Connect with us
Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver 2 art Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver 2 art

OnlySP 50 Favorite Games

OnlySP’s Favorite Games #48—Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver 2

Published

 on

Thanks to the staff of OnlySP, I am inviting you to come on a journey through our 50 favourite games. This week is another unexpected treasure from the turn of the twenty-first century, and a genre that had practically died of asphyxiation until earlier this year.

#48. LEGACY OF KAIN: SOUL REAVER 2, by Ben Newman

At risk of sounding cliché, developers just don’t make games like Soul Reaver 2 anymore. There are still “dark” games, but the nineties to mid-noughties tendency to opt for deep, grim, Gothic-inspired aesthetics and stories has pretty much died. Sure, Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines is getting a sequel, but even so, its tone and aesthetics are distinctly disconnected from the source material. The same would occur if Soul Reaver threatened to be remade today; games like this are not wanted in 2019, and if they were to be made, they would be a niche commodity. However, while Soul Reaver 2 and the Legacy of Kain series in general is very antiquated in terms of gameplay these days, the details and care pumped into the lore, art design, and especially the dialogue still stands the test of time.

From the outside, The Legacy of Kain can look impenetrable. Strictly, it’s a fantastical, Middle Ages-esque foray into vampirism, but the game offers much more than that. Thematically, Soul Reaver 2 carries its vampirism themes and imbues them with impeccable voice acting, thus elevating a subgenre than alienates many into something that appeals to anyone who appreciates good, consistent writing. Just check out the dialogue below, for example:

Beware of some story spoilers below.

“Hate me but do it honestly” is a piece of dialogue that sticks out: a mix of honesty and depression that underpins the whole series. Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver 2 was the epoch of what the series was building up to that point in terms of atmosphere, story and writing, although the gameplay did let it down.

The themes of the Legacy of Kain series never shied away from discussing heavy, biblical themes. The biblical and philosophical undertones of the game rivals that of more classical literature. How many games do you know of wrestle not just with the concept of time and life, but imbue these a subtle mirroring of Old Testament and New Testament meditations? Names like Kain and Raziel are not there for window dressing, they go a lot deeper than that.

Gameplaywise, Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver 2 has not aged well. The environments feel empty and too sparse, with platforming sections, puzzles, and combat just feeling overly rushed, almost an afterthought. Traditionally, the story is the fragile framework that allows gameplay to shine in games, but with Soul Reaver 2, this tendency is reversed. For those looking for tight, Devil May Cry-inspired combat or the regimented, meticulously designed backtracking of Castlevania, then Soul Reaver 2 isn’t that game. The game’s systems borrow from the greats but is never really interested in matching their quality. Instead, the game itself realises that gameplay is merely there for players to soak up its story and idiosyncrasies.

Legacy of Kain Soul Reaver 2 artLegacy of Kain Soul Reaver 2 artLegacy of Kain Soul Reaver 2 artLegacy of Kain Soul Reaver 2 artLegacy of Kain Soul Reaver 2 artLegacy of Kain Soul Reaver 2 artLegacy of Kain Soul Reaver 2 artLegacy of Kain Soul Reaver 2 artLegacy of Kain Soul Reaver 2 artLegacy of Kain Soul Reaver 2 artLegacy of Kain Soul Reaver 2 artLegacy of Kain Soul Reaver 2 artLegacy of Kain Soul Reaver 2 artLegacy of Kain Soul Reaver 2 artLegacy of Kain Soul Reaver 2 artLegacy of Kain Soul Reaver 2 art

When considering the Legacy of Kain series, each game was unfairly rushed out of the door. The first, Legacy of Kain: Blood Omen, was probably the most polished of the bunch. A litany of deleted dialogue, levels, mechanics, and set pieces were apparent in each mainline title. Despite these trials and tribulations, the Soul Reaver games still had so much soul. The combat was never really a joy to play, neither were stretches of barren wasteland in each game, but the dungeons, verticality, spacing of upgrades, and the story is what hooked so many back in 2002.

The character designs, too, were just so damn cool. Vampires were never my thing, but if a studio knows how to elevate them past their pale aesthetic into flat-out crazy, almost demonic variants, then I’m all in. Raziel, whichever way you look at him, is a blueprint on how to design an appealing protagonist. The little touches of his cloak, the way he moves, the distinct contrast between his royal form of speech and his scarred body just tells a story in itself; his entire presentation is an extension of his struggle, and the same can be said for most of the other main players in the Legacy of Kain series.

Raziel Soul Reaver 2

Tentative efforts have been made to revive the series, but each were wide of the mark. The cancelled 2011 spiritual sequel Legacy of Kain: Dead Sun was tonally all over the place, then 2014’s multiplayer-only shooter Nosgoth was a joke to the series. In some ways, Soul Reaver 2, and the Legacy of Kain series in general, is better off as a product of its time. Unless a team of writers can approach the series with the same deft touch and appreciation for slow, chess-like storytelling, then the series is better off left as it is. In truth, a game like this wouldn’t survive in 2019, and that says more about us than it does about the game.

Thanks for joining us for a look back at Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver 2. Do you have a favourite Gothic-flavoured game? Why not join in the discussion below? Next week’s games are peripherally connected to the Legacy of Kain series, but only through shared development staff. What are your thoughts? Let us know below, and be sure to follow OnlySP on FacebookTwitter, and YouTube, and join in with the OnlySP Discord.

Continue Reading
Comments

OnlySP 50 Favorite Games

OnlySP’s Favorite Games #10—Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II

Published

 on

Knights of the Old Republic II

Thanks to the staff of OnlySP, I am inviting you to come on a journey through our 50 favourite games. This week we look at a licensed video game that goes above and beyond its franchise roots—a beautifully flawed yet remarkable Star Wars story for the ages …

#10. KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC II: THE SITH LORDS, by Ben Newman

In a universe so expansive and multi-layered, why have mainstream Star Wars stories dealt with morality in such binary terms? That question was bouncing around Chris Avellone’s head just before the opportunity to write Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords (KOTOR 2) dropped in his lap. 

The question is so simple, but not many writers handed the opportunity to work on the beloved franchise decide to commit to blurring the lines of the series’ strict morality. What Obsidian Entertainment did, though, was write a Star Wars game that didn’t just blur the lines, it erased them altogether. 

The opening of KOTOR 2 is not great. Whenever I re-play the game, I feel a distinct sense of regret over the thought that the majority of people who picked up the game likely dropped it after what is, quite possibly, the worst opening level of all time relative to the quality found in the rest of the game. However, while gameplay-wise the mining asteroid opening of KOTOR 2 is severely lacking, it does an excellent job at providing the game’s unforgettable sense of atmosphere.

KOTOR 2 is dark; its atmosphere nestles in the creases of your brain as you realise that reliable concepts such as “light side” and “dark side” are vapid. No other character embodies KOTOR 2’s utter rejection of its source material’s pretences than Kreia, the first voice heard in the game, post-tutorial. 

kotor 2

Kreia is the soul of KOTOR 2. While the cast of party members boast enough depth to make BioWare green with envy, her philosophy is what directly underpins KOTOR 2’s success. She is nothing short of Shakespearean, oft-misunderstood with viewpoints that only sink in long after she has uttered them. 

Discussing Kreia herself is an essay, but to cut her philosophy short, she equates Jedi and Sith as equally pointless and full of moral downfalls. Both are equally reliant on the Force, which in Kreia’s views, makes them weak. In essence, she’s an extension of the Nietzschean idea that “in individuals insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.” Without veering into spoilers, Kreia’s experience of both the light side and dark side of the Force allows players to experience the follies of both binaries. 

While Kreia is the standout example, each party member and villain that accompanies the story has similar depth. Each is moulded by the player’s decisions in a way that feels realistic, each with ever-unfolding depths, personalities, and biases. While BioWare prefers characters to wear their personalities on their sleeves, Obsidian opts for slower, more calculated character development. The major difference between both studios can be seen in how each one approaches its central villains. Below are two quotes, one from the BioWare developed Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic‘s Darth Malak, then a quote from KOTOR 2‘s Darth Sion: 

“We have been inexorably pushed to this final confrontation. I see now that this can only be settled when one of us destroys the other. Once again we will fight each other in single combat and the winner will decide the fate of the galaxy!” – Darth Malak

“I will bring his corpse to her, cast it at her feet. It will be as if killing her children. I will kill all she protects, all she shields, until her hands are drenched in blood.” – Darth Sion

Now, Malak’s dialogue is not bad, but it does not have the same biting depth as Sion’s. While the above is an extreme example, it is a symptom of how Obsidian simply has a deft touch that BioWare all too often lacks in its own writing.

In terms of KOTOR 2‘s party members, Atton sticks out as another strong example of good characterisation. On the surface, he’s a Han Solo-like character full of genuinely funny quips and a mellow attitude. Soon, though, you realise Atton has a much more detailed past that players would realise, as well as a future that can go many ways depending on player choice. 

KOTOR 2

No creator behind a Star Wars game, or perhaps even film, has treated the interwoven species, outlooks, and histories of the licence with as much respect. Their personalities and influence are reflected in their playstyles, with each character having a direct effect on the game’s turn-based gameplay. 

KOTOR 2, like its predecessor, is essentially a Dungeons & Dragons game, but the gameplay disguises that fact well. While turn-based combat is usually equated to slow, methodical gameplay, KOTOR 2 leaves space for both slower and faster styles. Players can pause the game and queue up commands and abilities for their party, or simply set up appropriate combat behaviours for their AI partners to fulfil themselves. On tougher difficulties, though, players need to play it like a Baldur’s Gate game and be methodical, as some of the end-game bosses and one-versus-one segments in the game are tough as nails. 

Where KOTOR 2 shines, though, is in the quality of writing and the world-building. The setting of KOTOR 2 paints a world where the Jedi Order is no more, with a rogue Sith force dominating known space. Exploring recognisable planets through the lens of a post-Jedi world is an intelligent method for Obsidian to approach the tropes of the franchise from a different angle. 

Knights of the Old Republic 2

Walking through an overgrown, abandoned Dantooine and the labyrinthine streets of Nar Shaddaa are tangible examples that the universe would still exist without the Jedi, and is trucking on despite being weighed down by the Sith. All of KOTOR 2 consistently reinforces its central rejection of the principles of Star Wars, and it’s for that brave decision that it stands as the best Star Wars game ever made. 

I have been careful to avoid too many spoilers while writing this piece, so apologies for its brevity. Going into this kind of story in any significant way is still too many spoilers. If you’re a fan of Star Wars, RPG games or good writing, then you cannot go wrong with KOTOR 2. In a way, the game ruined Star Wars for me simply because nobody has done the universe the same justice since.

Thanks for joining us for a look at one of the original Xbox’s best games. Next week, things get an epic shake-up, for both the game in question and our favourite games list as a whole! To keep up, be sure to follow OnlySP on FacebookTwitter, and YouTube, and join in with the OnlySP Discord.

Continue Reading