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Kerrik52's LoK Retrospective #2 - Kain's Rebirth


In September of 1996, one would be presented with a diverse set of company logos when booting up Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain. Silicon Knights were the developers and Crystal Dynamics were the publisher, but there was a third finger in this pie, which handled distribution and the publishing of the PC port in 1997, developed by Semi Logic Entertainments.

It feels a bit strange to associate Activision with this series, but their involvement is "thematically" appropriate if nothing else. In case you are not aware (or have forcefully ejected the knowledge out of your brain following the reveal of the crimes committed at Activision), the company was born out of discontent experienced by developers at Atari who felt exploited and underappreciated.

Similarly, Silicon Knights was dead set on getting properly credited for their work, which you can read as outlined in their philosophy or parse from this message that follows the company logos:

It is a very noble act to have been at the forefront of the movement in the 90s which tried to get devs their due credit. I am not an expert on the subject, but Dyack's words speak volumes of the frustration he and his friends in other studios must have experienced. Famously, the first Easter Egg in a video game was the name of Warren Robinett, the developer of 1979's Adventure for the Atari 2600, which he snuck in because Atari didn't credit their developers.

Since then, we have come a long way from Konami forcing the dev team of Castlevania to use joke pseudonyms in order to make sure they were not poached by the competition (Last I heard, we still have no idea who developed Castlevania, thanks Konami). But there is still a battle left to be fought, as getting credited for your work in the video game industry still is not standardized.

Just three years ago, Brittany Avery had her name removed from the credits of Trails of Cold Steel after the game got ported to PS4, with the cited reason being that she was not at the company anymore, despite her involvement being crucial to the game's translation.

Then you have the subterfuge undertaken by publishers like Electronic Arts, who are determined to convince their audience that the brain drain over at Bioware has not compromised the company in the slightest, despite evidence to the contrary.

It is an incredibly oppressive power play to postulate that the only thing that matters is the brand recognition of a developer and not the people that make up said developer. Obviously, you cannot make a game without developers (or QA testers, for that matter) and I applaud anyone going to bat for them and their rights, like Silicon Knights did.

The main menu of Blood Omen is nothing special, but it highlights the game's age by not having the "Load Game" option be immediately available in the first layer of menu. It's funny how you can sort of group together games on the Playstation depending on whether they assumed you had a memory card or not.

It is harrowing to think that the ability to save was not assured back in the day. Since Sony cheaped out by not including memory cards with Playstations (probably to undercut the Sega Saturn), I have read tons of stories of people suffering trying to beat games in a single sitting or needing to keep their consoles turned on for days on end. It is such a renowned screw-up that Sony themselves lampooned it in Astro's Playroom. But it lead publishers to include these custom ad pamphlets for memory cards, which I find very charming as a time capsule.

Of course, those pamphlets are nowhere near as charming as a game's back cover and Blood Omen's is no different. While it is not as ludicrous as the one for Shadow Tower, it is proof that marketing departments haven't had a clue about how to sell games to people since forever.

I take issue with point one and two here immediately. Selling the game on how many "screens" of content it has is dumb as hell (though since the game is somewhat open and doesn't have levels, I guess they had to fill that spot on the checklist with something). Dumber still is to outright lie about about playtime.

This game is 6 hours long, 2-3 more depending on how much you die and explore. If you were to scrape every corner of the game to hunt down the 100 secrets, maaaaybe it would go up to 20-30 hours, but that is extremely tedious and not very rewarding for reasons I will get to later.

Similarly, I have no idea how they managed the mental gymnastics necessary to justify listing 170 different enemies. By my estimates, there are like 30 and even that is genereous given how many enemies are effectively identical. If you were to add the bosses, NPCs and every type of moving obstacle, perhaps you'd hit a total of 50.

Now, I know what the cover is for. It's there to give a quick sell to people in stores as a way to increase sales beyond the hardcore audience doing their own research. But lying will only set people up for disappointment and I suppose marketers were fine with that until the internet allowed people to share said disappointments immediately and set things straight with their friends and readers. This is presumably why bullet points at the back of the box are filled with less lies nowadays. Anyways, let us finally, at long last, start a new game.

Fittingly enough, the game begins with the titular Blood Omen epigraph, which is more of a tone setter than it is foreshadowing, though you can map certain elements of the game's plot to it. I was surprised to learn that it is actually a quote from the works of Aleister Crowley, everyone's favourite drugged up counter-culture prophet of Horus. The full quote is:

"One last word on this subject. There is a Magical operation of maximum importance: the Initiation of a New Aeon. When it becomes necessary to utter a Word, the whole Planet must be bathed in blood. Before man is ready to accept the Law of Thelema, the Great War must be fought. This Bloody Sacrifice is the critical point of the World-Ceremony of the Proclamation of Horus, the Crowned and conquering Child, as Lord of the Aeon." - Magick (Book 4)

Suffice to say, there is a lot of blood sacrifice ahead, so using the quote is quite apt.

After that, we get an FMV that also serves to introduce the game's tone as we see an impaled vampire getting raised on a stake. I think that the back of the box was right to boast about the game having 25 minutes of FMVs, though I am unsure if that is the correct amount. Perhaps if you count the fast-travel FMVs as well.

I know that Final Fantasy 7 is remembered as the forerunner of FMVs in Playstation games, but Blood Omen has it beat by a couple of months and as far as I'm concerned handles them better.

That's not to say that they aren't without fault, as the models have clearly aged, but you couldn't really escape the march of time while developing games in the 90s. I do appreciate the work done with the lighting though, as the scene in this castle keep plays with light and darkness pretty well.

The actual scene depicts a group of mages getting slaughtered by a vampire. And when I say slaughtered, I mean that some of them get completely eviscerated.

I am sure I do not have to explain that this is extremely gory for the time, even with Mortal Kombat and Resident Evil as the bar. While there were tons of kid-friendly games on the platform, we should not forget that a huge part of the appeal of the Playstation was in the all the "mature" content it provided to frustrated teenagers sick of "kiddie" stuff. As explained earlier, the edge present in the series is of a particular brand, backed by some stellar narrative work. But for now it is just some senseless violence to keep us occupied.

My favourite little detail in this hurried scene is how the vampire drinks blood. The neck bite is synonymous with vampire fiction, so I take the telekinetic drinking as a declaration of intent from the writers. Said intent being to differentiate the vampires of this setting from what they are usually like in other works.

Instead of drinking blood being an elongated and intimate process, it is instead efficient and cold. You can tell that this vampire has long since outgrown the need for sneak attacks and is so powerful that he can drink blood in the middle of battle while being no worse for wear. Really sells how monstrous he is, which is key to his characterization and the game at large.

The mages cry out for their protector, Malek, but he arrives just as all of them have been slain and gets bonked on the head by the vampire, which is a bit silly given how murderous he was beforehand. But given how tough Malek is in gameplay later, perhaps he knew and was just being cautious.

For his failures, Malek gets his soul bound to his armour to serve "the Circle" forever.

We then awkwardly cut to another murder, this time of a lone woman who gets stabbed in the back. This then results in some pillars cracking, which ends the intro:

If you are confused by all of this, then do not think it is your fault. It is a very dense intro and a lot of it will not make sense for quite a while. With that in mind, I will be keeping a tally of questions raised by the series going forward and then revisit them when they can be answered. So for now, our concerns are:

"Who is the vampire that slaughtered the members of the Circle and why did he do it?"

"What is the Circle?"

"Who is the man who bound Malek to his armour?"

"Who is the woman who was stabbed and what is her connection to and the significance of the pillars?"

After that, we get another awkward transition which cuts straight to gameplay, but I have an explanation for this one. Originally, the animated intro was meant to continue, but the FMV didn't work out for whatever reason, so it was instead replaced with a playable section that takes all of 40 seconds.

In it, we are finally introduced to our main character Kain (subtle, I know), a nobleman from the city of Coorhagen, portrayed excellently by Simon Templeman in this game and the rest of the series. He is asking this pub owner (who I am pretty sure is also voiced by Templeman, there really weren't many actors present for this game) for a drink, but is denied.

As an aside, I'm so glad Verok's fanpatch added subtitles. The series is really bad about that despite being so wordy.

Alas, Kain is immediately assaulted by a group of assassins outside who make quick work of an inexperienced player.

I think the decision to make this part playable is to the game's benefit, even if you do not get any time to get acquainted with Kain before he gets stabbed. It really sells his weakness as a know-nothing noble out travelling.

Here you can see some more fun marketing with a screenshot of the cut FMV.

If you manage to stay alive for a couple of seconds, you can get a taste of basic combat which is nothing special, bordering on bad actually. Kain has a 3-hit combo that ends with him doing an evil laugh or screaming "Vae Victus", which is a mispronounciation of the latin saying "Vae Victis", or "Woe/Suffering to the conquered".

Again, it is a fitting tone setter, but it is really odd that Kain calls back to it and explains what it means during his monologue in the cutscene that follows, as if it was particularly ironic that he had been bested. Which it is, but it is not even assured that the player has gotten the voice line earlier and they really have not had time to get a feel for his character in the 40 seconds he has been playable.

Thankfully, the following soliloquy does an excellent job of both characterizing Kain and establishing the engaging cadence the series' writing is known for.

Vae Victus - suffering to the conquered.
Ironic that now I was the one suffering.
Not anything as pedestrian as physical pain.
Rather the cruel jab of impotent anger - the hunger for revenge.
I didn’t care if I was in Heaven or Hell - all I wanted was to kill my assassins.

Sometimes you get what you wish for.
The Necromancer Mortanius offered me a chance for vengeance.
And like a fool, I jumped at his offer without considering the cost.
Nothing is free.
Not even revenge.

What I absolutely adore about the writing of this series is that it strikes the perfect balance between modern and old-fashion English without it ever feeling odd. So there aren't any thys and doths, but there are still soliloquys and fun word choices to spice things up. I wish speech like this was more common and I do all I can to abide by the series' teachings in my own writing. If you cannot have fun writing something, then by what aparatus is the reader meant to enjoy it later?

Speaking of enjoying things later, we have almost made it 5 minutes into the game, so I believe it is time to take a break. But before we part ways, we can answer one of the questions from earlier. Mortanius is the name of the man who bound Malek to his armour and he is a necromancer, fittingly enough. That leaves us with the following questions for next time:

"Who is the vampire that slaughtered the members of the Circle and why did he do it?"

"What is the Circle?"

"Who is the woman who was stabbed and what is her connection to and the significance of the pillars?"

"Who ordered Kain's assassination and why?"

As always, Vae Victus!

- Welcome to my world, Enjoy your stay, But always remember, There is no return.

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About Kerrik52one of us since 3:12 AM on 02.28.2016

Greetings, one and all. I'm known as Kerrik52 around these parts and I'm Swedish dude working as an app developer.

I play a lot of games, even the bad ones if they have something interesting to offer. I then write about them on this site for you all to read. I've written about a ton of stuff, but nowadays I mostly write reviews of games with the odd disscussion blog making its way out of my brain every month. My pride and joy is my From Software retrospective, which I highly recommend as a substitute to actually struggling through their first-person games on your own.

When it come to games, I'm mostly an action, platformer, horror, Immersive Sim and JRPG fanatic, but I try to keep my gaming diet varied from time to time. Here are some games/series I love:

Souls Games
God Hand
Immersive Sims
Resident Evil 4
Tales of
Ratchet & Clank
Devil May Cry
Legacy of Kain
Spyro the Dragon
Shin Megami Tensei
Anything by Falcom

I have a very low standard for movies, but I still have some distinct favorites. These include:

The Secret Life of Walter Witty
Pooh's Grand Adventure

Anime is a bite of a side-gig for me, but I'm a proud member of the Symphogear Choir.

Go ahead and share a piece of your world with me and I'll pay back in kind. Don't be deterred if I answer you with a wall of text though. I just can't help it sometimes.