MIA - Legacy of Kain
A franchise worth sinking your teeth into
Welcome to PixlBit’s inaugural edition of Missing in Action, a biweekly series that takes a look into the games and franchises of days gone by with an eye for bringing forgotten gems back from the dead.
To qualify for the MIA treatment, a game or franchise cannot have appeared on any of the current generation hardware, nor can a new title be currently in development, though unconfirmed rumors, speculation and hearsay are certainly permissible. In addition, the title or franchise must be well suited to the current generation. In other words you won’t be seeing E.T. for the Atari showing up on these digital pages.
In this edition I present to you for your consideration – Legacy of Kain!
The Legacy of Kain series began its development life in the Canadian based studios of Silicon Knights. The year was 1993 and Denis Dyack, the founder of Silicon Knights, decided that he wanted to make a console game that not only challenged gamers’ reflexes, but also their mind as well. Dyack’s vision was realized with the creation of Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain, a top down, two-dimensional action adventure game with some RPG elements to boot.
Published by Crystal Dynamics in 1996, Blood Omen follows the rise, the fall, and the rise again of Kain – a nobleman of Nosgoth. The game begins with Kain in his mortal form. This doesn’t last long though as he is quickly dispatched by a group of hired assassins. When given the chance to become immortal and avenge his death, Kain is quick to accept and rises from the dead as a vampire.
Kain is not the typical video game hero. He was deliberately crafted to be a malleable character that would be able to overcome the restrictive nature of what usually defines a hero. The motives for his actions are completely self serving, so the audience has no problem believing that Kain could swing in either direction on the morality scale. And since he’s so charismatic, Kain can quite literally get away with murder. Designing Kain in this fashion allowed for a level of creative freedom not often seen in video games at the time and opened up a slew of possibilities for future games in the series.
The world of Nosgoth was surprisingly detailed and vast for its time. There was an almost “Metroidvania” style of exploration that was promoted as specific abilities had to be obtained before being able to access certain areas such as the ability to turn into a wolf, bat, or mist. The passage of time would also have an effect on exploration as magical doors or “moon gates” would only briefly be accessible during the full moon – a phenomenon that would only occur once every two hours of actual game time.
Blood Omen would do surprisingly well on both a critical and commercial scale and a sequel seemed imminent. While this would indeed be the case eventually there were some legal matters between Silicon Knights and Crystal Dynamics to attend to first.
In 1998, Silicon Knights filed an injunction against Crystal Dynamics for the rights to the Legacy of Kain IP. This suit was a direct result of Crystal Dynamics working on an apparent sequel to the series without any input from Silicon Knights. The two companies eventually settled out of court with Crystal Dynamics retaining ownership of the IP with the stipulation that all future Legacy of Kain games attribute Silicon Knights as the original creator of the series.
The two companies parted ways at this point, with Silicon Knights dropping development on their planned version of a sequel that was apparently radically different from the one we would eventually see in the form of Crystal Dynamics’ Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver.
Soul Reaver was released in 1999 to both critical and commercial acclaim. This new entry in the series was a departure from the established mechanics of the original. The world of Nosgoth was converted to three dimensions and gameplay focused much more on action and puzzle solving. The only thing that remained coherent from the original to the sequel was the overarching story that, while certainly convoluted, is often praised by critics and gamers as one of the better epics in gaming history.
Taking place nearly 1,500 years after the events of the original, Soul Reaver places the gamer in the role of Raziel, a vampire lieutenant of Kain’s. In the beginning cinematic, Kain betrays Raziel and sends him spiraling into a deadly vortex to his apparent doom. Raziel’s body is completely destroyed, but he is given new life as vampire wraith who would wield the Soul Reaver, a powerful weapon introduced in the original game, to exact his revenge on Kain and restore balance to Nosgoth.
The parallels between the central plot of Blood Omen and Soul Reaver are obvious and deliberate, as are the character traits between the two protagonists. This is only fitting since the two vampires’ fates are deeply entwined.
While the characters shared many similar qualities and fates, the play mechanics between the two were far from similar. Kain occupied a purely physical realm, whereas Raziel had the ability to phase between the physical realm and the spectral realm. This brand new mechanic was a relatively new concept to games of the time and opened up an amazing amount of gaming possibilities.
As was the case with Blood Omen, the commercial success of Soul Reaver ensured that a sequel would be produced. What wasn’t expected is that Crystal Dynamics would elect to develop not one, but two sequels simultaneously: the Soul Reaver development team was divided in half with one team working on Soul Reaver 2 and another working on the more surprising direct sequel to Blood Omen, logically titled Blood Omen 2.
This watering down of the development teams, coupled with an accelerated production cycle resulted in two games released within six months of each other that lacked the polish and depth of their predecessors. The critical reception was more mixed than it had been previously, but both games sold well and lead to the final game in the series, Legacy of Kain: Defiance.
Defiance was originally concocted to be a game that not only brought balance to the land of Nosgoth, but to the franchise itself. The Soul Reaver games had woven a particular convoluted story full of time travel and plot holes that needed to be brought to a logical conclusion – a task that may have proven too difficult to overcome.
Since Raziel and Kain had both starred in two games in the franchise it only made sense that they would share the spotlight for the presumed final act of their epic tale. This sounds great in theory, but this made for an unbalanced experience that felt more like two entirely different games sewn together to make some sort of Frankenstein monster of a title. The game was by no means bad, and fans of the series still loved it, but it’s a shame that Kain’s legacy had to end this way. The game garnered some of the lowest review scores in the series (with exception to Blood Omen 2) and wasn’t the commercial success that Crystal Dynamics was hoping for. Thus ended Kain and Raziel’s story – it started with a bang and ended with a whimper.
Since Defiance’s release in 2003 there have been numerous rumblings about the series being resurrected, but all signs from the offices of Crystal Dynamics have indicated that nothing has been seriously considered at this time. That doesn’t mean that the series will remain dormant forever though, since the studio has recently brought Tomb Raider back from the dead and its parent company, Eidos, made a big splash by releasing a new Deus: Ex game to critical acclaim just last month.
So what would a new Legacy of Kain game focus on? The world of Nosgoth is filled with interesting possibilities so it is my hope that the developers don’t elect to reboot the series. A particular character in the Legacy of Kain family would certainly be well serviced by a game or two of their own. I am speaking of the one and only Vorador.
Vorador is a perennial character in the Legacy of Kain franchise. He is the oldest known vampire and was responsible for the creation of the Soul Reaver blade that played such a pivotal role in the series. With such a wealth of story possibilities that could tie right into existing games, it seems only logical that this would be the direction to go. But then again I’m not a game developer.
What do you think should be done with the Legacy of Kain series? Who was the better vampire: Kain or Raziel? Have any memories of the series that you would like to share? Make your thoughts known by sounding off in the comments section below!