Lessons to Live By
Over a decade-and-a-half ago, I first made acquaintance with a series of games about a vampire named Kain. It was during the final days and weeks of late 1996. Sony’s PlayStation had been out on the market for a couple of years already, but I had so far not purchased one for myself – mainly because I was a high school student with a part-time job, paying for a car, and just didn’t have the cash to spend on one. However, a massive television advertising campaign for a game that would be released in the coming months, Final Fantasy VII, was just kicking off, and I knew, come hell or high water, that was the game I had been waiting to buy a PlayStation for.
After saving up from scratch, I set out to acquire a used PlayStation console. Of course, nobody would ever purchase a console all by itself, used or otherwise. Some games – preferably cheap – needed to be bought alongside it. Two games made the cut that day, as I was standing in front of the games display case in a local pawnbroker’s: twin-stick shooter Loaded, and a little title that promised to be the kind of dark and gothic game that adults would enjoy, Legacy of Kain: Blood Omen.
In the following hours, there were two things I would learn about the Sony PlayStation, and, indeed, about the future of gaming from that point forward:
- Full-motion video and, even more importantly, voiced dialog would serve to skyrocket immersion in games into the stratosphere. After starting a new game, the first six minutes were spent almost exclusively watching fully voiced FMV sequences, with plenty of blood, impalement, and vampires and humans slaying each other in spades. The whole thing was complemented by notable voice talent (and series mainstays) Simon Templeman, Richard Doyle and Paul Lukather, as well as the deep, reverberating Shakespearean baritone of the late Tony Jay as Mortanius the Necromancer (who switched to voicing the Elder God for the remainder of the series).
- Disc-based gaming, for all its technical marvels and merits, could lead to epic fails if the storage medium itself was damaged even the slightest bit. After playing for the first 15-20 minutes, it started to dawn on me that the stuttering and pausing of the game wasn’t, in fact, an intentional design choice (yes, I was pretty naïve back then); in actuality, I had purchased a scratched disc. Unfortunately, due to strict non-return policies on behalf of the store and strict cash-flow problems on behalf of myself, it would be a few weeks before I was able to purchase another, working copy.
Nonetheless, Legacy of Kain’s gameplay blew me away, and predominantly served to brook my transition from being a kid who played video games to being a “gamer”, in the adult sense of the word.
Hitting All the Right Notes
Developed by Silicon Knights, the original Blood Omen was a top-down action adventure title. Due to legal ramifications, development of subsequent games has been handled by Crystal Dynamics, with Silicon Knights being credited as creators of the concept. The entire series now comprises a total of five titles. While all games link in with each other to create a seamless, twisting plot, the first sequel to Blood Omen saw the series splinter off into a different tangent, whereby Kain was put more into the background, and his general and protegé, Raziel, took center stage for the next two games. Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver was Crystal Dynamics’ first stab at the series, and took it away from its top-down origins into a full 3D world.
Keeping the tradition of amazing vocal talent alive, Soul Reaver introduced a further series regular, Michael Bell, as the voice of Raziel, with the rest of the familiar cast from the first title making a return. Soul Reaver also featured Raziel’s ability to shift between the material plane of the human and vampire world, and the spectral plane – a twisted, ghostly realm mirroring the material plane closely. (This shift between the planes closely resembles a similar game mechanic employed by the game Shadow Man, also released in 1999.) Shifting between planes was sometimes necessary to proceed through an area, and at other times was caused by taking damage from enemies.
The characters created in the Legacy of Kain franchise – and their twisting schemes, betrayals, and agendas filled with double-talk and connivance – have always been a joy to experience, and the chemistry between former-brethren-turned-rivals Kain and Raziel is nothing short of jaw-dropping, as both constantly seek to deceive the other, and it’s never truly clear who is who’s pawn. With plenty of powerful creatures – be they humans, vampires, gods, or otherwise – pulling strings in the background, the player is forced into a constant state of vigilance, trying to see the unfolding plot from multiple perspectives and figure out just exactly what everybody’s intentions are. Vampire underlords, grotesquely twisted and misshapen by the passage of time; malevolent betentacled gods slumbering in subterranean chambers; ghosts; human crusaders; and soulless abominations – Legacy of Kain had it all!
To make matters more intriguing, the series spans millenia of time, often even within a single title. Soul Reaver takes place 1,500 years after its predecessor, Blood Omen, whereas Soul Reaver 2 picks up right where Soul Reaver left off. In contrast, Blood Omen 2, the fourth title released, takes place between Blood Omen and Soul Reaver, but in an alternate timeline, which is a direct result of the events that happened 1,500 years later in Soul Reaver 2. Confused yet? It gets worse. A central character to many of the Legacy of Kain games is the Timestreamer, Moebius, who makes it possible for characters to travel back and forth through time to alter and affect events in the past and future. Thus, it comes to pass that even during the final game in the pentalogy, Defiance, Kain and Raziel are sent back to the events of the original Blood Omen and even further into the past. It’s safe to say keeping the timeline straight and following all the twists and turns of the plot becomes a Herculean piece of homework in and of itself.
After the first Blood Omen and Soul Reaver titles released on the PlayStation, the series moved to the PS2 for all three subsequent sequels, with all the graphical upgrades that entailed. First, both sub-series received a proper sequel, culminating in the release of game five, Legacy of Kain: Defiance, which let players split their time between controlling both Kain and Raziel in their own gameplay segments.
Legacy of Kain Gets the Ol’ Boot…Reboot, That Is
Defiance first released in 2003, and the series is now long overdue for a new chapter. With the series’ wealth of interesting characters, deep lore and backstory spanning millenia, and the ability of some characters to through time and to alternate dimensions, there’s virtually no reason why a compelling story set in the realm of Nosgoth cannot be told again. In fact, this has already been (unofficially) attempted: Legacy of Kain: Revival is a free, fan-created game in the Metroidvania style, and can be downloaded here. Further, Jim Sterling has also reported on a cancelled game in the Legacy of Kain franchise, titled The Dark Prophecy, which had been in development in 2004.
In June 2010, Crystal Dynamics’ head of studio, Darrell Gallagher, stated in an interview: “We see the fan feedback on Legacy of Kain. There’s nothing we can talk about right now, but we can tell fans we definitely hear it.” Then, earlier this year, a source reported that Crystal Dynamics would, indeed, be returning to the Legacy of Kain franchise with a Soul Reaver reboot. Details concerning the project are thin, but the tipster said the title is a “full reworking” of the game and includes new art direction. Square Enix, Crystal Dynamics’ parent company, has, unfortunately, not released any official statement.
Though we’ll definitely still have a while to wait for news of a new game – if ever one should appear – all signs are pointing to a bright future for the series that, for the better part of a decade, stood – t0 me – for excellent characters and story-telling. If, like me, you have fond memories of this series, join me in keeping our fingers crossed that, once the upcoming Tomb Raider reboot is out of the way, Square Enix will deem it fit to grace us with some good news of Legacy of Kain rising from the dead once again.