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As Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver turns 20, let's remember why it was brilliant

May 9, 2019
4,582
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Article by Wesley Yin-Poole, Deputy Editor of Eurogamer (link at the bottom of the OP)

Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver turned 20 years old on the 16th August 2019.

Crystal Dynamics' influential PSone, PC and, later, Dreamcast classic was one of the best single-player adventure games on Sony's console, and is credited with influencing the genre and its subsequent standouts, such as Uncharted.

Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver was praised for its story, characters, world design, evocative atmosphere and the mechanic of shifting between two world states, which at the time was hugely impressive.

Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver was directed and written by Amy Hennig, who took to Twitter to say it "holds a very special place in my heart". Hennig, of course, would go on to play a key role in the Uncharted series at Naughty Dog.


Back in 2012, Hennig talked Soul Reaver secrets in a post on the PlayStation blog. Initially, Hennig revealed, Soul Reaver wasn't supposed to be a sequel to Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain, rather a new IP called Shifter that was loosely inspired by Paradise Lost.

"The protagonist was essentially a fallen angel of death, a reaper of souls hunted by his former brethren, and now driven to expose and destroy the false god they all served," Hennig said.

The Shifter concept was "the genesis" of Soul Reaver. "... the core ideas were all there. The hero was an undead creature, able to shift between the spectral and material realms, and glide on the tattered remains of his wing-like coattails. We conceived the spirit realm as a twisted, expressionistic version of the physical world. The hero was bent on revenge after being betrayed and cast down by his creator - like Raziel, he was a dark savior figure, chosen to restore balance to a blighted, dystopian world.

"When we were asked to adapt this concept into a sequel to Blood Omen, our challenge was to take all these ideas and merge them creatively into the Legacy of Kain mythos."

Hennig and the development team pared back on some secondary features during the making of Soul Reaver, including a plan to include shape-shifting as well as plane-shifting. The biggest challenge, "hands-down", was getting the data-streaming working to allow the game to have a seamless, interconnected world with no load events.

"I think we were one of the first developers to tackle this problem (along with Naughty Dog, on Crash Bandicoot)," Hennig said.

"It proved to be way more difficult than we had initially anticipated - if I recall, we were still struggling to get the textures to dynamically pack correctly, just a couple months before release. We ultimately got it working by the skin of our teeth, but I wonder if we would've embarked on such an ambitious plan if we'd known how difficult it was going to be!"

As you'd expect, implementing the real-time morph between the two environments - that is, figuring out how to store two sets of data for the spectral and material realms - was also a challenge.

But the "ultimate challenge", Hennig said, was schedule and scope - a common challenge in video game development.

"Conceived as an open-world, Zelda-esque 3D adventure game, Soul Reaver was incredibly ambitious," Hennig said.

"Crystal Dynamics' Gex engine gave us a leg-up on the 3D technology, but in essence we were writing a game engine from scratch, while developing a new IP. These days, a developer wouldn't think of attempting such a thing in less than three years (minimum), but Eidos wanted the game in less than two. In the end, we shipped Soul Reaver in under 2.5 years, but not without some unfortunate 11th-hour cuts which still pain me today. The scope of the game was definitely too ambitious, but if we had shipped the game that fall, instead of that summer, I think we could have reduced the scope of the game more elegantly."

To hit the August 1999 release date, the developers had to cut the last few levels of the game, and end on a cliffhanger to set up Soul Reaver 2.

"Originally, Raziel was going to hunt down and destroy all of his former brothers as well as Kain - and then, using his newly-acquired abilities, he would've activated the long-dormant pipes of the Silenced Cathedral to wipe out the remaining vampires of Nosgoth with a sonic blast," Hennig said.

"Only then would he realise he'd been the Elder God's pawn all along, that the purging of the vampires had devastating consequences, and that the only way to set things right would be to use Moebius' time-streaming device to go back in time and alter history (in the sequel).

"So the story would have arrived at a similar place, just by a different route. In the end, as much as I hated its bluntness, Soul Reaver's 'To Be Continued' ending probably turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because I think it opened up more interesting story options for the sequels."

And sequels came. Soul Reaver 2 launched on PS2 and PC in October 2001, Blood Omen 2, which was directed by Dead Space co-creator Glen Schofield, came out just a year later in 2002 as a sequel to the first game in the series, before Hennig returned to direct 2003's Legacy of Kain: Defiance.



Since then, Legacy of Kain has remained dormant. The ill-fated Nosgoth, a free-to-play multiplayer action game developed by Rocket League maker Psyonix, didn't make it out of open beta. Legacy of Kain: Dead Sun was a more traditional Legacy of Kain game, developed by Climax Studios for Square Enix Europe, but it was cancelled in 2012 after three years of work. (For the inside story on Legacy of Kain: Dead Sun's demise, check out our in-depth report.)

So, 20 years after Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver came out, it remains for many fans the best game in the series. And with no new Legacy of Kain in sight, perhaps it'll stay that way for years to come.

 
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Caffeine

Member
Jan 17, 2013
6,799
2,738
1,045
soul reaver was 1 of the first 3d games i've played out of a handful and it was something special its sad the franchise seemed to have flown to close to the sun (rip vamps) and square tried that online game that flopped, I really would love to see a new entry its the only franchise they seemingly dont want to touch after dead sun.
 
Apr 18, 2007
13,858
1,813
1,565
It was some of my favorite series. Soul Reaver was great! Ahead of its time and had great music by Kurt Harland
paging @ Mama Robotnik

 
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EightBit Man

Member
Jun 13, 2019
2,661
4,824
475
The Netherlands
Literally the only title in the series I bought. It was so good that I gave it a shot on multiple systems (PlayStation -> Dreamcast & PC).

The parallel worlds, the dark atmosphere, the unsettling story... It was something different, that's for sure.
 
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Naked Lunch

Member
Oct 17, 2011
2,904
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955
Block Puzzles.
Worst block puzzles in any game in history - brought the pacing to a screeching halt over and over.
I get an immediate headache when I think of Soul Reaver because of this.

That said, I still fondly remember the rest of the game - the bosses were so unique and it had great atmosphere. I own it on PS1 and Dreamcast.
 
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16bitwarzvet

Member
Jul 20, 2017
164
247
510
i picked this up for my Dreamcast collection a few months ago...haven't gotten around to playing it yet but am excited to go through the story!
 

Revolutionary

Member
Sep 13, 2007
21,017
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1,565
Brooklyn, NY
Absolutely adored playing this game 20 years ago.

But that 'ending' is still one of the worst I've ever seen in any entertainment medium. It literally came out of nowhere and felt like a kick in the nuts. It was so dejecting that I didn't even pick up the sequel.
 
May 9, 2019
4,582
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i picked this up for my Dreamcast collection a few months ago...haven't gotten around to playing it yet but am excited to go through the story!
I first remember seeing it advertised for the Dreamcast in the official console's magazine. It always stood out creatively though I never did get around to playing it. But it is interesting to read about how ambitious it was. You don't see that kind of technical design these days.
 

Orta

console wars 2020 - participant
Apr 26, 2018
2,995
8,069
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Easily an all-time favourite. Bought it on what was my twentieth birthday for the PS1 and again a few years later for my DC.

One to bookmark btw...


 

Caffeine

Member
Jan 17, 2013
6,799
2,738
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Easily an all-time favourite. Bought it on what was my twentieth birthday for the PS1 and again a few years later for my DC.

One to bookmark btw...


wow thats really nice looking
 

sublimit

Banned
Aug 28, 2009
21,702
11,608
1,470
Even back then Crystal Dynamics had it easy. Eido$ gave them 2.5 years to work on Soul Reaver (and they are crying about it) while Core Design were given less than 1 year for each Tomb Raider.
 

Gargus

Banned
Oct 1, 2018
2,053
2,855
535
I played this on playstation and again on the dream cast. Was bored shitless both times really. At first it had some cool mechanics and ideas but they all felt uninteresting in this game.

The only this that impressed me was how the game tapped the disc for information as you went instead of loading levels and areas constantly. The game was always smoothly rolling out.

But I never could find finish the game. The slow and plodding story, the world felt empty, the color scheme for everything was like maybe 20 different colors, there wasn't much diversity in enemies, you just repeated the same gameplay mechanics over and over again. I mean sure it was different but it still wasn't that great.

Blood omen was much better.
 
May 11, 2011
6,406
1,264
920
Australia
I played the game soon after it came out, all those years ago.
I remember bits and pieces, like loving the intro (the broken wings and "cast him in"), thinking it was weird that Raziel didnt wear pants, killing enemies with spears/pole arm type weapons, fighting a water boss and it taking me a looooong time to realize I had to smash the windows around the chamber and finally, the abrupt ending.
Good times.
 

mcz117chief

Member
Sep 29, 2013
12,995
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31
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Interesting games. I played all of them but never finished any of them. The novelty dries up really fast and I just gave up. I think the biggest problem is that the gameplay loop is really basic and doesn't really change. Defiance was the best since it switched between platforming sections with Raziel and combat sections with Kain but even that one I never finished. The Raziel parts were really meh.
 

kingbean

Member
Jun 27, 2016
2,500
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720
Interesting stories, but the games don't hold up all that well. I recently played through all of them and Blood Omen was my favorite. The more advanced the clunkier the games got and defiance was a boring beat'em up.
 
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Dec 12, 2018
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games is beautiful, one of those games that deserve to be called art. the story and writing is just next level. soundtrack easily one of the best ever. the gameplay is great too, i love the design of the dungeons and creative boss designs. the level design is kinda like metroid in some way too, so definitely a plus for me. only negative for me are those block puzzles.

sadly i think this is the magnum opus of the series both in terms of story and gameplay. soul reaver 2 was still good but noticeably worse in almost every aspect and felt rushed. blood omen 2 had fun (and repetitive) gameplay but lacks the suberb writing the series is known for and defiance is just worth it because it brings the story to an end. gameplay is really shallow though and a chore.
 
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SLoWMoTIoN

Unconfirmed Member
Hated the gameplay. Loved the story and the characters. Kain specially. Back then they looked to literature for inspiration and it showed in the dialogue between the characters.
 

lifa-cobex

Member
Oct 15, 2010
3,751
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Mandatory thread.

Must be posted every time Soul Reaver is mentioned.
 

Mista

Banned
Nov 21, 2014
20,414
35,345
1,420
20 years already?! What a game. What a fine damn game

We were amazed by it at that time. I remember me and my two cousins sat there all night until the following morning just playing this. May Soul Reaver RIP
 

V4skunk

Member
Nov 20, 2018
3,623
4,070
485
Kain's story is one of the greatest in gaming. Simon Templeton's voice acting is amazing, God tier in fact.
Need a follow on with Kain, free of Nupraptors madness and one with the Reaver fighting the Hylden for the fate of Nosgoth.
 

Dante83

Banned
Jan 23, 2012
442
244
585
I missed this series. I felt defiance was great with the story, environments, atmosphere, and the gameplay is much improved. I always wanted a new game. I saw some trailers of dead sun, and I can see why it didn't go far. It looked generic, and that character was very forgettable.
 
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trikster40

Member
Dec 12, 2008
2,457
3,095
1,345
I still own all of the games in the series, the original ones from launch. I’ll never get rid of them. I’d love to see a remake of the entire series, then maybe there would be a chance for a publisher to green light a sequel.
 
Feb 18, 2019
1,348
1,021
490
Article by Wesley Yin-Poole, Deputy Editor of Eurogamer (link at the bottom of the OP)

Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver turned 20 years old on the 16th August 2019.

Crystal Dynamics' influential PSone, PC and, later, Dreamcast classic was one of the best single-player adventure games on Sony's console, and is credited with influencing the genre and its subsequent standouts, such as Uncharted.

Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver was praised for its story, characters, world design, evocative atmosphere and the mechanic of shifting between two world states, which at the time was hugely impressive.

Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver was directed and written by Amy Hennig, who took to Twitter to say it "holds a very special place in my heart". Hennig, of course, would go on to play a key role in the Uncharted series at Naughty Dog.


Back in 2012, Hennig talked Soul Reaver secrets in a post on the PlayStation blog. Initially, Hennig revealed, Soul Reaver wasn't supposed to be a sequel to Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain, rather a new IP called Shifter that was loosely inspired by Paradise Lost.

"The protagonist was essentially a fallen angel of death, a reaper of souls hunted by his former brethren, and now driven to expose and destroy the false god they all served," Hennig said.

The Shifter concept was "the genesis" of Soul Reaver. "... the core ideas were all there. The hero was an undead creature, able to shift between the spectral and material realms, and glide on the tattered remains of his wing-like coattails. We conceived the spirit realm as a twisted, expressionistic version of the physical world. The hero was bent on revenge after being betrayed and cast down by his creator - like Raziel, he was a dark savior figure, chosen to restore balance to a blighted, dystopian world.

"When we were asked to adapt this concept into a sequel to Blood Omen, our challenge was to take all these ideas and merge them creatively into the Legacy of Kain mythos."

Hennig and the development team pared back on some secondary features during the making of Soul Reaver, including a plan to include shape-shifting as well as plane-shifting. The biggest challenge, "hands-down", was getting the data-streaming working to allow the game to have a seamless, interconnected world with no load events.

"I think we were one of the first developers to tackle this problem (along with Naughty Dog, on Crash Bandicoot)," Hennig said.

"It proved to be way more difficult than we had initially anticipated - if I recall, we were still struggling to get the textures to dynamically pack correctly, just a couple months before release. We ultimately got it working by the skin of our teeth, but I wonder if we would've embarked on such an ambitious plan if we'd known how difficult it was going to be!"

As you'd expect, implementing the real-time morph between the two environments - that is, figuring out how to store two sets of data for the spectral and material realms - was also a challenge.

But the "ultimate challenge", Hennig said, was schedule and scope - a common challenge in video game development.

"Conceived as an open-world, Zelda-esque 3D adventure game, Soul Reaver was incredibly ambitious," Hennig said.

"Crystal Dynamics' Gex engine gave us a leg-up on the 3D technology, but in essence we were writing a game engine from scratch, while developing a new IP. These days, a developer wouldn't think of attempting such a thing in less than three years (minimum), but Eidos wanted the game in less than two. In the end, we shipped Soul Reaver in under 2.5 years, but not without some unfortunate 11th-hour cuts which still pain me today. The scope of the game was definitely too ambitious, but if we had shipped the game that fall, instead of that summer, I think we could have reduced the scope of the game more elegantly."

To hit the August 1999 release date, the developers had to cut the last few levels of the game, and end on a cliffhanger to set up Soul Reaver 2.

"Originally, Raziel was going to hunt down and destroy all of his former brothers as well as Kain - and then, using his newly-acquired abilities, he would've activated the long-dormant pipes of the Silenced Cathedral to wipe out the remaining vampires of Nosgoth with a sonic blast," Hennig said.

"Only then would he realise he'd been the Elder God's pawn all along, that the purging of the vampires had devastating consequences, and that the only way to set things right would be to use Moebius' time-streaming device to go back in time and alter history (in the sequel).

"So the story would have arrived at a similar place, just by a different route. In the end, as much as I hated its bluntness, Soul Reaver's 'To Be Continued' ending probably turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because I think it opened up more interesting story options for the sequels."

And sequels came. Soul Reaver 2 launched on PS2 and PC in October 2001, Blood Omen 2, which was directed by Dead Space co-creator Glen Schofield, came out just a year later in 2002 as a sequel to the first game in the series, before Hennig returned to direct 2003's Legacy of Kain: Defiance.



Since then, Legacy of Kain has remained dormant. The ill-fated Nosgoth, a free-to-play multiplayer action game developed by Rocket League maker Psyonix, didn't make it out of open beta. Legacy of Kain: Dead Sun was a more traditional Legacy of Kain game, developed by Climax Studios for Square Enix Europe, but it was cancelled in 2012 after three years of work. (For the inside story on Legacy of Kain: Dead Sun's demise, check out our in-depth report.)

So, 20 years after Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver came out, it remains for many fans the best game in the series. And with no new Legacy of Kain in sight, perhaps it'll stay that way for years to come.


A tear is falling 😢 played this game at friends'home, and I WOWed a lot when I First saw it, never completed myself tho
It'll back for sure, Highly marketable genre and game style
 

Ozymandias013

Banned
Oct 22, 2018
375
266
260
20 years and nobody is doing a remake,damn it,this is my all time favorite game ,Soul Reaver 1 and 2.The first Soul Reaver was the first time that a game blew my mind,loved the gothic world,the mythology that was created,everything,I've played these game a lot when they were released.Raziel and Kain two of the best game characters created.And that music,my god that music was awesome.
 
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petran79

Banned
Sep 17, 2012
10,395
1,793
910
Fortunately all games run on GOG and there is a patch for legacy of Kain to run on w10 64bit systems too.
 

diffusionx

Member
Feb 25, 2006
14,563
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1,800
I am still hoping this is the game Bluepoint is working on, with the cut content restored. This game deserves to be remade more than any other IMO.
 
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Thanati

Member
Oct 21, 2011
1,090
739
915
Phenomenal title.

Intriguing and thought provoking story, great dialog and voice acting, superb environments and graphics and amazingly atmospheric sound.

What a truly amazing game. The only thing I didn’t like was the symbols representing the different realms. I always forgot which was which and kept going into the wrong one.
 

Chiggs

Gold Member
Jan 20, 2005
14,807
6,842
1,855
I remember pushing a fuckload of crates around in that game, and then finally trading it in.
 
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Hostile_18

Banned
Jun 7, 2015
4,663
4,959
770
UK
I can't believe we've never had the Soul Reaver Trilogy playable on a modern console 😭😭. Who owns the rights for them now? Any chance in the future?

This and a Silent Hill trilogy are the only remasters I want.
 

Clear

Member
Feb 2, 2009
13,327
9,072
1,365
I always admired the way the tutorial was permanently enshrined as the first thing you encounter upon respawning. So as you progress in the story, and your familiarity with the controls and moveset grows (along with new abilities) it turns from a problem to be solved to something you barely think about.

Was a nice way to allow the player to "feel" their skill and capabilities grow.