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The Future of Legacy of Kain

Dark Prophecy
A screenshot from the aborted Legacy of Kain: The Dark Prophecy

In the first few years of the 21st Century, the Legacy of Kain was a big action-adventure video game franchise. A high-concept gothic horror story that mixed complex vampire mythology with time travel, heady philosophy, and even aliens (sort-of), the five games in the series are still cited as some of the most ambitious projects in the entire industry. However, the increasingly convoluted--though impressively consistent--plot, along with at least one lackluster title, Blood Omen 2, kept the franchise from bringing in many new players. As such, it declined in popularity about as quickly as it rose, and poor sales for the fifth entry, Defiance, caused the cancellation of a planned sixth (and allegedly final) game, The Dark Prophecy, back in 2004. Since then, it has been largely assumed that the legacy is dead.

Still, the rumor mill has been stirring lately with the possibility that the franchise may be born again, like Raziel from his Sarafan crypt. First is the news that Silicon Knights, creator of the original Blood Omen, is excitedly working on its most requested title, a sequel to a flagship game. However, with the developer struggling to stay alive and downsizing to a reported workforce of a mere 25 people, it seems unlikely that it would be able to put together something as grandiose as a Legacy of Kain title, especially when you consider that the rights are currently in the hands of Square Enix. If I were a betting man, I'd bet that Silicon Knights is actually working on a sequel to Eternal Darkness, and if it is, I hereby take back anything bad I may have said about it or its leader, Denis Dyack, in the past.

Other developers, though, have also teased a possible rebirth for the Legacy of Kain. In June 2010, Darrell Gallagher, head of Crystal Dynamics (the studio that created three of the previous games and is now owned by Square Enix), said, "We see the fan feedback on Legacy of Kain. There’s nothing we can talk about right now, but we can tell fans we definitely hear it." There are other rumors, most of which are entirely anectdotal, but the biggest reason to believe that Crystal Dynamics hasn't forgotten about Kain is the fact that its premiere franchise, Tomb Raider, is filled with easter eggs for Kain fanatics. For example, both Kain and Raziel can be unlocked as playable characters in Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. However, it should be noted that, last July, Crystal Dynamics' Karl Stewart made it clear that his company is not currently developing a new Legacy of Kain game, which has only fueled speculation that the IP has been moved to a different studio.

The rebooted Lara Croft
If they can do this for Lara Croft...

With Crystal Dynamics currently promoting a soon-to-be-released reboot of Tomb Raider, though, it doesn't take much imagination to contemplate the possibility that Square Enix is considering giving Legacy of Kain a similar treatment. On the surface, it makes too much sense to dismiss; you have a critically acclaimed series with a dedicated fanbase frothing at the mouth for a new game, and the best way to bring in a new audience while pleasing that fanbase is to start from scratch, to give them all an entry point to a next-gen world of Kain. Besides, if the best reboots are gritty (and Tomb Raider certainly looks the part), can you imagine anything grittier than Legacy of Kain, a series that has dealt with the downfall of the human race, the end of all things, warring with God himself, what it means to have your soul become the food for immortals, and even a final boss fight in which you are tasked with killing yourself?

I'd eagerly welcome a straight-forward reboot, but let's pause for a second and consider how Legacy of Kain presents an opportunity for an outside-of-the-box reboot. Like with the wildly successful Star Trek, a new Legacy of Kain could use the series' reliance on time travel and paradoxes to have the best of both worlds. You can start fresh, but you don't necessarily have to throw out what came before. If there's one overriding idea contained in all five games, it's that Kain is trying to change fate, to trick the universe into offering him a "third option." The games chart their course through altered timelines and paradoxical conundrums (heck, the entirety of Blood Omen 2 takes place outside the timeline, barely tethered to the rest of the continuity), so it should be possible to create a brand new universe that still relates to the one left infuriatingly dangling on that cliff at the end of Defiance.

This raises the question, then: what defines a Legacy of Kain game? Let's start with story. The most important thing, of course, is Kain himself, the only character to appear in all five games, either as a protagonist or an antagonist (or both, in the case of Defiance). In brief, he was born to be the Guardian of Balance, one of nine guardians tasked with protecting the Pillars of Nosgoth, a seal holding the evil Hylden at bay. However, after being turned into a vampire and being tricked into killing the other eight guardians, he is offered a choice to either sacrifice himself (and thus all vampires, as Kain was the last one at this point) or allow the Pillars to topple. Kain chooses to live, in hopes of finding a way out of this choice and restoring the Pillars and its vampire guardians.

The end of Defiance
This can't be the end of the story

This is the central story of the legacy, and it is never resolved. Kain travels through time, creates a creature of free will, and defeats the Elder God in order to achieve his goals, but by the end of Defiance, he still has not fully succeeded or failed. In fact, Defiance ends with Kain, clutching his soul reaver blade (which is now infused with Raziel's soul and capable of exerting control over the bonds of inexorable fate), watching from a distance as his younger self makes the choice to destroy the Pillars of Nosgoth, and pondering that he has gained the one thing he needs: hope.

So, despite a lot of insane plot twists and intrigue, the story ends where it begins and all the details are rendered largely meaningless. A new game, therefore, could start with a new protagonist being thrown into these events with no knowledge of the details. The universe could unravel to this new protagonist in a very simple, methodical way, without confusing newcomers to the series. There is precedent for this, as the second game in the franchise, Soul Reaver, did exactly the same thing, not requiring players to know anything about Blood Omen in order to follow along. Granted, the chances of creating a new protagonist as awesome and memorable as Raziel are pretty damn slim, and I wouldn't envy anyone the task.

Still, Kain has to appear, and he has to still be working to restore vampires to their rightful place as the guardians of the Pillars of Nosgoth. He is an intensely powerful creature who can now weild his own free will, not to mention his ability to travel through time. He could be a misunderstood and extremely foreboding antagonist again, as he was in Soul Reaver, or he could be helping the protagonist as part of his plan. However, if it were up to me, I'd take a third option.

Kain on his throne
Kain needs to reclaim his throne!

So here's my pitch, but I disclaim, as always, that these are just the rantings of a fanboy and are not meant as anything else. Of course, if you are with Square Enix and you are looking for someone to work on the script for a new Legacy of Kain game, leave me your contact information and, if your offer pleases me, my people can talk to your people.

The Legacy of Kain sequel of my dreams (I'd call it Legacy of Kain: Reclamation) takes place in a Nosgoth where Kain has actually failed and is dead. The Hylden have risen from the ashes of the Pillars and vampires are extinct. You are a human in a world dominated by the Hylden, who are still trying to eradicate all other life on Nosgoth. In order to defeat them, you must unlock the secret of the Hylden curse (vampirism), become a vampire yourself (probably using the Heart of Darkness, last seen banished with the Hylden in the demon realm), and track down the legendary hero of all vampires, Kain. You must discover how and why he failed, recover his soul reaver, and use its powers to defeat the Hylden Lord and resurrect Kain so that he might be able to cast the Hylden out again and restore the pillars. However, when Kain insists that humanity is irrelevant to his plans, you clash with him, which results in Kain retrieving the soul reaver and calling you a fool, but refusing to kill you because you alone hold the key to rebuilding the vampire race. (I want to add that a good friend of mine added a possibility that the soul reaver could "corrupt" the protagonist with Raziel's memories and everlasting soul, thus finding a way to include Raziel in the story without having to break the continuity.)

But that's just my idea. Gameplay-wise, a new Legacy of Kain should be treated as a modern third-person action-adventure game, sticking to the formula of past games to make something that would feel like a mix of Prince of Persia, Zelda, and God of War. My version puts you into the role of a young vampire, which would give designers a chance to go back to some of the Blood Omen and Blood Omen 2 mechanics of blood-sucking, spectral or animal forms, and an aversion to daylight. As a vampire champion for humanity, it would be especially ironic if you need to feed on the blood of mortals.

So there you have it. As long as fans continue to clamor for it, I do expect we will see another Legacy of Kain game someday, but it is still unclear when, much less whether or not it will stick to the continuity of past installments or resolve the dangling plot threads. The franchise is too great to stay dead, and with today's dire need to make vampires gothic and interesting again, here's hoping the resurrection comes sooner than later.

[UPDATE: In 2013, it was revealed that a new Legacy of Kain game had been in development for three years, but was cancelled. To learn more about Legacy of Kain: Dead Sun, go to my reaction to the news.]

-e. magill 1/31/2012

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