I don’t write a lot about video games on here. It’s not because I dislike them, far from it. I grew up on video games; it’s just that I am somewhat behind the times. I don’t play with the same amazing speed with others seem to, so most of what I have to say is going to be out of date and not informed by a level of knowledge on par with most people talking about said games. Also, I try to talk about subjects on here that are to some degree obscure, and video games are such a big deal that it’s challenging.
That said, there are a few games which are rare gems few know about, and as such I must do my part to unearth them. One of these is the original Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain. Oddly enough, this is a game where most people are familiar with the sequels, but I’ve asked people about the original and generally receive perplexed looks. It’s an early PS1 game from 1996, and as such, has a few flaws, such as polygonal art and horrendous loading times, but if a person can see beyond those, they will find one of the most brutal and gripping revenge sagas ever written.
The story centers on Kain, a young nobleman who is murdered by brigands while traveling across the land of Nosgoth. We don’t know much of Kain before his death, but as he stands chained to a wall in the darkness of the underworld, we know that he seeks vengeance. A necromancer named Mortanius offers him his chance, and he accepts, but soon realizes the price. Kain returns to life as a vampire, a state that he despises even as he harnesses its incredible power. Upon killing the men who took his life, Kain finds himself in search of a cure. He is guided in his search by Ariel, a ghost who was one of the Circle of Nine. The Circle are magicians dedicated to keeping the realm in balance, and Ariel in particular was the guardian of Balance. Upon her death, the others were corrupted, and now use their once noble magics to conquer and destroy the world. Kain is told that by killing corrupted Circle, he may be released from his curse, so he sets out on a bloody road that carries him to every corner of Nosgoth, across time, and even into Hell itself.
It should be pointed out that Kain is no hero. He is a vicious killer who feeds on the blood of the innocent and guilty alike. He enjoys the suffering his new vampiric gifts cause his victims, and his solutions to most problems involve mass murder. In another story, Kain would certainly be the villain, but in his own, where everyone else is so much worse, Kain is quite an intriguing anti-hero. His dark but poetic dialogue is given life by veteran voice actor Simon Templeman. He portrays Kain as noble, but filled with hate and menace. We can sympathize with Kain’s goals, if not his methods. It was also hard not to find myself shouting Kain’s battle cry of “Vae Victus!” or suffering to the conquered, after slaying foes, but maybe I’m just a nerd that way.
In fact, most of the dialogue in the game is really great to listen to. Every major speaking character is given amazingly dark and cool lines. Perhaps my favorite example is the duel between ancient vampire Vorador and undead knight Malek, two men who have despised each other for centuries:
And those are a pair of supporting characters! Kain himself gets the best lines, often in places as simple as describing a new item or weapon he’s just procured.
All of this would be plenty entertaining if all the game’s quality was in its story, but the gameplay itself is also outstanding. Kain has a wide variety of weapons and powers to call upon throughout the course of the game. Because the weapons are not just the same as each other but with higher or lower stats, but in fact all possess unique abilities, Kain can use different combinations for very different tactical styles. He has a wide variety of magic spells, almost all of which are necessary at some point in the game. He has numerous magic items, most of which result in horrifying deaths for his enemies, but some of which also give status boosts or keep him alive. He can shapechange into a werewolf, a cloud of mist, a bat, or an ordinary person for disguise purposes. It could be argued that all these powers are overwhelming, and make the game too easy, but I find that they allow everyone to play Kain a little differently, and have fun by avoiding repetitive combat most games today are afflicted with. Few modern games allow for as much customization or give so many options and strategies for destroying foes. Lastly, well before games with moral choices were commonplace, the ending of Blood Omen offers Kain two paths which affect the ending and alter the course of Nosgoth itself.
The world itself is also put together extremely well. Nosgoth is full of dangers, dungeons, secrets, ancient evils that ally with Kain, towns with unique histories, and fascinating characters. The instruction book tells you that Kain has eternity to take his revenge, so players should take their time and explore. There is also a daylight system. Kain can travel during the day and not be harmed, but he is weaker in combat than he is at night. During full moons, Kain’s werewolf form becomes unstoppable. Also, if Kain returns to an area where he has slaughtered all of his foes (or the innocents), they return as vengeful spirits. Not quite as powerful, but enough to keep any part of Nosgoth from ever being truly safe. Kain has to drink blood to survive, but different foes give different types of blood. Any humans or otherwise living creatures with red blood are safe, but undead give unhealthy black blood, demons provide poisoned green blood, and ghosts give magic-restoring blue blood. The game also provides a ranking system, based on progress in exploring the world, completing the plot, and sheer number of kills. The early ranks are embarrassing, like Whelp, Gimp, and Bride, while the top rank is the devastatingly cool Devourer of Worlds.
While the game was clearly influential enough to spawn a host of sequels, I found that most of the Legacy of Kain games after Blood Omen were only okay. While Raziel (Kain’s progeny) was a decent enough protagonist, he was never quite as cool as Kain. The story eventually became so convoluted it was hard to follow, not to mention the fact that the gameplay was far more typical and boring. The original, while it lacks in terms of technology, stands out as a game put together with a real sense of dedication and care, and a desire to create a unique story and style of play not seen before or since. If you have access to a PS1, or you can find it to play on computer (recommended, since the long and constant load times are absent in that version), I highly recommend it.