My first flirtation with the Legacy of Kain series was with Soul Reaver on the PS1. I’m pretty sure I rented it and/or played a demo to death before acquiring my own copy, but the combination of a gory, dark setting, intriguing (if, as would be proved with the release of later instalments, somewhat convoluted) storyline and, perhaps most importantly of all considering my burgeoning logophilia, a generous helping of big words, soon made acquiring the full version a necessity. Recently, a rumour stating that Crystal Dynamics is currently working on a Soul Reaver HD remake began to circulate, leading to speculation as to whether this would indeed be a reboot of an existing title, a continuation of the series or something else entirely. So what are the odds?
For those not privy to the twists and turns of the Legacy of Kain storyline, it goes a little something like this:
- Blood Omen – Kain, originally a human nobleman, is assassinated but offered a new life and the chance to exact his revenge as a vampire by the necromancer Mortanius. He soon becomes embroiled in the bigger plot of restoring the Pillars of Nosgoth, the subsequent swathe of bloodshed inadvertently starting a genocidal crusade against vampires after he kills King William the Just. In the end, it turns out that the Pillars’ corruption was Mortanius’s fault all along (the scamp), but after defeating him Kain refuses to sacrifice himself in order to restore them, instead choosing to save both himself and his people (but also thus causing the Pillars to fall).
- Blood Omen 2 – Kain terrorises Nosgoth for a couple of centuries before being defeated by the Sarafan Lord (the leader of that anti-vampire crusade he started) and forced into slumber for 200 years. Oh, and the Sarafan Lord also steals the Soul Reaver. Keen to get his sword – and empire – back, Kain embarks on some more killing, eventually defeating the Sarafan Lord (who is actually the leader of the Hylden, a race of crazed demons imprisoned in the appropriately-named Demon Realm by the power of the Pillars).
- Soul Reaver - Kain is ruling over Nosgoth with his six lieutenants when Raziel has the audacity to evolve a pair of wings. In response, Kain rips the bones out of them and has him executed. However, Raziel is resurrected by the mysterious Elder God, who instructs him to kill Kain in order to restore balance to the world. As the story progresses, Raziel finds out that he and his fellow lieutenants (who, incidentally, he has been procedurally slaying and stealing the powers of) were once Sarafan warriors who Kain revived in the spirit of irony to serve him. However, once Raziel finally tracks Kain down he escapes via a time portal, prompting him to follow despite the Elder God’s warnings.
- Soul Reaver 2 - After Moebius tries to meddle with things for a bit, Raziel eventually finds Kain again, who explains that he’s actually going to attempt to try and sacrifice himself to restore the Pillars of Nosgoth after all. Following a few more time travel-related hijinks, Kain meets Janos Audron, the guardian of the original Reaver blade, only to see his Sarafan self cut his heart out shortly afterwards. At the end of the game, Raziel has succeeded in killing not only his human self but also the other Sarafan who end up being his fellow vampire lieutenants. Kain attempts to prevent his destiny by separating Raziel from the material Reaver, but as time shifts around them Raziel realises that it has merely been postponed.
- Defiance – Separated by a time paradox, Kain and Raziel learn about the war between the Ancients, who become the original vampire race, and the Hylden, and are both independently manipulated by the Elder God as it tries to keep its precious Wheel of Fate turning. The Elder God is revealed to be responsible for pretty much all of Nosgoth’s problems, so Raziel sacrifices himself to the Reaver in order to allow Kain to defeat it. While the Elder God insists it’ll be back, Kain chooses to focus on the future, whatever – or whenever – that might be.
“A little something like this” really is the operative part of that introductory sentence. The above relatively brief summary of the games’ overarching storyline is by no means complete, and it would take far more words than it would be fair to make you read to explain it in its entirety. A quick Google search for “Legacy of Kain storyline” will reveal that there are technically around three or four different possible timelines (there was even an official one given as part of Soul Reaver 2’s bonus material), and what with the characters’ penchant for time travel and attempting to one up the forces of destiny and fate, it’s sometimes hard to be entirely sure what’s canon and what’s not. That said, Defiance did attempt to resolve a fair number of the unanswered questions from the previous games, so we can’t say they didn’t try.
Personally, I hope it is Soul Reaver that benefits from the reboot treatment if Crystal Dynamics are indeed remaking one of the series’ existing titles. I collected and played all of the Legacy of Kain games in relatively quick succession, but at the end of the day (or night?) I enjoyed Raziel’s games more than Kain’s, with Soul Reaver 2 probably being my favourite of the bunch. Why? For starters, the Blood Omen games, to me at least, just didn’t seem as good as the Soul Reaver sub-series. Blood Omen 1 can be cut a little slack on account of its age (it was published in 1996) and being an entirely different style of game (top-down RPG of sorts to the other games’ 3D action-adventure), but I challenge you to find anyone who thinks that Blood Omen 2 is the best in the series. That said, while Raziel’s character does come across as being a little more nuanced than Kain’s at times, he also comes with the added irritation of being somewhat whiny on occasion (although, to be fair, the little blue guy has been through a lot). Additionally, the Spectral Realm mechanic was pretty damn cool.
Regardless of which instalment you play, the Legacy of Kain games certainly have a solid setting, with its vampires embodying an interesting new take on the oft-featured creatures. Despite time paradoxes aplenty, there is still a (mostly) cohesive storyline running throughout all five games, and even if it’s hard to keep track of every little detail it’s still a good yarn. Voice acting, particularly that of Simon Templeman (Kain), Michael Bell (Raziel) and the amazing – but, sadly, now late – Tony Jay (the Elder God and others), is almost uniformly excellent, a good thing considering how much talking the games contain (something that one of the voice actors even remarks upon in a Soul Reaver 2 blooper reel), while gameplay entails a decent mixture of puzzles and combat.
So, will I be buying the HD version of Soul Reaver if and/or when it emerges?
Well, considering the sheer amount of Legacy of Kain-style loquaciousness in this article, I think that question pretty much answers itself…