Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain – PlayStation
Platform: Sony PlayStation
Developer: Silicon Knights
Publisher: Crystal Dynamics
Release Date: November 1st, 1996
Nerd Rating: 9 out of 10
Reviewed by Aaroneous
My first Retroary article reviews a game close to my heart. Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain was the initial game I bought for the first game system I purchased as an adult. It came after a dark period in my life, when I owned no consoles or computer suitable for gaming. I wanted to celebrate by purchasing something unlike anything I had ever played. This title came with a mature rating, and rightfully earned it. Its protagonist is a vampire, an anti-hero to be sure, especially because Kain is also a complete tool. The dark humor and dialogue, oozing with condescension toward both peers and peasantry, helped create an extremely memorable character. Twenty years after its release, I still smile when I recall it.
Kain is a noble in the world of Nosgoth, a fantasy realm of dark magic and terrible monsters. I didn’t have long to appreciate Kain’s mortal life before he was set upon by assassins. Their numbers were overwhelming, even though none were individually a match for Kain’s martial prowess. His death was but a device for a more nefarious plot that would pit him against Nosgoth’s most vile and twisted forces. The price of Kain’s vengeance was his soul, and believing the process reversible, he gladly sacrificed it. Only once his enemies fell to his sword was the greater evil revealed. Kain faced a quest to restore balance to the world by defeating the corrupted guardians linked to the nine pillars of Nosgoth. The pillars’ spokesperson, who remained as a spirit, divulged that this balance also offered Kain peace. But Kain was also offered great power through the secrets vampirism could offer him, as presented by the monstrous vampire, Vorador.
The complexity of Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain only makes it more compelling. Kain is drawn into the struggles not only for the restoration of the pillars, but also in a war between two kingdoms. As a vampire, he is reviled and attacked whenever he approaches a town. He is, after all, a bloodsucking monster, which makes his few allies seem all the more important in his quests. At first, everything seems stacked against Kain. The sun and rain hamper his powers and drain his health. His greater strength and speed can still be overcome when facing multiple enemies. Gradually he learns new powers and unearths new weapons. He adopts the form of the wolf to run swiftly and leap over obstacles. He transforms into a bat to take to the sky in cinematic flights among the regions of Nosgoth. Changing into a cloud of mist allows him to bypass a portcullis with ease. Sacrificing his health at shrines earns him permanent increases to his strength. And, of course, the blood of his enemies replenishes him. Kain’s adventures are thirsty work, after all.
Much of the immersive quality of Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain comes from Kain’s narrative, voiced by Simon Templeman. Not only does this enhance the game during the cinematic interactions with other characters, particularly the guardians linked to the pillars, but also during Kain’s travels through Nosgoth’s environment. Sign posts provide a means to learn about new areas, and all the information is given from Kain’s point of view. These can be skipped by leading Kain around them, but they add an immense amount of flavor to the game and insight into Kain’s personality. In a top-down two-dimensional game, the added effects of Kain’s development and depth of the other characters bring to life the dark and brutal world where they live. Somehow it is still possible to empathize with Kain in his struggles to regain his humanity and avenge his death, even though at times I hated him. As his power grows, his transformation into an evil force, much like Vorador, becomes all but certain. In the end, Kain is faced with a choice that will decide the fate of Nosgoth, for good or ill.
Though much of the game’s traveling and fighting can seem repetitive, the world of Nosgoth is filled with secrets, many of which add to Kain’s abilities and power. Some of these are only accessible at night, when Kain’s vampiric powers are at their height. New weapons, spells, and armor add variety and serve specific purposes beyond enhancing Kain’s power. Some allow Kain to feed more readily. Others work better against certain enemy types or allow puzzles to be solved. The slogging through similar enemies and the sometimes labyrinthine confines of the environment are eventually rewarded with new, usually bleak, revelations, lend aid to Kain’s cause, or reveal insight into his demented enemies. Some of the abilities available to Kain are truly horrific, allowing the graphic destruction of enemies or leeching of their blood from shocking distances.
It’s no wonder Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain earned critical acclaim and spawned numerous sequels. The originality of the story and creation of a despicable protagonist certainly left me craving more adventures in the world of Nosgoth. Despite finishing Kain’s story, I replayed the game twice more in attempts to uncover all the secrets it had to offer. (And I didn’t manage to find all of them. Since the help of YouTube gameplay videos did not yet exist, I couldn’t even easily cheat.) Though I enjoyed the sequels, they didn’t capture the same magic for me as the original. Maybe one day we’ll see a new game in the franchise that can live up to the original.
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