The Legacy of Kain series has been unlucky. Doomed. Multiple attempts to reanimate its wrecked corpse have been met with failure. The curse of Kain has, reportedly, taken studios and careers down with it. But then, maybe that makes sense; the dual protagonists of the series – Kain and Raziel – were never known for their luck, were they? Fated to dance through life and death as Nosgoth blooms and fades around them, their attachment to the world of the living was always tenuous, at best.
Apt it is, then, that we could be looking at a resurrection of the brand. This week’s news that Square Enix has unceremoniously shat off all of its less-desirable IP (that’s my reading of it) means that Raziel and Kain have a new God now; the faceless, uber-corporate suits at Embracer. At first look, you’d be forgiven for thinking the investment company would be satisfied simply pumping out a LoK-flavoured battle royal (hey, remember Nosgoth?) But, on closer inspection, it actually looks like there might yet be hope for all of us wanting to know what happens after 2003’s final chapter in the saga to date, Defiance.
“[Embracer has] been particularly impressed by the studios’ rich portfolio of original IP, housing brands with proven global potential such as Tomb Raider and Deus Ex, as well as demonstrating the ability to create AAA games with large and growing fan bases,” the company has said in a press release. “Embracer sees an opportunity to invest in these franchises, as well as the additional acquired IPs such as Legacy of Kain, Thief, and other original franchises.”
The very fact that the company name-checked the esteemed of dark fantasy action-adventure series is a damn sight more than we’ve seen from Square Enix over the past two decades, at this point. Suddenly, out of nowhere, it feels like some sleeping deity’s eyes have shot open and a booming voice from the depths calls out and says ‘Raziel… the wheel of fate is turning again.’
For a series that’s famously made us sit and think about fatalism and man’s struggle for free will, I do think it’s funny that Legacy of Kain’s original creators (Silicon Knights), most famous writer (Amy Hennig), and caretaker developer (Eidos) has absolutely no say over what happens to the game. It’s funny, in the same kind-of way that Milton is funny; steeped in irony and tinged with a slight bitterness. The most widely-acclaimed title of the series, Soul Reaver, sits at an impressive 91 on Metacritic – for context, that’s a higher rating than PSOne stablemates Final Fantasy VIII, Resident Evil 2 and Wipeout 3. There’s a lot of love for this series out there, even today… so why has it been left in the dust for so long?
Perhaps Square Enix was spooked, years ago, when the doomed by Legacy of Kain: Dead Sun – made by Climax Studios for Square Enix Europe – disappeared without a trace, with the company later begrudingly admitting that the title “just wasn’t the right game, at the right time”. You’d think a game focusing on both a vampire and a human – wrapped in an endless quest for revenge – developed by the folks behind Silent Hill: Shattered Memories would have been perfect around 2010, no? A dark, edgy open world would have been the perfect chaser for all the grim-dark shooters that proliferated around then.
But Square Enix cast the nearly-completed project into the abyss, like Kain cast Raziel into the Lake of the Dead at the beginning of Soul Reaver. Since then – aside from a cynical, unpopular multiplayer-only game kitbashed together from assets of Dead Sun – the series has lay dormant. Dead. Whether the series will emerge from the depths of development hell, disoriented and blinking, adjusting its vision to a world where NFTs and microtransactions are the norm, remains to be seen. But I choose to read Embracer’s acknowledgement of its forgotten goth son as a statement of intent – not just of ownership.
The successes of Star Wars: Fallen Order, God of War, The Last of Us, and even the Arkane-flavoured immersive sims like Prey and Dishonored prove that there’s an appetite for dark, brooding games steeped in atmosphere and overwrought writing. The way we all, collectively, take fat gulps of gothic-tinged lore out of FromSoft’s brimming chalice proves that we’re hungry for action-adventure games with well-thought worlds, who’s identity is as important as any main character. We’re ready, Embracer, to return to Nosgoth. In fact, there’s probably never been a better time.
From Soul Reaver onwards, the series was known for its central gimmick of letting Raziel shift between realms – it was a mechanic that took the story’s obsession with breadth and depth and realised it in gameplay. The story spans epochs, and Raziel has the ‘gift’ of being able to shift between corporeal and physical forms. On the PS1, this was dealt with in a technically-impressive way, even on more rudimentary tech. Think how that would work no… take a look at, say, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart.
In the hands of a competant developer, contemporary tech would allow players to traverse a semi-open world that had not only scope, but depth. The stories you could tell – about Nosgoth and its perpetual struggles – with SSDs powering your world… it’s enough to make you salivate. The industry is crying out for a game that redefines our relationship with open world titles, in much the same way Breath of the Wild did on Switch, and the unique setting of Nosgoth – and the deep veins of Legacy of Kain lore – is the perfect vessel for such an experiment.
The desire to see the Pillars stand at the center of this cyclical world once more is wishful thinking on my part, probably – I’m just hungry for that gothic-industrial, Shakespearean vibe that the games always wore like a well-fitting leather jacket. If I had my way, the team that worked so hard on Marvel’s Guaridans of the Galaxy would focus on Nosgoth, examine the legacy that Kain’s selfishness and Raziel’s single-mindedness left on the world – and the poor bastards that would have to live with those consequences, years down the line. Given the circumstances, it’d all feel rather apt.