Lots of things have happened since my last review. Relaunched site, Christmas, New Year’s. It can be a bit hectic. But we’re kicking off 2011 right, so let’s go with a bang! And I can’t think of a better bang than one of the best game series that seems to not be as well-known as it should. That’s right, I’m talking the Legacy of Kain!
Starting in 1996, this series of fantasy action-adventure games are awesome. From their gothic storylines, to their often dark and intriguing characters, you’d be forgiven for thinking this was meant to be some kind of film or novel series first. With the two leads, Kain and Raziel, being used for the DLC of Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, I figure modern gamers need a primer on why so many of us are happy about this development. Warning you right now: there will be spoilers!
Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain
Imagine a 2D game, with digitized graphics, combat like Diablo and a semi-open world filled with quests and puzzles like Legend of Zeldawith a dark storyline and hero, and you have what this game is about. You play as Kain, a noble in the world of Nosgoth. Nosgoth’s existence is tied to the fate of its Pillars, nine massive structures that go on endlessly to the sky and through the ground. Kain is assassinated while traveling, and Mortanius, the Guardian of the Pillar of Death, resurrects him as a vampire and tells him to find out who had him killed. And thus begins a sprawling 50+ hour journey that would take you back and forth across Nosgoth and time, as Kain finds himself tasked with killing the now corrupted Guardians of the Pillars to restore the land, while trying to find out why this has happened to him. While traveling, you must also feed your new bloodlust. No question or choice given, you must kill and drink blood to keep your constantly draining health bar up.
The thing that stands out in this game is its storyline, characters, and superb voice acting. In particular, Simon Templeman brings both a rage and sophistication to the main character Kain, and is one of the coolest voices I’ve heard in a game. The game offers so many twists and turns, and so many interesting characters and plotlines throughout this series. From Mobius the Timestreamer to the strange cult of Hash’Ak’Gik (who will play a role through this franchise), and the legendary sword Soul Reaver (which would become Kain’s trademark weapon), Nosgoth had a lot to offer gamers, even if this game was the weakest of the franchise. Still, the weak of such a fun series is still a fun game. This game was originally on the PlayStation and PC, and can be downloaded from the PlayStation Network.
Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver
Soul Reaver is where the series started to find its true direction and voice. Much like Ocarina of Time, it took Kain-fans into the 3rd dimension, and introduce story elements and ideas that would shape the direction of the franchise for years to come.
Set thousands of years after Kain’s initial adventure, wherein he defeated the dark entity Hash’Ak’Gik and if you chose the ending where he conquers Nosgoth, he now has evolved from a pale, silver-haired vampire to an almost saurian creature. He’s joined by his six vampire ‘sons’. When the eldest and most trusted, Raziel, evolves wings before his lord, Kain has his wings torn and has him tossed into the Abyss, a swirling mass of water (which in the Kain universe, burns vampires like acid). After thousands of years, Raziel awakens to find himself a disfigured, jawless wraith, with a Lovecraftian horror known simply as the Elder God waiting for him. This creature tells him that he’s the god of their world, and Kain’s vampire empire is an abomination against the Wheel of Fate, where creatures are born, die and are reborn. Raziel is sent out into the decaying and fallen world as a soul-eating wraith, to seek revenge on his maker and brethren.
Take everything good about Blood Omen, place it in a 3D action adventure platformer, and you get this game. Like Kain before him, Raziel’s quest for revenge starts to become a hero’s journey to set things right. And like Kain before him, Raziel’s adventure has an awesome voice cast, with Michael Bell as Raziel, and Simon Templeman returning to his iconic Kain role. Unlike Kain before him, you must face devolved, bestial vampires. Part of this game’s key mechanic is that you have to weaken your foes, and then finish them by running them through with a spear, or throwing them at a wall-spike, or burning, tossing them in water, etc. After that, you have to eat their soul.
Yes, eat their soul.
You see, unlike the previous game, if you don’t eat their soul, they will come back. If their body is destroyed, they’ll eventually turn into a wraith creature that will attack you when you enter the other half of this game, the Spectral Realm. Here, where you go either by choice or by your physical death, all physical things are distorted. This plays a part in puzzles later in the game. As you pursue your vampire brothers, you find they’ve become monstrous mutations. Every boss battle rewards you with a new power, like climbing walls, telekinesis, or walking through certain surfaces when in the Spectral Realm. And like Kain before him, Raziel gains the Soul Reaver, which in this game becomes a wraith-blade, and only manifests when his health is full. It’s often an unstoppable weapon.
Soul Reaver is infamous among the series for the sheer amount of content cut. Clever people have hacked the PC game to find sound clips hinting at more. Sadly, this game ends on a cliffhanger, as Raziel, with all but one of his brothers slain, faces Kain in a time-chamber. As Kain escapes, Raziel follows him through time, and sets the stage for the next game of the series. And like its predecessor, you can find it on PlayStation Network if you want to play it yourself.
Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver II
Picking up where the last game left off, this PS2 game kept all the elements that made that title great, but decided to have a full-on story driven quest as opposed to the typical “fight a boss, complete an area” from before. With all the returning cast members, and improved graphics, it would take a unique story to make the changes justified.
This time, Raziel finds himself in Nosgoth’s past, when the Pillars still stood. Mobius the Timestreamer returns, telling Raziel to seek out Kain. Raziel encounters a paradox when he finds the original sword that housed his Soul Reaver, and the blade goes from a weapon of awesome that works only when your health is full to a weapon that you can summon at anytime that may kill you if you overuse it. While pursuing Kain, Raziel learns the truth of how someone has manipulated things so no matter what, the horrible future occurs. The question of free will and fate is brought up, as Raziel starts to explore the mysteries that have surrounded the series.
While the game is linear, the constant time travel present in it, along with all the characters and situations, help open up explanations for events throughout the franchise, as we start to realize that Kain’s supposed betrayal of Raziel may have been to create a creature who can set fate right. The change to the Reaver helps present a real risk to its sheer destructive power, but at the same time, the removal of the vampiric enemies removes also the strategy present in it. Now, all enemies can be simply killed off for sustenance. This time, there’s the edition of the elemental Reaver forges, which help grant you special skills to aid in puzzle solving. The story, however, is the true driving force, as it builds to a horrible revelation that Raziel is meant to be sucked into the Reaver, and that HE is the soul-eating entity that dwells in it. And that he may be some kind of Vampire Messiah. Kain stops the sword from absorbing him, but causes a fracture in history. And the story halts for Raziel as he realizes that his fate may be inevitable.
Blood Omen 2: Legacy of Kain
Oh boy, how to talk about this game for the PS2, Gamecube and Xbox without my head exploding. This game’s story only happens because of the time altering that occurred at the end of Soul Reaver 2. Meaning we’re experiencing an event in Kain’s life that only happened because of his interference. Set 400 years after the original Blood Omen, Kain awakens from a 200-year slumber. He raised an army of vampires and tried to conquer all of Nosgoth. He then faced opposition from a resurrected Sarafan order (a group who is dedicated to killing vampires), whose leader, the Sarafan Lord, manages to defeat Kain and take the Soul Reaver from him. Upon awakening, Kain wants all that was taken from him back, and his new ally, the sensuous vampire, Umah, says she can help him. Kain must aid the Cabal, a resistance made of vampires and humans, to liberate the city of Meridian, a steam-punkish metropolis from the Sarafan, and find a way to reclaim his Soul Reaver and get bloody revenge on the Sarafan Lord.
This is the strangest entry in the series. The designs for all the characters is strange when you’ve just played the others, and the combat is interesting (lots of blocking and striking), as well as the first one with actual levels/chapters. And yet, I still love popping this one in and playing it through. Kain’s cynical attitude to the idealism of his allies is hilarious, and the game raises all sorts of questions because of the new history it presents. It does however, answer a few questions raised from Soul Reaver 2, like who the mentioned Hylden are. Turns out, Hash’Ak’Gik is the Hylden Lord, and also the Sarafan Lord.
Seriously, you need a chart sometimes for this series.
I think the biggest problem of this game is that it feels like a side-story. There are no real twists and turns that shatter the series, and it just feels like an add-on between games. I do like seeing the return of Kain the bastard as opposed to the dark philosopher he became during Raziel’s story.
Legacy of Kain: Defiance
Released on PS2 and Xbox, this was the best, and final game in the series. I say best because they went above and beyond to tie all the loose ends together from the whole series. From what happened to characters seemingly forgotten, to explaining things that happened in the new time line that was different, they went all out to make sure all makes sense. And its also the best from a gameplay stance. The camera is fixed, combat is improved upon, and you get to play as both Kain and Raziel as they trade off for each chapter.
Kain is attempting to find his destiny as the one to restore balance, and thinks Raziel is the key. Raziel is trying to escape his destiny, and actively seeks an alternative. Both are armed only with versions of the Reaver, Kain’s being as bloodthirsty as he is, and Raziel’s feeding on souls. Combat takes a huge cue from games like Devil May Cry, and builds towards a more hopeful resolution. However, the game ends with all mysteries answered, all the manipulators unmasked, and one final task left for Kain to do in order to restore balance. And hopefully, the renewed interest in the characters and series will help it get a grand conclusion that it deserves.