“Thank you, Mario. But our princess is in another castle.”. “Do a barrel roll!”. “GET OVER HERE!”. Recognizing a line from a video game always brings me a certain sense of satisfaction when I hear it. It’s like a weird sensation that makes me feel like I’m the one responsible for its inclusion in the lexicon of gaming culture. They even elicit reactions if I just hear someone unknowingly say a character’s line in everyday conversation. If I hear “get over here”, without hesitation, I immediately think of that yellow-clad ninja bastard from hell and mouth the line again under my breath like he would. Don’t lie – you’ve done it too. Some of the most recognizable quotes in gaming aren’t exactly poetry but since becoming more of an accepted medium for storytelling, things have changed. Dialogue has new meaning now because it is coming from human voices who are trying to emote the hell out of it. They are now capable of filling them with a cavalcade of emotions. A line like “Would You Kindly” would not have the same impact if it was typed out for you or said in a voice reminiscent of a Street Fighter II character. To whomever hears it, that short statement immediately invokes a vision of broken trust and treachery. And that seems like the heart of every story told in video games, really. Portal, Overwatch, Resident Evil. Even in a comic strip made in 1993, Wario and Mario were shown as childhood friends until the latter was a dick, thus creating the troll we love today. Great betrayals in gaming can create memorable quotes from even more memorable stories. But there are none that come close to surpassing the tale of betrayal from an immortal vampire ruler in a world long-lost of humanity. And it all begins with one of the most commandingly delivered lines in all of gaming – “Kain is deified”.
While it is not as well-known as other quotes, the line represents something far greater than you would realize for a franchise that has laid dormant for years – Legacy of Kain. Developed by Crystal Dynamics and published by Eidos Interactive for the Sony PlayStation, Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver (1999) is a gothic tale of revenge dripped in Shakespearean drama that takes place in the fictional world of Nosgoth. The first words of the opening cinematic spoken by an anonymous narrator set the stage for a world where humanity is but a footnote and vampires survive for one reason – because Kain allows it. The game is a sequel to Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain (1996), a medieval fantasy RPG which was also released on the Sony console. In it, a human knight named Kain becomes a sort of “chosen one” when he is turned into a vampire and forced to re-balance humanity and tip the scales in favor of humans or his newfound appreciation as a stalker of the night. The game is long as shit (for the time) and has you traversing villages, dungeons and castles all the while telling a story that would rival the Bible in length. The ending of the game gives you a choice to either save the world or screw it. Suffice to say, Soul Reaver takes place in a timeline where Kain just wanted to watch the world burn. But I am not here to write a tribute (or obituary?) about Kain or Soul Reaver. All I want to talk about is the first three and a half glorious minutes that precede the sequel, taking place 1500 years after Blood Omen. It is here we are introduced to our former vampire lieutenant to Kain and antihero, Raziel.
The opening cutscene introduces us to the main character who is narrating, and the former hero turned tyrant antagonist. Raziel declares “Kain is Deified. Clans tell tales of him. Few know the truth”. This line is spoken amongst shots of Kain in his extravagant yet barbaric throne room, other vampire legionaries and Raziel himself walking out of the shadows towards his leader. He looks like a pale pretty boy dressed in a style that is best described as Mad Max meets The Crow. In the voice over he goes on to talk about Kain and how he was the first born of his master’s new world. With every transformation Kain received from his evolution as a vampire, his lieutenants eventually followed. Unfortunately for Raziel, today would be different. Now before I get into the meat of all this, you need to believe me when I say that the quality of this movie is better than most games try to even do today. The cinematography, shadowing, voice acting, and music are all top notch. No video game cinematic had any right to be this good before 2010. Anyway, Raziel states that he has surpassed Kain in the evolution of their kind before displaying his newly formed set of majestic vampiric wings. Kain does not like what he sees. And with this moment comes the end of Raziel’s past life and beginning of his new life as a traitor. “For my transgression I earned a new kind of reward. Agony”. Moments following his presentation, Kain viciously rips the wings right off Raziel’s back. A disturbing touch is that after he rips the wings off, Kain is seen still gripping the bone parts of the wings, as if to show that they are his property now. The merciless ruler then has his other lieutenants take Raziel to the Lake of the Dead, to be tossed in and burned to a crisp in its abyss. The vision of Raziel being torn apart in the fiery lake is both hard to watch and a sight to behold. His clothing is burned off within seconds and his flesh is torn apart along with his lower jaw disintegrating away. He also transforms into more of a ghoul as his muscles change blue during his fall in the abyss. A millennium has passed during his fall, but he finally reached the bottom of the pit, slowly floating towards it while the cloth from his old garb drifts over him. Amazed he survived at all, he gets up and uses the scarf to conceal his missing mouth. Behind him, an unknown deep compelling voice speaks to him. “Raziel. You are worthy.”
If I didn’t tell you any more about this game, who the voice was or where Raziel resides now, it wouldn’t even matter. This clip tells you everything you need to know about the tale ahead in magnificent form. Our hero is out for blood and his lust for revenge helped him endure death itself. Even for an undead guy, I must commend his morbid dedication. Over the next fourteen years, stories from this world would span three more games and a failed online multiplayer. Sequels, prequels, side stories, time-bending narratives. All these games tried to have the same aura that Soul Reaver created but none were truly able to capture the same lighting in a bottle. As much as I love the whole package, I’d argue that this intro is better than the actual game and one of the best cutscenes ever made. With the 20th anniversary approaching in August, Soul Reaver still remains one of the most daring video game presentations to hit consoles. The voice acting is unmatched, and the soundtrack makes you feel like you could become the next victim of Nosgoth’s grotesque dystopia. Funny to think that all of this came about from evolution, both Raziel’s and video game dialogue. The gaming landscape was changed because the medium was not scared to venture into truly dark and adult territory now. It was Legacy of Kain Soul Reaver that truly raised the bar for what games are possible of. Even the final moments of the game exude an unintentional meta commentary on its impact. After his final fight with Kain, Raziel has jumped through a time portal amidst his quest for revenge and is greeted by a sorcerer named Moebius. There he welcomes him with an appraisal that seems more like a warning. “Welcome to your destiny.” For twenty years Soul Reaver has defined an era and became an unrivaled classic. To be fair though, time never really stood a chance against that jawless ghoul.