from a base like this, it's hard to imagine the next Legacy of Kain disappointing many fans. ~ Jonathan Licata, All Game Guide
Spectacular lighting effects aid in a terrific graphical presentation. Bosses can be a bit blocky but overall detail is extensive throughout. ~ Jonathan Licata, All Game Guide
Average sound effects and incredible voice acting aids a subtle eerie soundtrack. Excellent dialogue and script propel the gamer into a gothic world. ~ Jonathan Licata, All Game Guide
Movement of your character is original and takes some getting used to. An incredibly massive world will take some time to learn. Fighting enemies is fun and one of the least frustrating aspects of the game. The most frustrating aspects will represent themselves via simple disorientation in a gigantic 3D environment. ~ Jonathan Licata, All Game Guide
Without a hint manual this game will require at least fifty hours of gameplay. Due to its genre, once completing the game there will be no reason to go back and play it again. Don't plan on renting this title and beating it though for this title will challenge even the most experienced gamers. ~ Jonathan Licata, All Game Guide
A little bit of this and a little bit of that, the instruction manual doesn't do the best job is explaining all of the characteristics of the game. There's enough to get you started though. A list of villages and corresponding symbols would have helped avoid confusion, which is already high at times. ~ Jonathan Licata, All Game Guide