Developer(s) – Silicon Knights
Publisher(s) – Crystal Dynamics & Activision
Director – Denis Dyack
Producer(s) – Rick Goertz, Lyle Hall & Joshua Marks
PEGI – 18
Released in 1996 as the first installment of the Legacy of Kain series, Blood Omen was met with immense commercial success as well as critical acclaim. A top-down adventure RPG inspired by the likes of The Legend of Zelda series, it stands as one of the earlier examples of a game containing a cinematic story, influenced by such novels as Bram Stoker’s Dracula and the works of Shakespeare dealing with themes such as birth, death, rebirth and moral ambiguity. To me, everything about this game is every bit as unique and refreshing for the time as what the developers set out to accomplish and stands out for me as one of the best games ever released on the original PlayStation.
Graphics – 7/10
Blood Omen, as well as the entirety of the Legacy of Kain series, is set in the 15th century inspired land of Nosgoth, where sit nine skyward pillars, which each govern nine different aspects of the world; time, death, balance, nature, conflict, states, dimensions, energy and the mind. The game’s conceptual design also marks one of the earliest examples of the portrayal of dark fantasy in gaming; everything about Nosgoth feels ominous and gritty, and the 16-BIT rendered pixel art used does extremely well to invoke these feelings with some disturbing character animations and deeply atmospheric locations such as Vorador’s mansion, Dark Eden and Nupraptor’s retreat. The game’s soundtrack does nothing but adds to its overall sadistic feel in addition; even in times where relevant safety is to be had in villages and towns etc.
Gameplay – 8.5/10
The game is a traditional adventure RPG, heavy on combat across the vast open world of Nosgoth. Players must travel in accordance with the story objectives, through the land, air, and even time at one point. It is also one of the earliest games to feature a conventional fast travel system, predating the likes of The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall, as Kain is able to transform into a flurry of bats in order to travel to different locations more quickly. But where the gameplay truly shines is in its amount of variety in combat. Different weapons are acquired to adopt different styles of fighting, as well as the player having access to a number of magic spells to strategize in accordance with what kind of enemies they are fighting. Having already been familiar with the series before playing Blood Omen for the first time, since I started with the original Soul Reaver, I was at first quite surprised to discover just how much variety there is to be had in gameplay; but pleasantly surprised. It’s a game whereby although its story is a huge part of it, it, to me, still doesn’t take precedence over the gameplay completely.
Controls – 9/10
The only gripe I would have with the game’s control scheme is that the command of attacking with melee weapons can be quite inconsistent at times. The way Kain’s sprite is animated doesn’t work well with trying to time each strike and can cause delays in doing so, it would seem. But apart from this one minor issue, there are no further major concerns with the controls to address. It’s as well the developers added a fast travel system since unless Kain is in lupine form, moving around can be quite slow.
Lifespan – 7/10
To complete the game 100% can take there around 20 hours, which was fairly impressive for a game at the time, but it also gave players an insight early on into the direction whereby games were going at that point. Titles that last only a few hours at a time were no longer cutting it with players, and so developers seemed to start making longer games to accommodate for this; no longer was it just Squaresoft and Enix making games lasting hundreds of hours each, but developers like Konami, Silicon Knights, and Crystal Dynamics would also follow suit, and Blood Omen is simply an example of this increase in standards.
Storyline – 10/10
The story of Blood Omen is morally complicated, tragic, and wonderfully dark. It follows the story of a nobleman named Kain, who is one night attacked and killed by a group of assassins. Finding himself in the underworld looking down at the abyss below, the necromancer Mortanius offers Kain a chance for revenge. Kain takes up the offer with the price being that he now walks the earth again as a vampire thirsty for human blood. However, his revenge against his killers turns out to be only a bit part of a far bigger plot embroiling Kain in an entangled nest of intrigue, death, manipulation, moral ambiguity, mental and physical pain, and loss.
Blood Omen plays out very much a traditional Shakespearian tragedy, but with its mythology, settings, and set of shady and deceitful characters, it made for something very fresh in terms of storytelling at the time, which in all honesty, has never truly been replicated to this day. The story of The Legacy of Kain series, in general, would go on to become something even deeper and thematic, but the foundations laid down for all this with the first game were silently groundbreaking at the time.
Originality – 9/10
This game did a lot of things in terms of both gameplay and story that had not been seen before, and in terms of story at least, have rarely been seen since. Similar combat systems have been worked into many different games following the release of Blood Omen, and this game certainly had its influences in terms of gameplay, but regardless, it still stands as an experience unlike any other, and still mightily enjoyable to play today. To complete every quest and uncover every spec of expertly written dialogue and backstory is still a very rewarding gaming endeavor.
Overall, Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain is a must-have for any fan of video games tackling the dark fantasy theme. It may never get the remaster it deserves, due to the legal issues between Crystal Dynamics and Silicon Knights, but this doesn’t take anything away from the original game; it’s a certified pleasure to play through every time.