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Review by: David Laprad
Published: September 21, 1997
Vampires are night creatures, clothed in darkness and legend, who drink the life substance of their victims in order to replenish their own. They are spirits of great strength who rage against mankind without mercy, ceaselessly devouring human flesh and spilling blood. Their many powers are inconceivable; they can cast spells, transform themselves into animals and objects, render themselves invisible, and perform acts of incredible cruelty. They are also figures of searing solitude — cold, lonely souls who have chosen to exist among the fringes of the living.
Such is the life of Kain, a reluctant vampire seeking release from the repulsive curse that guides him in Crystal Dynamics’ Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain. The game is an ambitious hybrid of action, adventure, and role-playing games that draws its strength from a surprisingly well-developed story and strong characters. Players view the action from an overhead perspective, exploring a vast, sprawling world, vanquishing foes, solving simple puzzles, collecting objects, and increasing Kain’s vampiric abilities.
Kain begins the game as a young aristocrat seeking fame and fortune in the land of Nosgoth. After being ambushed and slaughtered by bandits, he awakens in the burning depths of Hell; however, the physical pain of damnation is insignificant compared to his blazing desire for revenge. He hastily accepts an offer from the necromancer Martanious to take vengeance on his killers without considering the ultimate cost. Upon returning to the realm of the living, he realizes he has changed — water burns, sunlight weakens him, and villagers flee from his presence. Only after slaughtering the thieves that murdered him and gorging himself on their blood does he realize the full extent of his curse. He vows against spending an eternity feeding on the living, and seeks resolution at the mystical Pillars of Nosgoth. When Kain finds the Pillars, he notices they are crumbling. He also encounters the ghost of Arial, who was the Pillar of Balance until she was viciously murdered. Her death drove Nupuprator, the Pillar of Mind, insane. Convinced that another member of the Circle was responsible for her slaying, he attacked them with his mental powers and infected them with his madness. The Circle collapsed, with each member seeking to dominate Nosgoth. To be released from his curse, Kain must destroy all members of the Circle and restore the Pillars of Nosgoth.
Kain’s plot remains equally engrossing throughout the game. However, it is the title’s thematic depth that ultimately draws players into the quest. Despite Kain’s noble intentions, he is forced to feed on the blood of mortals in order to survive; this often involves taking innocent lives. Yet he is not inherently evil, simply devoid of any moral code. With its focus on the conflicting issues of morality and survival, Kain’s story is a fascinating odyssey into the darkest recesses of the soul.
For most people, death comes quietly. Not so for the victims of Kain, whose Latin battle cry, “vae victus!” means “suffering to the conquered!” Kain begins with a simple, but effective, iron sword. He acquires four additional weapons, including a mace, which can destroy breakable objects, a brutal two-handed ax, and two additional swords. However, the focus of the game is not on powerful weapons but Kain’s maturing abilities. To that end, he can learn 13 offensive and defensive spells, and gains the capacity to morph into a wolf, a bat, and a vaporous mist. As a bat, Kain can travel great distances, and transforming into a mist allows him to slip through otherwise impassable areas, such as doors and walls. He can also disguise himself as a nobleman in order to travel undisturbed among the living. Each item and spell is nicely integrated into the puzzles and overall structure of the game; there are no arbitrary elements that alter the finely-tuned equilibrium in favor of Kain or his enemies.
This impressive symmetry pervades the game, and is most apparent in the balance of the title character’s strengths and weaknesses. For example, he is strongest at night and can tear through many areas with incredible speed and stamina. During the day, however, he is weaker and unable to face certain enemies. In addition, his health decreases over time as well as when he is attacked. It is interesting to have Kain’s survival dependent on the death of his victims; I often found it challenging to kill difficult adversaries and feed on their blood before his life substance was depleted. (The instructions warn players not to over-indulge Kain’s appetite for blood. If he feeds when the health vial in the status bar is full, the accompanying graphics give new meaning to the term, “My cup runneth over.”) Kain’s magic abilities are increased by gathering power-ups. While some players would have preferred this be accomplished through a traditional character points system, this method imparts a constant edge to the combat that rarely favors Kain. His magic always seems on the verge of running out, and must be used with discretion.
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