15 Great Games: Blood Omen – Legacy of Kain (1996)

Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain

Ah, Nosgoth. Land of vampires, time travel, paradoxes and Simon Templeman. Most people know the series because of Soul Reaver, where goth reject Raziel seeks vengeance on Kain, the guy who totally threw off his groove. Not many people outside of the fandom know about Blood Omen, the game where you get to play as the guy who totally threw off Raziel’s groove.

This first title in the Legacy of Kain series shows where Kain got his knack for random soliloquies. He also uses complicated words sometimes, just like “soliloquies”. This trait was not continued by Raziel, who mostly spoke to other people, but Soul Reaver 2 eventually made it into a trend. However, Kain’s voice is just cooler than Raziel’s. Don’t bother telling me I’m wrong. That automatically makes Blood Omen superior, but there’s more.

When you die, you might be tempted to go in the village of your murder and kill everyone. Note: in this case, village meant exactly one house and one tavern. No big loss to the local tourism economy then.
When you die, you might be tempted to go in the village of your murder and kill everyone. Note: in this case, village meant exactly one house and one tavern. No big loss to the local tourism economy then.

Because you see, Blood Omen is a lot like The Legend of Zelda: overhead view, hack and slash, sword fighting, one weapon and one item slot, health and magic bars can be increased, and you enter dungeons to find new powers, which will help you solve puzzles in future dungeons. It just trades the big interconnected world with a relatively more linear, far longer, continuous map. And also the gratuitous violence. Link may slash at an enemy and make them disappear in a cloud of smoke, but the enemies in Kain don’t disappear, so you get to see the effects of their evisceration. There’s an item that strips the flesh from their body, leaving a skeleton behind. Another item makes them implode on themselves and eventually blow up on a shower of blood. And it’s worth mentioning that all of those guys bleed out more heavily than Zoro after his average fight.

But where Zelda puts more emphasis on the puzzles and less on combat, Blood Omen is the opposite. You’ll be mostly slashing things, and occasionally solving easy puzzles. None of this detracts from the experience, and if anything, the game is stronger for it. After all, you get so many ways to dispatch your enemies, it’s only fun to take up the invitation and do so. Can Link summon thunderbolts from the sky to blow his enemies to bloody pieces? I didn’t think so. There are even brothels and you can slay everyone inside. This game is like GTA in the middle ages.

As a vampire, you need blood to keep going. Fortunately there are these prisoners chained up everywhere. We never discover who put them there, but who am I to say no to free meals?
As a vampire, you need blood to keep going. Fortunately there are these prisoners chained up everywhere. We never discover who put them there, but who am I to say no to free meals?

I have gushed about the violence long enough, so let’s talk some other points: this game is quite massive. Although more linear than any Zelda, and with less sidequests, the main quest also feels a lot longer. Another thing worth pointing out is the nice 2D graphics, at least on PC. And while the soundtrack is mostly made up of repeating short samples, it’s actually quite good overall. The story is also better than any Zelda, though let’s face it, that’s not exactly a difficult line to cross. In short, Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain is surely the best Zelda clone you’ll find on a non-Nintendo platform, but perhaps it even manages to beat Zelda at its own game. Kain would be proud.

Playing today: did you enjoy all those easily available games I’ve talked about before? I hope so, because things get a little harder here. Blood Omen was only released on two platforms: the PS1 and the PC (a Saturn version was canceled before release). The easiest and most painful option is choosing the PS1 version: I say easiest because it’s readily available on the Playstation Store, both european and american, and playable on PS3/Vita/PSP. An old copy of the game is also a very easy and cheap find, if you want to use your old PS1 or PS2.

But you’ll notice I also said “most painful”. Why? Because of the load times. They’ll make your eyes bleed. In fact, you’ll have enough for your eyes to bleed out all of the blood in your brain, in the time it takes for the game to load the menus and the locations. It’s impossibly grating. And due to how the PS3 works, there’s no gain in load times. Just a little bit on PSP/Vita. Of course there are also other smaller issues, such as 320×240 graphics and a strange non-fixed camera that might give you motion sickness.

Ideally, you should go for the PC version: high resolution graphics at 640×480, more zoomed out for better comfort, fixed camera on Kain, and non-existant load times. Alas, it isn’t to be. Due to legal shenanigans (the PC version was published by Activision), it still isn’t available on any digital download service. We have got to the paradox of having every game in the series available on GOG/Steam, except for the very first one. What a world. An old CD-Rom copy is not really all that expensive, although still not as cheap as other games of the era, but good luck making it run well on newer operating systems. There’s an unofficial patch out there, but you might still have speed issues.

Probably your best bet is buying the PS1 Classic version on the PSN and playing it on a PSP or Vita, which will reduce the load times a bit. Not great, but a bit more playable. Too bad this trick doesn’t work on the PS3, which will emulate everything faithfully, even the load times. How nice.

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