Before we begin in earnest and track down Nupraptor, I want to apologize a bit for the slight change in formatting for the screenshots. I messed up my recording a little bit, so I had to crop the screen in order to exclude my desktop from the proceedings. It will get better later.
Just before Nachtholm, there is an inexplicable blood fountain, which serves as our first stat upgrade. It raises strength a little bit, allowing Kain to push heavier rocks and deal a bit more damage if I remember correctly. They do not have anything to do with the lore, but I find it funny how they turn black afterwards to punish you for being greedy and trying to drink from them twice.
Nachtolm does not have much new to offer, but there is an echo of some cut content here, as on the floor of the smith, we find an engraving of a shield similar to those in dungeons where we pick up new equipment. Given the game's Zelda influence, I am not surprised that a shield was considered for Blood Omen, which would have presumably worked in a similar way. Given how janky combat can be as-is, maybe it was better left on the cutting-room floor.
"In life, I would have not graced the place with my presence. In death, I merely added to the stench"
A short walk containing a mildly useless rain immunity upgrade later and we are already in a new town where Kain confirms that vampires are indeed smelly. Maybe that is why the ladies of this odd...lady dorm(?) are out to kill Kain as soon as he steps in the door.
For whatever reason, there is an Implode item here, which is incredibly powerful and quite sadistic. I cannot help but think there is a shrinkage joke to be had here, but I will leave that hole for you to fill.
In the brothel just down the street, there is just a murder dungeon barely hidden away by a barrel. Now this is some effective environmental storytelling. No letters or audio logs, just straight up single-shot build-up with the payoff mere seconds later. More depravity to add to the list of reasons why Nosgoth is such a shithole. I feel like this was a really brave addition for 1996 and it is something the series would move away from in favour of more fantastical though still morbid storytelling.
Steinchencröe also houses the one NPC in the game whom we may speak with through a marker.
"I know what it means to be an outsider, vampire. I fear you not, but remember this - there are others who will speak to you. So long as you know how to look."
This is a hint for something I did not know about until this playthrough. You can actually talk to the random townsfolk for some incidental dialogue. Of course, the lunatic's advice holds a double meaning, so we cannot do that just yet.
I went back to the heavy rocks in the starter crypt and uncovered a treasure trove by pushing them aside, as one is want to do in these sorts of games. Amidst the items lies the key to the cipher required to read all those tombstones outside. According to the wiki, they are a bunch of easter eggs with developer names on them.
Elsewhere, this "Blood Script" does not show up much in the series. It is used for a couple of things, most importantly being the huge secret I missed later on. They could have done more with it, but translating obtuse text into something legible gets old after a while. You should know, you are reading some right now!
Just outside Steinchencröe, there is an odd cave. That demon may look scary, but it is completely frozen still. I do not know if that is a bug, or if there is some trick to get past it. That is the trouble with old games, the chances of something weird being an intended secret is quite high.
"However, a few gypsies have something interesting to say."
Right. Racism. Not in the mood to talk about that, beyond how surprisingly brazen this is. Oddly enough, the Disney version of The Ringer of Notre Dame came out a few months before this. Coincidence? I think so.
"However, the illusion is flimsy, and any act of aggression on my part can break the spell."
Robbing one of their tents, we find the disguise form. This is a quite welcome upgrade as it not only lets us talk to people, but also lets us keep a low profile. That is very handy around these parts, as the local knight population is frankly excessive and ludicrously armored.
The extra dialogue we can scrounge up is not of vital importance, but there are some interesting tidbits. Here is what I found outside of town:
Aside from hostile market relations, we can gather that something is going on over in Avernus. That will not be relevant until we get there, but it is worth keeping in mind for later. The pilgrim comment relates to people travelling up to Nupraptor's Retreat for wisdom and it is not difficult to imagine what happened to them soon afterwards.
The Slow Time object falls into that everpresent niche of "too good to use". It is rare and encounters are often so quick that by the time you think to swap to it, you are halfway done already. I could see it being useful for bosses if the game allows that, but I never used them.
Some more comments from the townsfolk:
Getting warned about vampires is delightfully ironic, and Tony Jay giving you an upbeat "goodday" is nice, but did the first woman I talked to really have to speak of bedime tussling? Their only other two potential lines either call Kain handsome or ugly, which again paints a very troubling view of women in this game.
The people of Vasserbünde endure a paranoid existance, which is fitting, given Nupraptor's unwillingness to be open to the world after Ariel was murdered. These lines are great camp, but them being linked to multiple people hurts the immersion. Having each one be unique would have been a tall order, but this is something that would have been much easier to adjust with text boxes. If you have ever noticed a story beat being oddly handled in a fully voiced game, it is because there was no time or money left to spend on re-recordings.
I will not be focusing much on the incidental dialogue past this town, so if you want to see what meager flavouring and minor foreshadowing there is to be had, check out the bottom of this wiki page.
Depending on who you ask, having a giant skull castle with befitting waterfall close by could do wonderful or terrible things for the local housing market.
Beyond the awesome name "Font of Putrescence", our last attack item is nothing special.
Kain brooding over being a vampire is not excplicitly stated, but it is implied.
About time we start some cleansing and assault our first big dungeon, Nupraptor's Retreat.
"Pilgrims travelled from all across the land seeking the comfort of his lies. I sought not his wisdom, but his life."
As you can see, this place goes hard immediately. There are skull turrets, spinning axes, slimes and loads of water, which coupled with the bandits that shanked me earlier left me in a bad spot.
Thankfully, the entryway is loaded with prisoners to keep Kain hydrated. It is a simple gauntlet, but the game is finally asking some caution from the player. You can jump over the water, but getting the distance right is so finicky that you might as well just run through as the wolf and eat the minor damage. Since our abilities remain limited, the dungeon focuses on basic combat, manuevering, darkness offset with the light spell and switches requiring the Energy Bolt. It is a good little exam of what the player should be familiar with at this point.
"Leave...leave and let my solitude be complete..."
Ignoring the disgruntled threat from Nupraptor, the inside of the keep is much less threatening, even with the wizard infestation.
These guys are not difficult in the slightest. My biggest hindrance in here were actually the hidden switches, which train you to hug every wall looking for coloured lighting. In this case, it was a few discreet chains tucked away inbetween the turrets. The trick here is that with the light spell active, they blend right into the background, which clearly exemplifies why the coloured lighting is such an important tool for the designer, especially when played on a CRT.
"Although tempted by hunger, I stayed my hand, allowing her to tell her story . . ."
"She spoke of her Lord Nupraptor, driven to insanity by the brutal slaying of his beloved Ariel. She spoke of his self-mutilation, sewing his eyes and lips shut to deny the outside world. Fueled by despair and hopelessness, he turned his magic on the Circle, infecting their minds with his madness. Nupraptor cared for nothing now, save his pathetic self-pity."
"Scars such as hers would never heal. Death would only be a mercy."
While this encounter tells us nothing new, it does showcase the sense of detachment afforded to the player through the use of Kain's soliloquies and the game's low-detail presentation. If we take a step back, we realize that this is an absolutely heartwrenching scene of an innocent girl having her mind and body broken by an insane abuser.
Under most other circumstances, material like this would be very difficult for most people to get through. If it were a book, we would get even more detailed descriptions of her suffering. And if it were a film or a more modern game, we would be able to see her in more detail and easily empathize.
Alas, in Blood Omen, almost everything gets filtered through Kain's spellbinding dialogue. And with the gameworld being so difficult to parse from our end, that is our best lens for perceiving things. It certainly makes the game's material more palpatable, but you might feel that things are not treated with enough gravitas from time to time. I would not call it full schlock, but it is emblematic of one of my core takeaways from this series.
That being how individualistic and self-centered it all is, which to be fair, is important to Kain as a character. Going forward, the role of the common man in Nosgoth will diminish entirely in order to focus on a small set of big players, one of them being Kain. Despite this, the fate of Nosgoth is always on the table, but the way the people speak of it, it always sounds like it is the land itself and not its people that matter. Like they are ignoring the trees for the forest, which has stood out to me for quite a while.
Seeing as the scale of things will change going forward, it is not strange that certain characters act this way, but everyone is like that. You would think someone would care about bettering this nightmare world. Instead, they seem to work under the assumption that all these murder dungeons filled with skeletons are just completely natural and never bats an eye towards the endless death permeating the land. Given how much of a layered shit-cake Nosgoth turns out to be, I understand why it is like this, but it is disheartening nonetheless. There is hope at the end of the road though. Bitter, terrible hope.
Of course, to get there, we must endure more of Kain's descent into evil. No longer disgusted by what he has become, he curses Nupraptor's name for spoiling good food. How very befitting of a nobleman.
It is a much welcome feast however, as the game starts dumping zombie summoners on you soon afterwards. Since there is nothing to gain from the zombies' harmful black blood, one should make sure to eliminate them as fast as possible. I did not and suffered the consequences by spending some of my still miniscule collection of hearts.
Up ahead, we need to clear 4 paths before we can give Nupraptor what for. The first was another pile of zombies, but the second is rather neat.
You get locked into a gigantic room where darkness falls, forcing you down a very windy path guided by light. I think this is the designer's attempt at embodying the concept of Mind, but it could have been so much more. It is a straight path and aside from warping you around a bit, it is not very confusing.
Seeing as Nupraptor is an insane mentalist, the player should be questioning reality for a bit of, if not the entire dungeon. But given my assumptions about the limitations of the engine, maybe this was the best that could be done. It does not seem like the maps can be edited after they have been loaded.
"However, when the moment passes, I will be drained of all magic, unable to cast even the simplest of spells."
The remaining two are nothing special (a spike gauntlet and a series of combat rooms), but the last one contains the most interesting consumable in the game. The Energy Bank works just as Kain explains and in gameplay it presents a very interesting choice. If you are out of magic then it obviously serves the role of a mana potion, giving you a chance to cast extra magic in a pinch.
But if you are not fully drained, you need to weigh the trade-off of burning your long-term stock of either stored magic or multiple Energy Banks in order to increase your spellcasting. This translates both to higher DPS and defense later on. By then, better magic regen will be available, but right now it translates to a few seconds of infinite Energy Bolts, which does a lot for Kain's surviability.
"The glass seemed to warp the image and taint the colour. As if Nosgoth needed assistance in making its corruption apparent."
Past some of the game's few pre-rendered backgrounds, Kain points out the game's major theme of corruption, which he has set out to stop while enjoying his own version of it through his blossoming vampirism. The dramatic irony of a hero taking pleasure from the same thing he is fighting against without realizing it is not lost on me and I quite appreciate it. And thankfully, this will not be the last time the series plays the irony card so well.
"Come, Kain...come, share my pain..."
Stepping into Nupraptor's quarters, we are met with a strange scene that seems to be the result of either engine limitations or a failed FMV. Kain steps into the scene pictured in my screenshot, and it implies that he and Malek arrived at the same time, but both Malek and Nupraptor are stationary before simply teleporting away after those two lines are spoken. It is such an odd thing and seems to be a hasty way of reintroducing Malek before our impending boss fight with Nupraptor. He does not even have anything to say.
"Very well, old fool. If it is death you seek, I will not deny you."
The fight with Nupraptor is kinda kooky and reminds me of N. Tropy in Crash Bandicoot: Warped of all things. There is nothing mental about it save for how mental it is that Nupraptor fights by shooting slow-moving horizontal lines of giant glowing balls. The trick is that the purple ones fade on a rhythm, giving you a moment to pass. Then it is just a matter of making your way up, slashing Nupraptor a bit and then he teleports to the other side, where things repeat and get slightly harder.
Given all that we have established so far, one would think there would be more to this fight. Like, you could perhaps use magic to destroy a shield or something. But no, he is just immune to magic and the second phase where he spins a bunch of skulls before shooting them is no less threatening than the first.
"Perhaps the head of her beloved will convince Ariel that I have accomplished my task."
The first of the guardians proved pathetic, but the Circle of Nine still stands 7 people strong, so perhaps the rest of them will put up more of a fight. But those battles will have to wait for another time. Until next then, keep our current quandaries in mind:
As always, Vae Victus!