Creating a long running gaming franchise is no easy task, for every Zelda, Final Fantasy and Metroid there are franchises that faded into obscurity or never really got off the ground, sometimes it’s just a case of really bad luck, as we’ve seen recently with Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning even crafting a well-rounded story in a gorgeous world doesn’t necessarily equal success.
With this in mind, here at Zero1Gaming we started talking about franchises from our past that we loved, enjoyed, missed and hope we get to see again.
Legacy of Kain:
“Given the choice, whether to rule a corrupt and failing empire; or to challenge the fates for another throw – a better throw – against one’s destiny… what was a king to do? But does one even truly have a choice? One can only match, move by move, the machinations of fate… and thus defy the tyrannous stars.”
The Legacy of Kain franchise first appeared in 1996 and ran for seven years up till 2003. There are five games in the series, Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain, Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver, Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver 2, Blood Omen 2: Legacy of Kain and Legacy of Kain: Defiance.
The series centres on two main characters, the vampire Kain and the soul devouring wraith Raziel.with the games essentially split into two, the Blood Omen games focussing primarily on Kain and the Soul Reaver games on Raziel, in Legacy of Kain: Defiance the two characters and stories converge.
I first came across the series when I got a copy of Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver and within a few hours I was hooked. The best way to describe the game is like a gothic soap opera. This is a game made by adults to be played and enjoyed by adults. There is no dumbing down, there is no hand holding, there is only action, intrigue, duplicity, betrayal, and deceit.
The series was first imagined by Denis Dyack at Silicon Knights who wanted a game with a strong story, something that demanded your focus and concentration. Denis agreed a deal with Crystal Dynamics to publish Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain. The first chapter in the series tells the story of Kain, a noble in the fictional land of Nosgoth who is attacked and killed after a brawl in a bar. Mortanius the Necromancer appears to Kain and offers to resurrect him so he can exact his vengance on those that murdered him. Kain, in his lust for revenge, agrees and is brought back as a vampire. What follows is a near 50+ hour adventure into Nosgoth and its inhabitants, its mythology and its history.
Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain was a success for both Crystal Dynamics and Silicon Knights, however the relationship between the companies deteriorated over the future of the series, the disputes ended when Silicon Knights passed the IP for the franchise over to Crystal Dynamics and stepped back.
Crystal Dynamics were now free to continue with their vision for the series and with the help of Eidos Interactive, Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver was born.
Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver takes place 1500 years after Blood Omen and the opening cinematic tells of a world that is decaying. Kain resides over this doomed land and vampires have now risen to become the dominant species. Players take control of Raziel, one of Kain’s lieutenants who after evolving before Kain is cast down into the eternal abyss. As in the previous game Raziel is rescued and saved from death by the Elder God, a being who lives under the land and controls the Wheel of Fate. The Wheel is spun by the movement of souls through it but as Vampires are immortal their souls do not spin the wheel. Raziel makes a pact with the Elder God to exact his revenge on Kain, clear the Vampire disease from Nosgoth and restore order. Raziel is returned as a wraith and becomes the Elder God’s “soul reaver”
Due to the issues between Crystal Dynamics and Silicon Knights the game was delayed and inevitably cuts had to be made. Amy Henning, the series director, said the team realised they had ‘over designed’ the game and that things that were meant to be included had to be dropped. Luckily, Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver was yet another triumph which allowed the team to move ahead with Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver 2.
Soul Reaver 2 is an immediate continuation of the events in the first game. The game was allowed the additional time to be refined and contains the elements from Soul Reaver that had to be cut due to time constraints. You continue to play as Raziel as you delve further into the world of Nosgoth, this time you met Moebius the Timestreamer. Moebius’ arrival allows time travel to become part of the gameplay so now the story becomes even more complicated when paradoxes and time travel start appearing.
Soul Reaver 2 was a hit with many critics stating that it was the game that the first Soul Reaver should have been, the fact that the game was released onto the PlayStation 2 instead of the PlayStation 1 was probably also an aesthetically pleasing factor in the positive reviews. Soul Reaver 2, as with all the other games, ends with a cliff hanger, fans would have to wait another two years before they would find out what happened next. Yet another adventure to Nosgoth would appear much sooner than expected.
The events at the end of Soul Reaver 2 created an alternate timeline; this version of events was explored in Blood Omen 2: Legacy of Kain. Following defeat at the hands of the Sarafan Lord, Kain falls into a sleep and wakes up 400 years later. During his time asleep the Sarafan have nearly wiped the vampires out of existence. They have invented Glyph magic and some vampires have even defected to ensure their survival. Kain’s mission is to defeat the Sarafan and continue his rise to power. Although the game had gone into development around the same time as the original Soul Reaver it wasn’t the success Crystal Dynamics had hoped for.
Every long running franchise has a ‘black sheep’, the game that sits outside the usual perception of the series. Blood Omen 2 is Legacy of Kain’s. It’s not a bad game per se but it is a noticeable departure from the rest of the series. The gameplay is more action focussed and the game’s place in the chronology of the series is never really fully explained.
The final game in the series is Legacy of Kain: Defiance. Continuing on from the events of Soul Reaver 2, Defiance allows players to play as Raziel and Kain. The story takes place in different times with both Raziel & Kain beginning to understand the game they have been involved in.. Playing from Kain’s point of view allows you to see that despite the fact he has been shown to be knowledgeable in the previous games, he is in fact as much a pawn as Raziel at the hands of Moebius and the Elder God.
While I don’t believe the game was intended to be the end to the series, the lack of sales mixed with departures from within the team (Amy Henning may be familiar to fans of the Uncharted series) as well as the sad death of Tony Jay who voiced the Elder God, meant that the game does stand as the finale even if it’s not perfect.
Over the past few years games have tended to pander to the crowd. They have become simpler, stories have been watered down, game play has reduced to point and shoot, and even the latest iterations of franchises that once stood for puzzle solving and exploration have been changed to make them more accessible for wider audiences. I have no problem with more people getting involved in gaming but not at the detriment to games I have invested heavily in. The Legacy of Kain series never pandered. If anything it got more complicated as the games went on, from a simple top down adventure to a full on literary epic in five moves is pretty impressive.
Towards the end, the series may have become bogged down in its own mythology and the amount of paradoxes it started creating was baffling but at the centre were two fantastically written characters. Kain & Raziel are the ‘heart’ of the series, but they are not your typical heroes, both have done terrible things and will do whatever it takes to accomplish their goals. This only helps make them more realistic than a selfless carbon copy hero, the good guys might be the ones we have to root for but the bad guys are more interesting.
The series has been praised heavily for the in-depth story, the art direction and the voice acting. Michael Bell is perfect as Raziel and is able to portray the continued frustration and bewilderment as the story evolves yet the true star is Simon Templeman’s Kain. His pitch, tone and pacing are all perfect, his soliloquies are highlights and now anytime time I hear Templeman’s dulcet tones in any other game (and he is in quite a few!!) I am reminded of Kain.
The series ended in 2003 but lately there have been signs that it’s not been forgotten. In 2010’s Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, also created by Crystal Dynamics, Kain & Raziel are available as DLC with their own story to tell, Eidos US CEO Bill Gardner has also expressed an interest in reviving the franchise and in March 2012 a source told VG247 that a full on reboot of Soul Reaver was in the works yet Crystal Dynamics and Eidos have remained tight lipped. I would love to see a reboot, a remake or even a HD upgrade collection of the Soul Reaver games, but for now the franchise is dead and until anyone official says otherwise all I have are my memories of one of the most interesting, complicated, exciting, series I’ve ever played!
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Tim Bowers is the ex-Editor of Zero1Gaming, he also occasionally writes when he's able to string sentences together. He can usually be found waiting for Nintendo to remember about Samus Aran.