I have to admit it was a bit boring, and it didn't do much to lighten my frustration, but I am now able to put on a COWARD rating on this, and finally move on to more zombie-killing.
Before the rating in itself, I wanted you to know that I'll forget about the dreaded game-breaking glitch while giving the grades. It's a simple choice : If I don't, the COWARD rating goes down to 0, because the game is simply not winnable in this state. So here we go :
C for Cleverness
It's simply amazing how much gameplay content the creators of this game managed to cram into it. You gain new powers on a regular basis, and with them, new ways of dispatching your foes. This is clearly the highlight of the game, and definitely what kept me going after so many problems, glitches, doubts and issues. You can take control of your foes, make them kill each other, turn to mist to avoid contacts, disguise as a human to trick guards, slow time, turn into a werewolf to run around and avoid battles, make enemies explode, shrink, rot or drained from their blood. There is a weapon that can stun them, making them easier to drink their blood, another that burn them to ashes to avoid respawning undeads, barriers that return magic projectiles to senders... You have access to a few armors as well, which are much more varied than the "more and more solid" template : one makes you invisible to low-intelligence foes, one deals back damage, one dispatch damage taken between health and mana, there is even an armor that drinks the blood of your enemies by itself. The amount of variety here is simply staggering, to the level of "real" CRPGS, and way above your average action-adventure game. On the down side, the puzzles are not that varied, and it's more than often a simple way of pushing a rock or finding a switch to gain access to other areas. However, Boss battles are interesting, there are 100 secrets to find, so a lot of backtracking is in order, and the constant upgrades of your abilities really makes the game fascinating. And there is time travel involved too! In order to kill a really powerful foe, Kain travels 50 years in the past to slay him when he is still feeble... I'll be generous here and put my first 8 in this area.
Rating : 8
|Twin axes : a butcher's dream.|
The setting of the game is quite original. You play as a real anti-hero at a time where it was far from the norm in video games. There is a real sense of desperation going on everywhere, and the hope won't certainly come from this hero. More than saving the world, Kain's story revolves around his rise to power. His quest is effectively to restore balance to the world of Nosgoth, but his motivations are purely selfish. The "real" ending is dark enough, and contradicts everything we had learned about video game morale so far... As for the game itself, it simply doesn't resemble any other (for better or for worse) : what points will be lost in appeal or reactivity categories are gained for originality. There are a lot of risks taken here. Some of them were worth it, some really weren't. The rest of the franchise will take a safer road, but this game is definitely an unique one.
Rating : 7
|"A waste of good blood" is something that saddens our hero.|
Definitely a mixed bag here. On one hand, the writing is sometimes nothing short of stellar. The evolution of Kain is fascinating. At first, he considers vampirism as a curse, and ends his adventure calling himself a dark god. His humanity disappears during the course of the game, and a few lines are really memorable. There is few games where the main character rejoices himself when he discovers a new particularly gruesome way to dispose of his foes... On the other hand, two main problems arise. First of all, there is nothing much to see aside from the main quest. Disguising yourself as a human gives you the ability to speak with men instead of simply killing them, but it's never of any use. There is no dialogue whatsoever, and the majority of townspeople ramble on the same things (with nearly all the women having whore-like endeavors, once again showing that developers in 1996 were probably all frustrated virgins). The other major problem lies in the development of the story itself. The beginning is fascinating, with the tragic love story of Nupraptor and Ariel, the descent into madness or the Circle, the vow of the now cursed paladin Malek, and so forth. You spend the majority of the game with only one pillar cleansed, but at one point, you just feel like the developers simply stopped to care, or just rushed to the end. The 8 others members of the circle fall really fast (with one example of a battle where three of them fight at once), and even with the Time Traveling twist at the end (a really good one, though), the last half of the adventure just feels rushed. I can't imagine how fabulous the story would have been should the developers have more time to develop it...
Rating : 6
|You can always try to shout "have mercy", but I'm pretty sure it won't work with this guy...|
Aaaaand that's where everything starts to fall apart. The graphics themselves are pretty decent, animation is nice, and so forth, but nothing exceptional for a 1996 2D game. The art style is nothing special, with 3D cutscenes typical of first generation PSX games, with character models a bit on the ugly side. The problem is how dark the whole thing is. I understand that's a game about a vampire and that bright daylight would be stupid. However, you just can't play the game with a window open in your living-room, and even at night you pretty much have to squint your eyes to see anything. Moreover, the walls and textures are so complex at times that you can barely see doors, switches, enemies or sometimes even your character! With a few notable exceptions (Vorador's Mansion, or the Heaven Cathedral) you mainly travel through dark caves, shrines, forests, marshes and desecrated towns, and it tends to repeat itself pretty fast. In a few hours, you have a strong feeling of déjà vu every new screen. The music works nice and the voice acting is mainly good, but Kain has an urge to scream "Vae Victis" or laugh hysterically when he battles an enemy, which can be really tiresome fast.
Rating : 3
|And the "repel" spell looks like a snow globe, which is pretty dumb.|
I think that, if you've read my previous posts about this game, you know what's coming here. This game is basically a lesson on how to turn excellent ideas into a huge pile of crap. The emphasis on battle is stained by the impossibility to properly touch your enemies because of bad hit recognition. You have really different weapons, and everyone of them is useful? Great idea, but you have fifteen seconds of loading time every time you want to change. A lot of spells are at your disposal? Great idea, but you only have room for five of them, and if you want to change, it's back to the menu with another fifteen seconds of loading! When an enemy hits you, you take a few steps backwards, and if you have spikes behind you, you can bounce toward the enemy, that hits you again, and so forth. Every stupid foe is a deadly danger or a cakewalk, depending on the moments. It works both ways too, so it's not rare to see a fearsome enemy stuck behind the scenery or stupidly waving its sword at thin air, incapable of hitting you (Malek, supposedly one of the most dangerous bosses of the game, can easily be dispatched this way). The examples are limitless! And you can as easily exploit a few of the game weaknesses as well, with a "repel" spell or a mist form way too powerful by the end of the game, changing a few dungeons into long and boring chores. And did I mention the loading times?
Rating : 1
|Wow, this boss looks tough? Just cast "repel" and he's history...|
It all sums up to one simple question : is this game pleasant? In short, no. Everything is here to hinder your pleasure. When you start to enjoy the story or a new way of killing people, there is always something that brings you to the harsh reality that this game is a mess. It's heart-breaking to see what this game is and what it could have been. I've always been one to overlook game design flaws in order to enjoy the story, but rarely has a game proven this hard to enjoy. It's an unique game all right, but even if you forget about the glitch that killed my game, I'm not sure it's worth the effort. Really saddening, but Kain deserves better. Well, we'll see about that in the sequels...
Rating : 3
FINAL COWARD RATING : 47
Well, okay, I'll leave it at that. I understand why this game gained a cult following, and I hope the fascinating story of Kain, now Dark God of the Vampires, will find a proper continuation in the upcoming sequels. I really am frustrated to have been forbidden to complete this game, though. Who knows? Maybe one day, I'll find a PC version and have the will to go back to it. When this happens, I'll let you know if my COWARD rating changes...
Now for more zombies! After that experience, Resident Evil 2 will be a breeze!