Ever since the emergence of Final Fantasy VII (and the spate of RPGs that followed in its wake), gamers have thought of the PlayStation as the RPG fan’s system of choice. There has been no shortage of role-playing games over the last few years for the venerable 32-bit system, but it wasn’t always this way. In fact, in the early days of the PSX, RPGs were hard to come by—gamers were forced to choose between Suikoden, strat-RPG Vandal Hearts, and the much maligned Beyond the Beyond…choices were slim, to say the least.
Things started looking up, though, with the arrival of Silicon Knights and Crystal Dynamics’ darkly themed action RPG, Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain. Boasting an epic and nightmarish storyline, frequent full motion video sequences, solid voice acting, and addictive gameplay, Blood Omen became one of the best of the early PlayStation titles. Since Blood Omen 2 looms on the horizon, there’s probably no better time than now to take a look back at this early effort in the series.
You are Kain, a lowly noble who’s tossed out of a local tavern at closing. As you wander outside the bar, you encounter a band of brigands—men who seem to want nothing more than to spill your blood. Fighting them is futile—they’re there to kill you and nothing will stop them.
You awaken to find yourself in Hell. Mortanius, a powerful magician, offers you the gift of eternal life so you can go forth and seek your revenge against the men who slaughtered you. Greedy and foolish, you willingly accept—not realizing that your eternal life will be spent as a vampire—a creature of the night forced to feed on the blood of humans. Undaunted by your new form, you set out to avenge your untimely demise—but that’s just the beginning. Mortanius has more in store for you than you could ever imagine.
The land of Nosgoth is relatively peaceful now, but many centuries ago, a great war took place. Malek, a sarafan Knight, launched a vampire holocaust—nosferatu were slaughtered by the thousands, impaled on stakes and left to suffer and die in the light of the sun. Malek didn’t act alone, though—he had the blessing of the circle of nine, a group of god-like deities who guarded the nine sacred pillars. The pillars maintained balance and order in Nosgoth and the guardian of each was the physical representation of his or her pillar—if he were to die, his pillar would crack and the universal balance would shift.
The vampires didn’t sit idly by as Malek slaughtered them, however. Vorador, the most powerful of the vampire lords, fought back by killing three of the nine guardians and upsetting the balance of the circle. Things grew worse, for the circle soon dispersed entirely and Nosgoth teetered on the brink of chaos. As Kain, you must find the members of the circle—and either bring them back together and restore balance to the land or destroy them once and for all, creating a new world bathed in blood and darkness.
As you can see, the story is richly drawn and highly detailed. Nosgoth is a world in the truest sense of the word—complete with different regions, terrains, its own mythology, etc. and covered with monsters both human and supernatural. The labyrinthine plot features enough twists and turns to keep you guessing well into the game, and the final showdown features a choice for the future of the land which should satisfy those gamers who’ve always wanted to play as a villain. If you’re looking for a dark, gothic, story-driven adventure, then Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain is worthy of your consideration.
Complimenting the fantastic story of the game is the gameplay itself. Blood Omen is something of a cross between an adventure game and an action RPG, but let’s not spend a lot of time worrying about that—the endless debate over categorizing games can get pretty dull.
You’ll control Kain throughout your journey, and you’ll view him and the action from a fairly traditional 3/4 overhead view. You’ll spend the majority of the game traversing the Nosgoth countryside or hacking and slashing your way through one of its many dungeons in order to procure more powerful weapons, armors, and spells.
Battling takes place in real-time, with the square button swinging your weapon. There’s no block feature, so just keep flailing away until you vanquish your foes. If you manage to strike enough blows to leave your enemy near death, but not quite dead, the enemy will swoon on the screen. While this happens, you can perform your ‘blood drain’ by pressing the circle button.
The blood drain is the game’s coolest feature by far—Kain sticks out his arm, makes a loud sucking sound, and a stream of red blood flows from your victim and into Kain. Draining blood restores your health meter—so it’s important if you want to live to see the end of the adventure. Of course, one must be careful when it comes to blood drinking—human blood (red) will restore your health—but green blood from monsters poisons you. Drink with caution.
Aside from manual combat skills, Kain also has the ability to use magic. His variety of spells runs the gamut from a lighting spell that illuminates the dark dungeons to more offensive minded offerings like lightning bolts. You’ll also gain the ability to use spells like “inspire hate” (which causes the enemies around you to attack each other) and “spirit wrack” and “mind control” (which allow you to take control of enemies while leaving Kain protected in a cocoon-like shell). Magic spells detract from your magic meter—which gradually refills as you travel around.
The other facet of magic that you’ll encounter throughout the game is magic items. Like spells, these items allow you to dispatch enemies without using your sword. They’re all suitably icky, such as “putresce”, which turns your enemy into a green pile of acid, or “implode”, which is self-explanatory.
Aside from offensive maneuvers, you’ll also find things like the heart of darkness, which revives you with a small fraction of your health meter should you die in battle. Magic items are found as cards and stored in your inventory—if you use all that you’ve found of a certain magic item, you won’t be able to use it again until you find more cards—so use your resources wisely.
Unfortunately, you can only have one spell or magic item readied at a time. This means you’ll be pausing the action and switching around a lot during battle so that you have the correct spells or items cued up as you need them. Depressing the X button uses all spells and items, and the one that’s active is shown with a pictorial representation on the right side of the screen where all the status information is displayed.
Since Kain is a vampire, he’s endowed with many of the traditional vampiric powers. These range from the ability to turn to mist, because vampires can’t cross water; a bat, to better navigate the large countryside; a wolf, for making jumps to high up areas; and a human, so he can navigate towns without being attacked. You’ll need to acquire and use all of these powers as you progress—and after finding them, backtracking is a good idea because there were probably areas that you couldn’t access before that will now be open to you.
During the course of your journey, you’ll encounter numerous dungeons, spirit forges, and blood fountains. Dungeons have multiple purposes—they can be passageways from one area to the next, they can house a more powerful weapon or armor, or they can hold a new spell or vampiric power. Needless to say, acquiring the goodies in dungeons is essential to completing the game. While Kain can be a one-man wrecking crew with his swords/axes/mace, you’ll need to use all the tools at your disposal to continue advancing through the game.
Spirit forges are caves where Kain can enter and receive extra magical items—for a price. The price is usually roughly 75% of his health meter. The nice thing is that you can return to the spirit forges as often as you like and get more stuff—provided you have the blood to pay for it. This is a vital component of Blood Omen, since there are no shops in the game itself.
Finally, blood fountains are another cave area that Kain will discover as he progresses through the game. Drinking from the blood fountain will give Kain a boost in his stats—like making him stronger (so he can push boulders that are blocking his path) or making it so his magic meter regenerates faster. Seek out the blood fountains—you’ll need them.
There isn’t an abundance of stats in the game—at least not numerically. You don’t gain any experience for defeating enemies, therefore you don’t level up. Since there are no shops, you don’t get money. Increasing your blood meter is done by finding blood vials hidden in dungeons and across the land. Increasing your magic bar is done through finding rune triangles. You’ll find other power-ups as well—blood beakers, magic spheres, etc. Exploration is very important.
About the only downside to the game is the horrible load times. Blood Omen was an early PSX game, and as such, it suffers from major load times every time you leave one area and enter another. These loading screens also rear their ugly head any time you enter the menu system to switch weapons and whatnot. Playing the game on a PS2 with the faster loading on will alleviate most of the problem, but they’re still there. If you hate load times, proceed with caution—they’re the one negative factor of this game.
After reading about the story and the gameplay, it’s probably easy to look at Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain as something of a precursor to Konami’s Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. That feeling only gets stronger when you look at the game’s graphics.
Blood Omen is nowhere near as stunning, graphically, as Symphony of the Night, which still stands as one of the most beautiful 2-D games I’ve ever seen. However, it utilizes a 2-D graphical engine, sprite-based characters, including some gruesome monsters, and an abundance of areas to explore.
Blood Omen lacks the polish of Symphony of the Night though—its sprites aren’t as nicely detailed, the environments are often very dark, and many of the backgrounds aren’t quite as breathtaking—but you can’t really hold that against the game. While the graphics certainly pale in comparison to Konami’s vampire game, they’re not atrocious—they’re merely very dated. For its time, and I originally played this game when it was first released, Blood Omen was a pretty decent looking game.
The game also boasts twenty-five minutes of full motion video. The FMV is decidedly first generation PSX in appearance, but it doesn’t hurt the game at all. Mouths don’t match up to the dialogue, and everyone looks kind of stiff and blocky, but I never found the full motion video detracting from my enjoyment of the game. If you’re expecting Final Fantasy-style FMV, you’ll be disappointed—otherwise, you should find the sequences decent and enjoyable—and suitably gory in some parts.
Not much to report on the control front. Navigating Kain is simple when traversing Nosgoth. The game was made before the advent of the analog stick, so you’re forced into using the D-pad on the PSX controller, but that’s not a bad thing, really. Battle control is equally good—Kain responds well to your commands with minimal hesitation. Can’t ask for much more than that.
My main beef is with the fact that you can only have one spell or magic item queued up at a time—this makes going into the menu and switching them around a common thing. That wouldn’t be so bad if you didn’t have to deal with the load times when you made the adjustments. However, it’s not really a fault of the game—it’s more a limitation of the PSX controller and its 4-button scheme.
Control does become a bit of an issue on the world map. Pressing the directional pad shifts the cursor to another location—however, there are instances where it continually skips the location you want. I’m not sure why it does this, but there were several instances where I had to cycle through the map numerous times before finally getting the cursor to highlight the location I wanted. Again, it’s not a major flaw—but it did inspire some annoyance.
Just like the controls, there’s not much to report here. Blood Omen features some music, but on the whole, it’s pretty forgettable. In the instances where it is used, it adds to the mood of the game—be it creating some atmosphere or being raucous and inspiring—but it never lives up to the level of something like the Castlevania games. In short, I doubt anyone will be looking for a soundtrack for this game.
Ambient noise is decent—you’ll hear some water, the ‘oofs’ of Kain taking hits, metal clanging against metal, people begging not to be slaughtered, squeals as your enemies are drained of blood, and my personal favorite, Kain’s cry of ‘vey victus!’ and his dark chuckle as he slaughters his foes. Again, though, it’s not really anything to write home about… well, maybe the ‘vey victus!’ stuff is—that amuses me to no end.
The area where the game really shines aurally is the voice acting. Kain has a suitably snotty and contempt-filled voice that brings the character to life. Couple that with some darkly funny and well-written dialogue, and I was happy that the entire game was voice acted. But it’s not only Kain’s voice that works, it’s really all of the voices—there wasn’t any single character who I hated hearing… no small accomplishment, really.
While certainly showing signs of its age graphically, Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain is still a game worth checking out. As a dark and often graphic (it didn’t get that mature rating for nothing, you know) action RPG, it still delivers the goods. The story is engrossing, the gameplay mechanics solid, and the voice acting entertaining. While it probably won’t yield the 80 hours of gameplay the back cover promises, it will offer up 30 or so hours of epic adventure. If you liked Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, then Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain is certainly worth a look.