Today we have a guest writer, James Archer (@LeonBelmontX). James is a self-confessed video game addict who is constantly fighting a never-ending backlog. His favourite series include The Legend of Zelda, Kingdom Hearts, Yakuza, Final Fantasy, Metal Gear Solid and Legacy of Kain. He also writes a blog about his experiences as a gamer who suffers with anxiety.
I can’t even say what intrigued me about Blood Omen on the PS1 when I first picked it off a shelf in a rental shop when I was just starting secondary school. It’s cover art was never anything special in my eyes, and I didn’t know anyone else who had played it. Still, Kain would argue that this was fate, the start of a series of events that lead to my writing this very article.
The game left a lasting impression upon me. Compared to most games I had played at that point, the game was dark, broody and atmospheric. A 2D top-down game – in many ways reminiscent of the classic Legend of Zelda titles – Blood Omen was set in the gloomy world of Nosgoth; a grim, medieval world devoid of any sort of joy or happiness. Townspeople lived in fear of the creatures that stalked the world, cities were ravaged by the plague, and a depressed king let the world slip into ruin at the loss of his only daughter. The game’s protagonist, a nobleman named Kain, was inexplicably murdered whilst travelling and then offered a chance at revenge by a Necromancer named Mortanius. Reborn a vampire, Kain set off on a warpath to enact revenge on those that had organised his assassination.
The game hooked me, narrated amazingly by Kain’s own monologue, voiced by English actor Simon Templeman. Templeman has a voice that kept me hanging on every word, and I followed his story as he was revealed to be part of a larger plot revolving the Pillars of Nosgoth. The Pillars represented the very balance of the world, and were crumbling as each Pillar’s assigned guardian was falling to corruption sown by the mastermind of the events that would risk the destruction of Nosgoth.
Many of the plot points went over my head at that age – in my experience at that point, games of my childhood had rarely been plot-centric and it wasn’t necessarily what I had been looking for – but I relished in playing as an anti-hero. Kain would stalk the streets, feared by villagers he could prey upon whilst gaining the ability to transform into a wolf, bats or mist, and could earn and equip a variety of different weapons, items and armour. One weapon in particular held in my memory – the Soul Reaver, a powerful sword that screeched as it was swung and literally tore enemies to pieces with ease. The game was full of exciting characters, too – aside from Kain and Mortanius, the game featured characters like Malek, a soul bound to a hollow suit of armour, Ariel, a spirit bound to the pillars, Vorador, an ancient vampire who had evolved with batlike features and lived in a lavish mansion and believed himself akin to a god, and Moebius, a man who called himself an “Oracle” and set about a vampire purge at the hands of a tyrant king through the manipulation of time itself.
After the game was returned to the rental shop, I didn’t play it again for a few years. I thought about it now and then, but I only remembered fuzzy details and it was only a chance discovery in a very obscure shop that awarded me my very own copy later down the line. Things are easier nowadays with internet shopping and digital downloads, but I was ecstatic to find this long-lost game back when I was younger and still treasure my copy even now.
A few years later, I played a demo for another game called Soul Reaver. A 3D third-person action/puzzle game by the makers of Tomb Raider, you played as a wraith named Raziel. The demo really won me over – aside from it’s cool lead character and creepy aesthetic, Raziel’s ability to shift between the Physical and Spectral realms opened up puzzles like I’d never seen before. In the Physical realm, Raziel could hold weapons and items, open doors and interact with switches – but dropping into the Spectral realm twisted the world into a creepy, haunted version of the same area, altering the layout of the area to grant access to new platforms, while simultaneously freezing time and making water act like air. It kept me busy for quite a while, and I picked up the full game when I got the chance.
It wasn’t until I played the full game that it’s intro hit me with something I really hadn’t expected. The story began with Raziel as a vampire, lieutenant to an old vampire called ‘Kain’ who wielded a fearsome blade called the ‘Soul Reaver’ and had a throne seated at the base of the Pillars of Nosgoth. Suddenly, my entire perception of this game changed and I realised exactly what it was – a sequel to Bloom Omen set hundreds of years after the original game. Both games full names carried the tagline “Legacy of Kain”, but this game had been marketed very much as simply Soul Reaver and I hadn’t made a connection. When Kain spoke and I recognised the Templeman’s voice I was in awe.
Soul Reaver’s visual and gameplay style was very different to the original, but it was true to Blood Omen in almost every other way. The writing now taken over by Amy Hennig – who has since gone on to write the Uncharted series – this was the exact same Kain with the same history, set in the same Nosgoth. Only this time, Kain had been the one to wrong our new protagonist – at Raziel’s unexpected growth of wings as a stage of his vampiric evolution, an apparently jealous Kain cast his underling into a watery abyss as a painful execution. Raziel awoke to find his consciousness bound to his ruined corpse hundreds of years later, as Nosgoth had fallen into an apocalyptic decline.
As Raziel explored Nosgoth – crossing paths with Kain now and then – he was tasked by a being known as the Elder God with hunting down his vampiric brothers and Kain himself – an act of vengeance on his part, and a favour to the Elder God that granted him his new form. Voiced by Michael Bell, Raziel was every bit as captivating as Kain had ever been, and the two of them played off of each other brilliantly.
This would become part of an ongoing series on the PS2 – with Soul Reaver 2, Blood Omen 2 and finally Legacy of Kain: Defiance, Kain and Raziel’s stories weave into a massively complex tale of time travel, fate, paradoxes and morality. Kain and Raziel’s own hands would shape both of their own creations and destinies, and that also of Nosgoth itself. Characters such as Moebius, Vorador and Ariel from Blood Omen play important roles throughout the whole saga, and even in the final game the original title was as relevant as ever.
Sadly, the series has all but ended now. A multiplayer arena title named Nosgoth was set loosely in the same world some years later, and a planned reboot Dead Sun was revealed as a cancelled project. But thankfully, the original series had a decent enough conclusion – but part of me hopes that one day, Simon Templeman will once again take up the role of Kain in his next big chapter.