Unfinished and flawed in some core regards, it's nonetheless hard not to love Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver at least a little bit. This is an action game before its time: cinematic, story-rich, and awing in a scale that pushes the hardware of its time to their limits. It's impossible not to see flashes of both Dark Souls and God of War in Soul Reaver's DNA now.
The writing and worldbuilding are equally rich in their attempt to build an epic both gothic and Miltonian in tone and themes. The quality of the voice acting was peerless in 1999 and still impressive as hell today; there's never been a narrator more suited to a story like this than Tony Jay. Other aspects of the game's presentation do their best to rise to these standards, and while the primitive PS1 graphics engine can't quite produce emotive characters on this register, it produces a convincing impression of both them and the colossal, decaying landscape and swooping camera. The Dreamcast port helps a bit with its smoother framerate and detail, but in some ways that just emphasizes the muddiness of the texture work.
More dated than the visuals, arguably, is the gameplay. It's mash-to-win combat and block-pushing puzzles all the way down here, and while the game's dimension-bending design and puzzlebox bosses can be uniquely clever, they also get tiresome really quickly. God of War would improve on this formula by finding a way to make mindless combat so kinetic it becomes engaging by sheer force of spectacle; Soul Reaver cannot. Every enemy is defeated by mashing square, then either impaling them with a weapon or throwing them into one of any number of vampire-killing environmental hazards.
More egregious than any other flaw is the one that most betrays Soul Reaver's ambition: the story is unfinished. Soul Reaver doesn't just end with a sequel hook; it ends without any kind of conclusion to its narrative at all, at what clearly was intended to be the middle act climax of the game, not a finale. Luckily there are sequels. Less luckily, their returns are diminishing, as the Legacy of Kain series falls further and further into history with its failure to improve on the core mechanics. It would take a full decade for another action RPG set in a ruined, decaying world of the undead to do the epic tone established here justice.
Dragon Quest XI is an aggressively uninteresting game. Like I realize this series is all about nostalgia, and that DQ1 practically defined the genre, but good lord — this might be the most generic JRPG I’ve ever seen. It’s a NES game with voice acting (though it is cool they happened to include an 8-bit mode I’ll never use, I guess). The story is an almost parodically vanilla Prophesied Chosen One Must Fight the Dark Lord After His Home Village Is Destroyed, yet after two hours they still haven’t destroyed the village or even introduced the Dark Lord beyond references to his inevitable return (which seems to bother no one much at all) (and yes they actually flat-out call him The Dark Lord).
The combat is cosmically bad; it’s DQ1-style mash A through the menus to grind and win. Luckily they added this cool new feature where the combat can play itself! At 3x speed! Wonders never cease.
There’s a “free move” combat mode that lets you move your party characters around the battlefield. You would think this would let you setup backstabs and blocks and stuff like a Tales Of game — and you would be wrong! It does nothing. Purely cosmetic timewasting.
Which is more or less what this game amounts to: the most stultifying, time-wasting take on the JRPG formula you can think of. You can literally auto-run from point A to B, take your hands off the controller, and let the game play it’s bland-ass self for you. Why isn’t it just a visual novel at that point? Why have combat at all? Who knows. This series has millions of fans somewhere, apparently. Ask them.
So the combat is bad. The dialogue is drivel. But the music is truly awful. They added full orchestration for the Switch version and it’s still possibly the worst RPG score I can remember, all blaring obnoxious fanfares devoid of the emotion of the most forgettable Final Fantasy theme. Words can’t describe how much worse the MIDI versions are.
This game’s only saving grace so far are the Akira Toriyama character designs, yet the characters themselves have none of the life or animation or humor that makes the Dragon Ball and Chrono Trigger casts so memorable. They’re cardboard cut-out stand-ins for RPG types so stock they might as well just be named Fighter, Thief, and Village Maiden in Distress. The protagonist, ofc, is silent — not because you have any real control over the dialogue, mind you.
I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve played a less inspired RPG since early childhood. Dragon Quest XI makes The Outer Worlds look like an astonishing masterpiece of depth and innovation.
Rad music and sound design, nifty combat and item systems, and overall one of the most successful utilizations I've seen of the DS's unique hardware. It's a shame the protagonist is such a damp rag of nothing for such a long time. The game expects you to put up with its least likable character and his grating dialogue for hours and hours before he starts to grow the hell up.
Ocarina of Time felt like pure magic, once upon a time. If you squint your eyes real hard and play just the first three or four dungeons, it still kinda does.
(Definitely don’t play on an actual N64 though. The game runs like ass. Treat yourself with some good emulation hardware instead.)
I don't believe anyone who claims they finished this game in under 50 hours without consulting a guide. Most of the puzzles rely either on extreme trial and error or intuiting leaps of ludicrous moon logic. The boss fights range from kind of silly and gimmicky yet entertaining to infuriating garbage.
Otherwise it's still a pretty swell little stealth game with some great 80s B-movie vibes and a highly memorable intro sequence.