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"Kain was deified" - Legacy of Kain thread of gods and monsters

conchobhar

What's Shenmue?
(he/him/his)
I finished Soul Reaver 2.

Yeah, I can see why this game isn't thought of as fondly as its predecessor— a lot of the things I so loved about Soul Reaver are, if not absent entirely, then vestigial. So SR2 has a big, interconnected world, but this time it amounts to nothing more than a trek from one end to the other: there are no collectibles, no side paths and secret areas, no using new abilities to uncover new paths. It has the appearance of SR1's world design— down to eliminating loading screens and creating a seamless space— but none of the substance of what really made it so memorable.

The worst hit, though, is the combat. The great thing about SR1 was how its combat was a sort of puzzle: the enemies were all vampires, and as such, were immortal to standard attacks and could only be killed by impalement, flame, sun or water— consequently, the important part of a given encounter was locating the weapons or environmental hazard that would vanquish them, with the actual fight being practically perfunctory. But in SR2, there are exactly zero vampires; all the enemies are humans (and later, demons), who do not require any special consideration and can be simply pummelled to death. So right away, it's already lost a lot of character in favour of a simplistic hack-and-slash. Worse, I don't think the hack-and-slash is any good! The controls are unresponsive and clumsy (dodges didn't always go in the direction I intended), and the rhythm of combat is awkward and jerky at the best of times, and liable to get stunlocked at the worse of times. It was mostly just frustrating; after a while, I just started running past every enemy I could.

Despite that, SR2 is not without its strong points. The presentation is, of course, aces; a lot of the actual story is lost on me, as someone whose only experience with Blood Omen is a Wikipedia summary, but there's so much intrigue that it's impossible not to get swept up in it anyway. The voice cast is the biggest reason for that, of course: Michael Bell (Raziel) has only improved since the first game, and hearing him spar with Simon Templeman (Kain) and Richard Doyle (Moebius) is incredble; each of these would be stand-out performances in another game, but here they're just one of many. It's becoming apparent to me that Legacy of Kain has perhaps the finest voice acting in the medium.

But the gameplay has its ups, too, particularly in the puzzle design. Now, I actually had no qualms with the box puzzles in SR1 (I found them uncommonly clever and well-implemented, and was impressed how much mileage they got out of moving blocks around), but SR2's addition of Reaver abilities is a massive improvement: it opens up new venues for puzzles while simultaneously obscuring what is one (or at least, they don't call attention to themselves the way boxes do). I also like how the forges tend towards a sort of puzzle-box design, where the entire dungeon is something to untangle and not just a house for a series of standalone problems. It's all quite satisfying to do.

Another thing I appreciated: no bosses. Not just because I have my issues with the combat in the game, but because I always appreciate when developers have enough confidence in their game to break from design orthodoxy in this way— to not include bosses simply because it's the done thing. Ideally, I would have just wanted puzzle-boss encounters like in the first game, but since SR2 did not go in that direction, I'm not missing the prospect of Raziel getting into bare-knuckle brawls or whatever. I think the game is stronger for it.

Overall, I did enjoy my time with Soul Reaver 2. It doesn't doesn't measure up to its predecessor, but it's still got its flashes of creativity, and its story is reason enough to give it the time of day. It's not a genre classic but it's agreeable.

My question to the forum: should I play Blood Omen 2 and/or Defiance? I'm at a point where I'm still enjoying and impressed with the series, but am also OK leaving it here if the series dramatically declines in quality, or gets markedly less mechanically interesting. BO2 is the one I'm most skeptical of, not only because it's made by a different creative team, but because the preview of it included on the SR2 disc made it look really stiff (not just the gameplay, but also the cutscenes). But I'm unsure about Defiance as well, since I'm worried it'll just be a straight action game.
 
Play both! BO2 is sort of in an elseworlds thing, as it directly contradicts events in BO1 with return of a certain character, but still fun, more Templeman and the overall conflict is part of story in defiance
 

Wolf

Ancient Nameless Hero
(He/him)
I think Soul Reaver 2 might have been the first action game I ever played with no boss fights. And then, at the end, when you're actually facing somewhat boss-like enemies, it's literally impossible to die. That subversion was a real delight. And Raziel's final fight of the game, even though you know where it's heading as soon as that series of encounters starts, is great. "I. Renounce. You," in that context, has always struck me as a great line.

I feel like the writing in Blood Omen 2 is a little B-tier, especially coming hot on the heels of Soul Reaver 2, and there's a sense of the older games' sophistication (any of the older games) that's missing from it, though I do seem to recall it serves as a good excuse for Simon Templeman to chew on some scenery. It's not terrible, not even bad, really, but I'd say it's easily in the running with the original Blood Omen for weakest in series (and I ultimately tend to favor the original Blood Omen, honestly, as its sins are more of a product of its time, and thus more forgivable in my eyes).

I would definitely say that you should play Defiance. Though it presents an open ending rather than a closed one, it still feels decisive in its way, if not definitive. And to leave the audience hanging is sort of the ultimate expression of the Legacy of Kain experience at this point. It's been a long time since I've played through the series, so I can't recall how its puzzle-solving stacks up against Soul Reaver 1 and 2. Its combat, though, is mostly an improvement. It leans in the direction of Devil May Cry, though I'd say it's really more DMC-lite than anything. Inputs are all pretty simple. And although the game has you switching perspectives back and forth between Kain and Raziel (a little like the Master Chief and the Arbiter in Halo 2), they both control basically the same, and their growing movesets are analogous, so there's little worry about having to learn two separate characters. As I recall, Raziel is maybe a little faster, or at least leans more on leaping and rolling and dodging about, while Kain's a little more deliberate and controlled. There are some nice touches here and there, like Kain's combat dodge, which involves him briefly turning into mist and just sort of ghosting around his enemies, to re-materialize at the end-point of the dodge. But they do retain their differences for puzzle-solving and navigation, with Raziel still relying on plane-shifting and gliding, and Kain relying on his vampire abilities.

Defiance does do away with the continuous-world aspect of Soul Reaver's design (but then, so does Blood Omen 2). It also recycles some assets to an extent, though it does this in the best way possible, by presenting you with many of the same places at different points in time, and thus in different stages of ruin (and therefore with different puzzles to solve). It has a couple actual boss fights, with enemy health bars and everything.

It also wraps up the story quite nicely, I think. Anyway, I enjoyed it quite thoroughly. And you also get to finally find out what happened to the last of Kain's vampire lieutenants, which is nice.
 

Becksworth

Aging Hipster Dragon Dad
I don’t know how well it stacks up over 15 years later, but I do recall Defiance being one the highlights of the series gameplay wise. Not amazing, but nonetheless solid.
 

Sarcasmorator

Same as I ever was
(He/him)
BO2 was looking pretty rough even when I tried playing it 15 years ago, but Defiance is good stuff and a good cap to the series, tying together a lot of plot threads even if the hinted-at continuation never came to pass. And the gameplay's good fun, lots of telekinesis.
 

Wolf

Ancient Nameless Hero
(He/him)
Running along a parapet and just psychic-tossing guys off of it as you go is the best, for sure.
 

Sarge

hardcore retro gamin'
I will confirm Defiance was fun - I didn't even have the benefit of all the lore going in, and it still kept me playing.
 

Aleryn

Gravity is overrated.
Raziel, don't be simple.

In ways I relate this series to the Japanese RPGs of the 90s like Xenogears and others that shot for the moon and pulled it off. Heck, I even like the
Hilden aliens
of Blood Omen 2 - going from memory it could even work since that was [I think] thousands of years before the events of Soul Reaver even started.

As others mentioned though, its really the two principal characters and their actors that sold it. I don't even care about the game part so long as I can enjoy that banter and mood. Wouldn't surprise me if this is why disc 2 of Xenogears never bothered me - I was there for 'what happens,' the game was moot. Though I'll definitely support that Defiance and the original Soul Reaver felt the best in combat. I was the oddball that enjoyed Blood Omen 2's as well, though I doubt it has aged well at all.

Still, I probably haven't touched the games in over a decade.
 

conchobhar

What's Shenmue?
(he/him/his)
Well, opinion was split, but I decided to take a chance on Blood Omen 2. I'm not done, but I'm a few chapters in.

It's… something. I'm not sure how to feel about it. It's not without ideas but it's very undercooked— the combat, the puzzles, the story and even (and most disappointingly of them all) the presentation. Simon Templeman is still great as Kain, here imbuing him with a barely-concealed contempt and fury, but the rest of the voice cast isn't on his level— so the cutscenes lack the beguiling theatricality of Soul Reaver, where the verbal sparring alone could carry the dramatics.

I'm committed to seeing this through to the end, though, so I'll leave my full thoughts until then…
 

Peklo

Oh! Create!
(they/them, she/her)
Nah, it's not new. I first used it when writing about Touhou Luna Nights in late February 2019 or so, because that's the term that was used for it on the game's Steam page at the time (since rewritten; now says "Metroidvania"). I'm fairly sure it's a moniker that exists in Japanese-language parlance and has for however long, and found its way into English-facing PR because of a language gap, but personally I found it evocative and useful and so adopted it at least into my own lexicon. That's really all it is.
 

madhair60

Video games
Saw a couple of people in this thread using it so I wondered if I'd missed a memo. I like it better than Metroidvania
 

Sarge

hardcore retro gamin'
I've started to use "exploratory platformer", myself, sometimes pre-pending "non-linear" on the front.
 

conchobhar

What's Shenmue?
(he/him/his)
Blood Omen 2 is an odd one. It's not a bad game, but I don't think I'd call it a good one, either. I think I'd just call it underwhelming: there's some neat stuff within, but it's very clumsy, and the design never rises above perfunctory.

Take the combat. Unlike the two Soul Reaver games, which were fast-paced, loose and combo-heavy, this game is going for something slow, rigid and deliberate; it’s a game of watching your foe, blocking (or dodging) attacks and waiting for openings to strike. This should make any given encounter into a tense showdown… except every enemy has the same basic pattern. And so every fight is as simple as holding block, waiting for an enemy’s basic attack combo, and then retaliating afterwards— works every time. Granted, I choose the easy blocking option (where you can just hold block, rather than time it to the hit), which I’m sure made combat more monotonous, but… it would have done well if it were designed with that in mind, rather than let it completely negate the idea.

Then there's the puzzle design. About 90% of it is just flipping switches and pressing buttons. That might sound unfair and reductive, given how Soul Reaver can be characterized as "just moving blocks", but it actually is like that. The puzzle design, such as it is, is just coming to a locked door or gate, looking around to find a button, hitting that button to unlock the door, and then continuing on— no thought required. The game even gradually expands Kain's toolkit, with the addition of things like telekinesis or mind control, but the style of puzzle never changes: they're just new ways to hit switches. There's some interesting ones actually test your understanding of the area and moving parts— for example, I liked the puzzle of moving a big rock across a construction site, making use of cranes and conveyor belts— but they're few and far between.

But the biggest letdown is the writing— not so much the overarching plot as the script and dialogue. One of the best things about this series is the magnificent purple prose, the actors delivering it with such conviction, and all the verbal sparring they get into; but that is mostly absent here. Simon Templeman still turns in a great performance, but he doesn't have any support: the dialogue doesn't have its bite, there's much less back-and-forth (Kain often has little to say in a given scene), and the rest of the voice cast just isn't on Templeman's level. The story itself may not be anything special, but I think the main reason it doesn't click is that it lacks the same gravitas.

It's not all bad, though. The boss fights are pretty good, broadly in-line with Soul Reaver in the sense that they all have a puzzle element to them, making use of the arena, rather than being straight brawls. The stealth mechanic is neat, and adds a smidgen of variety to the levels and their procedings. Most levels have a few instances of NPCs chatting amongst themselves, not about anything critical for Kain (and the player) to overhear but just gripes about life under the Sarafan, which is a nice bit of worldbuilding. And, once you get out of the cities, the aesthetic theme to the levels is nice, particularly in the late game (the prison is the highlight, but the Device is a cool change of pace and even the Hylden City has something going for it).

All in all, Blood Omen 2 is not the disaster I've seen people say it is (not here, but elsewhere). It's really just undercooked. There's enough concepts, mechanics and ideas here that I think it could have been a great game, but evidently it never got the support it needed. It's not a tragedy, but it is disappointing.

Anyway, I've ordered Defiance, so that'll be something to get to sooner than later. All in on this series, now!
 

Falselogic

Techno-Threadcromancer
(they/them)
I still like Castleroid. But, mostly because it sounds like some sort of super boil.

@conchobhar - It has been a long time since I played BO2 but your summary rings true. My brother and I played through all of it when it came out and I think we kept hoping there'd be more there eventually, until we got to the end of the game and there wasn't. Templeman is truly a gift though.
 
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