Although it was released almost 20 years ago, the opening cinematic of The Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver is still some of the most exciting weird fantasy storytelling in games.
I missed the Legacy of Kain games when they originally released. Other than a playthrough of Blood Omen back on release, I haven’t ever touched the games, and I recently decided to rectify that by beginning at the beginning of Raziel’s saga during Soul Reaver for the original Playstation.
It’s a game that comes out the gate with a clear aesthetic and a serious commitment to its out-there narrative. As you can see in the video, Raziel is a lieutenant to the vampire lord Kain, and Raziel’s development of demonic wings forces Kain to throw him down into a giant vortex of swirling water that then takes him to...a ghost zone? Some ruins? The lost vestiges of a forgotten civilization?
The opening of Soul Reaver just dumps all of this info on you. Unlike the intros that we tend to praise the most in games (ahem, The Last of Us), Soul Reaver doesn’t amp up a lot of tension, sympathy, and drama to get you invested in its world or its characters. Instead, it gives you the tight conflict of a betrayal and an execution, and it trusts that the expansive fantasy landscape that it builds out from that place will give you a sufficient reason to get excited about this world.
In some ways, I prefer Soul Reaver’s method of throwing you into the deep end. While it lacks the screenwriting polish of a game released in the 2010s, it more than makes up for it by having a world that is constantly luring you into it. Every time a little piece of narrative has come up in the first hour or so of the game, my ears have perked up. There are apparently some pillars that are really important in this world? I guess I need to figure out what’s up with those.