Legacy of Kain Defiance

Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Publisher: Eidos

After a series of highs and lows both sales and quality-wise, the Legacy of Kain franchise had become diluted. No longer were there any discernible traces of its Legend of Zelda gameplay origins, and all Tomb Raider influences had mostly dissipated by this point. The series had also fallen out of favor with critics and gamers alike, as each installment scored and sold progressively less. Perhaps in an attempt to save a dying franchise, efforts were put into re-inventing it once again, this time taking cues from Capcom’s popular Devil May Cry titles. 

Indeed these were trying times for Legacy of Kain fans and the next entry, Legacy of Kain: Defiance would be instrumental in gauging whether or not this was the last we’d hear from our two anti-heroes. Of course, it’s now been 12 years since we’ve journeyed with either Kain or Raziel, so needless to say, Defiance didn’t sway the hearts of naysayers and the franchise now rests in limbo.

Most likely, the order to split the franchise in two series had also been recalled due to the disappointment known as Blood Omen 2. Now, players would be able to play as both Kain and Raziel in a shared game and timeline, though not at will. Rather, as the story progressed, we would be handled control of either one or the other.

Taking place after the events of Soul Reaver 2, players once again take control of the titular Kain, this time finally reunited with his sword, the Soul Reaver. This time however, the sword has yet to be imbued with the power to devour souls, instead, it will drain all blood from Kain’s foes. It may seem like an unnecessary plot point, but in actuality, this serves to explain why even regular Sarafan warriors require several hits before perishing. Raziel also lost the elemental powers gained in the previous game, having to recover them yet again.

Legacy of Kain: Defiance places a greater emphasis on fast-paced combat than its predecessors did. Your characters now move much faster and chain combos similar to Capcom’s Dante. However, your moveset is rather limited and even though new abilities can be earned it never feels as though you have a large array of combinations to pull off. Enemy variety is equally average, providing little challenge or need to perfectly master either of our anti-heroes.

The environmental hazards from Soul Reaver 1 also make a return though their importance is considerably downplayed. You may employ telekinetic attacks to project enemies against spikes, fires or throw them off bridges. In many ways this greatly simplifies battles though I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t immensely satisfying. Better yet, statues and handrails can break off when foes are telekinetically propelled onto them, it almost makes me wish a greater emphasis had been placed on these abilities for both combat and puzzle solving.

Both Kain and Raziel will improve their respective physical and spectral reavers throughout their journey. A far greater emphasis is placed on the fallen angel of death though, as he earns roughly twice as many upgrades as his vampiric counterpart. When upgraded, the reaver can charge whenever a quick succession of strikes is hurled at foes. Once fully charged, all regular attacks will issue a secondary status effect depending on the element chosen ranging from knockback, to slowing foes or even freezing them. Finally, by pressing and holding the attack button, players may release the reaver’s full charge spreading a more powerful version of its status-altering abilities.

In Raziel’s case, reaver upgrades will also add platforming / puzzle-solving abilities including the ability to go invisible, create platforms for which to jump on, scalable walls and more. With Kain, these upgrades are far less pronounced and only some grant non-combat abilities.

Although we take control of both Kain and Raziel throughout this experience, they play almost exactly the same. Both use the same basic and advanced combos, some must be acquired by gaining experience and although each has their own XP bar, they earn the same exact moves.

The game is a mostly linear affair, players may backtrack to previous areas, but save for the occasional health and telekinesis upgrade there’s very little reason to do so. Throughout this journey, either Kain or Raziel will visit previous locations such as Vorador’s Mansion and the Sarafan stronghold, both of which look fairly faithful to their previous incarnations. The same can’t be said for the pillars of Nosgoth though, in many ways their surrounding area seems completely different from what we’ve previously witnessed.

This series has always been known for its strong narrative focus and though Legacy of Kain: Defiance sees the return of Amy henning at the writing helm, the story is not as engaging as it was in Soul Reaver 2. In fact, for the first half Defiance drags on both gameplay and plot-wise. It wasn’t until we begin to approach the climax that it finally became interesting.

On some level it seems the time and/or budget for Legacy of Kain: Defiance seems to have been constrained. For example, rather than discovering ancient vampiric temples, Raziel stumbles upon portals leading him to different parts of the same temple. The issue here being that much of the thrill that comes with exploring and discovering long forgotten temples is now lost. Worse still, the action is now broken up and players are propelled to nearly identical locations time and time again. Oddly enough, the entire adventure makes for a short endeavor as it can be finished in just one day with no replay value added.

In Soul Reaver 2, temples had a theme related to their element, making each location visually unique. Here, they all look the same and carry no theme. Even Raziel’s monologues and lore retrieved from exploring their murals have been severely toned down. 

Legacy of Kain: Defiance also suffers from the occasional bug or glitch. These were mostly fixed for the US release, but if you’re playing on a PAL system like I am, you might run into sections where the camera becomes stuck or Raziel falls through the floor into nothingness.

As the story draws to its conclusion several loose points are eventually addressed though they mostly ignore Blood Omen 2. We also finally witness the showdown between Kain and Raziel though its conclusion is less than satisfying. 

It’s sad to see that series which held so much promise fade away and wither. A succession of questionable decisions on a management level and game design diluted much of the formula and story. Even more egregious is the fact this franchise never reached a proper conclusion, with many of the evils being driven back, but not fully defeated. To this day the Legacy of Kain series still holds a loyal fanbase to which I consider myself a part of it, but sadly, looking at them over a decade later, it’s obvious the games require an overhaul and a focus on what made them so strong both gameplay and narrative-wise.

- Fast paced combat is probably the best in the series
- Telekinetic powers are quite fun
- Despite a slow start, the second half and climax are quite interesting

- Short and repetitive
- Feeling of exploration from past entries is gone
- The first half of the game is terribly uninteresting
- A disappointing ending that opens up room for a sequel that never came.

Final Grade: C+

I can't say I'm a fan of the cover art, it screams generic action game. I also find it odd that Kain and Raziel are staring at two different points, not to mention, we never actually see them fighting together throughout the game.

The manual is probably the best I've seen for the series so far though. It features plenty of full-colored screenshots, accurately condenses the storyline thus far and even features profile descriptions for both Kain and Raziel.

Of course, it also goes into a fairly lengthy detail on how to play Legacy of Kain: Defiance, though it does spoil many of the abilities players will gain as they progress through the main storyline.

Overall, it's a standard packaging, the cover doesn't impress me, but the manual makes up for this. It's sad Eidos didn't include a hologram cover like they did with the original Soul Reaver, but I suppose at this point even the publisher had fallen out of love with the series.

Packaging Grade: B-

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