A Soul-Crushing Blow

Posted by dankempster (2252 posts) -
What I was able to play of Soul Reaver was great

About a week into April, shortly after my war of attrition with Grand Theft Auto was finally won, I started playing Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver. It's a game I've been wanting to play for quite a while now, ever since I experienced the sequel all the way back at the start of 2009. Its environment-based puzzles, brilliant voice acting and complex narrative all kept me hooked from beginning to end. Last year I was able to get my hands on the original, spotting a copy of it on the shelf in my local Gamestation. I snapped it up without hesitation, paid the meagre £1.99 asking price and took it home, placing it on the pile of games marked 'to play sooner rather than later'. This month I finally started playing it, and was really enjoying the experience.

Until disaster struck.

I'd been working my way through Soul Reaver slowly, clocking up about ten hours' worth of play time across the last two weeks, and up until yesterday everything I'd seen really impressed me. Unsurprisingly, the game boasts a number of similarities to its sequel. A heavy focus is placed on solving environmental puzzles in order to progress, something I've come to recognise as developer Crystal Dynamics' action-adventure trademark through playing not only Soul Reaver and Soul Reaver 2, but also their trilogy of Tomb Raider games. The combat mechanics are fairly simplistic, but are spiced up by the invulnerable nature of the foes - their vampiric status means you have to make creative use of the environment to burn, impale and drown them into oblivion. The boss battles I fought were well-structured and rewarding without ever being frustrating. It even looks pretty great for an original PlayStation game, the gorgeous, decadent gothic art style and detailed character models belying the lack of graphical horsepower in Sony's first console. Sure, the game suffers from some of the characteristic problems of first-generation 3D games (awkward camera control and imprecise platforming being the big ones that spring to mind), but these barely detract from the overall experience.

If you've been clamouring for a dark Zelda, play Soul Reaver

Arguably the most impressive thing about Soul Reaver, though, is just how far ahead of its time it must have been way back when it was first released in 1999. The first 'blown away' moment came when I realised that the game was streaming the huge, seamless, 3D world of Nosgoth from the disc with no load times. And I'm not saying that in a fancy, spin-marketing kind of way - in the ten hours I played, right up until the aforementioned disaster, I don't think I saw a single loading screen during gameplay. To a modern gamer this fact might seem like a moot point, what with all the open-world games on the market that do the same thing, but I'll say it again - this game came out in 1999, on the original PlayStation. Take that into consideration and the fact the game provides a genuine seamless environment while still looking pretty damned great seems a fitting testament to how ahead-of-its-time Soul Reaver was.

There are other ways in which Soul Reaver seems to pre-empt the coming generation, some of which I've already mentioned - like the completely voice-acted script, recorded not by barely-competent voice actors but genuine big-hitters like Simon Templeman and the late, great Tony Jay. Their excellent performances really help to step the story up a notch, adding further gravitas and weight to a wonderfully-woven gothic tale of vengeance. Arguably the biggest moment of realisation that I had was about five hours into my playthrough, after trawling through the second 'dungeon' and beating the boss at its end. It was as the boss fell and I earned the ability to scale walls that I noticed the similarities between Soul Reaver and one of its contemporaries - The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Mechanically, the two games have a lot in common - puzzle-based dungeon-crawling, strategic boss battles, earning new items and abilities which open up new areas of the map for exploration, two distinct versions of the same world that the player must traverse between to solve puzzles and move on... The list is almost endless. The big difference is that while the Zelda series is steeped in twee, innocent fantasy, Soul Reaver cloaks itself in the macabre. Putting it simply, Soul Reaver strikes me as a successful attempt at a dark Zelda game - one developed long before the gaming community started demanding one.

My time as Raziel has sadly been brought to an early end

I'm sure the back end of the game is just as satisfying, if not more so, but I can't say for certain. My time with Soul Reaver was brought to a premature end yesterday, as I started experiencing disc read errors. They came consistently, always hitting right at the end of the boss battle in the Drowned Abbey. Cleaning the disc has also proven fruitless, which leaves me with just one conclusion - that one of the scuffs on the under-side of the disc runs a little deeper than a simple surface mark. It's incredibly frustrating, because I was really enjoying the game and was hoping to use my long weekend to see it through to the end. Now, thanks to those pesky disc read errors, I won't be seeing the end for a while yet, if at all. I've blogged in the past on the drawbacks of buying older games second-hand, specifically the unfortunate situation that arose when I purchased a used copy of the PS2 adventure game Primal way back in May 2009. These days I'm pretty meticulous when it comes to checking the condition of game discs before I buy pre-owned software. This pedantry extended to the purchase of Soul Reaver - the store I bought it from had two copies of the game, and I made a point of asking to see both before walking away with the better-faring of the two discs. Unfortunately I think this is just a hazard that comes with the territory of regularly buying and playing old games, and one I'm probably going to experience a few more times as I attempt to whittle down my Pile of Shame.

So for now, Soul Reaver returns to that pile unfinished. I am desperate to see the journey through to its conclusion, though, and I'm already thinking about ways of doing it for when I get paid at the end of the month. One option is to shell out for another used copy of the game on a site like Amazon or eBay - that would cost me around a fiver and would mean I'd be able to continue my game from my last save, but it would also mean running the risk of receiving another defective copy of the game. On the flip-side, for a similar price I could buy the game through the PlayStation Store and play it on my PSP - that would eliminate the possibility of any more disc read errors, but the sacrifice for that security would be having to start from scratch. In the meantime, while I think about how to approach the situation, I've moved on to try and tackle another original PlayStation title - Vagrant Story. Here's hoping my disc read error woes don't carry over to that title as well. Thanks for reading guys, I'll see you around.

Dan

---

Currently playing - Vagrant Story (PS1)

#1 Posted by dankempster (2252 posts) -
What I was able to play of Soul Reaver was great

About a week into April, shortly after my war of attrition with Grand Theft Auto was finally won, I started playing Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver. It's a game I've been wanting to play for quite a while now, ever since I experienced the sequel all the way back at the start of 2009. Its environment-based puzzles, brilliant voice acting and complex narrative all kept me hooked from beginning to end. Last year I was able to get my hands on the original, spotting a copy of it on the shelf in my local Gamestation. I snapped it up without hesitation, paid the meagre £1.99 asking price and took it home, placing it on the pile of games marked 'to play sooner rather than later'. This month I finally started playing it, and was really enjoying the experience.

Until disaster struck.

I'd been working my way through Soul Reaver slowly, clocking up about ten hours' worth of play time across the last two weeks, and up until yesterday everything I'd seen really impressed me. Unsurprisingly, the game boasts a number of similarities to its sequel. A heavy focus is placed on solving environmental puzzles in order to progress, something I've come to recognise as developer Crystal Dynamics' action-adventure trademark through playing not only Soul Reaver and Soul Reaver 2, but also their trilogy of Tomb Raider games. The combat mechanics are fairly simplistic, but are spiced up by the invulnerable nature of the foes - their vampiric status means you have to make creative use of the environment to burn, impale and drown them into oblivion. The boss battles I fought were well-structured and rewarding without ever being frustrating. It even looks pretty great for an original PlayStation game, the gorgeous, decadent gothic art style and detailed character models belying the lack of graphical horsepower in Sony's first console. Sure, the game suffers from some of the characteristic problems of first-generation 3D games (awkward camera control and imprecise platforming being the big ones that spring to mind), but these barely detract from the overall experience.

If you've been clamouring for a dark Zelda, play Soul Reaver

Arguably the most impressive thing about Soul Reaver, though, is just how far ahead of its time it must have been way back when it was first released in 1999. The first 'blown away' moment came when I realised that the game was streaming the huge, seamless, 3D world of Nosgoth from the disc with no load times. And I'm not saying that in a fancy, spin-marketing kind of way - in the ten hours I played, right up until the aforementioned disaster, I don't think I saw a single loading screen during gameplay. To a modern gamer this fact might seem like a moot point, what with all the open-world games on the market that do the same thing, but I'll say it again - this game came out in 1999, on the original PlayStation. Take that into consideration and the fact the game provides a genuine seamless environment while still looking pretty damned great seems a fitting testament to how ahead-of-its-time Soul Reaver was.

There are other ways in which Soul Reaver seems to pre-empt the coming generation, some of which I've already mentioned - like the completely voice-acted script, recorded not by barely-competent voice actors but genuine big-hitters like Simon Templeman and the late, great Tony Jay. Their excellent performances really help to step the story up a notch, adding further gravitas and weight to a wonderfully-woven gothic tale of vengeance. Arguably the biggest moment of realisation that I had was about five hours into my playthrough, after trawling through the second 'dungeon' and beating the boss at its end. It was as the boss fell and I earned the ability to scale walls that I noticed the similarities between Soul Reaver and one of its contemporaries - The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Mechanically, the two games have a lot in common - puzzle-based dungeon-crawling, strategic boss battles, earning new items and abilities which open up new areas of the map for exploration, two distinct versions of the same world that the player must traverse between to solve puzzles and move on... The list is almost endless. The big difference is that while the Zelda series is steeped in twee, innocent fantasy, Soul Reaver cloaks itself in the macabre. Putting it simply, Soul Reaver strikes me as a successful attempt at a dark Zelda game - one developed long before the gaming community started demanding one.

My time as Raziel has sadly been brought to an early end

I'm sure the back end of the game is just as satisfying, if not more so, but I can't say for certain. My time with Soul Reaver was brought to a premature end yesterday, as I started experiencing disc read errors. They came consistently, always hitting right at the end of the boss battle in the Drowned Abbey. Cleaning the disc has also proven fruitless, which leaves me with just one conclusion - that one of the scuffs on the under-side of the disc runs a little deeper than a simple surface mark. It's incredibly frustrating, because I was really enjoying the game and was hoping to use my long weekend to see it through to the end. Now, thanks to those pesky disc read errors, I won't be seeing the end for a while yet, if at all. I've blogged in the past on the drawbacks of buying older games second-hand, specifically the unfortunate situation that arose when I purchased a used copy of the PS2 adventure game Primal way back in May 2009. These days I'm pretty meticulous when it comes to checking the condition of game discs before I buy pre-owned software. This pedantry extended to the purchase of Soul Reaver - the store I bought it from had two copies of the game, and I made a point of asking to see both before walking away with the better-faring of the two discs. Unfortunately I think this is just a hazard that comes with the territory of regularly buying and playing old games, and one I'm probably going to experience a few more times as I attempt to whittle down my Pile of Shame.

So for now, Soul Reaver returns to that pile unfinished. I am desperate to see the journey through to its conclusion, though, and I'm already thinking about ways of doing it for when I get paid at the end of the month. One option is to shell out for another used copy of the game on a site like Amazon or eBay - that would cost me around a fiver and would mean I'd be able to continue my game from my last save, but it would also mean running the risk of receiving another defective copy of the game. On the flip-side, for a similar price I could buy the game through the PlayStation Store and play it on my PSP - that would eliminate the possibility of any more disc read errors, but the sacrifice for that security would be having to start from scratch. In the meantime, while I think about how to approach the situation, I've moved on to try and tackle another original PlayStation title - Vagrant Story. Here's hoping my disc read error woes don't carry over to that title as well. Thanks for reading guys, I'll see you around.

Dan

---

Currently playing - Vagrant Story (PS1)

#2 Posted by Gonmog (580 posts) -

Damn that really sucks. That game is one of my all time favs. I was BLOWN away in 99 when i got it on the PS. And then blown away again when i got it again on the Dreamcast. Holy crap was that a impressive game. I hold it right up there and next to Ocarina Of Time of games from that era. (granted i hold MGS higher but that's me...:D)

Enjoy the PS game playing. I rank it as the 3rd best system for games on the system. Only the SNES and Game Boy Advance beat it out...and it would be very close.

#3 Edited by Nasar7 (2613 posts) -

That's really unfortunate, hopefully you'll get another copy soon. Alternatively you could try one of those disc doctor repair things. On the bright side, Vagrant Story is all kinds of awesome.

Online
#4 Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw (6155 posts) -

Wait... no load times from a PS game? That's insane! All this makes me want to play the series at some point, but frankly, I have so much on my plate gaming-wise I doubt I'd get to it for years.

Moderator
#5 Posted by fox01313 (5069 posts) -

That does suck though if you have access to a PS3, you can get Soul Reaver & Legacy of Kain (1st one) through PSN at least here in the states for less than $5 when I got them about a year ago. The game itself is quite good & highly recommended from me. GLHB!

#6 Posted by buzz_clik (6969 posts) -

Yeah, Soul Reaver was simply amazing back when it first came out; I had a hard on for that game more and more as I ingested the pre-release articles, and I was suitably smitten once I got my hands on it proper. The tone and production and imagination and sheer technical knowhow of this title were like nothing else that was around at the time. I've still got my copy sitting in the drawer, so you may have just convinced me to take it for a spin sometime soon.

Know this, though (Does this count as a spoiler? Probably not): The ending was very disappointing for me at the time. I guess in hindsight with the sequels it stings a bit less, but my first time through this game was all about the journey and very much not about the destination. I hope that eases your pain a shade.

Moderator
#7 Posted by august (3836 posts) -

This game was boss on Dreamcast .

#8 Posted by Nasar7 (2613 posts) -
@buzz_clik Yeah the ending is a horrible cliffhanger that really sucked back in the day. I recently read though how it was due to their legal problems with Silicon Knights that they had to rush the final game out the door, lackluster ending included. Still, the game itself is an amazing achievement for its day. The Dreamcast version was even more impressive.
Online
#9 Posted by dankempster (2252 posts) -

@Nasar7: A friend suggested taking the disc to my local Blockbuster, where they offer a disc doctor service for about £1.50 per disc. It might be worth a shot - granted, it might not work, but it would be a lot cheaper than investing in a new copy. If it doesn't work, though, I'll probably go down the PSN route. Playing the game first time was such a pleasure, I probably wouldn't mind having to do it all again.

@Sparky_Buzzsaw: Genuinely, I didn't see a single loading screen during gameplay. The frame rate got a bit choppy when I was switching between the Material and Spectral realms in busy areas, but the game never actually stops. Even fast-travelling using the warp-gates is completely seamless. Admittedly a lot of the procedural environment loading is blatantly concealed by travelling down long corridors (a technique you've probably witnessed Crystal Dynamics use in Tomb Raiders Legend and Anniversary), but that doesn't detract from what must have been a huge achievement for the developers back in 1999 on the original PlayStation. Switching between the two realms and seeing environmental features contorting into new shapes in real time is still amazing.

@buzz_clik: Thanks for taking the edge off the pain. If Soul Reaver is all about the journey, then that leaves me feeling a bit more satisfied about my time with it. All the same, though, it would have been nice if the journey had been just a little longer. I still own Soul Reaver 2, and was planning to leap back into it after finishing the first one. Hopefully later in the year I'll be able to do just that.

One thing I didn't mention in the blog itself, but maybe should have, is that my first exposure to Soul Reaver was way back in '98 or '99, on a demo disc that came with the Official PlayStation Magazine. That was a prime example of a demo that really didn't do the final game justice - as far as I can remember it just plonked you in the middle of a small section of the gameworld and encouraged you to run and jump around killing vampires for five minutes. No sense of the bigger picture, no hint at the Zelda-style structure or the incredible tech at work under the hood. I'm really glad that I've given the series a second chance in spite of that poor first impression, because the experience has been really rewarding.

#10 Posted by GunstarRed (5118 posts) -

I remember getting stuck/lost in an area that looked like it was made of spiderwebs (or bad textures that looked like spiderwebs) I was really enjoying up until that point. never finished it, way too confusing. I was going to return to it, but I got my PS2 shortly after so I stopped caring.

Online
#11 Posted by dankempster (2252 posts) -

@GunstarRed: I agree that orientation is a big problem in Soul Reaver. I managed to get lost a few times, and at one point even had to consult an online walkthrough to put me back on the right track. It doesn't help that there are frequent mentions of compass directions (X is west of Y, Y is north of Z), but you don't have an in-game compass or map to use as a point of reference.

#12 Posted by DeF (4859 posts) -

Good timing with this blog. As of today, the game is available on GoG.com for $5.99 :)

#13 Posted by mordukai (7150 posts) -

@dankempster: Excelent read. Legacy of Kain will always be revered by gamers. I do hope you solve your disc error problems. I also hope Edios decides to bring this series back. Defiance ended on a nice tone but I have a feeling that it wasn't where it was suppose to end.

@Nasar7 said:

@buzz_clik Yeah the ending is a horrible cliffhanger that really sucked back in the day. I recently read though how it was due to their legal problems with Silicon Knights that they had to rush the final game out the door, lackluster ending included. Still, the game itself is an amazing achievement for its day. The Dreamcast version was even more impressive.

Amy Henning more then made up for it.

#14 Posted by Meowayne (6084 posts) -

I remember following the game's development closely back then, after having played the impressive, but noticeably work-in-progress demo. The developers sounded extremely proud when they talked about building a game with no loading times, and reviewers did highlight that.

Ah yes, that brings back memories. I had good times with Soul Reaver.

Not so much with the sequel, however. You mentioned a "complex narrative", but Soul Reaver 2 is one of the worst offenders of keeping that narrative cutscene-only. Almost everything interesting in Soul Reaver 2 happens non-interactively.

#15 Posted by dankempster (2252 posts) -

@DeF: Haha, pretty cool coincidence! Perhaps that would be a good way for me to resume my time with the game. Any idea how the game controls with a mouse and keyboard?

@Meowayne: Yeah, Soul Reaver 2 throws the cutscenes at you with astonishing regularity. If I recall correctly, that was one of the things that bothered me most about it when I played it three years ago - the fact you'd play for ten minutes, then sit back and watch for five, When I say 'complex narrative', I guess I really mean 'complex plot', referring to all the twisty-turny time-travel malarkey that game gets bogged down with. The first Soul Reaver strikes a better balance I think, keeping the cutscenes infrequent and fairly short.

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