By Video_Game_King 7 Comments
Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver
(Long ago, I blogged about a game by the name of Blood Omen.) (OK, it was only earlier this year, but bear with it.) It looked like shit on all counts, but it had a compelling world and some cool vampire abilities, so it got a pass. I'm guessing that's the opinion everybody else holds regarding that game, because I'm not gonna be bothered to read reviews for a game I played so long ago. Oh, and it was successful enough to get a sequel several years later.
That sequel is (quite obviously) Soul Reaver, named for the sword you got for all of the last hour of Blood Omen, and it's....a confusing game to write about. I'm not trying to criticize it, but I kinda have to. I mean, I liked the game well enough, but when I think about it, there's absolutely no way this can be a good game.
Odd, then, that I start with one of the better aspects of the game: the story. But before I get into that, do any of you remember that claymation Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer? Remember when the reindeer first found out about Rudolph's red nose? Well, imagine if their reaction was to contact Satan Claus so he could throw Rudolph into a vat of acid for all eternity. Now not only is this complete fact, but it's pretty much the story of Soul Reaver...but with vampires. Now Vampire Rudolph has to hunt down his brothers, kill the shit out of them, kill even more shits from Satan Claus, and bring peace back to the Norsgoth Pole. OK, now I'm lost, but what I think what I was going for was how great the world is....right? Yea, let's go with that. It seems a strong point for the Legacy of Kain games, and Soul Reaver's no different. When it tells you that Kain fucked shit up, this game shows you. Every building is in utter decay, a thick miasma hangs over the land, every single vampire looks twisted and unnatural (in a good way, this time), and it's pretty clear that they put a ton of work into making Nosgoth work.
Now I just wish that they put this much work into the story. I know that sounds strange, but hear me out: the plot itself isn't that good. OK, thematic strength about corruption of the world and the dark influences one man can exert, but that's all spread over a very thin plot. In fact, outside the synopsis I offered earlier, here's the story: Raziel (the Vampire Rudolph thing) comes back to life and decides to kill every last vampire. Then he kills every last vampire. Throw in a couple of plot points, a lazy ending (that's not spoiling anything because there's nothing to spoil), and prose so purple it could be an extra in Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and you have the Soul Reaver experience.
So already, it's becoming clear that this game is a really mixed bag, and everything else I have to say about the game isn't going to change that. For instance, I'll start saying good things about the graphics, but will eventually find myself doing the exact opposite. Let's begin: this game looks effing amazing. All the models and environments sport high amounts of detail, which I could demonstrate with pictures, but then you wouldn't see the great animations. I just love how primal and bat-like Raziel's movements are. Such attention to detail! The developers are the supreme innovators. I mean, this game came out in 1999; the industry was seven years away from everything looking utterly dull and brown! Talk about being ahead of their time, especially in demonstrating why this isn't a good idea in the first place. Making everything brown (or green, sometimes) makes everything look exactly the same and hard to distinguish, something a draw distance of two inches certainly doesn't help.
Then again, the world isn't exactly easy to navigate in the first place. Too often did I find myself wandering around the overworld, trying to figure out where exactly my goal was (despite the game being helpful about telling me where it was). True, the game gives you a few warp points to make things more convenient to navigate, but there's no way to know where exactly you're going with the damn things. Why? Because rather than being marked with words or numbers or anything identifiable, the warps are marked with...whatever the hell these are. Why would you do this, Soul Reaver guys? Sad, too, because again, this is a pretty interesting world to navigate. There's enough cool shit to keep you jumping around the brown for a while, like the fabled Fire Reaver or the fact that I just used the phrase "jumping around the brown" without a hint of irony. And that's not getting into the very memorable levels I've forgotten about because I delayed this in favor of Xenoblade. But still, guys. Drowned Abbey.
Also, block puzzles. Tons and tons of block puzzles. I'd say it's amazing how many of them there are in this game, but I find it more surprising just how well they're planned. Not their execution, mind you, since a lot of is laboriously shifting blocks about and sometimes whacking things (more on that in a bit), but the planning. They're all really clever puzzles that exercise your brain muscle, paying attention to every minute detail and whatnot. Surprisinger still is just how much mileage it gets out of these mechanics. No two puzzles are exactly the same. A lot of them are incredibly similar (flip the block until it's facing the way you need), but never exactly the same. So yea, no complaints on the block puzzles.
But quite a few for the combat. Seems rather fitting that I spend the last part of this Soul Reaver blog talking about the one part of the game where the eponymous sword is actually relevant. It also seems like for something like that, the developers would make sure it had more depth, but sadly, that is not the case. Here's how all the non-bosses in the game go: whack the enemy around a bit and then press triangle to kill them. (The only exception is without the Soul Reaver, at which point you have to look around a bit and then press triangle.) OK, so there's nothing wrong with it on a technical level, and at first, it's a bit fun, but it wears thin pretty fast. It's sorely lacking in variety; just mash the square button and then press triangle for the one execution you'll use the whole time, and you're good. But let's say you die during battle. What happens then? Well, you're immortal, so that pretty much means fucking about in the spectral realm (basically the real world with more green) until you're allowed back into the actual combat. Just....fuck. You guys see what I'm dealing with. Every single aspect of this game is contradicting itself before me. I just don't know, man. I just don't know.
- It's Fragile Dreams, only with vampires instead of a plot.
- And a shitton more block puzzles.
- And repetitive combat.
To celebrate having just finished the Endurance Run many weeks ago, here's something we'd all prefer not to exist.
How do I fucking find this shit?
(There's only one reason I played this game.) Go ahead and guess why. I'll wait.........Give up? It's because of the word "Moon" in the title. Yes, I am an incredibly petty person. That was my only reason for playing this game in the first place. My screenshots reflect as much. I wasn't even considering the fact that it's Japan-only and uber-obscure, or that it's actually a really good game. Just the moony bits.
And then I played the game, and was utterly surprised at how much work it put into a premise I'd barely even considered. Way to show me up, game. Of course, I'm not talking about the actual story, because there isn't a lot to it. The Moon Crystal creates zombies, and you're a zombie racist douchebag butthole. Then again, when your villain looks like this, it's hard not to want to kill him. Now as that picture demonstrates, Moon Crystal puts a lot of work into telling its story, if not the actual story. Imagine if Ninja Gaiden was released three years later, and you have a good idea of what Moon Crystal's like, what with the abundance of horizontal, manga-esque cutscenes and everything. And then the game starts, and you realize it still looks amazing. There's a lot of detail to everything, and the animation is ridiculously fluid. NES games shouldn't be this smooth, damn it.
And there's good reason why: it makes the controls...less than ideal. Oh, sure, animating every frame of your character turning around looks fantastic, but it inevitably means you're going to waste a lot of time trying to face whatever's trying to ram itself firmly up your anus. This is especially troubling when the VERY FIRST BOSS OF THE GAME requires you to turn around quickly so you can hit him in the ass (this time, not a joke). Although other than that (and the fact that climbing onto platforms is just as laggy), the game controls pretty damn well. This is my way of saying that I'm going to start talking about the parts of the game I like.
But we have to build up to it, starting with the bosses. Now I'm not going to say they're boring or anything like that, because slashing a giant in the ass is never boring. In fact, that's probably why Shadow of the Colossus is as critically acclaimed as it is. No, I'm going to complain about how challenging they aren't. You have invincibility time; they do not. Do the math. There's something seriously worrying about a game where major encounters such as these are easier than whatever came before them, which is probably why the developers started fixing this problem later in the game. Mainly, the bosses start taking multiple forms, meaing you can no longer just stand right inside them and slash them nine ways from Sunday. Predictably, these are the best portions of the game, specifically because they put up a fight and offer a fun challenge.
In fact, that's one of many things the game gets decidedly right. The challenge, along with everything else. Not too hard, but they'll definitely expect something from you. Maybe it wants you to avoid murderous seagulls hellbent on your death, or perhaps it asks you to go through a previous level, only backwards and for its amusement. But you know what? You do it. You go through it because of all the cool stuff it promises you. OK, also because properly challenging games are fun in and of themselves, but what I'm saying is that this game has pretty damn cool moments and levels and everything else. I'd give some examples, but unfortunately, I wasted them earlier this paragraph, and it's hard to make "the rest of the game" sound interesting. Even though it is interesting. I guess my only substantial complaint for the game would be that it's mechanically simplistic. Just a jump, a slash, and variations thereof. Whoopee. Only given all the other words I've used to describe this game, that may be the only non-sarcastic whoopee in the history of this blog. At least until I cover this, of course.
Oh, right. This is a platformer. I probably should have mentioned that somewhere.
- This about sums up Moon Crystal well enough. Yes, I have a video response for everything. EVERYTHING.
- And under all that animation is a compelling platformer.
- With pitifully easy boss battles for a lot of the game.