In all my years of gameplay, never has a series of games pushed the edges of my sanity quite like the five games in the Legacy of Kain series. You might wonder why I chose to do this piece in bulk; why not pick one of them? If you’ve ever played them, you’d know that they are literally episodes in one enormous story; a story filled with enough time travel paradoxes and ‘nawww, sheeeeeet’ moments to leave you questioning your own very existence. There were points when I emerged from my bedroom, unsure of the day or time, looking like the actual, real life corpse of a century dead Sarafan knight.
Legacy of Kain has a story unlike any other. Before there was the likes of Game of Thrones or its kin, there was this. Set in a fictional realm called Nosgoth, the games alternate between two Vampires who happen to be mortal enemies; the title character Kain and his former first Lieutenant, Raziel, who he had cast into an abyss of eternal suffering to burn for all time. Due to some unpleasantness over Raziel’s new wings or something; they are no longer friends, you see. Raziel finds a creature at the bottom of this abyss; something that exists beyond time itself, a being literally controlling the cycle of life and death, feeding on the souls of Nosgoth and perpetuating lifetimes of torment to satiate its own endless hunger. This self-proclaimed ‘prophet’ enlists Raziel as his Soul Reaver to help destroy Kain and fulfill his main interests, although Raziel proves himself to be less the pawn than the creature was hoping. Behind all of this is a mythos so breathtakingly complicated it’s truly a marvel to behold. You see, I’m talking about the nine Pillars of Nosgoth. These Pillars represent various things such as time, dimensions, death, nature. Each with a guardian to channel that respective energy into the land and a Pillar to balance them all out. In the series, Kain is the Balance guardian. However, before much else can happen he’s assassinated and resurrected as a Vampire. Thus starting a chain of vengeful events that, over the course of the games, see Nosgoth fall into ruin and the Pillars topple as Kain is corrupted by the Vampirism.
And then the time traveling begins. Oh boy, did I think it was a complicated story before this. How wrong I was. I couldn’t possibly begin to go over all the ways in which Kain and Raziel mess about in the past. Somewhere in the Universe, in an alternate dimension, a Time Lord weeps as they wipe their vampire arses with their respective timeline while they embark on a grand game of cat and mouse. If you’re playing the games in order, you’ll alternate characters, following Kain in one game (Blood Omen) and Raziel (Soul Reaver) in the next with the final game, Defiance, split between the two. However, this is not necessarily in chronological order. Don’t worry. It’ll be okay. It’s meant to be like that. Just don’t ask me why I’ve given myself a headache trying to explain it again.
Raziel and Kain are both pompous, sanctimonious bastards and I love them. Never had I seen characters given so much depth and development in a game before. They were intelligent, stubborn and, for the most part, evenly matched. Even though they were oblivious, the player watched them walk through Nosgoth, mirrors to each other. The notion that individuals that hated each other so much were so alike was a lesson I learned playing the game. It was the first of many lessons about growing up. Another being that, given time, everything changes. Even the games themselves. Take a look at the very first Blood Omen game and compare it to the last game Defiance on the PS2 and you’ll see the type of transition we’re dealing with here. Personally, I was never a fan of the controls or the combat engine on any of the games; they were good for the time but still often a little clunky and obtuse, but then again I was never there to kill stuff; I was there to find out what the bloody hell was going on.
Legacy of Kain was a series that defied everything I thought I knew at the time about gaming. When I got swallowed by it there was genuinely no choice but to continue. I just had to see it through. I had to get the next game. There was no stopping. While at times it feels almost unnecessarily convoluted, and maybe it is, it forces the player to wrap their head around some very somber issues; vengeance, duty, forgiveness and even loneliness. Emotion is a tricky one to pull off well in a game, but Legacy of Kain has it in spades. The final scene between Raziel and Kain in Defiance makes me cry just even thinking about it.
If you never had these games and never got the chance to play them as a child, then you missed out on something wonderful.