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Game On: Gothic vampire series Legacy of Kain deserves a second shot at life

UPDATED: Thu., Oct. 14, 2021

Popular in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Legacy of Kain franchise went on indefinite hiatus following the poor sales of Legacy of Kain: Defiance in 2003. Writer and director Amy Hennig left the company and went on to work on Jak and Daxter and Uncharted.   (Square Enix Co.)
Popular in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Legacy of Kain franchise went on indefinite hiatus following the poor sales of Legacy of Kain: Defiance in 2003. Writer and director Amy Hennig left the company and went on to work on Jak and Daxter and Uncharted.  (Square Enix Co.)
By Riordan Zentler For The Spokesman-Review

Multiplayer gaming has non-coincidentally exploded in popularity recently as an avenue for people to stay in touch with friends and family from afar. Regardless, single-player games have maintained a strong following. According to NPD Group, solo games Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, the Last of Us: Part II and Ghost of Tsushima were the fifth, sixth and seventh bestselling games of 2020, respectively.

People still love the immersive experience that well-crafted single-player games can offer. It baffles me that one of the most renowned narrative-driven series of all time, Legacy of Kain, has been dormant for almost 18 years now when it’s arguably the perfect time for Square Enix to bring it back.

This thought has been in my mind for a while now spurred on by the past two years of countless rumors regarding a potential remake of Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver, the most popular game in the franchise. Unfortunately, thus far the rumors seem to be unsubstantiated. If the concept of time-traveling vampires sounds hokey on paper, I assure you it plays out better in-game.

After playing the woefully unoriginal Immortal Realms: Vampire Wars the other day, I was reminded what made Legacy of Kain so special – its bizarre storyline, gothic setting, intriguing characters and philosophical musings were fresh and original when it started in 1996, and it still holds up today.

Two vampires are locked in an endless struggle battling moral grays and exploring themes like sacrifice and the concept of free will. It’s surprisingly poignant for a series that looks to be all blood and guts upon first glance. While the story is one of the best in video game history, the gameplay itself has aged poorly.

The combat is monotonous, and navigating the levels can feel arbitrary and needlessly convoluted. But standards have changed. Those mechanics were perfectly acceptable two decades ago. At the time, even the gameplay of the Legacy of Kain was held in fairly high regard. Who doesn’t want to slash their way through hordes of undead and human vampire hunters as a vorpal blade-wielding, magically imbued and cold-blooded renegade.

Part of the problem may be that media centered on vampires feels cliché in recent years. In many ways, the “Twilight” series was the proverbial nail in the coffin for vampire stories. Stephenie Meyer sought to emulate Anne Rice with a bombastic depiction of vampires in modern times, and while the result was popular, it was also so ridiculously overly dramatic that it arguably tainted the genre for years to come.

Then again, Legacy of Kain shot itself in the foot with four back-to-back releases from 1999-2003. Gamers may remember it fondly today, but the franchise’s rapid-fire release schedule and failure to add new game mechanics burnt people out. When series writer and director Amy Hennig left to work for Naughty Dog and Legacy of Kain: Defiance failed to meet sales targets, Eidos Interactive put the vampire saga on an indefinite freeze.

Shortly thereafter, Eidos traded hands several times to avoid bankruptcy before being acquired by Square Enix in 2009, a massive publisher known for Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts and Dragon Quest. The publisher toyed with the Legacy of Kain property, but, one way or another, the plug was always pulled. The most notable cancellation was Legacy of Kain: Dead Sun, which was in production for three years before being canned in 2012.

Although incomplete, a vast quantity of gameplay footage, story information and concept artwork was eventually leaked to the public. The narrative was to center around a brand-new character in an alternate timeline and retained many elements of the originals while mimicking mechanics from other action-adventure titles such as Assassin’s Creed.

I couldn’t disagree more with Square Enix’ official statement that “Dead Sun just wasn’t the right game at the right time.” The market may be flooded with action-adventure titles, but they sold like hotcakes in 2012 and still do today. And the success of Dark Souls shows there’s a market for exploring dark, mysterious worlds. With a fresh coat of paint and more modern game design sensibilities, a Legacy of Kain remake, remaster or sequel would sell better than ever.

Riordan Zentler can be reached at riordanzentler@gmail.com.

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