Having no money as a kid was a real bitch wasn’t it?
Even if you were one of the lucky few to have a paper round or dog walking job, it would still take an age to build up the required funds to purchase a brand new video game. Considering that video games normally start at £40, most of us had to pick and choose what games we purchased. If I was ever in the lucky enough situation to have 8 Bison Dollars burning a hole in my pocket, deciding which game to blow it on was an agonising and drawn out decision to make.
Now that I have disposable income, I can pick up obscure games on a whim and still have money for other things. Back when I was 11, it was one and done, and that meant that some games never found their way to my library. Soul Reaver is very much one of those games. I remember it getting exceptional review scores (Official UK PlayStation Magazine clocked it in at a whopping 9 out of 10) and I also remember playing the demo and enjoying it. However, with funds limited and WWF Attitude up for pre-order at my local HMV, Soul Reaver sadly found itself out of the running. To be perfectly honest, I’d completely forgotten about it and had never bothered to add it to my ever growing PSX collection for that reason. In fact, it was while pouring over some of my old magazines that I found the review of the game and was intrigued to give it a go. The fact that I found it for a solitary penny online (Plus postage) made the decision to snap it up all the easier.
Soul Reaver was a sequel to the original Kain game. Despite what the title would suggest, you don’t actually spend the game playing as Kain himself but rather as his former ally Raziel. In the game’s opening cut scene, Raziel is betrayed by his master and flung into a murderous vortex to be tortured for all eternity (And you thought the day the photocopier stopped working in the office was the worst day you ever had at work!) but a vengeful Elder God reanimates Raziel’s corpse and sends him out into the world to bring Kain down once and for all.
As a premise, it works very well and Raziel is instantly likeable as the main lead. Michael Bell’s voice acting brings a calm purpose to Raziel’s words and he looks instantly cool with his cape and glowing eyes. The voice acting on the whole is to a very high standard, with The Elder God being voiced by the instantly recognisable Tony Jay. Jay is a simply inspired choice and his voice gives considerable weight to The Elder God character, being that it’s the voice acting equivalent of rich, gooey chocolate fudge cake. Once you are revived by The Elder God, you are given a few minutes to familiarise yourself with the buttons before being sent out into the world to begin your quest for vengeance.
One thing you’ll notice very quickly with the game is that, once the game starts, there are no loading screens. You are free to roam around the world on offer without having to sit around for a half a minute twiddling your thumbs. The game gets around this by installing door opening motions which kill a few seconds and allow the next area of the map to quickly boot up. These last all of 2-3 seconds though and it really gives the impression that the game is continuously ongoing. Considering that the game was released in 1999, this is a huge achievement and nothing to be sniffed at.
The game operates in two worlds, the spectral realm and the material realm. Raziel can’t actually die, due to the fact that he’s already kind of dead, so if your health bar goes to zero you will be sent back to The Elder God’s lair in the spectral realm. Some puzzles will require you to switch between realms to find the answer. For example, water is insubstantial in the spectral realm, so if Raziel needs to acquire something at the bottom of a river he can do so in that realm.
The material realm is patrolled by mutated and disfigured vampiric members of Raziel’s former clan, and as such they can’t be killed with just melee attacks. They need to be thrown onto spikes, into water or set on fire before they finally snuff it. Once this is done, Raziel can then consume their souls to replenish his health. This does eventually turn battles into nothing more than an exercise of “find the hazard” which can be frustrating, especially when your health is low but the nearest river is a good walk away. This normally leads to you having to punch a stunned vampire to the other side of the map so they are actually in range of the water. Thankfully, as you progress you can pick up torches and spears which enable you to finish enemies more efficiently.
You can lock onto enemies by pressing R1, but annoyingly there is no block button, which makes fighting more than one enemy an exercise in frustration. You can dodge attacks by pressing X, but the controls feel stiff and unresponsive. It’s one of the few issues that the game has, the other being the amount of traipsing around you have to do. You can save at any time, which is something I’m exceedingly grateful for, but this will save your progress and not your position. This means that whenever you boot the game up again, you’ll start in The Elder God’s lair. As you progress further in the game you will unlock access to portals that will cut down the travel time, but you still end up doing an inordinate amount of back tracking to get to back to where you originally saved the game.
This may have something to do with the game world being so large, but Metal Gear Solid was released prior to this game and in that you’d always start up in the room where you saved. Can you imagine if whenever you loaded the game up after a save on MGS it always made you start at the helipad and made you trek to wherever you were previously? That’s essentially what Soul Reaver does and it makes the game frustrating, especially as sometimes you have to return to The Elder God’s lair to advance the story, which means you have to traipse all the way back to the start of the game. You can deliberately kill yourself to get there quicker, but this is an imperfect solution to a problem that rears its head more than one would like.
These issues don’t outright ruin the game, but they make it a 7 or 8 out of 10 as opposed to higher. The game has aged very well and is still immensely playable, which is all you can ask for from a Retro game. I’d heartily recommend it, especially as you can get it boxed for a very reasonable price. Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver is an enjoyable romp that rises above its flaws to be a valuable gaming experience. If you have a PSX, I think this is a “must have”
As always, I’ll post some footage of the game below
Thanks for reading
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