Some games were so popular back when they were released on PS One that they started a franchise in their own right. Some have even stood the testament of time and are still going strong today, though that sadly hasn’t been the case with all. Today we’ll be exploring a game of that nature that you may remember. Legacy of Kain: Blood Omen.
Initially released for the PS One in 1996 (1997 in European territories), the game was pretty successful by game standards in the 90s. It opened to some great reviews, sold very well and was critically acclaimed for being a darker and more adult addition to the RPG genre. It also won an RPG game of the year award for its overarching themes and use of mood setting.
The game was developed by Silicon Knights and co-published by Crystal Dynamics and Activision. There would later be some legal fallout over the rights of the title, which eventually resulted in Crystal Dynamics being declared owner of the property and going on to create the next iteration in the series, Soul Reaver.
So what was it about?
Legacy of Kain: Blood Omen is set in the fictional land of Nosgoth, populated with human and vampires alike. The wellbeing of the land is governed and symbiotically connected to the Pillars of Nosgoth, a set of 9 pillars each representing a guardian. The guardians themselves are powerful sorcerers who are named the Circle of Nine. The Circle charge a band of vampire hunters called the Sarafan to eradicate the vampires, and set in motion events that forever change the face of Nosgoth.
In the games opening sequence, the vampire Vorador slaughters six guardians and the leader of the Sarafan, named Malek, as recompense for the persecution of the vampire race. The Circle guardians are replaced to maintain balance while the Sarafan are disbanded with the loss of their leader. A number of years later, the guardian of balance Ariel dies at the hands of a mysterious attacker and one of the Circle, Nupraptor turns on his fellow guardians and corrupts the Pillars of Nosgoth.
The game then begins with the protagonist Kain finding himself at a village pub asking for help. The young human nobleman seeks aid but the bartender he is petitioning shoos him away, and he leaves the safety of the pub to be brutally slaughtered in the streets by assassins. Given a second chance by Mortanius, a necromancer of ill repute, Kain is reborn as vampire intent to take his vengeance upon those who ended his human existence. Guided by Ariel and Vorador, Kain is tasked with destroying the corrupt guardians of the Circle to restore the land of Nosgoth.
Legacy of Kain: Blood Omen may have seemed like your typical action RPG, but it was a whole lot more than that. The title had full voice acting (and dare I say, pretty top notch voice acting for its time) whilst also bringing a darker and more sombre adventure perspective which was rarely found in RPGs of that era.
Nosgoth itself was a mixture of dark and gloomy dungeons, forests and other associated areas that were well portrayed. Kain himself narrated the adventure as you played and described elements of the game (almost like a consistent tutorial) as you went about your merry way slaughtering those who had wronged you.
Combat was pretty slick, you would take slashes at enemies with your sword in a way that is reminiscent of a hack n’ slash, and either resort to killing or draining your enemies of their precious lifeblood. Vampires need to eat after all. This in turn restored any health that Kain may have lost while fighting. The HUD played a big part of the screen depicting a portrait of Kain with both the health and magic meter on either side. Kain’s health and magic pool could be increased by picking up specific collectibles while playing.
As a vampire, Kain also had access to particular spells. You could shape shift into werewolf form, utilise magical light in darker dungeons and shield yourself from damage. There were plenty of spells in the game to collect and some situations called for the use of a specific spell so within reason, most spells had to be utilised at least a couple of times throughout the games events. Kain also had access to various forms of equipment on the adventure like different armour and weapons. Some had practical uses, whilst others were just well… fit for crushing skulls or taking off heads.
Dungeons were a mixture of enemies with some fantastic death throes, plenty of switch pushing puzzling and an assortment of traps that you’d have to navigate your way through. The level design for the time was pretty impressive and still holds up well today, despite a large amount of area transition loading times. The game itself was fairly linear but was also a fairly long outing. Completion hours would range from anywhere between 6 – 12 hours, largely dependent on how experienced you were with the game.
What separated the title from many of its competition at the time, was its strength of story. It had depth rarely seen before and couple with the full voice acting, managed to create a both wondrous and haunting tale of betrayal and death. It was a stark story that did away with the typical action RPG tropes of being a hero and settled for revenge in its place.
As for the setting itself, the visuals of Blood Omen still hold up reasonably well and was effective in that it created a foreboding ambience. Couple that with the clever level design and it made for something really enjoyable. Despite that, it doesn’t come anywhere close to some of the things we see now in games and the graphics have aged, there’s no getting around that.
The soundtrack was equally impressive, setting a sombre and almost tense tone the game. It paired really well with the overall vibe and theme of the story, so no complaints there. Perhaps it wasn’t as prolific as Soul Reavers (which I can still remember with clarity even 20 odd years on) but all the same it was a nice touch.
So is it worth a remake? Or should it be consigned to its coffin, only to see the light of day when someone gets the nostalgic itch?
Legacy of Kain was a great series of games. Or at least it initially was, I remember fondly Blood Omen 1 & 2, and had a lot of love for Soul Reaver. The last entry into the series came back in 2003 with the release of Defiance and honestly, it didn’t do as well as its predecessors. The unfortunate thing with the series is that it became a little protracted over time and lost its edge. The story element waned a little and some poor development choices hammered the metaphorical last nail into the coffin. The game had some rumoured and even confirmed further titles planned but they never saw the light of day.
But you know what, Blood Omen was great. And the series still garners a lot of love and nostalgic memory among fans. And there’s definitely potential there for the once great franchise to be made profitable again. With the backbone of an already established story and the ability build on the original gameplay concepts, this classic could be transformed into something worthy of todays standards. Hell, you could even put fishing in there. Yeah, maybe not.
Overall Blood Omen is one of the stronger contenders we’ve discussed as a potential remake option so with that in mind, it gets our seal of approval for Remake!
Title: Legacy of Kain: Blood Omen
Platform: PS One
Release: 1996 [NA], 1997 [EU]
Developer: Silicon Knights
Publisher: Crystal Dynamics, Activision