Have You Played… Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Ten years before Crystal Dynamics began making Tomb Raider games, they were making rivals to Tomb Raider games. Technically a spinoff from the Blood Omen series, Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver saw fallen vampire Raziel on a path of vengeance against his lord Kain and five of his undead brothers.

I originally played Soul Reaver when I was twelve years old, mainly because I was fascinated by its grisly environmental executions. But I remember it for the equal parts brilliant and bonkers level design that made even the maddest of Thief’s missions seem straightforward by comparison. Not only was its sprawling gothic world loopy to start with, but you could also phase between two slightly different versions of it, which formed the basis for many of its puzzles. Think Dishonored II’s “A Crack in the Slab” mission, only stretched out across an entire game.

As this suggests, Soul Reaver was years ahead of its time. The way the world warps around you when you phase between the physical and spirit worlds is still an impressive effect, and the dreary realm of Nosgoth has more than a little of Lordran about it. The writing and voice acting is also superb for a late nineties third-person puzzler. As it happens the game was directed by Amy Hennig, who went on to direct the Uncharted series for Naughty Dog. This in turn was CD’s main source of inspiration for the rebooted Tomb Raider games.

Visually Soul Reaver is showing its age, and functionally is rather temperamental on modern PCs (if you’re considering a purchase, the GOG version is more stable than the Steam version). Otherwise it’s still an excellent game, perhaps the finest example of nineties’ 3D platformers.

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46 Comments

  1. Isendur says:

    One of the most interesting game stories in videogames for me.
    Wish it didn’t end on a sad note but then I probably wouldn’t remember it so fondly. Vae Victis!

  2. gabrielonuris says:

    Ah, yes, I have. It wasn’t once, nor twice, but let’s say I played it a lot and still play it from time to time.

    It not only was ahead of its time, as it is STILL ahead of its time. The Legacy of Kain series has no competition until this day, and maybe never will. It’s sad to think that the nearest thing we’ve got of a sequel was a cancelled game (Dark Sun) and a MP only game that, although pretty good, wasn’t what fans wanted.

    And oh, just look at that, that MP game was closed an year ago.

    Looks like history indeed abhors a paradox.

  3. StAUG says:

    When I was about 18 I lent a guy money to buy an XBox, the next time payday came around the scummy bastard bought Legacy of Kain: Defiance for his new XBox instead of paying me back and I never got my 100-odd dollars back out of him. That leeching prick really ruined this franchise for me.

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    AutonomyLost says:

    I used to absolutely adore this game. One of my all-time favorites, actually. Thanks for the bit of nostalgia!

  5. Troubletcat says:

    This game and its sequel are some of the finest 3D platformer/character action games ever made.

    I would absolutely love some dev studio to add support for modern resolutions and modernise the control scheme and rerelease them. They don’t need anything more than that.

    Evocative graphics, excellent world design and compelling stories. An updated control scheme is enough. More than enough – they’re excellent as-is. But it’s one of those franchise that I always think ‘cor, I sure hope the people a decade+ younger than me who are going into game development or writing about games have played these vitally important videogames and understood why they were so good,’ so modernising it a bit couldn’t hurt.

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    cpt_freakout says:

    Soul Reaver was amazing at the time. The LoK series was one of those humongous world-building exercises rivalled only by RPGs back then, which I think is quite impressive. I’m still waiting for a GOG re-release of the first LoK so I can play them all in order and waste like tons of hours of my life.

    • Darth Gangrel says:

      I got the whole package from GoG (a shame that the first Blood Omen isn’t included) at some sale long ago, but it’s been sitting there since then, like so many others. I did play a demo of it back in the day and it seemed really cool.

  7. Eleriel says:

    Oh HECK YEAH!

    Soul Reaver. Dear, dear Soul Reaver.
    One of the most brilliant, timetwisty and *consistently* good storylines of any franchise I’ve ever played!
    I still play through the PS1 version on my PS Vita (as well as the original Legacy of Kain: Blood Omen) from time to time. Really wish they’d remaster/port over the PS2 games so I could play them too. GOG will do for now though, I guess.

    but let me gush about the voice-acting for a bit!
    Michael Bell, Simon Templeman, Tony Jay (rest well), and sooo many others.. especially in the later games.

    and the outtakes from the games just never get old for me ;)
    link to youtube.com Soul Reaver 2
    link to youtube.com LoK: Defiance.

    They ended it on an awesome cliffhanger.
    “The first bitter taste of that terrible illusion: ‘hope’.”

  8. Chaoslord AJ says:

    Some parts weren’t very well designed but that didn’t stop the classic tomb raider success either.
    I have fond memories for the game regardless, vengeful Raziel, blathering fool Kain, vampires, soul-eating swords, that uninscrutable time travel plot which began three games before…

  9. kud13 says:

    The best games series’ story, ever.

    I’ve loved this series since the original Blood Omen (GOG really needs to steal that game from Activision’s evil clutches!), and despite the uneven gameplay (the series never did figure out what the hell it wanted to be until the very end), the story and the cast carried it, making it something incredibly special.

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    DantronLesotho says:

    Like others in this comments section, I thought the games’ story is one of the best out there, if not the best. I tried to run Blood Omen:LOK off of DOSBox recently and it didn’t work; I would love a modernized version of it. The other ones unfortunately got terrible porting work done to them, and are barely functional. It’s a real shame. Of all the gamers I know, only one other has finished the series; it needs to be witnessed by many more :)

  11. gruia says:

    we re all saying the same thing.
    best story ever, best characters, best dialogue .. everythign that makes your mind tick
    and the design and gamplay werent half bad either.
    these new developpers still have no clue what their priorities should be, whattheir philosophy is

  12. EgoMaster says:

    I didn’t, but I will. I started the series with Soul Reaver 2 and fell in love but never played the original Blood Omen and Soul Reaver games. In a few days I’ll get around to it and cross one of my gaming resolutions of the list. In fact, I’ll do a LoK marathon. Games are installed, widescreen hacks are patched in. Everything’s at stand by.

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      I did a marathon of the series a year or so ago and it’s well worth the effort. I had to skip Soul Reaver 1, alas, for audio reasons noted further down, but I’ve played that one so many times over I guess I could skip it just fine.

      For the record, the closest thing the plot has to a chronological order is Blood Omen 1, Soul Reaver 1, Soul Reaver 2, Defiance, Blood Omen 2, and that’s probably the order I’d recommend, personally.

      • Sir_Brizz says:

        In game chronology, Blood Omen 2 happens before Soul Reaver but after the events of the first part of Soul Reaver 2.

        The timeline is horridly complicated. There is a lot to how the timelines connect.

        In release chronology, Blood Omen 2 came out between Soul Reaver 2 and Defiance. Blood Omen 2 has some of the worst third person action game controls known to man for some reason (tank controls boo). However, it is a decent game otherwise.

        • Kingseeker Camargo says:

          BO2 is hands down the one to skip if you happen to only have time to play 3 games (4 if you can catch a copy of BO1). Amy Hennig wasn’t involved in that one and it shows. Even though they largely respected the lore and even introduced the Hylden for the first time, the overall tone is completely out of place, and they made a horrible mess in a lot of details.

          Also, the writing is way too videogamey and rather unimaginative for a worthy title in the series, even in the names of characters/objects (“The Builder”, “The Seer”, “The Device” –Jesus, man, invent ONE name at least!). You do get a lot of Simon Templeman, which is always a nice thing to have, but his lines are pretty bland.

          Blood Omen 2 is the Dark Souls 2 of the Legacy of Kain series.

          • Ygdrasel says:

            Soul Reaver had ‘The Necropolis’, ‘The Drowned Abbey’, ‘The…’ naming conventions too. And skipping Blood Omen 2 is utterly unnecessary. The game is still fun.

  13. Clarksworth says:

    One of the best things about this game is the way it made “dying” part of the world and part of the story, beating the heck out of save-reload, checkpoints or corpseruns. That small touch, really kept me in the game.

    • draglikepull says:

      Yes, I love the fact that the game built its fail state into the fiction and gameplay rather than just sending you back to a loading screen. It’s kind of sad that nearly 20 years later there’s still almost no one experimenting with more interesting fail states and that almost every action and/or story game uses dying and re-loading rather than trying to make a more holistic experience. Dying/loading is actually a pretty dumb and lazy way of organizing a linear story-based game.

      • scatterbrainless says:

        A certain Dark Souls has learnt this lesson well. The only other real example I can think of would be the respawn tubes of the various Shocks, although they were a pretty lazy way to hide the save/reload cycle. Oh, and the original Torment of course, where sometimes dying and failing were necessary to unlock certain parts of the story.

        • Clarksworth says:

          Yeah, *Souls is probably the best recent example of learning this lesson, and ties nicely into its pattern of rewarding mastery.

          The Prince of Persia series flirted with getting this right. Sands of Time and the re-reboot both had plenty of mechanics to minimize the number of reload fail states you could get into.

          I agree with you about the respawn tubes in *shocks. They didn’t feel in-world, they felt like developer approved cheating.

  14. Johny40Se7en says:

    Pure gem of a game, I never finished because I was going around in circles after a while, felt like I got far but that was when I was younger, when I got older I was more aware of how bloody huge the game was haha. Amazing soundtrack, atmosphere and voice acting though, one of my top 5 adventure games of all time easy.

    I agree with many others, it would be awesome if a remaster could be done, keep the old music and voice acting though, just improve the graphics and animations and controls.

  15. Bolonha says:

    There is currently a real working on a mod of the first Blood Omen game. It goes by the name BloodOmnicide. They could use some help on character modelling btw.
    link to omnicide.razorwind.ru

  16. thekelvingreen says:

    I always thought they felt more like the 3D Legend of Zelda games — in terms of gameplay, rather than aesthetics and setting! — than they did Tomb Raider. I know the 2.5 Soul Reaver games scratched that LoZ itch I had when I didn’t have any Nintendo consoles.

  17. floogles says:

    Anyone interested in this game should check out the podcast Designer Notes #21 with Amy Henig who did a lot of work for it. Really fascinating.

  18. Kingseeker Camargo says:

    I’m the kind of Miyazaki nerd that keeps comparing everything to Dark Souls, but there is actually quite a bit of overlapping between it and Soul Reaver (especially DS1 and SR1): The sprawling world with surprisingly large secret areas, the way in which dying was worked into the game’s mechanics, the genuinely dark and oppressive atmosphere, the captivating story with lots of little clues to hunt down and piece together (although there was some increasingly shameless retconning in later titles, to be fair).

    The combat was nowhere near as good as in DS, but then SR made up for it with some of the greatest storytelling I can remember, backed with what has to be the best voice cast in any game ever.

    I recently replayed Soul Reaver 2 and only now I realized you can’t skip the cutscenes. I had played it to completion three or four times back in the day, and I had never tried to skip a cutscene because I just loved the (admittely, crazy grandiloquent and overwrought) dialogue and the fantastic voice acting.

    So, yeah. I played it and I liked it quite a bit too.

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    zapatapon says:

    Although I never finished it, I have always been amazed and mind-boggled by this diagram of SR’s storyline(s) drawn by Andrew Plotkin (a well-known figure to all IF enthusiasts)

  20. kalzekdor says:

    I liked the environmental combat of the Soul Reaver series. You were for the most part fighting Vampires, who, for all practical purposes, were immortal, regenerating from wounds in a matter of seconds. There are really only 4 ways to “kill” a Vampire (short of your crazy soul-draining energy sword, but you could only use that at full health): Sunlight, Water, Fire, and Impalation (and tougher enemies were immune to some of those). In order to kill an enemy you would have to do enough damage to stun them, then use an environmental hazard to kill them, throwing them into sunlight, setting them on fire with a torch, or impaling them on one of the omni-present wall spikes. You could also throw a spear at them for a quick kill, but if you picked the weapon up again before devouring their soul, they would just come back to life all over again.

  21. malkav11 says:

    I’d be interested in seeing what they would do with a Tomb Raider 2013 style reboot of Legacy of Kain. Though minus Amy Hennig it might be a bad idea.

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      Funny thing – I would have said the exact same thing about Uncharted without Amy Hennig, but she didn’t write Uncharted 4, and it honestly has some of the best moments of character-centric writing in the series. Not that I’m doubting her ability for a SECOND, you understand, just saying that surprisingly (to me, at least), a series can sometimes remain great even with a change of writer.

  22. zsd says:

    Such magnificent scenery chewing, though it’s been so many years I only remember two lines.

    “You are lost in a maze of moral relativism!”

    And my favorite: “Rahab. You have adapted well to your environment for one so maladjusted.”

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      I played so much Soul Reaver I accidentally memorised the script. The whole script.

      This was years ago of course, but I just tried and yeah, I seem to still be able to run through at least the first part in my head.

      It’s a crying shame it has such difficulties with modern systems – I’ve tried it on a few machines in recent years and never been able to get the sound to stop skipping horribly – which rather defeats the point with a LoK game, I think.

      In any case, one of the absolute greats. The whole series is pretty good to be honest, if… variable.

      • Kingseeker Camargo says:

        I still have the intro to both SRs in my Folder Of Things To Safekeep For When The Internet Explodes And All Is Lost Forever.

        I also used to visit The Lost Worlds *a lot* and they had a tutorial to extract every sound file in SR2 (not sure it was possible in SR1 though), so not only you could listen to the music of the game all the time (some tracks were amazing), you could also get all your favourite dialogue bits to replay whenever you wanted.

        Man, I was a fanboi.

  23. CloneWarrior85 says:

    The finest of gaming. A lot of today tittles could learn a thing or two (hell, could learn a lot), from Soul Reaver.

    I always wanteD more from the series, but right now, please no, not even a reboot, let the good games stay good.

    • Ygdrasel says:

      “Let the good games stay good”

      They will. They cannot retroactively be made bad.
      Furthermore, the series’ most recent 2013 entry was great.

  24. Pizzzahut says:

    Absolutely loved this game. Bought it again on GOG, but sadly could not get it to run with my Xbox Controller.

    • Kingseeker Camargo says:

      You can use Xpadder to have the gamepad emulate the keyboard inputs and you’re good to go. The original game didn’t have much in terms of feelooking anyway, so you’re pretty much playing the original PS game with a modern day pad.

      I also undestand Pinnacle Game Profiler has a specific Soul Reaver profile, though I haven’t tried that yet.

  25. nanotechnics says:

    This game and it’s sequel, LoK: Soul Reaver 2 are my favorite games of all time.

    My favorite quote:

    “The Sarafan were warriors, defending Nosgoth from the corruption that we represent! My eyes are opened Kain, i find no nobility in the unlife you rudely forced on my unwilling corpse!”

  26. PaulV says:

    I absolutely loved this game, it would definitely be up there in my all-time best games list.

  27. Appleseed says:

    In situations like this, I always need to link to this article:
    link to m.neogaf.com. The game was great, but what it could have been..

  28. Mandrake42 says:

    Such great voice acting in this title, with the late Tony Jay and the still with us Simon Templeman bringing their top game.

  29. Ace of Space says:

    Few games encourage you to go back in time and kill your former self.

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