Starting 1500 years after the events of Blood Omen, Soul Reaver chronicles the journey of the vampire-turned-wraith Raziel, lieutenant to the vampire lord Kain, who has ruled uncontested over the ruined realm of Nosgoth ever since he refused to sacrifice himself to the Pillars of Nosgoth to restore balance to the land. Kain has spent his time raising up the vampire race, creating his lieutenants, including Raziel who is the eldest, to function as the heads of their own clans, giving them each a region of Nosgoth to rule over. The vampires have since grown into the land's dominant species, enslaving the remaining human population who have been effectively domesticated as a living supply of blood for their vampire overlords, and almost everyone has forgotten that Kain himself was once a mortal. One of the very few who hasn't is Raziel.
After evolving wings, Raziel decides to show them off to Kain, but out of an apparent act of jealously, Kain tears the bones from his wings and executes him by ordering his brothers to throw him into the Lake of the Dead; the swirling, powerful energies slowly burn Raziel as it pulls him apart, subjecting him to constant horrible pain but also leaving him unable to truly die. Five centuries of constant torture later, however, Raziel is rescued from his predicament, when he is resurrected as a wraith by the mysterious Elder God to become his "Soul Reaver". The Elder God explains that the Wheel of Fate, the cycle of reincarnation that governs the world, is dependent on mortal souls to move forward. However; because vampires are immortal, their souls do not spin with the Wheel, with horrible consequences for the land, which decay as the Wheel stalls. As such the god tasks Raziel to kill Kain and his lieutenants, telling him that doing so will restore the proper balance to Nosgoth that Kain denied it so long ago. Raziel embraces this mission, as he has plenty of good reasons to want to exact revenge on Kain and the rest of his empire.
Unlike its predecessor, which played out from an isometric view, Soul Reaver is instead a third-person action-adventure game akin to The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Much of the game is centred around Dual-World Gameplay, as Raziel, being a wraith, and therefore not being truly dead or truly alive, can shift between the material and spectral planes of existence to progress through areas.
The game is also infamous for having something between a quarter and a third of its content removed a few months before release due to a Troubled Production that involved a legal feud between Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain's developer Silicon Knights and Crystal Dynamics, and an deadline that was too tight to fix all the bugs. For over 20 years, a group of dedicated fans dug up info about that lost content, gathered in the website The Lost Worlds. In late 2019, the group managed to unearth the alpha builds of the gamenote and in May 2020 streamed complete gameplay footage of the deleted areas (or as complete as was possible from unfinished builds), allowing all the fans to witness content that only the developers and a select few journalists had seen until now.
Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver contains examples of the following tropes:
- After the End: As a result of Kain's decision to damn the world rather than sacrifice himself to restore Nosgoth's balance, Nosgoth has been doomed to eternal decay. By the time of Raziel's revival as a wraith, centuries after the game's opening, Nosgoth is a barren wasteland incapable of supporting natural life. This also applies to Kain's vampiric empire, as the great edifices of the clans are decrepit, dusty ruins, and the remaining vampires have been reduced to feral, scavenging mutants.
- Ancient Tomb: The Tomb of the Sarafan.
- And I Must Scream:
- In the intro, Raziel is executed by being cast into The Lake of the Dead. Water burns like acid for vampires, but the Lake's waters operate so slowly that the official sentence is to "burn forever." As such, Raziel spends several hundred, if not thousand, years burning alive before finally dissolving and awakening in the Underworld.
- The spirit of Ariel has fared little better. By this point, she's been bound to the Pillars for over a thousand years, and is despondent, bitter, and a bit unhinged by the time Raziel meets her.Ariel: Ghastly past, insufferable future, are they one and the same...? Am I always here?
- Dumah was defeated by vampire hunters at some point after Raziel's execution, and Raziel finds the vampire lord's corpse chained to his throne and skewered by pikes. As a result, Dumah's disembodied soul has been wandering the spirit realm for centuries, unable to return to his body due to the impalement preventing revival.
- Awesome, but Impractical: The Soul Reaver, once Raziel gains it. Yes it's nice and flashy and it's quite powerful against Material Realm enemies, but Raziel needs to be at full health in the Material Realm to use it, meaning if one single attack takes even a smidgen of health, he's back to square one.
- Awful Truth: Raziel comes across the Tomb of the Sarafan, and is horrified to discover that the tomb was designated for him and his brothers, and that Kain revived the Sarafan to serve him as his vampire sons in an ironic, blasphemous joke.Elder God: Take heed, Raziel. A forgotten history lies within. Know thyself, though it may destroy you...
- Bad Future: The game takes place in one, with the Pillars corrupted and Nosgoth left to rot.
- Blade Below the Shoulder: When Raziel acquires the Soul Reaver, it manifests as an energy blade extending from his palm.
- Block Puzzle: The game is full of them — rumor has it that a team leader at Crystal Dynamics asked each member of the development team to design a new puzzle every week. Nearly all of them would eventually hand in another Block Puzzle. At least the ability to flip over and stack the blocks added some variety to it.
- Body Horror: Time hasn't been kind to any of Raziel's brothers as their bodies have continued to mutate over the five centuries he has been separated from them, turning them all into different flavors of monstrous mockeries of the human form.
- Body of Bodies: Melchiah, due to lacking regeneration or eternal youth, was forced to engage in flesh grafting to keep himself in one piece. When Raziel encounters him centures later, Melchiah has become a swollen, distorted mass incorporating whole corpses into his form.
- Church Of Evil: In addition to Zephon's clan, a religious host worshipping him as a god lives in the Cathedral and will try to kill Raziel should he meet them.
- Cliffhanger: After the final boss, Kain escapes through a time portal in the Chronoplast, with Raziel following and being greeted by Moebius the Time-Streamer. The game ends here, leading into the sequel.
- Death as Game Mechanic: Raziel gets thrown into the underworld when he dies and can come back out. There's puzzles which require doing within the underworld to proceed.
- Death Is a Slap on the Wrist: Running out of health in the Material Realm simply causes Raziel to shift to the Spectral Realm, where he can consume lost souls or Sluaugh to regain his strength. Once he's back to full health, Raziel can return to the Material Realm through the nearest portal, usually not too far from where he left off. Running out of health in the Spectral Realm knocks Raziel all the way back to the Elder God's chamber, but as long as the player has kept up with activating the teleporters in each new area, the only penalty is a bit of lost time spent backtracking.
- Desecrating the Dead: Kain broke into the Tomb of the Sarafan, raising his six lieutenants from the corpses within. He also took the time to deface the headstone meant for the missing Malek; prominent claw marks mark it.
- Dual-World Gameplay: The game is an excellent example of this with a spectral realm/material realm duality and blocked paths gameplay. On top of that, time spent in the material realm was limited by continuous draining of health (until you get the Soul Reaver).
- Elite Mooks:
- Vampire wraiths in the Spectral Realm are much stronger than the slaugh otherwise encountered there, and their presence can slowly drain Raziel's health. If a vampire's soul returns to its body, they'll reanimate as a Revived Vampire, gaining the wraith's life-draining aura.
- Every bloodline has a "mature" vampire variant, which is slightly stronger than normal and immune to execution by sunlight (except Rahabim).
- Turelim vampires are much stronger and rarer than other vampires, with the first even encountered as a mini-boss.
- End of an Age: Subverted, in that Kain's empire is a Golden Age from a vampire's perspective. Kain later invokes this word for word when describing how his empire has collapsed.
- Escape Sequence: The Dumah boss battle.
- Evil is Petty: Kain tears the bones out of Raziel's wings and has him executed seemingly out of petty jealousy that Raziel evolved before him. The later games reveal that Kain's motivations were actually a LOT more complex.
- Feral Vampires: With Nosgoth unable to sustain natural life, the vampires of Kain's empire have been reduced to bestial scavengers, so mutated that they can only barely be recognized as having ever been human.Raziel: What are these creatures?
Elder God: Do you not recognize them? They are the children of your brother, Dumah.
Raziel: They're too gruesome. These foul, scuttling beasts could not be kin of our high blood!
Elder God: Do you suppose that time stood still for you, Raziel? Much has changed since you passed from the world of men.
- Flaming Sword: Raziel can find a Fire add-on for the Reaver that enables this.
- Finishing Move: You need to use one of these to kill any of the vampires. Usually the vampire has to be bludgeoned into a weakened state first, but a finisher with a spear or the Reaver can be used if Raziel attacks before the vampire notices him.
- Fish out of Temporal Water: When Raziel is revived as a wraith and re-enters the physical world, he's shocked to see how much Nosgoth has changed since he's been gone; the vampires have all become ravenous, mutated beasts, and Kain's empire is derelict and ruined.
- During the fight with Rahab, Raziel revealing their former lives as Sarafan vampire hunters nets only dismissal and disgust from Rahab, saying that Kain instead saved them from themselves. As Raziel would come to learn in Soul Reaver 2, their past lives as Sarafan were far from the just crusaders he thought they were, to the point Raziel comes to agree with that sentiment as he personally and eagerly kills all of them himself to maintain history.
- Towards the end of the game, as Raziel explores Moebius' Elaborate Underground Base, he can peer into chronoplast portals to see glimpses of the past and future. The later visions, while presented as Raziel potentially undergoing a Face–Heel Turn, concern events in future games — Namely, the confrontation between Raziel and Kain at Avernus Cathedral in Defiance, Raziel absorbing Ariel's soul to create the purified Spirit Reaver towards the end of Defiance, and Raziel standing at the cliffside exit of Janos Audron's retreat with the Fire Reaver in Soul Reaver 2.
- Full Health Bonus: The wraith blade Soul Reaver only manifests while Raziel is at full health.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: Zephon is defeated by throwing him the eggs he conveniently keeps laying during your fight, after setting them on fire.
- Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: One of the ways to finish off vampires, either by using a spear or tossing them onto a conveniently placed spike. However, if you use a spear but don't consume the vampire's soul before it vanishes, then they will revive if the spear is removed.
- Dumah is found nailed to his throne by several pikes, "like a stuck pig" in Raziel's words. The impalement prevents Dumah's soul from rejoining his body, leaving him trapped in the spectral realm for centuries.
- Kill It with Fire: The Fire Glyph. Also, the main weapon of the vampire hunters alongside crossbows.
- Kill It with Water: A major weakness of vampires continued from the previous game, and pools of water exist so that Raziel can throw his enemies into them. Raziel retains his own vampiric weakness to water, forcing him back to the spectral realm if he falls in. Rahab and his bloodline managed to evolve immunity to water's effects by becoming Fish People, and consuming Rahab's soul grants Raziel the ability to swim safely.
- Ludicrous Gibs: The Soul Reaver's finishing move causes vampires to explode. Melchiah is also finished off by crushing him under an enormous meat-grinder.
- The Power of the Sun: The Sunlight Glyph. It has the highest energy cost of all glyphs, but instantly kills any non-boss vampire.
- Puzzle Boss: Most of Raziel's vampire brethren.
- You first impale Melchiah twice by dropping gates on him, and then finally an enormous grinder in the middle of his boss area.
- Rahab is defeated by breaking stained glass windows in his boss area to let sunlight in.
- Dumah you have to lead to an enormous furnace and activate it.
- Red Eyes, Take Warning: How to differenciate adult vampires from fledgling ones.
- Rogue Protagonist: Kain was the Player Character of Blood Omen and was pretty much a Villain Protagonist in that game, the story essentially being a tale of Evil vs. Evil. He serves as the Big Bad to Raziel in this game, however.
- Sliding Scale of Undead Regeneration: Melchiah is the youngest of Kain's sons, and thus inherited the least amount of supernatural power. This left his body incapable of regenerating or resisting decay, which forced him to graft new flesh and organs to himself to replace rotting parts. By the time Raziel returns to Nosgoth, the condition has worsened to the point that the Melchiahim vampires look and behave like zombies, while Melchiah himself has become a Body of Bodies.
- Our Vampires Are Different: Par for the course in a Legacy of Kain title, but the twice-over Time Skip from the era of the Blood Omen games reveals that the "dark gifts" of Kain's tainted bloodlines eventually cause the new generation of vampires to mutate out of control, creating monstrous Feral Vampires.
- Helpfully, upon the first encounter with vampire enemies, Raziel indulges in a bit of self-directed As You Know to describe the common weaknesses of Nosgothic vampires:Raziel: I knew my opponents' weaknesses, having suffered them myself. Physical wounds are fleeting; the vampire's immortal flesh begins to close as soon as it is cleaved. Vampires need only fear those wounds that impale or enflame. Water scorches like acid, and fledgelings are devastated by sunlight's touch.
- Helpfully, upon the first encounter with vampire enemies, Raziel indulges in a bit of self-directed As You Know to describe the common weaknesses of Nosgothic vampires:
- Vampire Variety Pack: There are six separate vampire clans, each descended from one of Kain's lieutenants. Over time, each bloodline evolved its own defining traits and abilities, but eventually went feral due to dwindling blood supplies.
- Dumahim are hunchbacked reptilians with long, piercing tongues used to drink blood. They have no peculiar trait, but can be found all over Nosgoth. Dumah resembles a massive version of his fledgelings with the Constrict power, but he has also developed the ability to phase into the spectral realm after spending centuries trapped in a Not Quite Dead state.
- Melchiahim look gaunt and rotten, shamble like zombies and apparently sleep buried underground (or hide underground to ambush humans). Melchiah himself suffers from Age Without Youth, and has become a Body of Bodies with the power of phase through thin surfaces such as a portcullis.
- Zephonim have arachnid traits, becoming pale, gangly-limbed creatures with ability to climb walls and produce webs. Zephon, meanwhile, has become an insect queen of sorts, fusing to the structure of his lair and producing eggs.
- Rahabim are Fish People, retaining a vulnerability to sunlight (normally only dangerous to fledgelings) well into maturity in exchange for the ability to enter water unharmed. Rahab is a bigger and more powerful version of his children, though his legs have fused into a mermaid-like tail.
- Turelim have enhanced hearing and telekinetic powers, and look like wingless humanoid bats. Turel himself is The Unfought, until Defiance.
- Finally, there's Raziel himself, who only lived long enough to start developing large bat wings. Of the six clans, the Razielim are never seen in the game at all, having been wiped out "like excrement from a boot" in the centuries between their patriarch's execution and resurrection. A small surviving clutch of Raziel's fledgelings that lived in hiding finally appeared as one of the playable classes in Nosgoth, notably mutated by blood starvation even before the total collapse of Kain's empire.
- Variable Mix: The game features musical variations for each location that differ slightly based on the circumstances — standard, suspenseful, danger and combat mixes, and each of these mixes has two versions playing depending whether Raziel is in the Material or in the Spectral Realm.
- Video Game Caring Potential: Not attacking the vampire hunters near Zephon's territory when going after him, even as they attack you, will let you later enter the Human Citadel without hassle as the hunters will now ignore you, while the civilians will praise you and won't flee.
- The Unfought: Turel, despite being hyped by the game manual as Kain's new favorite after Raziel's execution, is never encountered in-game and only a handful of his vampires are found as Elite Mooks. He appears in Defiance, albeit possessed by the Hylden Lord.
- Waterfront Boss Battle: During the Rahab fight, Raziel jumps between eight pillars while Rahab swims around, shoots water at him or tries to bite him.
- Water Is Air: Water in the Spectral Realm is specifically described as such by the Elder God:Elder God: Be aware that in the spectral realm, water has neither heft nor lift. It stands as thin as air.
- Weakened by the Light: Fledgling vampires combust after even the slightest contact with direct sunlight, but adult vampires can survive it (except for the Rahabim, whose adaptation to water further intensified their weakness to sunlight in exchange). The Sunlight Glyph is instantly lethal to any non-boss vampire. This is how you have to kill Rahab, by breaking all the windows in his lair.
- Weak to Fire: Setting vampires aflame with torches and other hazards is one of the many ways to kill them. It is also Dumah's one weakness, as he is effectively immune to all other forms of damage, forcing you to lure him into a furnace. You also have to kill Zephon this way by hurling burning eggs at him.