Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain

Developer: Silicon Knights
Publisher: Crystal Dynamics

Generally speaking, gaming consisted of fast, arcade-like experiences with little care taken into crafting a well developed story or cinematic experiences. Of course there were exceptions to this rule, the Super Nintendo featured a strong library of RPGs while PC gaming offered a vast bouquet of adventure games and its own take on role-playing. 

These however were not the most popular genres, western sales of well established franchises like King’s Quest or Final Fantasy could not hold a candle to the popularity of Super Mario, Sonic The Hedgehog, Street Fighter 2 and other faster paced classics.
This trend began to change with the advent of 32-bit consoles, 3D gaming and optical media. Suddenly, developers were more willing to invest in intangible assets like story, lore, characters and dialog. One could claim titles like Final Fantasy VII and Metal Gear Solid laid the foundation of what gamers expected from a plot driven experience for years to come. However, there were other games who attempted to claim this crown before it was eventually jointly-shared by Squaresoft and Konami.

Blood Omen: The Legacy of Kain was perhaps one of the most serious contenders during the Playstation’s early years. Developed by the then relatively unknown Silicon Knights with support from Crystal Dynamics, Blood Omen created quite a splash with the media when it was first unveiled at E3 in 1995.

Billing itself as a mature story-driven game, players were invited to play the role of a blood-thirsty vampire whose moral compass swinged from villain to anti-hero. Blood Omen’s sales reports are conflicting at best, ranging anywhere from 300,000 to 2 million units. Regardless, it went on to spawn a successful series consisting of 5 games and a recent online spin-off.

Players take control of Kain, a nobleman murdered in cold blood who later resurrected as a fledgling vampire. Our anti-hero’s motivations are initially simple; to enact revenge on those who assassinated him and discover a cure for his newfound vampire status. The plot, lore and dialog take front and center in Blood Omen, often being a prime reason as to why both this game and series are so fondly remembered. 

Unfortunately, the narrative flow in Blood Omen often seems confused and direction-less. Kain’s motivations and persona keep shifting from repulsion of his newfound condition to adulation with no explanation as to why. Often, his stance varied so wildly and abruptly I was almost let to believe our main character suffered from bi-polar disorder. To make matters worse, the story is extremely disjointed, hastily introducing new plot elements with no warning or foreshadowing only to then quickly resolve and permanently dispose of them. In fact, most of the narrative elements provided in Blood Omen tend to function as self-contained set-pieces with a barely coherent, overarching series of events tying them together.

In the game’s defense, these serve a brilliant purpose of lore-building, I often found myself interested in learning more about its characters and locations. Places like Nuprator’s keep and Vorador’s Mansion provided a decidedly dark and gruesome experience that had me eagerly clinging for every piece of information, effectively crafting a compelling narrative while leaving enough room to let players fill the gaps themselves. 

Sadly, we are eventually called back into the main plotline, which is awkwardly presented and at times seem to have had elements removed at the last minute with little concern as to how it would affect overall flow. At one point, Kain is asked to fight a war to which he accepts, despite there being no logical motivation for him to so. In the end, our villainous anti-hero fought a war simply because he was asked to. Perhaps even more egregious is the endgame battle where a new plotpoint appears out of nowhere for the sole purpose of adding in a boss fight.

Despite all the flaws plaguing Blood Omen’s story the writing style is downright Shakespearean and surprisingly solid. This is further strengthened by Simon Templeman’s stellar delivery as the titular Kain. If our main character were played by anyone else the series would have lost one of the pillars which made it so memorable. The voice cast is generally well-rounded by veteran professionals including Richard Doyle and Tony Jay, most of which would return in future installments. Sadly, I feel these were not their best performances, most likely they were given little voice direction and as a result, characters weren’t as fleshed out as they could have been.

Blood Omen’s gameplay is reminiscent of Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda, featuring an overhead view and a focus on light puzzle solving. As our character progresses, new abilities are earned in the form of magic spells, vampiric powers and weaponry. In this regard, Blood Omen is extremely ambitious as I have yet to play a game that so accurately managed to capture the feeling of being a vampire. Kain can transform into a total of 4 forms; mist, human, wolf and bat. These carry different purposes ranging from increased speed and fast travel to avoiding enemy detection and more.

New abilities are often found in dungeons or other similar locations. The main campaign is linear in its execution and must be completed in the same exact order with each playthrough. Luckily, players who wish to venture beyond the beaten path will find an assortment of secrets to explore ranging from new magical abilities to additional items and ammo. 

As a vampire, Kain’s health is constantly draining, so regular feedings from human foes are a necessity. When an enemy is stunned or near death, our anti-hero can feed on his prey, delivering a killing blow. Civilians and chained humans can also be fed upon and unlike other NPCs, these offer no resistance. Should Kain to return to an indoor location that was previously relieved of all its occupants, they will return as specters and, if fed upon once more, these ghosts replenish mana instead of health.

Sadly, other than sating your hunger, there’s little to do in towns or villages. There are no shops or even any monetary system to speak of. Players can break into weapon smiths to steal ammo, but these never respawn, so once fully visited, there’s little point in returning to past towns. Even the villagers share very little useful information. Most times I simply ignored them.

When travelling on foot through Nosgoth, players are advised to take into consideration the time of day and weather. Unless specific upgrades are found, rain and snow actively hurt Kain while the sun weakens his attacks. 

Despite the wide range of tools available to Kain throughout his quest I rarely found myself using them. Early on, players come across the barrier spell which is essentially overpowered, protecting its caster from almost every form of harm.  Eventually, I found myself spamming this protection and killing every foe including the final boss with little regard as to tactics or strategy. This issue is further compounded when considering how easy it is to find the “heart of darkness” healing card. Needless to say, I never died in Blood Omen despite me playing fast and loose with the dangers it posed. Worst still, it wasn’t long until repetition set in; one can only murder and feed on so many villagers and monsters before the act becomes boring.

Blood Omen does not shy away from blood and gore, rather, it celebrates it. Often, spells and items dispatch foes in the most spectacularly gruesome ways, displaying their blood and innards for all to see. Even more impressive are the lighting and particle effects these create, despite the visuals being somewhat unappealing, Blood Omen occasionally delivers in eye candy. Towns and wilderness are generally plain-looking as well, though certain locations like Vorador’s mansion offer a mix of blood, gore and luxury that is a joy to behold.

Oddly enough, the game is plagued by constant load times. Entering and exiting a menu, location or are prompts a 3-5 second loading screen. This may not seem like much, but they add up after a few gameplay hours. In some cases I intentionally changed my gameplay methods so as to open the inventory as little as possible so as to avoid the ever irritating loading message. 

It’s easy to see why Blood Omen garnered a cult following, its strong lore, dark themes and quality voice acting places its production values well above the 16-bit generation. Sadly, despite the captivating lore, Blood Omen’s story is incoherent at best. Its gameplay draws cues from Legend of Zelda, but is nowhere near as polished, being plagued by repetition, long loading times and a laughably low difficulty setting. Blood Omen was once a sign of what the 32-bit generation had in store for us, but it has since been surpassed by its peers and feel into relative obscurity for a reason; it didn’t age well.

Trivia: Shortly after the release of Blood Omen, developer Silicon Knights and publisher Crystal Dynamics were involved in a legal battle over who owned the rights to the game. Crystal Dynamics won and developed the sequels without Silicon Knights' input.

- The world of Nosgoth features a rich, enticing lore
- One of the most complete experiences on what it feels like to play as a vampire
- Stellar voice acting

- Main storyline is disjointed and incoherent
- Gameplay suffers from repetition
- Lenghty, excessive loading times

Final Grade: C+

Blood Omen’s cover baffles me. The artwork itself is excellent, it’s fitting and appropriately dark for its theme. Unfortunately, it’s neighbor to a black border which takes up roughly a quarter of the cover. That is the sort of visual aesthetic associated to a low budget re-release, but that isn’t the case here. This is a first print PAL copy so why Crystal Dynamics went with this decision is beyond me. 

Speaking of the publisher, the Gex logo in the front clashes with the dark motif of Blood Omen. I understand that Gex was Crystal Dynamics’ mascot during the 90s, but these two franchises appeal to different audiences and shouldn't be together.

Inside we find the manual, disc and registration card. The manual’s cover suffers from the same flaws as that of the game’s case. Peering inside, I was disappointed it provided no additional background information, lore or concept art. Instead it explains how to play Blood Omen in fairly long detail. 

My final complaint with the game’s packaging lies with the disc’s yellow color scheme. It doesn’t seem to fit the mood created by its manual, cover or Blood Omen’s plot itself. Overall I found Blood Omen’s packaging to be a bit of an underachiever, had the cover art not been cut to fit a black border it would have stood from the crowd. Alas, this was not the case.

Packaging Grade: B-

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