Blood Omen Review - St1ka's Retro Corner (PS1)

Blood Omen Review - St1ka's Retro Corner (PS1)
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    You know, generally speaking, gaming used to consist of fast, arcade-like experiences
    with little care taken into crafting a well developed story or cinematic experiences.
    Of course there were exceptions to this rule, the Super Nintendo featured a strong library
    of RPGs while PC gaming offered a vast bouquet of adventure games and its own take on role-playing.
    These however were not the most popular genres, western sales of well-established franchises
    like King's Quest or Final Fantasy could not hold a candle to the popularity of Super
    Mario, Sonic The Hedgehog, Street Fighter 2 and other faster paced classics.
    This trend began to change with the advent of 32-bit consoles, 3D gaming and optical
    media. Suddenly, developers were more willing to invest in intangible assets like story,
    lore, characters and dialog. One could claim titles like Final Fantasy VII and Metal Gear
    Solid laid the foundation of what gamers expected from a plot driven experience for years to
    come. With that said, there were other games that tried to claim this crown before
    it was eventually jointly-shared by Squaresoft, Konami and other Japanese developers during the 32-bit era.
    Blood Omen: The Legacy of Kain was perhaps one of the most serious contenders during
    the Playstation's early years. Developed by the then relatively unknown Silicon Knights
    with support from Crystal Dynamics, Blood Omen created quite a splash with the media
    when it was first unveiled at E3 in 1995. Proclaiming itself as a mature story-driven game,
    players were invited to play the role of a blood-thirsty vampire whose moral compass
    swinged from villain to anti-hero. Blood Omen's sales reports are conflicting at best, ranging
    anywhere from 300,000 to 2 million units. Regardless, it went on to spawn a successful
    series consisting of 5 games and a recent online spin-off.
    The game comes in a regular Ps1 Box, and I gotta say, I really like the cover art. It
    sorta reminds me of Castlevania in a good way. Inside we find the disc and a pretty
    thick manual. It gives you a pretty good description of most weapons, items and spells and even
    has several black and white screenshots, but is overall a pretty standard manual. At least
    it ends with an advert for Pandemonium. A game which surprisingly I've never played
    Players take control of Kain, a nobleman murdered
    in cold blood who later resurrected as a fledgling vampire. Our anti-hero's motivations are
    initially simple; to enact revenge on those who assassinated him and discover a cure for
    his newfound vampire status. The plot, lore and dialog take front and center in Blood
    Omen, often being a prime reason as to why both this game and series are so fondly remembered.
    Unfortunately, the narrative flow in Blood Omen often seems confused and direction-less.
    Kain's motivations and persona keep shifting from repulsion of his newfound condition
    to adulation with no explanation as to why. his stance varies so wildly and abruptly that
    at times I thought he suffered from bi-polar disorder. To make matters worse, the story
    is extremely disjointed, hastily introducing new plot elements with no warning or foreshadowing
    only to then quickly resolve and permanently dispose of them. In fact, most of the narrative
    elements provided in Blood Omen tend to function as self-contained set-pieces with a barely
    coherent, overarching series of events tying them together.
    In the game's defense, these serve a brilliant purpose of lore-building, I often found myself
    interested in learning more about its characters and locations. Places like Nuprator's keep
    and Vorador's Mansion provided a decidedly dark and gruesome experience that had me eagerly
    clinging for every piece of information, effectively crafting a compelling narrative while leaving
    enough room to let players fill the gaps themselves. Sadly, we are eventually called back into
    the main plotline, which is awkwardly presented and at times seem to have had elements removed
    at the last minute with little concern as to how it would affect overall flow. At one
    point, Kain is asked to fight a war to which he accepts, despite there being no logical
    motivation for him to so. In the end, our villainous anti-hero fought a war simply because
    he was asked to. Perhaps even more egregious is the endgame battle where a new plotpoint
    appears out of nowhere for the sole purpose of adding in a boss fight.
    Despite all the flaws plaguing Blood Omen's story the writing style is downright Shakespearean
    and surprisingly solid. This is further strengthened by Simon Templeman's stellar delivery as
    the titular Kain. If our main character were played by anyone else the series would have
    lost one of the pillars (see what I did there?) which made it so memorable. The voice
    cast is generally well-rounded by veteran professionals including Richard Doyle and
    Tony Jay, most of which would return in future installments. Sadly, I feel these were not
    their best performances, most likely they were given little voice direction and as a
    result, characters weren't as fleshed out as they could have been.
    The story for which the later games isn't included here either as the rest of the series
    would be handled by Crystal Dynamics. I mean hell, even the Soul Reaver looks pretty stubby
    when compared to its sequels. Blood Omen's gameplay is reminiscent of
    Nintendo's Legend of Zelda, featuring an overhead view and a focus on light puzzle
    solving. As our character progresses, new abilities are earned in the form of magic
    spells, vampiric powers and weaponry. In this regard, Blood Omen is extremely ambitious
    as I have yet to play a game that so accurately managed to capture the feeling of being a
    vampire. Kain can transform into a total of 4 forms; mist, human, wolf and bat. These
    carry different purposes ranging from increased speed and fast travel to avoiding enemy detection
    and more. New abilities are often found in dungeons
    or other similar locations. The main campaign is pretty linear and must be completed
    in the same exact order with each playthrough. But there are several optional dungeons to
    explore which give you of new magical abilities, items and ammo.
    And I have to say, I really love the freeflow form that you'll find when solving puzzles.
    You're given such a wide range of spells, items and abilities to use that most puzzles
    end up having several possible resolution methods and it's really up to you to pick
    which one you're more comfortable with. As a vampire, Kain's health is constantly
    draining, so regular feedings are a necessity. When an enemy is stunned or near death, he
    can feed on his prey, delivering a killing blow. Civilians and chained humans can also
    be fed upon and they'll offer no resistance. If you return to a place you've previously
    visited, you'll find all residents are now ghosts and feeding on them restores mana instead
    of health. This means you can visit a brothel, kill everyone and then create the world's
    first ghost brothel. Somehow I
    expected more action. Sadly, other than feeding, there's really
    nothing to do in towns or villages. There are no shops or even any monetary system to
    speak of. Players can break into weapon smiths to steal ammo, but these never respawn, so
    once visited, there's no point in returning to past towns. Even the villagers share very
    little useful information so I just simply ignored them.
    Despite the wide range of tools available to Kain throughout his quest I rarely found
    myself using them. Early on, you'll come across what is easily the barrier spell which
    is easily the most overpowered spell in game, protecting you from just about anything Blood
    Omen throws at you. In fact, I just kept spamming it and killing every foe including the final
    boss with little regard as to tactics or strategy. You'll also find so many healing items in
    Blood Omen that dying is practically impossible. The combat and feeding mechanics also get
    really repetitive really fast, as you essentially just do the same three hit combo over and
    over again, which isn't helped by Kain's constantly shouting Vae Victis everytime you
    do it. Ergh. Blood Omen doesn't shy away from blood and
    gore, hell, it celebrates it. Often, spells and items dispatch foes in the most spectacularly
    gruesome ways, displaying their blood and innards for all to see. Even more impressive
    are the lighting and particle effects these create. Despite the visuals being somewhat
    unappealing, Blood Omen occasionally delivers in eye candy. Towns and forests are generally
    plain-looking as well, though certain locations like Vorador's mansion offer a mix of blood,
    gore and luxury that looks really good. Don't get me wrong, there's a clear artistic flair
    here, it's just that Blood Omen launched during a weird transitional period in gaming
    that visually has not aged well. I mean, I love games like Baldur's Gate
    and Icewind Dale, but maaan I just find this graphical style so unappealing.
    The game is also plagued by constant load times. Entering and exiting a menu or a location
    prompts a 3-5 second loading screen. This may not seem like much, but they really add
    up after a while, especially considering how often you're encouraged to change your gear
    towards the end of the game. I also felt the game was either too zoomed in, or too zomed
    out, I'd like to have seen in-between option, especially considering you can run into some
    serious slowdown issues when the camera is zoomed out.
    It's easy to see why Blood Omen has such a cult following, its strong lore, dark themes
    and quality voice acting which places its production values well above the 16-bit generation.
    Sadly, despite the captivating lore, Blood Omen's story is incoherent at best. The
    gameplay draws cues from Legend of Zelda, but is nowhere near as polished and suffers
    from long loading times. Despite that, I really enjoyed the puzzle solving aspect and how
    most puzzles have multiple solutions based on your play style. Blood Omen was once a
    sign of what the 32-bit generation had in store for us, and while it's been easily
    surpassed by now, it's still an intriguing game to play.
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