Status : Finished
After my rave review of Legacy of Kain : Soul Reaver, the one thing that was left open, a proper ending, It was only a matter of time until I would play the sequel. Thankfully, there’s a big wait for Infamous 2 and Duke Nukem Forever which leaves a lot of time to tackle stuff on my backlog.
My expectations for the first two games were low actually. Blood Omen originally put me off with its terrible load times, and Soul Reaver was such a drastic change, from a top view adventure to a platformer that I worried the game would never capture the atmosphere of Nosgoth as well as the first. Unfortunately, I came into this one with incredibly high expectations.
Picking up directly where the first ended, Soul Reaver 2 starts off leaving a great impression. The visuals are more vivid and the architecture is more complex (made possible by the conversion from PS1 to PS2 technology). The controls and combat both feel more polished and Raziel retains the ability to swim, climb walls, fire projectiles and phase through barred gates. The Soul Reaver of course remains on hand, except it changes function at the beginning where you can wield it regardless of health remaining (you take damage if you overuse it though). The music is also similar to the first game, very dark and gloomy with some particular goodies like when you’re around the pillars of Nosgoth.
It was shortly after my first visit to the swamp that I started doubting the game. For one thing, while the opening areas were bright, places like the caves and swamp were practically pitch black. While I agree that lighting helps the atmosphere of a game, it becomes a little tough when I can’t tell where I’m going and there are no brightness settings on the game that I could change (I can’t find my remote to change the TV’s settings otherwise I would have done that). Second, just about every area serves as a path with little platforming or puzzles to solve.
The 4 elemental forges make up for this by adding some really creative puzzles. These locations were the place to put my thinking cap on and enjoy learning how to use each sword’s elemental powers to unlock the next element. It was a great change of pace in a game where you constantly run through areas multiple times.
It becomes really sad if I break down the game in its order of progression, don’t worry, no plot spoilers or anything :
1st Timeline – You start in a big castle, come out at a giant lake, follow a path to the pillars of Nosgoth which continues into a set of caves. You emerge in a swamp which evokes memories of stage 5-2 in Demon’s Souls for those who have played. From there you go to the first forge, and then run all the way back to the lake for the second forge. Afterward you return to the starting castle and make your first time shift.
2nd Timeline – You start in the same big castle, work your way all the way back to the swamp where a new path leads through some caves to a small town where you come across some more caves and the third elemental forge, from where you return to the swamp in order to make the final time shift.
3rd Timeline – Starting at the swamp, you run all the way to where the third forge was. A few environmental changes allows access to a big building of puzzles which also houses the fourth forge. From there, you run all the way back to the beginning of the game where the ending occurs. That’s it, the whole game. No bigass secret areas to find or anything.
Because time travel was added to this game (a dangerous element to add), they must have figured that doing the same 5 straightforward areas over and over again would suffice for one video game. It would be a little more bearable if the changes were more significant. The only differences are in water levels and in lighting. In the third act, you can actually see the swamp and caverns with the addition of sunlight! Great help when you’re already familiar with each of those locations. Also, the second act and parts of the third artificially lengthen your trek. At certain points, barriers form and these giant demon monsters spawn with escape prevented until any demons on the field die (it only takes a few Soul Reaver swings, they’re pathetic when you’re used to the combat system). All it served was to make it a little longer to get out of these otherwise bland and uneventful areas.
No longer can you save whenever you want as you could in the first game. There are specific points around the world where saving is possible – about 5 or 6 locations in total. During the first part of the game, it feels like forever between save points, since you’re more likely to soak in the beautiful scenery and getting used to the controls and combat. Even worse, none of the save points exist where they matter : in the elemental forges (there is one in the last forge, but that is only after you did ¾ of the puzzles in the area. These forges could take hours to complete if you’re a moron like me. In fact, there were a couple of times I had to leave the game on overnight because I was too tired to finish the dungeon and there was no save point anywhere nearby.
There is not a single boss fight in the game unless you count the demons, which was disappointing considering the original had multiple boss fights that had puzzles contained within. There is also less incentive to shift into spirit form because symbols written on walls give away the few times where you need to shift.
Fortunately, the plot is as great as ever. Raziel goes through actual character development instead of the constant : “I hate you Kain…” and transforms into a more deep and enjoyable protagonist. Kain has more influence on the story than simply antagonizing Raziel and some old fan favorites from the earlier games make a return as well. The cutscenes are entertaining and even become emotional toward the end.
While most of this review blasted a lot of the changes between Soul Reaver 1 and 2, the latter just narrowly escapes being called “Terrible”. Not only was the plot really good on the whole, but once you figure out where you’re going, traveling from one part of Nosgoth to another becomes a breeze. The elemental forges also provide hours of thinking and problem solving if you’re into that kind of stuff. Sadly, once you know a puzzle’s solution, replicating it takes a matter of minutes, so it’s the kind of game you could speedrun.
An essential part of the story for those playing through the series, and a good game for hardcore puzzle/platformer fans. The rest of you can move on to better material.
For me, it’s back to the old paranoia that the next Legacy of Kain is going to suck. At least when I have that attitude, I’m usually pleasantly surprised.
Blood Omen 2, then Defiance. I know prospects seem dark now, but the former has great storytelling and really does a lot for Kain, plus it returns to the Soul Reaver “Boss Puzzles” thing, with you fighting Kain’s old vampire generals to get their powers. And the latter is just all around good (Combat with genuine combos? Intelligent, satisfying conclusions to several characters’ stories? Playing as Kain circa the Soul Reaver timeline, in other words when he’s a demigod? Hells yes! Oh, and don’t get me started on telekinesis in that game…). Still, I understand how SR2 can be a draining experience, but how often do you find a game that cares this much about its universe and canon? Even most JRPG’s can’t manage character development and universe creation like this.
Yup, I can respect what they did for their story — the topic is certainly related to our discussions of the love put into the Mortal Kombat universe even though some of the games weren’t exactly gold.
Also, Crystal Dynamics played it smart by making this Soul Reaver relatively short, so while the game leaves a bad taste in my mouth, the taste isn’t very strong, and I’ll eventually be able to move on to Blood Omen 2 as though nothing happened.