I don’t know whether or not I should be proud that I’ve reached 200 reviews, or ashamed that I’ve made not a single dollar for it. Someone offered me free PC strategy games based on Napolean or something one time for reviewing purposes, but that would’ve been a very quick means to aggravate that site’s sponsors. So review number 200, it’s going to be a game near and dear to my heart. One that swooned me long enough to make me forget that I had rented that new Halo game and only played it twice. No regrets…okay maybe some regrets.
Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain is a top-down action-adventure-kind of game-thing. It came out in 1996, that weird period where everyone was dabbling in CG because it was the hip thing to do, not having any regard for how future generations will mock thee. It does feel weird, how we can look back at old NES games like Super Mario Bros and wear shirts and hats with their pixilated sprites. But more recent efforts like the aforementioned Blood Omen with this gem of a cutscene and…well, I imagine some of today’s 3D programmers claiming they can recreate that in a day.
In fact, that may as well be your biggest obstacle in trying to delve into the world of Nosgoth. This game has aged as gracefully as a homeless person’s corpse under the highway. Accessing any menu requires a segment of loading time, accentuated with a “LOADING” pop-up window. Characters don’t so much speak dialogue as they do walk around while an audio clip of a talented voice actor speaking is triggered. Sit in a single area long enough and you can hear the music track fade out and then loop from the beginning. You have to go to the Options screen to access the option of loading a saved game. The HUD takes up a fifth of the right side of the screen. And lest we forget the clumsiness of using Playstation 1 memory cards. Us console gamers take things like “hard drives with 80 gigs on them” for granted.
And you’ll have to be sure to pay close attention to that audio. The game has no subtitles, and a plot more dense than a shelf of Halo novels. The titular Kain has been slain, revived as a vampire, and sets out on a blind revenge quest against his adversaries. What follows is the unveiling of a massive conspiracy across the land of Nosgoth, involving magic, destinies, spirits, demons, time travel and other crazy stuff. It can feel a tad convoluted near the end, and the game has no primers or “Previously on Alan Wake”-like videos to remind you of past events. (And the subsequent Legacy of Kain games go well off the deep end when it comes to being convoluted as all hell.)
At the same time, I always find myself enraptured by the plot, if just because of the incredible voice acting. Simon Templeman (who would go on to not-as-great fame in Dragon Age: Origins as the voice of a guy that looks like Kain,) does a phenomenal job in making life sound awesome. Kain is constantly narrating the events of his journey, whether it’s plot events or his new power-up or even the weather. The most mundane of events become interesting when discussed by the aristocratic vampire Kain. Just imagine his every day living.
“Upon entering the laboratory, I left some vile excrement within the bowl but refused to flush the contents. The petty human whom enters this cesspool will be cursed with the odor of my vampiric digestive decay.”
The positive part of Blood Omen is that it is constantly giving Kain something to yammer on about. The game is great at consistently throwing new upgrades and weapons at your direction. Almost all of them involve some new means of gruesome murder. If you elect to venture off the beaten path and examine some odd caves, you’ll probably be rewarded with a new contraption of death. Blades that flay the flesh off bones. Orbs that shrink the flesh into exploding. Armour that sucks human blood for you. For the people that wondered why I never bothered with Darksiders, it’s because I didn’t need to. I already had my “dark Zelda” many years ago, and this was it.
The game very much plays like The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, laced with several Anne Rice novels. You progress from town to town, dungeon to dungeon, cave to cave, clunky swordfight to clunky swordfight. Getting new items and abilities opens up more of the overworld. It’s just that “hook shot” and “piece of heart” are replaced by “transform into a fucking wolf” and “I am stronger because I drank mystical blood from a talking fountain.”
You do have to obey the laws of vampirism. The real laws, not the glittering-skin sissy laws. Sunlight makes you weaker, water stings, and you have to drink the blood of your adversaries to sustain your health meter. However, Kain isn’t the kind to bite someone’s neck so much as he is the kind to vacuum-suck the blood out of a stunned enemy from several feet away. Or perhaps stun multiple enemies and have two-three bloodstreams in a crimson version of getting Iced. Even more gratifying is how the game treats a sleeping person or someone bound in chains as a free meal. There are few sounds more appetizing than hearing someone cry “oh please, help me kind sir!”
Each gameplay element, taken by itself, is average at best. Dungeons usually consist of evading a series of death traps, finding the hidden switch and then suffering through a load time. Combat is usually some variant of “find the angle in which his sword attacks can’t hit you but mine do” followed by a quick red slurpee. But the game wraps all of that around a very atmospheric and interesting universe. The land of Nosgoth is dark, brooding and filled with all kinds of creepy crawlies to jab at you. Like the politicians of the opposing party, Kain is constantly quick to point out how his homeland is in a state of decay and destitution. That music, fade-out and everything, is ideally creepy enough to be played on a stereo as little children go trick-or-treating outside your house. Even with the game’s “Amateur hour Reboot-style” cutscenes, it’s hard not to be drawn into the world of Nosgoth.
It does kind of make me sad to see how the series has gradually strayed from its roots. Subsequent sequels moved away from Blood Omen’s large scope and into the realm of strictly-linear Devil May Cry knockoffs. So if you like your vampires to be badass, arrogant and vicious rather than soft, modest and abstinent, then you should give this a look. Soul Reaver 1 is pretty darn good too.