The media of art, entertainment, and creative expression are beget by the circumstances of the day: their forms and characteristics depend on the economic, cultural, technological conditions in which they are reared. The art and music of the European Renaissance and Enlightenment periods were the products of a system that revolved around small echelons of well-educated aristocrats and churchmen with deep pockets. The invention of the printing press and the consequent rise in literacy and ease with which the printed word could be reproduced and distributed encouraged authors to write and sell books for popular consumption, and thus the novel (and the novelist) flourished. The decline of the stage drama and the rise of Hollywood and the silver screen both had their roots in technological advancements and pecuniary logic: why pay actors and a crew for an entire season when all you have to do is record and play back a single performance? And why restrict your show to one stage at a time when a duplicate recordings could be distributed to other cities and countries? The Television Age had its conception during the consumerist tidal waves of the 1920s and post World War II years, and went into full swing as wealthy investors recognized the medium's unparalleled potential for marketing.
Video games, as a constiutent of the "new media" and the basis of a tremendously lucrative industry, are certainly worth examining in terms of how they shape and are shaped by our cultural, intellectual, and social landscape. But that's a given -- everyone has been saying that lately. But the thing about video games that's lately got me thinking is the fact that they, unlike the other "new" media, are a direct product of the hyperconsumerist surge of the 1980s. The Internet began as a means for geeks and academics to share information among each other (socialists!!!). The foundations of the console gaming industry were laid when a few companies that produced home computers, photo booths, and playing cards realized they could increase their revenue by developing and selling products designed to bring arcade games into people's homes.
You don't need me to tell you that Atari, Sega, and Nintendo didn't start manufacturing video game consoles and publishing software out of the goodness of their hearts. They wanted to make money selling stuff people would want to buy. But video games, as electronic consumer toys that evolved into a serious competitor of the film industry, possess certain characteristics that distinguish them from their "old media" cousins (like television and radio) and contribute to the shape the industry has come to assume over the last thirty years.
1.) The Pyramid Factor.
Let's compare video games to a few other media in terms how much of an ongoing investment each entails.
First, the novel. An avid reader has only to go to the store and purchase his favorite authors' newest books as they are published.
The radio. The listener has only to buy a radio and plug it in at a place where he gets reception. Unless something happens to the device, there is never any need to replace it so long as it still functions.
The movies. A frequent patron of the movie theatre has only to transport himself to the cinema and pay for a ticket. (Obviously, it becomes a bit more complicated and costly when a film buff decides he wants to watch movies in the comfort of his own home.)
Keeping up with video games isn't as simple. First you have to buy a console. If you don't have a television (unlikely), you'll need to purchase one (preferrably an expensive high-definition home entertainment hub that uses as much electricity as a refrigerator). And you'll need to buy games. You'll need to buy controllers to play them. You'll probably need a hard drive or memory card, too. And you might need special controllers for certain games. Maybe you'll need to pay to register an online account, too. Oh, did a spin-off or sequel to your favorite console game appear on a handheld system? Gosh, you'd better buy a handheld. And games for the handheld. Did your favorite video game developer release a game on a console you don't own? You'd better buy that console, too -- plus controllers, plus a memory card, plus more games to justify the investment. Oh, look -- a new console just hit the market, and now they no longer make games in your obsolete system's format. (Remember that the film buff rarely has to choose between home video formats, and the average lifespan of a given format is 10-20 years.) So you'll need to buy a new console, new controllers, new games, new memory cards, spend money to download your old games onto the hard drive of your new system...
I don't understand why people feel so betrayed by Capcom's charging them five bucks each for the two downloadable characters in Marvel Vs. Capcom 3. In case you hadn't noticed, getting you to spend money was always kind of the point.
2.) IPs > Products > People
During the heyday of the novel, it was all about the author. The public's adoration and dollars were not directed toward Dickens' publisher or even necessarily toward the characters in his books. Their admiraton was fixed on Charlie himself. The man. The work.
In this new world that video games inhabit and helped to build, people are unimportant. The talented artists and artistans who make the games don't matter half as much as the brands: the titles, the licenses, the intellectual properties, the copyrighted fictional entities featured in the product. Quick, without looking it up, name the guy who directed BioShock. Name one of Super Mario Galaxy's level designers. Name Street Fighter IV's character artist. Chances are, you're not able to do it -- even though you certainly do recognize BioShock, Super Mario Galaxy, and Street Fighter IV. Video game consumers are most attuned to IPs. And as you can tell from today's mainstream gaming landscape -- saturated with sequels, remakes, and "Brand X Vs. Brand Y" titles -- the publishers conduct their business with this fact foremost in their minds. The staff is disposable. The brands are not.
3.) Arms Race Fallout
As a result of the twenty-odd-year hardware war between Nintendo, Sega, Sony, and Microsoft, gaming consoles are expontentially more powerful than they were during the Atari 5200/NES years. Developers are obliged to make use of the powerful hardware. After all, the fastest measure of a product's worth -- at least as far as the casual shopper is concerned -- is how good the game looks, which usually translates directly to how much money it cost to make. The average console game's budget is much, much, much, much higher than it once was. This means that a game has to sell many, many, many, many more copies to even turn a profit. Under such conditions, taking risks or deviating from the market research indicates that people will spend their money on [blank] approach is generally ill-advised if you want to stay in business. Moreover, the runaway successes of certain IPs and franchises has made it so that putting out a game without these recognizable IPs often falls under the do we really want to risk it? category.
Art and commerce necessarily share a grudging symbiotic relationship. Without a sensible, business-grounded approach to their work, artists and artisans can't fund their projects or distribute them properly. (Please, let's save the BUT THE INTERNET HAS CHANGED ALL THAT conversation for later.) Were it not for the successful savvy of the industry businessmen, video games would still exist on the fringes. Sony's charge into the the scene with the industry-changing PlayStation wasn't the work of game designers; neither was Nintendo's invention of the portable gaming system or Sega's bringing console games to the Internet with the Dreamcast. These ideas came from clever businessmen who wanted to get an edge on their competitors and make more money. Video games were founded on and fed by capitalism.
Capitalism is a Faustian procedure. It is an excellent tool for creating wealth, inspiring innovation, and improving technology, but it also has a tendency to drain the soul from whatever it squeezes its tentacles into. After the initial flourish, the process of sucking out value for profit's sake begins. This principle applies to virtually any commodity you can name, but nowhere is it more pronounced than in art. Capitalism is the process by which Nirvana becomes Nickelback, journalism becomes gossip, The Simpsons becomes Zombie Simpsons, and meaningful art becomes meaningless crap.
Art cannot sustain itself without capital. Art loses its value when too much capital is involved. And this is precisely what we're seeing in the video game industry now.
Not long ago, NeoGAF hosted a translation of an interview with Capcom's Kenji Inafune (co-creator of Mega Man), in which the veteran games designer unexpectedly announced his resignation. An excerpt:
Saying this will make publishers angry with me, but publishers themselves are forcing developers into becoming subcontractors. "For this amount of money, finishing by this deadline," and so on, and even more than quality, "Aim for this number of sales," is what's being pushed.
Of course, that's not to say that publishers aren't having developers make all sorts of things that they like, but I can't deny that even creators with strong brands and skills have to submit to subcontracts.
Many gamers saw this as a confirmation of their fears about where the industry is headed, but that's a rather naive reading. Video games have been this way for quite a while now -- the Legacy of Kain series is a case in point. These games still hold such a fascination for me because of how they come to exemplify everything that is ugly and wrong about the industry. Its progression from Blood Omen to Defiance serves as a veritable parable of how seriously screwed up the gaming world has become in the last fifteen years or so.
1996's Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain -- developed by Silicon Knights, but supported, published, and distributed by Crystal Dynamics -- was a sleeper hit that put the small Canadian studio on the map and earned Crystal Dynamics a healthy return on its investment. Intending to strike while the game was hot, Silicon Knights began planning a sequel. Crystal Dynamics had the same idea.
If you followed one of the links in the Blood Omenwriteup and read Silicon Knights' philosophy toward game design (circa 1997), you might remember this brief editorial from company honcho Denis Dyack:
Did you ever wonder why some larger companies sell some really great games and later sell some really bad ones? We believe that there are several complicated reasons for this but there are two major ones that contribute to these problems. The first is that creating games is a very difficult process. The second is that generally larger companies do not create all the products. Often external developers like Silicon Knights create the games. There is a problem in our industry. The problem is that the majority of the developers of products do not get credit for their creations. Lets make an analogy to the book industry: if Kain was a book (which is a linear form of entertainment), we would be known as the authors. However, we believe that this is not always the perception with the game industry. Perhaps our industry has not matured yet. We believe that as the book industry matured to the point where the readers began to look for the authors when buying books, so will the game industry mature so that gamers will look for the developers (or authors) of games. Make no mistake, we created Kain. The game industry is changing in many ways, this is just one of the ways in which it will change. We hail all of the publishers who are starting to give credit to the developers because in the end we all win.
Huh. So how do you suppose Dyack felt when Crystal Dynamics told him a sequel to Blood Omen was already in the works, and Silicon Knights would have nothing to do with it?
He was pissed, of course -- but since Crystal Dynamics owned the rights to Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain, Silicon Knights' options were limited. They sued Crystal Dynamics, apparently on the grounds that "research" they had done during Blood Omen's development was being used in Soul Reaver without their permission. Details about the suit are scarce, but we do know that a settlement was reached. Ultimately, Crystal Dynamics got to make their game using Silicon Knights' "research" and legally-pillaged intellectual property, provided it prominently credit Silicon Knights for Blood Omen in all its Legacy of Kain sequels. This would be why, whenever you start up Soul Reaver, you have to spend five seconds staring at this screen before the title appears.
To recap: the people who created Kain and his world got the boot. To add insult to injury, Crystal Dynamics transformed the franchise from a top-down 2D adventure game to a 3D platformer -- probably not because they thought it would improve the product, but because 3D platformers were "in" during the late 1990s. Blood Omen was conceived by video game designers. Soul Reaver was conceived by businessmen.
But let's not be too hasty. Who cares about the circumstances under which Soul Reaver entered development -- what matters is how the finished product turned out, right?
Though Denis Dyack and Silicon Knights fathered Kain, the near-unanimous consensus among fans is that the series belongs just as much to Amy Hennig, whom Crystal Dynamics appointed to direct Soul Reaver's development. A film and literature student who entered the video game industry during the 1980s, Hennig worked with Silicon Knights during Blood Omen's development as a Crystal Dynamics representative. (The game credits list her as "Design Manager.") If nothing else, Crystal Dynamics can be credited with having the sense to hand over the franchise to somebody who had worked on it, respected it, and understood what Blood Omen was all about.
Given Crystal Dynamics' utter callousness toward the creators of their Legacy of Kain property, I doubt its executives were too interested in imposing suggestions for the sequel beyond "make a sequel to Blood Omen; make it a 3D platformer like Tomb Raider; make sure it brings in a lot of money." They simply handed Hennig the deed and keys to Silicon Knights' brainchild and gave her full control over where it went next. Hennig had every opportunity to screw it up; to come up with something like: "KAIN HAS JUST CONQUERED NOSGOTH BUT MUST NOW FACE A NEW THREAT AS A RESSURECTED ORDER OF THE SARAFAN AND A MYSTERIOUS ALIEN RACE THREATEN TO DESTROY THE WORLD. ALSO, VAMPIRE BABES WITH BIG TITS AND TATTOOS! GET READY TO BUTCHER TOWNSFOLK AND IMPALE VAMPIRE HUNTERS AS GAMING'S MOST EVIL BAD-ASS IN LEGACY OF KAIN 2: I DID IT ALL FOR THE NOOKIE."
Thank god Hennig had more sense and respect for the source material than that. What she ended up doing instead was extremely fitting and clever. Soul Reaver was developed less as a direct continuation of Blood Omen than a spin-off or spiritual sequel. The game is set thousands of years after Blood Omen; Kain and Nosgoth have both undergone drastic changes. Only three of the first game's locations appear in the sequel, and just as many characters (including Kain himself) make return appearances. What's more, Kain is no longer the protagonist, having been recast as Soul Reaver's primary antagonist and endboss. (The only other game I can think of that does something like this is 1982's Donkey Kong Jr.) The new starring anti-hero is the former vampire Raziel, whose quest to revenge his own murder (and maybe save the world while he's at it) closely mirror's Kain's in its structure, but is far from being a rehash of the first game's story.
As always, we begin with a look at the game's characters. As always, expect spoilers -- but I'm pretty sure whatever statute of limitations on Soul Reaver's plot has expired long ago.
One thing I really appreciate about Soul Reaver as a sequel is how it sums up everything we need to know about the thousand-something years that have passed since Blood Omen in the first three-word sentence you hear after clicking "New Game:"
Kain was deified.
Bam! There you have it: Blood Omen's vampire underdog Kain now rules over Nosgoth as a living god.
Short story long: some time after refusing to sacrifice himself to restore balance, Kain fishes six souls from limbo and returns them to their bodies, ressurecting them as his vampiric lieutenants in a bid to seize control of Nosgoth and subjugate its human population. (Incidentally, these six men had been members of the Sarafan Brotherhood, an order of vampire-hunting paladins. None had any recollection of their previous lives, and Kain thought it better to keep his little joke to himself.) A millennium later, with humanity practically domesticated and his lieutenants handling the management of the vampire population, Kain evidently spends most of his time sitting on his throne at the base of corrupted Pillar of Balance and waiting for something to happen.
Talking about Kain's character and motivations in Soul Reaver is impossible without first putting them in the context of the game's development. We'll come back to him later.
Special Powers: Ripping off the fighting style of a certain Castlevania count.
Performance: Simon Templeman does it again. Soul Reaver's Kain is unmistakably still the Kain we came to know in Blood Omen, though now much older and wiser. His voice no longer carries the snide, youthful impudence of his first incarnation -- he speaks somewhat more quietly, more reserved, but with a tone of unmistakable authority and power. I've said it before: Templeman's Kain is the best spoken role in video games. (At least, the ones that I've played.)
Quote:Conscience? You dare speak to me of conscience? Only when you have felt the full gravity of choice should you dare to question my judgment!
Our new anti hero. Kain's eldest lieutenant, favored "son," and second-in-command.
Vorador's appearance in Blood Omen implied that Nosgoth's vampires lose their human forms and become more monstrous-looking as they age. In Soul Reaver, we see Kain having undergone a similar metamorphosis. Raziel's narration explains how vampires experience intermittent periods of accelerated evolution over time. Historically, Kain was always the first among the imperial elite to undergo the transformation, and his "sons" would catch up with him later on.
A thousand years after his "birth," Raziel appears before Kain and displays a new gift: a pair of bat-like wings that completely one-up Kain as the coolest and baddest vampire on the block. A furious Kain tears them out of Raziel's back and has him thrown into the Lake of the Dead, the vampires' execution ground for traitors and losers. Raziel's flesh melts off as he plummets though the maelstrom (Nosgoth's vampires never lost their vulnerability to water), and he finally reaches the bottom as a desiccated corpse.
Like Kain before him, Raziel is caught on the edge of oblivion by a powerful baritone-voiced benefactor and offered a chance to come back from the dead to get back at his killers. He emerges from the abyss as an undead vampire -- a soul-devouring wraith blinking in and out of physical existence. And once again, our undead avenger is too eager to even the score to ask any questions.
As already mentioned, Raziel and his quest are designed to mirror Kain's in Blood Omen. Kain was murdered, Raziel is executed. Kain was reborn by fire, Raziel is reborn in water. Mortanius resurrected Kain as a vampire and charged him with hunting down the Circle of Nine and restoring balance to Nosgoth; the Elder God resurrects Raziel as a wraith and charges him with hunting down Kain and wiping out the vampires to restore the Wheel of Fate. Kain must sustain himself by killing and feeding on the species to which he formerly belonged; Raziel must sustain himself by killing and eating the souls of the species to which he formerly belonged. Kain is beset by manipulation on all sides; Raziel is beset by manipulation on all sides.
Naturally, so as not to tell the same story twice, Raziel's quest diverges from Kain's in several important respects -- for instance, how his relationship with humanity changes. In Blood Omen, Kain sheds his humanity and embraces his new nature as a "dark god." In Soul Reaver, the former vampire Raziel recalls and tries to reclaim his humanity -- but perhaps not in the most admirable way. Even before he discovers his past life as a vampire-hunting crusader, Raziel is already living up to his heritage by ruthlessly murdering every vampire in sight, including his own family members. But once he uncovers the Sarafan Tomb, notice how his tone becomes increasingly sanctimonious. I'm not sure whether this was intentional or if I'm just reading into it too much, but Raziel's personality traits appear to be the inverse of Kain's. While Blood Omen's Kain exuded a powerful charisma despite his pomposity, Raziel's eloquence and charm are belied by an unctuous self-righteousness. (Even before the sequels, we see hints that Raziel is something of a twit -- though a charming and relatable one.)
A final side note: making a video game about vampires is tricky, since they've become so schlocky over the years. Even before the Twilight franchise revamped them (pun intended?) into sensitive teeny-bopper hunks in the view of popular culture, Anne Rice had already turned vampire fiction into the stuff of self-absorbed goths, horny fetishists, and maladjusted teenagers as far back as the early 1990s. Blood Omen avoided dabbling in poppy vampire stereotypes by making Kain an ugly medieval bastard and Vorador an inhuman monster. Soul Reaver dodges it by burning off its prettyboy bloodsucker's skin, face, and genitals two and a half minutes into the game.
Special Powers: Eating souls. Planar phasing. Indestructibility. An inexplicable sexiness.
Performance: Veteran voice actor Michael Bell's aristocratic charisma is all the more impressive when you consider that this is the same guy who played Chuckie's dad in Rugrats. Like Kain in Blood Omen, Raziel is arrogant, confident, and well-spoken, but the devil is in the details. In Blood Omen, Kain talks like somebody who always felt he was due respect, but never quite got enough of it. Raziel, on the other hand, gives one the impression of a teacher's pet long accustomed to special treatment.
Quote:The Sarafan were saviors, defending Nosgoth from the corruption that we represent. My eyes are opened, Kain: I find no nobility in the unlife you rudely forced on my unwilling corpse.
The youngest of Kain's lieutenants. Even from the beginning, Melchiah was a bit of a loser. Having been made last and receiving less of Kain's "gift" than his bretheren, Melchiah required periodic skin grafts to keep his face from rotting off. A thousand years after Raziel's execution, he has devolved into a slouching, slobbering abomination with whole corpses sewn into his flesh to keep it attached to his malformed skeleton.
Special Powers: Phasing through walls. Chasing Raziel into the Spectral Plane.
Performance: Michael Bell again, sounding something like a cross between a muppet and Leatherface.
Quote:Everyone is afraid, sibling. You awake to a world of fear. These times of change are so... unsettling.
The second-youngest of the Six cannot properly be called anyone's little brother. Holed up in the Silenced Cathedral, Zephon has metamorphosized into a titantic insectoid brooding over a nest of spider/vampire hybrids.
Special Powers: Laying eggs. Can also climb walls too, or something.
Performance: Tony Jay can speak in a higher pitch. It just requires intensive vocal processing.
Quote:I warn you, brother -- as my stature has grown, so it is matched by my appetite. Step forward, morsel...
Though not as strong or imposing as Melchiah or Zephon, Kain's fourth-eldest son Rahab has evolved something much more impressive than brute strength: a resistance to the water-solubility that has long plagued Nosgoth's vampires. He and his brood haunt the depths of the Drowned Abbey, where their heightened weakness to sunlight has confined them.
Special Powers: Swimming. Spitting.
Performance: After playing Malek, Ottmar, and Elzivir in Blood Omen, Neil Ross returns to Soul Reaver for the relatively minor role of Rahab. He might not get many lines, and the vocal processing does a lot of the work for him, but Ross does as good a job as before. (I especially like the muted "HA HA HA HAAAH" laugh triggered when you try attacking Rahab directly.)
Quote:Do not mock me, Raziel. You of all of us should respect the power bestowed by a limitation overcome.
The third-oldest lieutenant; one of the two who threw Raziel into the Abyss under Kain's orders. Dumah's transformation into a hulking juggernaut was markedly less grotesque than the changes his brethern underwent, but it did him little good when a swarm of unusually compotent and determined human vampire hunters ambushed his fortress. Dumah sits impaled to his own throne while his disembodied spirit hovers in the Spectral Plane, tethered to his preserved corpse.
Special Powers: Spatial constriction. Soul sucking. The Guts Man quakestomp.
Performance: Unusually forgettable. Templeman sounds a bit drowsy. I guess it's fitting, given how Dumah is just waking up after being dead for a few centuries, but I had to rewatch the scene on YouTube to remember exactly how he sounds.
Quote:We shall test your thesis, Raziel...
The second-oldest of Kain's lieutenants, Turel acted as the other direct participant in Raziel's execution. As Raziel pursues Kain through the northern wastes of Nosgoth, he finds the mighty Turel waiting for him in...
Wait a second. There were five brothers, right? Whatever happened to Turel...?
Special Powers: ??
Performance: Richard Doyle, who played Moebius and Nupraptor in Blood Omen, returns to the sequel as the voice of Turel...wherever he is.
THE VAMPIRE CLANS
At the beginning of Kain's empire, each of the six lieutenants fostered a vampire brood of their own, forming the army their master required to wipe out humanity and repopulate Nosgoth. When Raziel returns from oblivion, only five clans remain: his own progeny, the Razielim, were completely wiped out after his execution. All the better for them, really -- over the centuries, the other clans have degenerated into deranged ghouls sharing the most salient evolutionary characteristics (read: hideous mutations) of their founders. Going down the list: there are the burrowing, cadaverous Melchahim; the wall-climbing, insectoid Zephonim; the amphibious Rahabim; the thoroughly unremarkable and ubiquitous Dumahim; and the mighty, telekinetic Turelim.
Soul Reaver modifies the "rules" governing vampiric physiology from Blood Omen, making vampires much harder to kill than before. Stabbing and beating one won't do the job: their immortal bodies begin healing as soon as they are damaged. Unless you can find something to burn, stake, or pop them with, you're better off just running away.
Special Powers: Immortal unless killed through (very specific forms of) violence.
THE ELDER GOD
The primordial deity responsible for managing the Wheel of Fate, Nosgoth's engine of birth and death. Now that most of Nosgoth's inhabitants are immortal vampires, the cycle of souls has stagnated and the spiritual channels of the land have become clogged. The irritated Elder ressurects Raziel as a soul-devouring spectre and turns him loose on his former brethern in order to get things flowing properly again. As with Kain, it is difficult to discuss the Elder God in much detail without first clearing up a few things.
Special Powers: Sovereignty over life, death, and the transmigration of Nosgoth's souls.
Performance: The sorceror who resurrected Kain in Blood Omen was played by Tony Jay. The god who ressurects Raziel in Soul Reaver is played by Tony Jay. See, it's like poetry. It rhymes.
Quote:Know thyself -- though it may destroy you.
Kain's ghostly predecessor, advisor, and manipulator from Blood Omen is still right where he left her: bound to the ruined Pillars of Nosgoth, stuck in limbo until balance is restored. Raziel can chat with her when he needs a hint about her next destination, but otherwise, Ariel's cameo seems like just that -- a superfluous shout-out to Blood Omen. Orignally, Ariel was meant to serve a more important function in the game, but...well, we'll get to that soon.
Special Powers: Dispenser of cryptic advice.
Performance: Anna "Gets Her" Gunn again.
Quote:Ghastly past. Insufferable future. Are they one and the same? Am I always here?
THE SOUL REAVER
Blood Omen's most powerful sword has remained Kain's weapon of choice and emblem of his power throughout the centuries. When Kains strikes Raziel with the Soul Reaver during their first battle, the sword explodes and reverts to its true form as a wraith blade. (Nevermind how or why for now.) Raziel seizes it in the spectral plane, fusing the Reaver to his own essence as a symbiotic weapon.
Special Powers: Blowing up vampires. Opening doors.
Quote:For all our bravado, we knew what it meant when Kain drew the Soul Reaver in anger. It meant you were dead.
In order to explain why Soul Reaver is so disappointing and appalling, we once again have to perpretrate that antinomy of good form called a plot summary. Let's begin with the game's opening FMV...
I will never get tired of watching that. (And the Soul Reaver team never got tired of showing it off: it's viewable in both Soul Reaver 2 and Defiance.) The song is "Ozar Midrashim" by the Information Society.
At the very bottom of the Abyss, Raziel finds himself transformed from a steampunk-goth Adonis into a shriveled, jawless monster. The Elder God tells him how it's going to be from now on: Kain and the vampires have been bleeding Nosgoth dry for too long, and Raziel is now responsible for killing them all off. Eager to settle the score with Kain for having him killed and ruining his beautiful, beautiful face, Raziel hurries toward the surface without even pausing to say "yes."
Emerging from the underworld, Raziel discovers that centuries have passed since his fall. Nosgoth has been reduced to a gray, blasted wasteland. The vampires' civilization has crumbled, and the once-proud clans stalk the landscape as feral scavengers. Raziel is already plenty rattled, but the worst shock arrives when he returns to his clan stronghold and finds that his entire bloodline has been systematically exterminated by Kain.
The outraged Raziel's first victim is his brother Melchiah. Though he expresses about five seconds of remorse for putting his youngest sibling through a meat grinder, he gets over his guilt pretty quickly when the Elder God informs him that he can acquire his brothers' unique vampiric gifts by consuming their souls.
On a tip from the Elder, Raziel steals inside the derlict Sanctuary of the Clans and finds Kain, who doesn't seem frightened or even surprised to see him. Their father/son chat doesn't last long. Kain asserts that Raziel has no right to question his judgment. Raziel calls Kain a dick. Kain blasts Raziel into submission, then shatters the Soul Reaver over his head. Without the slightest indication of alarm at this development, Kain warps away laughing as Raziel's physical form dissolves.
In the Spectral Plane, Raziel finds a flickering apparation of the Reaver waiting for him. When he touches it, the wraith blade becomes junctioned to him as an extension of his own self. Before phasing back into the physical world and exiting the fortress, Raziel meets the ghost of Ariel. The two form an alliance: Ariel offers to assist him with her characteristically cryptic hints, provided Raziel makes sure Kain ends up dead.
Raziel's next destination is the Silenced Cathedral -- the remains of humanity's last attempt to turn the tide in their war against Kain's armies. The structure hosts an immense steam-powered pipe organ designed to blast special soundwaves that have devestating effects on vampires. But the tower was overrun before it could be activated, and now serves as the nesting grounds of Zephon and his swarm.
After torching Zephon and setting out to find Rahab in the Drowned Abbey, Raziel stumbles upon an ancient Sarafan tomb thrust to the surface by an earthquake. Inside, he enters a chamber with his and his brothers' names engraved over a ring of ransacked coffins, and realizes they had all been vampire-hunting warrior priests in their previous lives. This revelation changes Raziel's whole perspective of himself, his brothers, and his quest for revenge. He begins to reidentify with his lost identity as a holy warrior.
After destroying Rahab, Raziel heads north to take out his brother Dumah, then pursues Kain into a subterranean complex beneath the mountain caves once inhabited by time-manipulating sorceror Moebius. Here, he encounters a hallway lined with windows into the timestream, where he watches scenes of his resurrection in the Abyss, his first meeting with Kain, and his discovery of the Sarafan tomb. Further down the corridor are images of events that have yet to occur: Raziel facing Kain in a dark chamber marked with Kain's insignia, Raziel striking down Ariel with the Soul Reaver, and Raziel standing alone on a stone balcony, armed with a black and red Reaver.
At the heart of the complex, Raziel confronts Kain a second time:
KAIN: At last. I must say, I'm disappointed in your progress; I imagined you would be here sooner. Tell me: did it trouble you to murder your brothers?
RAZIEL: Did it trouble you when you ordered me into the Abyss?
KAIN: No. I had faith in you. In your ability to hate. In your self-righteous indignation.
RAZIEL: Lies. You cannot have foreseen all of this.
KAIN: Eternity is relentless, Raziel. When I first stole into this chamber centuries ago, I did not fathom the true power of knowledge. To know the future, Raziel -- to see its paths and streams tracing out into the infinite. As a man, I could never have contained such forbidden truths -- but each of us is so much more than we once were. Gazing out across the planes of possibility, do you not feel with all your soul how we have become like gods? And as such, are we not indivisible? As long as a single one of us stands, we are legion. That is why, when I must sacrifice my children to the void, I can do so with a clear heart.
RAZIEL: Very poetic, Kain. But in the end, you offer no more than a convenient rationalization for your crimes.
KAIN: These chambers offer insight for those patient enough to look. In your haste to find me, perhaps you have not gazed deeply enough. Our futures are predestined. Moebius foretold mine a millennium ago. We each play out the parts fate has written for us. We are compelled ineluctably down pre-ordained paths. Free will is an illusion.
RAZIEL: I have been to the Tomb of Sarafan, Kain. Your dirty secret is exposed. How could you transform a Sarafan priest into a vampire?
KAIN: How could I not? One must keep his friends close, Raziel -- and his enemies even closer. Can you grasp the absurd beauty of the paradox? We are the same. Sarafan and vampire. With our holy wars, our obsession with Nosgoth's domination...who better to serve me than those whose passion transcends all notions of good and evil?
RAZIEL: I will not applaud your clever blasphemy. The Sarafan were saviors, defending Nosgoth from the corruption that we represent. My eyes are opened, Kain -- I find no nobility in the unlife you rudely forced on my unwilling corpse.
KAIN: You may have uncovered your past, but you know nothing of it. You think the Sarafan were noble? Altruistic? Don't be simple. Their agenda was the same as ours.
RAZIEL: You are lost in a maze of moral relativism, Kain. These apparitions and portents... what game are you playing now?
KAIN: Destiny is a game, is it not? And now you await my latest move...
Even with the Soul Reaver, Raziel fails to defeat Kain and the tyrant escapes beyond his reach. Summoned by the Elder God, Raziel takes a detour to the Human Citadel, mankind's last fortified outpost against the vampires. After breaking up an underground cult of Kain-worshipping humans and slaying their high priestess, Raziel exits the city, revered as a divine savior by its inhabitants.
Now it's back to business. Raziel follows Kain's trail through the volcanic territory of Turel, his last surviving and most powerful brother. After an exchange in which they accuse one another of being a pusillanimous lapdog and a blind ingrate, Raziel kills off his last remaining brother. Now only Kain is left.
Beyond Turel's stronghold, Raziel storms Kain's mountain retreat. As Raziel races to confront his former master, Ariel appears before him with a message: the only way he can hope to defeat Kain is by charging the Soul Reaver with her essence. Raziel obliges her and strikes her down, empowering the Reaver and fulfilling Moebius's prophecy.
Soon Raziel meets Kain for the last time, and finally arrives at an understanding of him. Whether compelled by fatalism or some last untainted shred of his abandoned humanity, Kain wants Raziel to kill him -- to carry out the one act he could never do himself and restore balance to Nosgoth.
Kain is dead, but one final task remains for Raziel. From the roof of Kain's retreat, he glides to the Silenced Cathedral's pinnacle, which had previously been blocked off by Zephon's activity. Raziel outfights and outruns a frenzied horde of vampires to activate the tower. A catacylsmic hymn erupts throughout Nosgoth, decimating the vampire population. With Kain dead and the vampire problem solved for good, the world can finally begin to heal. The Elder God congratulates his faithful servant on a job well done. Raziel, for once, says nothing.
So. Let's take this apart a little.
Soul Reaver was clearly designed with a "fallen angels" motif in mind, which means Hennig probably pulled out her old dog-eared copy of Paradise Lost and consulted it reguarly while working on the game's story and characters. For anyone who faked sick the day their high school English class sped through Milton, Paradise Lost's story goes something like this: the proudest and most beautiful of God's angels, Satan, decides he has problems with servitude. He marshals an army of rebel angels and leads them to war against God, which ends with them getting blasted out of Heaven and cast down to Hell. Beaten but refusing to admit defeat, Satan escapes from Hell and sneaks into the Garden of Eden to look for a way to screw up his adversary's latest creation. He talks Eve into eating the Forbidden Fruit, bringing about the Fall of Man. Satan retreats to Hell. God boots Adam and Eve from Paradise. The archangel Michael consoles Adam, telling him that all of this is part of God's plan and foretells the birth of Christ and the eventual coming of God's kingdom to Earth. Heartened, Adam leaves Eden to spend the rest of his life in miserable agrarian toil with Eve.
Soul Reaver owes a lot to Paradise Lost. Raziel's beauty, pride, fall from grace, and return from the underworld echo Satan's. Kain's lieutenants -- with their angelic names, previous lives as Paladins, and hideous appearances -- are probably inspired by Satan's troop, whose beauty fades the longer they remain in Hell. In their unwavering loyalty to Kain, they are also reminiscient of Milton's "good" angels and their unquestioning obedience to God. Paradise Lost deals with an all-powerful God and the immutability of Divine Providence; Soul Reaver deals with a false god, a real god, and world with an apparently predestined timeline. Et cetera, et cetera.
Crucial to understanding Paradise Lost (or arriving at the point where you claw at your scalp from frustration at failing to understand it) is the piece's problem regarding free will. Though Milton's stated reason for writing this ten-thousand line poem was to "assert Eternal Providence and justify the ways of God to man," many readers walk away from the poem feeling like God acts like a hypocritical tyrant. He severely and permanently punishes Satan, Adam, and Eve for certain choices they make -- for exercising their freedom of will. At the same time, the narrative makes clear that God not only planned their falls, but actively facilitated them. Also, God is kind, benevolent, and only wants the best for all his creations. Milton tries to argue and reason his way around this around several times, but never satisfactorily. And so scholars have spent the last few centuries arguing back and forth about whether Milton makes good on his purpose or unintentionally makes the Almighty seem like a crazy despot.
Hennig is sufficiently well read to understand that Paradise Lost is about more than just proto-Romantic fallen angels, and so places a similar riddle about free will at the heart of Soul Reaver:
1.) KAIN.Soul Reaver's Kain is guided by a profound fatalism fostered by the visions in Moebius's temporal windows. He also admits to deeply regretting the choice he made at the end of Blood Omen. If Moebius's predictions prove that all history is preordained, Kain is completely off the hook. He can't be held responsible for damning Nosgoth, because he never had a choice in the matter. But in order for this to be so, Kain has to make sure that all of the visions in the Chronoplast come true -- because if one prediction proves inaccurate, history is not predestined, and it's still his fault the world was ruined. But knowing Moebius's skill at manipulation and precognitive powers, it's not unthinkable that the images he left in the Chronoplast for Kain to find were only possible paths the future could take -- and Kain, driven by guilt and convinced of predestination, freely chooses to ensure that the future Moebius predicted comes to pass.
2.) RAZIEL. Who controls Raziel? Is Raziel bound by fate, as Kain suggests, or does he control his own destiny? If Raziel possesses free will, then he blithely allows himself to be controlled by the wills of Kain and the Elder God. If this is the case, then Soul Reaver's brief ending carries a powerful significance, especially in light of Blood Omen's conclusion. After discovering the sorcerors' machinations, Kain exerts his free will, saving himself and sacrificing the world. Raziel, on the other hand, does precisely what Kain and the Elder want him to. He saves Nosgoth, but instead of riding off into the sunset or even getting in the last word, he stands around and listens while the Elder congratulates him for loyally murdering his family and wiping out his species. Kain chooses to doom Nosgoth and becomes a king. Raziel doesn't make any choices, saves Nosgoth like he is told, and ends up a lonely chump.
3.) META STUFF. Maybe we could be accused of reading too deeply into all this. But considering how Blood Omen ends with a conscious decision on the part of the player, and all Soul Reaver's talk about choice and destiny, I rather doubt it. It also wouldn't be too much of a stretch to suggest that Soul Reaver is a video game about free will in video games. Notice how Raziel never actually agrees to hunt down Kain for the Elder God -- the player immediately begins guiding Raziel toward the surface. Even though the player is in control of almost every move Raziel makes, Raziel nevertheless spends the whole of Soul Reaver doing precisely what the Elder God and Kain tell him to. Even after Kain is dead and Raziel no longer has any personal reason to go ahead and finish off the rest of the vampires, the player drives him toward it anyway. The Elder God's last words -- You have done well...my servant -- are the original a slave obeys.Soul Reaver makes a point about free will and autonomy in video games nearly a decade before BioShock achieved critical accolades and mainstream recognition for doing just that.
But wait a minute, you're saying. This all sounds really cool. I thought you were talking about how much of a disappointment Soul Reaver was?
Well, here's the thing: none of this actually happened.
Let's back up a bit. Scroll up to the plot summary and find the part where Raziel discovers the Sarafan Tomb and then kills Rahab. Starting over from there...
After defeating Rahab, Raziel heads north to take out Dumah. From there, he heads into Moebius's caves and meets Kain in the Chronoplast. He and Kain have their argument about morality and free will, then go another round. Afterwards, Kain pulls some levers and activates a time portal. This is not where or how it ends, he says ominously, and vanishes into the timestream. As Raziel approaches the portal, the Elder God warns him that he's on his own once he passes through. On the other side of time warp, Raziel meets Moebius, who welcomes Raziel to his destiny.
TO BE CONTINUED, says the final screen. The credits roll.
What? What the hell happened here?
A good starting point would be Eidos Interactive buying out Crystal Dynamics in 1998. A brief history of Eidos, via Wikipedia:
Eidos plc, later to become the parent company of Eidos Interactive, was founded in 1990 as a company specialising in video compression and non-linear editing systems, particularly for Acorn Archimedes computers, and floated on the London Stock Exchange.
Following a series of rights issues and a strongly rising share price, Eidos plc undertook a series of acquisitions in the games sector, starting with the acquisition of the PC games companies Domark Group Limited (Domark), Simis and Big Red Software in 1995 through a reverse takeover. At the time, Domark was known for 3D Construction Kit, Championship Manager, Hard Drivin', and many other games. Domark (by far the largest of the set), Simis and Big Red were combined into Eidos Interactive.
In 1996, with the success of the Sony PlayStation imminent, Eidos plc acquired CentreGold plc (which included US Gold and Centresoft). Centresoft was sold back in an MBO. US Gold included the valuable asset of Core Design (probably best known for Tomb Raider, Chuck Rock, Curse of Enchantia, Heimdall, Rick Dangerous and >E-Motion). A further series of acquisitions and skilful use of capital meant that Eidos plc (now almost entirely consisting of Eidos Interactive) was the fastest growing company in the world in the 1990s, with the share price rising over 400 times from its 1993 low to its 1999 high.
Notice how Eidos never actually made video games: they only bought out a lot of smaller companies that did. I'm reminded of the time during my three-year stint working for Borders when the CEO resigned and was replaced by the former head of Pathmark. Somebody who didn't care or know anything about books was suddenly calling the shots at a national bookstore chain. You don't need me to tell you the company didn't exactly turn around under his leadership. I almost wish I swiped one of the training videos that came out when he "refocused" the stores' selling procedures. Completely clueless. I'm trying to remember if the word "book" was even mentioned during the fifteen-minute explication of his revolutionary new customer service acronym.
But that's beside the point. A big, wealthy corporate entity composed of a bunch of executives who didn't know anything about video games (except that they made money) now had the final say in all matters concerning the development of Soul Reaver. Sometime probably during 1998 or 1999, Hennig and her team were told to wrap it up -- stop where they were, stick in a cliffhanger ending, and start figuring out a sequel.
Soul Reaver is an unfinished game. It has neither a climax nor a conclusion. It just stops.
Of course, there are some very good and practical reasons for wanting to keep a game's development time and costs within certain limits. Giving a bunch of creative types an open-ended deadline and as much money as they want is a terrible idea in any context. And if you're in the business of making video games, developing titles that cost more money than they make is a surefire way to end up bankrupt. But let's see if we can follow Eidos's logic here...
1.) Perhaps Eidos didn't think Soul Reaver was worth the time and money the development team required to finish making it. However, it also thought this very obviously unfinished game would not only be a hit, but would require an immediately greenlit sequel that fans would buy in droves.
2.) Eidos spent something like four million dollars marketing Soul Reaver. You'd think if it had enough faith in its product to spend $4,000,000 pimping it through magazine ads, television commercials, paid articles, action figures, and a crappy one-shot comic book, they could have redirected some of the cash going to pointless promotional swag nobody cared about and put it toward finishing the fucking game instead. But hell -- maybe I don't understand business.
3.) Actually, changing the game's ending to a cliffhanger was a brilliant move. If Soul Reaver had ended the way it was supposed to (with Legacy of Kain's titular character dead and the world delivered from evil) it would have put a severe constraint on Eidos's capacity to continue the franchise -- and popular, established IPs like Kain are hard to come by. Since it already spent so much time and money having the game developed and dealing with Silicon Knights' lawyers, Eidos wanted to make damn sure the Legacy of Kain brand could be milked beyond a single sequel. Hey, business is business.
4.) And here's the big kick in the nuts. From Eidos's 1999 press release:
In addition to great gameplay, the mid-August arrival of "Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver" is ideally timed. The horror movie-fueled summer of 1999, that began with "The Mummy," is reaching full fruition with the cult hit, "The Blair Witch Project," as well as "The Haunting," "Lake Placid," "Deep Blue Sea" and "The Sixth Sense."
So getting Soul Reaver in stores around the same time as a bunch of shitty horror movies that have nothing to do with Legacy of Kain or even with fucking vampires was more important to Eidos than releasing a game that wasn't just half-finished. It's a good thing I never quit smoking; otherwise I might be forced to take it up again.
Hennig probably wasn't thrilled with his turn of events, but all she could do was go along with it. When interviewers asked her about Soul Reaver's abrupt ending (read: "so why wasn't the game finished?"), she simply answered that her team had "overdesigned" the game and offered an excuse about memory constraints -- as though Eidos's choice to hurry it out the door prematurely made perfect sense. After all, it's not like writer/director gigs at major video game companies are easy to come by, and publicly criticizing and contradicting her Eidos bosses would have been a very poor career move.
Now you're wondering: if Soul Reaver's ending was completely changed, how do you know so much about the originally-planned conclusion? Because most of the sound files from the deleted scenes are still in the damn game.
Hennig claims that this stuff was kept in the code because removing it would have caused glitches and problems throughout the rest of the game. I know next to nothing about programming -- and please correct me if I'm mistaken about this -- but it doesn't seem to me that yanking a couple of .avi files that have no on-switches anywhere would destablize the whole program. But the bosses at Eidos probably didn't know much about programming games either. Maybe when Hennig told them she could remove all the unused audio files if they gave her another month or two to debug the game, they told her keep the sound files where they were and release Soul Reaver according to schedule. I like to think these buried audio files were deliberately included by a defiant Hennig: Eidos forced her to change her story, so she left a record of how it was supposed to be for Soul Reaver's hardcore fans to discover.
One last note: it should be emphasized that everything we learn in Soul Reaver 2 and Defiance about Kain and the Elder God's actions in Soul Reaver are basially retcons. 99% of what Kain and the Elder say and do throughout Soul Reaver was scripted with the original ending in mind. Kain didn't know he was the Scion of Balance setting prophecy in motion when he had Raziel executed. The person writing the story didn't even know it.
Whatever, you say. Who cares about story? I fast-forward through the cutscenes and mute the TV so I can listen to the latest Thursday album while I play. Tell me about what the game is like, egghead.
Well, okay. What the hell. In designing Soul Reaver, Hennig and her team had two main priorities:
1.) Fulfilling the edicts of their Crystal Dynamics overlords and making Blood Omen's sequel a 3D-platformer/exploration game.
2.) Making a game whose style was as close as possible to Blood Omen's, since Hennig had worked on it with Silicon Knights and obviously respected it.
Soul Reaver's world is built like a Zelda map or a Metroidvania castle. You are free to backtrack and wander however much you like, though various barriers and impediments requiring special abilities to overcome neccessiate tackling the bosses in a certain order. Like Blood Omen,Soul Reaver is jam-packed with secret areas to explore and extra goodies to collect. The game has fifteen health-enhancing emblem pieces, five Eldritch Energy (re: magic points) power-ups, six spells, and one Reaver enhancement. Finding all this stuff takes some doing: the first time I played through, I only ran across six emblem pieces, never found any spells, and didn't get the Reaver enhancement.
Blood Omen's play mechanics were contructed around Kain's new identity and powers as a vampire. Soul Reaver similarly grounds its game on Raziel's new form as a soul-sucking ghost. Its central gimmick is Raziel's ability to switch between two planes of existence: the Material Plane and the Spectral Plane. The first is the "real" world, while the second is a distorted, ghostly world frozen in time. Raziel naturally inhabits the Spectral Realm, but can manifest himself in the Material Plane through the planar portals sitting in fixed locations throughout the spirit world. Each realm has different properties. Raziel can only interact with objects (i.e., pick up weapons, open doors, flip switches, push boxes, etc.) in the Material Realm. Water doesn't have any substance in the Spectral Realm. Certain abilities only work on certain planes. The warped spaces of the Spectral Realm allow Raziel to reach places that are inaccessible in the physical world. If Raziel loses all of his health in the Material Plane, he gets punted back into Spectral. If he loses all of his health in Spectral, he dissipates and rematerializes in the Elder's lair. (This last detail doesn't just mean that Soul Reaver is a game without a Game Over screen: it means that for all intents and purposes, Raziel is invincible. He cannot be killed or destroyed by any means. In the original ending, this fact adds an ominous note to the final scene. In the sequels, it becomes a crucial plot point.) Soul Reaver's parallel worlds dynamic gave its designers the tools to create some killer environmental puzzles. Progressing through Nosgoth requires you to constantly switch between planes and use their differing properties to your advantage.
The secondary gimmick is the vampiric natures of Raziel's enemies. Most of the time -- unless you're dealing with spirits in the Spectral Plane or encountering the occasional hostile human -- Raziel's foes can't be put down through conventional means. Vampires can only be killed by impaling them, drowning them, burning them, exposing them to sunlight, or popping them with the Soul Reaver. (In a pinch, they are also susceptible to crushing by giant stone cubes.) Raziel's brothers are a bit trickier: they can't be harmed by any kind of melee or magical attacks, so beating them entails finding something in the environment capable of fatally damaging them.
But all in all, Soul Reaver's problem-solving and vampire killing suffers from the same problem as its story. It just doesn't seem finished. And it is bogged down by a few other things, besides:
1.) Since there's no proper Final Stage, the puzzles' challenge never quite peaks. Most games like this have a huge last level that puts all the powers you've acquired and tricks you've learned to the ultimate test. Soul Reaver does not. (Imagine if Mega Man II just cut to the credits once you finished beating all eight robot masters.)
2.) There's no final boss fight, either. It's bad enough that the plot never climaxes, but ending the game with a dummy fight against Kain (who uses the exact same tactics from the first fight) makes Soul Reaver's "conclusion" even limper. (Again: think about Mega Man II ending with the Gutsdozer fight. There are few worse experiences in gaming than last boss blueballs.)
3.) The Human Citadel is still in the game. Well -- some of it is, anyway. As you approach and make your way inside, Raziel will pause and comment on it, as though it were an important destination. But once you go a little ways into it, you hit a dead end. And that's that. There's nothing to do and not much to find, except for a Glyph spell and an emblem piece. Even if nobody told you that Soul Reaver was never quite finished, the Human Citadel is a dead giveaway. No developers working on any kind of schedule or budget would go to such trouble to design an area without any real function.
4.) The Fire Reaver is another giveaway. Soul Reaver's original design plan called for a number of elemental Reaver enhancements, but only the Fire Reaver made it into the final version. It's a neat little secret (and it makes the game 200% easier), but it just doesn't seem like it has any reason to be there -- like Ariel and the Human Citadel.
5.) Combat in Soul Reaver consists of holding R1 (the dreaded "auto-face" button of early 3D games) and mashing the attack button until your opponent either drops dead or staggers. There are only about eight different enemy types in the Material Plane, and two (2) in the Spectral Plane. You almost never have to deal with more than two vampires or three Sluagh (Spectral Plane weenies) at once. After a while, fending off enemies feels more like a hassle and an impediment to the real game than anything else.
6.) Two words: block puzzles. When you spend fifty bucks on a game about stalking a post-apocalyptic landscape and slaying vampires, your investment probably wasn't informed by the promise of getting to spend extended periods watching your character drag, flip, and stack stone cubes. If I wanted that, I'd play Adventure of Lolo. Block puzzles in 3D adventure games are like blackface in film -- an early, embarrassing episode in the medium that everyone tries to forget.
Hmm. To conclude on another side note: the Soul Reaver section in The Lost Worlds (a site dedicated to exploring the deleted/hidden content in the Legacy of Kain series) contains a page explaining the possible origins of the game's plane-shifting concept. Excerpt:
Some time after the release of Soul Reaver, it was revealed by Denis Dyack (of Silicon Knights) that it had originally been intended as a standalone title, and was altered to become a sequel to Blood Omen instead.
Silicon Knights had developed Blood Omen in association with Crystal Dynamics, and after its release there was a legal dispute over ownership of the rights to the series. The two companies eventually settled their disagreement out of court, with the specifics remaining undisclosed.
Dyack's description of Soul Reaver's origins was brief:
The concept was called "Shifter", obviously a reference to the plane-shifting gameplay mechanic.
The storyline involved the main character being thrown down by his master and brothers, and returning to hunt them down.
The game itself would incorporate angelic and other Biblical imagery.
If Dyack can be trusted, this is a very interesting insight into how Soul Reaver (and other games) are designed. This would mean that the basic concept of the game was kicked around for a while, and only had the Legacy of Kain property attached to it later on. (For the record, this all occurred during the planning stages. There was never any prelimiary demo version of "Shifter" or a beta Soul Reaver with different characters.) It also shows a striking conquest between Silicon Knights and Crystal Dynamics' approach to designing video games. Blood Omen's story and game were constructed around one another, while Soul Reaver's were conceived independently and sewn together later on. Maybe this would explain why there's just so much more to say about Blood Omen's play mechanics than Soul Reaver's.
What's there to conclude about a game with no conclusion?
Soul Reaver is a pretty good game. Had it been completed, it might have been a really good game.
But that's the way the pillar crumbles, I suppose.
Might be another few months before I work up the energy to run through Soul Reaver 2. In the meantime, why not have a look at my exciting and regularly updated blog?