Blood Omen Review
I recently took a look back on video games and realized there was a franchise that I hardly ever played. Kept for the few times that I played Soul Reaver at my friend’s house I never played the games before. I always thought that Raziel was a great looking character and that the game had a great style. I picked up Defiance a few years ago and was over whelmed with characters and fiction I was un-familiar with. So I decided to start from the very beginning and write a full review for each game.
I started from the beginning with Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain. A PlayStation 1 game released in 1996, originally designed for the PC. The first thing I noticed sadly was in the opening cinematic. The pre-rendered graphics looked horrible and didn’t age well. This could easily be over looked. My thumbs had to get used to playing a game without analog sticks and only a D-pad because the original PlayStation controller didn’t have the nifty thumb sticks we are used to. But none the less I was ready to start a classic game like this. Well aware the game was most likely going to be very long.
The game does a poor job at teaching you how to play it. Being a game originally designed for the PC it assumes that you like to read manuals and doesn’t have much of a tutorial to teach you to play. It was odd, being so used to having the game hold my hand and telling me how to play it. Like modern games love to do. You are forced to reference the manual for the item, spells and equipment you pick up throughout the game. Kain (the main character) does a good job at narrating the jist of every item you get but his dark and sinister way of describing everything can make things confusing at times and its best to just look the item up in the manual. The Inventory in the game has no font or words describing anything. It doesn’t even go as far to title the items. Just pictures of everything, and if you press the circle button you can hear Kain’s morbid description of it.
At the start Blood Omen reminded me of the first Diablo. But I soon realized it was extremely similar to the original Legend of Zelda games. It’s like a very dark and twisted Zelda. Kinda like what those guys at Vigil Games tried to do. Over the years though from playing overly violent and morose games I was un-effect from the game’s horrific antics. Blood Omen is so much like Zelda that I felt like when I competed a puzzle I should hear some form of jingle to congratulate me for a job well done.
Blood Omen is visually dark and not just in the narrative. It’s difficult to tell where you’re going when most of the rooms are in engulfed in shadows. The pixel’s all become a dark grey color making it very difficult to navigate the many tombs and catacombs you must explore. Luckily the game quickly gives you a light spell that seems to just turn off all of the lighting effects. This helps greatly when you’re struggling to see but starting the game off not being able to see makes it very difficult to learn how to play. The UI very cleverly makes your health bar a vial of blood. Kain is a vampire and must feed to stay alive. When you feed and your health bar is full it flows over the top and falls out creating a very nice visual effect. Your magic is a series of rune like characters that glow blue showing how much magic you currently have. The art and design of the game is great with very well drawn weapons and icons for spells. The entire game has a very good style that stays consistent. The artist really loves to put skulls on all the menus like a teenager thinking it’s tough. Because the game is a top down view it sometimes came be extremely difficult to find doorways that could easily be mistaken for two torches on a wall. Buttons and levers are also hidden in the walls which are used for many puzzles. However it’s very hard to tell them apart from simple framed paintings on the wall. Which could be by design, but none the less can be very confusing when you still don’t know how to play. Environments are very detailed. Houses have tables with food on the table and weapons line the walls of the smith. So much so I often found myself trying to pick up things. But everything you pick up in the game is cleverly represented as a spinning card. however I still found myself pushing the action button trying to pick up shields mounted to walls. On occasion the games frame rate would slow to a crawl when to many characters and traps where on screen. But I only noticed it drop 3 or 4 times.
The amount of voice acting was surprising. Final fantasy 7 came out a year after this game and there was not a single bit of voice over done for that game. Blood Omen is completely voiced. You will never find yourself talking to a citizen just to get a box of dialog to pop up, and then make you to press X to move onto the next bit of what he wants to tell you. There is a down side to this however. A lot of the dialog beyond story is repeated. Kain will make the same shouts and evil laughter he makes from the first fight in the game. And people chained to walls will make the same moaning noises they do sense the first dungeon. Saying “Please help me kind Sir” only for you cut them in half just to force them to stop making the same repetitive noises. The sound effects often can sound very off. The magic bolt sound that comes out of the mage’s spell is the same sound as the thugs throwing knifes. But this is an old game so you should go into it being aware of these things already.
It’s nice playing a game where the main character is a believable evil. He is very twisted and not just evil because being evil is different from all those games where you play a good guy. It feels much more like the story is what’s driving him to do these things. Instead of trying to be edgy because the kids like to play the bad guy. The story however doesn’t do that much to tell you who Kain is before you begin playing the game. Not much is mentioned besides that he is of royal blood and lived in a town destroyed by the plague. When I first saw the seven Pillars of Nosgoth I assumed they would all represent dungeons where I would have to beat each of them and gain a magical key item. But the story progresses you through all of them when it sees you should. Not just beat one and then make your way to the next one and at the end you fight the last boss. Instead the game has great fiction and narrative that I feel modern games could really learn from.
In the game you gain a lot of different equipment and spells that help you progress further in the game. Most of which you have to first go through a “shrine”. They all have similar patterns where you walk into the shrine and in the middle of the room on the floor is a big picture of what you will find in the shrine. As you venture deeper into the shrine you will often get an example of how things are now without the Item. But very quickly you find the item only in the next room. You then have to use it to progress further in the shrine. In the end though you end up at a door that leads you back to the entrance. And often the shrines don’t lock you in so you can just turn around and leave after you get the item. Which seems strange as if the entire shrine is just there to teach you how to use the item you gain inside it. When I did compete the shrines properly the first couple of times I was left confused if I missed something. With no climatic ending to the level I walked through the shrine again to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. The spells and equipment you get in the game is very interesting and morbid. A good example is the Font of Putrescence. An item you throw that turns enemies to acid. Then if another foe walks over his acidy pool he melts as well. Near the end of the game you gain the Soul Reaver. It’s so strong that you can kill any enemy (kept some bosses) with one swipe. It drains your magic and never feels like your cheating. Even when you kill a boss with a single swipe you still feel like you earned this over powered weapon.
I often found myself not sure where to go. The game is open world and you sometimes have to go and look around for a new item to progress in the story. Things like a mace so you can break the stones outside of the fortress. But to get the mace you first have to get the spell that lets you control minds. I was proud that I didn’t use a walkthrough for the beginning of the game but I got stuck so many times that I came to rely on it. It got to the point where I would check the walkthrough to see if I was right before I started looking all around Nosgoth for something new. Often times I would find out I already had it so it saved a lot of time.
It’s a very challenging game. The type of game you will end up cursing at when you die and say you are never going to play it again. A couple hours later you already have a new plan in your head and want to play it again. It’s very important to save smartly and not save over one save. If you feel like you might have lost a bit too much health in that last fight it might be best to make another save just in case you have to fight a hard boss in the next room. Save points are also often spaced out between hours of gameplay. This game is not for anyone that plays a video game for 30 minutes and stops to do something else. You often won’t be fighting any humans. So that means there is no blood to suck. So you are left with trying to survive on extra health items you brought along. The game is nice enough to sometimes give you freebie people chained to wall. But more and more often near the end of the game you have to really ration your health items and avoid taking damage. Like most classic games you have to play it very cautiously. Planning out an attack for each enemy and making sure you don’t lose more health then you’re willing to expense. Bosses aren’t too difficult to beat. Most of them I beat on my first attempt. This feels great. Especially when this genre of gaming is normally based around finding a boss’s weakness and exploiting it. As the game progressed in difficulty near the end of the game I found the best plan was to transform into mist and run by my enemies. All because I felt like if I lost any more health items I was going to have no hope for the later bosses.
The Melee combat in the game can often be very glitch. More than a few times I found enemies walking inside of Kain. When I took a step away from them they would make the exact same movements and would be stuck under me where I can’t hit them. It’s very hard to judge the range of some of the attacks. Some attacks line up from the right angles but then often don’t on the next enemy. The hit box also is very confusing at times. For example when an arrow shoots across the room and hits Kain even though it should have almost grazed him. To gain health you must suck your enemy’s blood. But to do so you must first get them in a stun state. You have to hit them till they are just about to die and then they go into an animation very similar to the fatality in the mortal kombat series. You end up having to learn how many hits it takes on each enemy before you can get them to this state. But more than often you will find yourself swiping your weapon so much they are killed as soon as they start it. There is a huge variety of enemies you fight so remembering how much health they have becomes difficult. Near the end I felt like I could never do any melee damage without taking a good amount back. So I ended up using a lot more ranged attacks and avoiding fights all together.
The spells in the game look great. All of them are extremely useful. And a lot of them explode your enemies into a bloody mess of body parts giving an extremely satisfying feeling of power. Instead of what we are used to now a days where there is a fire, ice, and lighting spell. All of which only do( x) amount of damage. But instead Blood Omen’s spells all have very unique uses and are very enjoyable to use.
The real down fall of this great game is that the game suffers from long loads. There is a hefty load screen between each area. And every time you open your inventory there is a good 5 seconds of loading. And then to exit it and get back in game there is a full 10 seconds. Which doesn’t seem that bad but when you need to cut down some trees to get to the cave you have to first press pause to get to the menu (5 seconds) and then pick your axes (10 seconds) and lastly walk up to the tree and cut it down. But sense you can’t use magic while having the axe you don’t want to have them equipped. So you pause the game (5 seconds) go to the menu and pick your sword (10 seconds) and then you walk forward only to see there is another batch of trees waiting for you. This can be almost game breaking at times even so much that sometimes you would rather walk over the dangerous trap and take the damage over waiting through 30 seconds of load screens.
In the end even though the load times can greatly break the momentum of the game play, this game is amazing and is still better than a lot of modern games. The story is deep and rich and I’m very excited to see where it goes with my future reviews on this great franchise.