Home > Chronological Challenge > Chronological Challenge Reviews – Soul Reaver / Resident Evil 3

Chronological Challenge Reviews – Soul Reaver / Resident Evil 3

Oops! I didn’t update last week due to various personal reasons that left me forgetting a whole bunch of stuff I wanted to get done. But we’re here this week, revived and fresh with two more reviews of games from 1999. This one’s a little more positive than the last one, so enjoy!

Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver
Publisher: Eidos Interactive | Developer: Crystal Dynamics | Year: 1999
Original System: PlayStation
Played on: PS2 (original PS1 disc)

Goal: See how far I can get without dying

Actual Outcome: Mostly just wandered around on an old save file

When it comes to supernatural ghouls in games, zombies are typically the go-to choice for many developers. The shambling hordes mean you have an easy army of mooks to mow down, and the disease and corruption associated with them means you can overdose on the gritty bleakness the kids love so much.

But vampires, despite being another undead creature with a penchant for turning hapless victims through bites, tend to not get the same level of attention. And it’s odd, because vampire fiction typically presents vampires as the more intelligent undead plague-carrier, one more sophisticated and more liable to offer you a nice meal before stealthily draining your blood. And that seems like it’d be ideal for most video games – instead of shambling corpses, you’d have to deal with a smarter adversary.

Legacy of Kain, as a series, is one of the few that does focus on vampire lore, however. Except instead of fighting them, it made you the vampire. Soul Reaver is the only game in the series I have ever played, and it puts a particularly gothic and creepy slant on it. You play Raziel, a clan member for Kain, the most notorious vampire in Nosgoth. He also had the audacity to evolve wings before his master, and so was cast into a deadly well of souls, where he was forced to die a second time, turning him into a wraith who feeds on souls.

Soul Reaver plays on the idea of Raziel being a soul-eating deader-than-dead creature a lot, with a focus on feeding off souls sitting alongside the ability to shift between the physical and spectral realms. It also manages to combine elements of both Metroid and Mega Man in a 3D space, which makes for some interesting challenges.

For a PS1 game, Soul Reaver is a graphically impressive game. The world you inhabit is winding and complex, with dark gothic structures popping up around every turn. The well of souls is as terrifying as you’d expect a well that can strip a vampire of all remaining humanity to be. And on top of that, the central mechanic of warping between worlds is all done in real time. Columns twist into non-Euclidian shapes, platforms change size, walls collapse, and all without obvious loading times. In an era where Tomb Raider hid room changes by sending you into side rooms while the new room loaded in, seeing a game where the environment shifts around you is impressive, and I have no idea how they pulled it off at the time.

The warping also makes for very interesting gameplay, with some areas offering no obvious route suddenly gaining one by shifting to the spectral realm. Your actions in one realm affect the other, so many puzzles involve moving blocks and pulling switches in the physical realm before shifting and seeing your changes warp into new paths.

In fact, the gameplay design on offer here is fantastic as a whole. The structure of the game follows Metroid, where the world is largely open but areas are locked off until you gain specific abilities such as the ability to shift through gates or swim, and you gain these abilities by defeating Raziel’s former brothers and absorbing their souls and gaining their powers.

Where the game falls down, however, is the controls. Adopting a looser control scheme than other similar games of the time (ie Tomb Raider), Raziel somehow can feel too stiff and too loose at the same time. There always seems to be a bit of lag on the controls, causing Raziel to sometimes take a while to accelerate to full walking speed, and then take a bit too long to turn around, or stab an enemy in the heart. Once at full speed, Raziel is a little too wiggly and his jumps tend to be over-animated, sometimes making jumping sections a chore.

And the cathedral section was the worst, as enemies liked to endlessly respawn in places where you tried to do puzzles. And it’s a little too early in the game, which means you could get to that point and decide not to deal with the rest of the game, where things are much less annoying.

Soul Reaver is an excellent game sometimes marred by awkward controls, but for its time, it’s an impressive piece of work that seems to have been lost to the ages a little despite its quality.

Resident Evil 3: Nemesis
Publisher: Capcom | Developer: Capcom | Year: 1999 (Japanese release)
Original System: PlayStation
Played on: PS3 (original PS1 disc)

Goal: Escape Raccoon City as Jill this time

Actual Outcome: Made my Last Escape…

In 1999, we’ve played Konami’s take on the Resident Evil formula, and a Resident Evil clone with dinosaurs, and now it’s time for the real thing. A prequel and sequel to the second game, RE3 puts us in Jill Valentine’s unlocking-master shoes again, as she tries to escape from Raccoon City when things go down.

In practice, this plays a lot like the second game with a few differences here and there. The controls have been enhanced with the addition of quick turns and a little more auto-aim to counteract the difficulties with tank controls. New interactive scenery has been added to make it easier to take out zombie groups, including the likes of explosive barrels. Oh, and you spend half the game being pursued by a hulking boss enemy.

For the most part, these changes are welcome, as we end up with a refined Resident Evil game that’s a lot less hassle to control, while retaining the tense exploration of the prior titles. The explosive barrels are especially welcome, as a major complaint I had with 2 was the many times a zombie horde would descend on you, forcing you to deplete your ammo just to clear a path, so being able to take out that horde with a single bullet was pretty nice.

That said, Nemesis can get stuffed. Sure, he’s in the title, but I’m not accepting that as justification for his presence. There are far too many instances where you’ll be casually exploring only for a cutscene to pop up and drop the beast in front of you, making the next 20 minutes or so of your game time a stressful exercise in trying to dodge and run with little time to stop and breathe. The guy is fast, he hits hard, and he takes up so much space that dodging him is often pretty hit-and-miss. And man, I hated every time he showed up.

The boss fights against him were worse. The fight outside the clock tower is mostly an exercise is hoping you don’t clip on the sides of the weirdly-shaped arena, while the final boss battle is just a whole lot of running and hoping he doesn’t catch up to you. At no point was any of this fun, because Resident Evil’s strength has never been its combat, and an enemy who is billed as near-indestructible doesn’t make the experience any better.

Apart from the bane of Jill’s existence, RE3 is very much standard Resident Evil. As someone who enjoyed the first two, I naturally enjoyed the parts of this one where I wasn’t being pursued. It’s not particularly revolutionary, but it provides a nice extra perspective on the events of the second game, and that’s no bad thing.

  1. July 8, 2016 at 12:01 pm

    I am Raziel, first born of Kain’s lieutenants…

    I, Raziel, was to suffer the fate of traitors and weaklings, to burn forever in the bowels of the Lake of the Dead.

    Oh I love this game, man! It’s the first game I played in the series and it made me hunt down its predecessor, the one that started it all, Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain. If you’ve never played it, I highly recommend it, it’s phenomenal.

    Awesome review and I agree, they pulled some technical feats in that game, same as Soul Reaver 2 which to this day has some of the best lip-sync I’ve seen in videogames.

    • July 10, 2016 at 8:22 pm

      I may track down the rest of the series at some point in the future, but it’s not high on my list right now. Maybe one day once I’ve cleared out all my current games I’ll give the full series a binge playthrough!

      Although I will admit I giggled at the idea of Soul Reaver 2 having great lip sync because of Raziel’s missing lower jaw and such meaning lip sync for him was probably non-existent :p

      • July 10, 2016 at 8:40 pm

        He doesn’t lip sync, he has that awesome scarf, for the mysterious-dude effect 😛

  1. July 10, 2016 at 8:37 pm

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