Replay Value: 8.5
One of the most important things that any gamer looks for in a game is originality. With so many cookie cutter RPGs and not so fresh remakes of older titles, it is often hard to find something truly new. In 1995, Eidos Interactive teamed with Silicon Knights to bring us Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain, an inspired and provoking adventure. Telling the tale of Kain, an man brutally murdered only to be resurrected as a vampire to exact his revenge, Blood Omen was a game that had us rooting for the bad guy, and a bad guy is exactly what Kain was. After settling the score with his foes, Kain was forced to choose between becoming a martyr, and killing himself, or destroying the world as an unholy plague upon mankind.
In 1999, Eidos brought teamed with Crystal Dynamics, and Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver hit store shelves, informing us that Kain had chosen the destruction of the world in the sake of self glorification. After raising a legion of vampires as a scourge upon the land, Kain becomes deified, the unholy God of an apocalyptic world. Enter Raziel, Kain’s ‘first born’, and the head of his army. Raziel soon enough becomes witness to Kain’s wrath, after eclipsing his master by growing wings. In a fit of rage, Kain condemns Raziel to the depths of Nosgoth’s underworld. After spending thousands of years in the abyss, Raziel is brought back from the precipice of madness by one known only as the Elder, an omnipotent force who commands Raziel to destroy Kain, and restore life in Nosgoth. Raziel’s quest takes him all over Nosgoth in his search for Kain.
Once again, Eidos Interactive and Crystal Dynamics have teamed up to bring us one of this seasons most anticipated games, Soul Reaver 2. This latest installment in the Legacy of Kain series is one of truly epic proportions; continuing of the tale of Raziel, Nosgoth’s newest hero, and his quest for the nefarious vampire lord, Kain. This time, however, Raziel is forced to confront more than just hordes of demonic vampires, as he travels through time to unlock the mysteries of Nosgoth and its ancient races.
Soul Reaver 2 picks up exactly where the first title ended. Driven by visions of fate foretold by Moebius the time streamer, Kain activates a time streaming portal and propels both him and Raziel centuries into Nosgoth’s past. Raziel emerges from the device and comes face to face with Moebius, a powerful man believed to be in league with Kain, who explains Raziel’s situation. Once again it is made clear that only the death of Kain can save the world of Nosgoth, and that Raziel is the only one who can accomplish this. After hearing this, Raziel heads off to continue the hunt.
The levels and environments in Soul Reaver 2 are simply enormous, with incredibly unique and often stunning architecture, intricately detailed in every way. While the land of Nosgoth was dark and dreary in the first Soul Reaver, the landscape in the second game shows the true beauty of this land, before Kain was able to bleed all life from it. There is lush vegetation everywhere, with towering trees and crystal clear rivers that flow into enormous reservoirs. However, it is the animation in these levels that is most impressive. Tall grass sways in the wind, lightning during rainstorms eerily illuminates your surroundings, frogs and mice scurry about. All these impressive touches lend a sense of realism to the game. Once again, Raziel is beautifully drawn, and while maintaining the same basic appearance from the first Soul Reaver game, he has become much more detailed, as well as Kain. Enemies in the first game were somewhat vague in appearance, yet this has been remedied in Soul Reaver 2. In addition to adding more variety to the opposition, most characters in the game are fairly clear and detailed. While graphically impressive, there is a nagging problem in Soul Reaver 2. Every now and then, but not often, you’ll see the frame rates drop for just a second. This is not a serious problem, but one that should be noted. However, after some time this minor glitch is easily forgotten, as the amazing visual scheme far outweighs any little problem.
The health and combat systems have both undergone extensive reworking, resulting in much more complex and complete gameplay. Raziel no longer needs to be at full strength for the reaver so manifest itself, as he can summon the blade at will. However, the use of this formidable blade can be very costly. As a sentient being, the soul reaver, Raziels symbiotic weapon, has a hunger for souls similar to Raziels. If the reaver is used to destroy an enemy, it will consume the soul of the fallen prey before Raziel can feed on it. Also, if the reaver consumes too many souls, its hunger grows so strong that it will begin to feed on Raziel, quickly draining him of energy.
The combat in Soul Reaver 2 is enhanced from previous titles, and much more immersive. Instead of the simple combo attacks from before, Raziel can now perform a variety of moves, including stronger, yet slower, special attacks. There are also many more weapons to choose from in this game, including sabers, knives, swords, poles, lances, and huge battle-axes. The finishing move for each type of weapon is different, and is executed easily, with the same button, once enough damage has been dealt. Finishing moves can vary from impaling a creature to decapitating a vampire hunter with a huge swipe of the sword. In addition, Raziel no longer needs a weapon to kill his enemies, as he has apparently learned to make much better use of the huge claws on his hands. Depending on the situation, Raziel can use a claw to eviscerate an enemy by slicing out their innards, or use all four claws to rip an opponent in half. The combat in Soul Reaver 2 is what makes it a M rated game, as it is arguably one of the most gore filled games in this regard. For example, after relieving a human of their head, excessive amounts of blood will spew from the open neck while the now dead foe wobbles back and forth, before collapsing to the ground.
Gameplay is yet another area where Soul Reaver 2 has received an upgrade. Gone are the dreaded block puzzles, replaced by more cleverly executed obstacles, most of which consist of activating mirrors and switches. The biggest upgrade to the gameplay is the reliance on the reaver to solve puzzles. By solving certain puzzles, Raziel can unlock what is known as an elemental ‘font’, or fountain, which has different elemental properties. Raziel can then bathe the reaver in the elemental font, which in turn gives the reaver new abilities depending on which element the sword has. There are four different elemental reavers that can be used: Dark, light, air, and fire. These different reavers often come into play and are needed to progress. For instance, the dark reaver can create a shadow bridge when used in the proper spot, the light reaver can open doors and activate other objects, and the air reaver can destroy any cracked wall or door. It is imperative to use these different abilities together, and each reaver has several different unique abilities aside from their main use.
The heart of every installment in the Legacy of Kain series is a good story, and it is here that Soul Reaver 2 really earns its price tag. The voice actors for the first two games in this series are back, and once again deliver superb dialogue. The story of Kain and Raziels journeys becomes more and more involved and convoluted as the game progresses, giving the player a good sense of building tension and heightened anticipation. The urgency and passion imparted by the actors in easily the best heard in any game to date.
The soundtrack in Soul Reaver 2 maintains a lot of the same beats as the first game, yet overall, it is much more varied, and more often appropriate for the situation. The music hits high gear anytime Raziel confronts an opponent, giving a sense of added urgency to the combat. However, when not in combat, the music is very faint and often non-existent. However, the use of the music in this game is quite well done, because the lack of music just serves to heighten the tension at crucial points. Also, even though it is a looping soundtrack, it manages to stay fresh most of the time. As for other sound effects, they are adequately done, but nothing more than that. One exception though is the nicely done sound effects created by Raziels footsteps, which fittingly represent the ground he is crossing. When crossing a bridge, the boards creak while creating hollow echoes, and you can hear the grass stamped underfoot when crossing a field.
Basically, Soul Reaver 2 is a game larger than the sum of its parts, with all aspects melding together to create an incredibly appealing and original work. Almost everything in the game has been improved on from the first game, which is not an easy task. With a great battle system, amazing visuals, and a compelling story, Soul Reaver 2 is a definite must have for any PS2 library. This is one epic journey, peopled with characters not likely to be forgotten any time soon, and very likely to be revisited again and again.