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The Best Voice Acting in Games

Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver
Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Released: 8/31/1999

Soul Reaver
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RM - 300K | 100K | 56K

Whether you're familiar with the original Legacy of Kain or not, its sequel requires a lengthy explanation. The first Kain game (Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain) put you in the role of a man who became a vampire to kill the men who murdered him and to rid the land of evil. At the end of the game, you were given the choice of either sacrificing yourself to save the world or ruling the world's ruins. Its follow-up, Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver, worked from the premise that you chose the latter and, as a result, plunged the world into darkness.

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Soul Reaver picks up several hundred years later with Kain as its main villain and with you as Raziel, one of Kain's vampiric lieutenants who had been cast into a vortex for the affront of evolving new abilities before his supposedly more powerful master. A mysterious being known as the Elder God soon saved Raziel, but not fast enough to keep him from being grotesquely disfigured and from all but losing the wings that Kain punished him for having. In the time since Raziel's fall from grace, the world, too, fell into ruin because of the vampire's influence. (Or as the Elder God put it, "This world is racked with cataclysm as it tries to shake off Kain's parasitic embrace.") At the game's outset, the Elder God charges you with the task of wiping out Raziel's former "brothers" and his lord to save the world from being destroyed completely.

Since all of this information has to be conveyed to you before you can start playing Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver with any understanding, its narrator must deliver a compelling enough performance to not only see you through this lengthy exposition but also to immerse you in its world and premise to make you care about the game. Once the backstory is explained, the narrator then has to explain all of your newfound abilities to you. While Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain is a top-down hack-and-slash role-playing game (which also had remarkable, although sometimes hammy and overacted, voice work), Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver is a 3D adventure game where you glide through the air using your tattered wings, lift large stone blocks, summon a sword made of mystical energy, swallow the souls of the undead, travel between dimensions, teleport between jump gates, impale vampires on stakes, and fire force blasts from your hands.

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Considering the amount of commentary, luckily, the narration in Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver is excellent. It's performed, by and large, by the Elder God, who is played by Tony Jay. You might know his voice from his previous roles as the lieutenant from Fallout, or as Galactus from the Fantastic Four animated series, or the narrator from Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. You're not crushed under the weight of Soul Reaver's extensive backstory and setup largely because Jay's performance in the game is so good.

The backstory and the explanation of Raziel's newfound powers weren't handed to you in just a chunk of monologue, however. Throughout the course of both games, Raziel (performed by Michael Bell) converses with the Elder God, asking questions, often expressing copious amounts of disgust for his former lord. You will recognize Bell's voice from several different animated series, but you'd never guess that the same person carried out all those voices. A sampling of Bell's range includes the voices for Duke from the GI Joe animated series, Handy Smurf in The Smurfs, and Zan (and his monkey Gleek) in Superfriends.

Both Jay and Bell play the parts of other characters in Soul Reaver as well, and they are joined by a supporting cast of voice actors whose credits and voices are almost equally as impressive. There's not one weak link in the bunch, and together they create one of the best examples of voice acting in a game for PC or consoles.

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