The Legacy of Kain Series – Retrospective
I’ll tell anyone who cares to listen that I’m a huge fan of the Legacy of Kain series of games – not to be confused with a similar sounding unfinished cycle of German-language novels. I’ve written about my initial forays into this pentalogy with 1997’s PC port of 1996’s Playstation release Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain. As I once noted, this was a game I had mixed early feelings about. I never regretted sticking with it as the experience was ultimately quite rewarding and the following entries were generally wonderful.
LoK gameplay blends action-adventure with occasional puzzle elements. The setting is pure dark-fantasy yet the gothic design elements and twisted wilderness scenes are at times interrupted with a dirty industrial feel. Humankind in the world of Nosgoth, in most timelines, is beset on all sides by vampires, spirits, other undead and worse. Themes of fate, causality, time and tragedy run through the entire narrative. The story of LoK, though complex and at times labyrinthine, never manages to become convoluted. While even the weakest of the five games are well written, all contain more than their fare share of hammy dialogue: sometimes it works; sometimes it’s barely on par with Keanu Reeves’ turn in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
Initial protagonist Kain, an erstwhile nobleman who is turned into a vampire for a chance at revenge, transitions to antagonist and then back again to a leading player. Raziel, formerly first among Kain’s vampiric lieutenants, is reborn as a wraith, and functions as the series’ primary protagonist for the middle chapters. Other recurring characters of note include the mysterious and powerful Elder God, the ancient vampire Vorador and the distinctive members of the Circle of Nine: Mortanius, Ariel, Moebius et cetera.
It would be a disservice to the series as a whole to not mention one of its strongest points – the voice acting. While the lines might be at times cheesy or overblown, the performances are simply masterful, right across the board. The list of talent involved includes names such as Michael Bell, Tony Jay, Anna Gunn, Paul Lukather, Neil Ross, Gregg Berger, Alastair Duncan and Rene Auberjonois. In the titular role, Simon Templeman as Kain gives my favourite all-time voice acting performance. The standard set by this cast puts it above that of any other video game property I’ve come across, before or since.
A full retrospective and my thoughts about each game seems long overdue. As there have been no finished games LoK games since 2003 I’ll assume the present-day reader may have little background on the series in whole or in part. Accordingly, I will pepper in a little eldritch history along the way:
Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain
Developed by Silicon Knights under Dennis Dyack’s direction, the initial LoK chapter appeared first on Playstation in ’96 before being ported to PC a year later. Graphically, the game very much shows its age at this point in 640X480 resolution. FMV cutscenes are about what you would expect for the era, though creative and fun to watch. The art style is horror-themed and appropriately macabre where it ought to be – Nosgoth is no walk in the park.
The sound effects further emphasis the dark tone of the game: coffins creak, ill-winds blow and blood flows. A choir note in minor key accompanies each unlocked passage, upgrade and artifact – by the end of the game you’ll be humming this in unison. The aforementioned voice acting is not only excellent but nearly continuous. This was the first video game I had ever played that completely eschews onscreen text for fully voiced dialogue.
Played in a top-down perspective, Blood Omen is undoubtedly the slowest-paced game in this franchise. The combat typically involves softening your enemies with weaponry or grim vampiric powers before draining their blood in brutal fashion. Though immortal, Kain is not invincible and a steady supply of blood and mana will be required to survive. Fortunately new abilities are steadily unlocked, including the agile wolf-form and fast-travelling bat-form. Puzzle elements are relatively few and at times consist of little more than creative navigation of obstacles.
Kain’s choice to embrace a new unlife as a vampire is born out of a desire for revenge against his killers. He is drawn into a plot that affects the future of Nosgoth itself, effectively manipulated to assassinate the remaining members of the Circle of Nine, Keepers of the Pillars. Several twists, time-travel, boss fights and grisly discoveries are encountered along the way. The game ends with a crucial choice, albeit only the canonical “selfish” choice ultimately matters in the sequel. Though perhaps not the pinnacle of this series, the Blood Omen is a remarkable game and worth a look on a retro system.