Read the review, as well as future reviews here: Legacy of Kain: Defiance Legacy of Kain: Defiance (Xbox) LCVG Review Developer: Crystal Dynamics Publisher: Eidos 480p: Yes 16:9: Yes DD5.1: Yes There was a vampire here once. You know, it’s interesting to witness the repercussions of one silly little vampire refusing to sacrifice his life to save the world. Of course if Kain had followed the path fate set out for him Eidos would be left with one less bankable franchise and we, the gamer, would be out one hell of a storyline. The Legacy of Kain series began (both figuratively and literally) in 1996’s Blood Omen for Sony’s Playstation. At the time of its release Sony’s fledgling system, in its pre-Final Fantasy VII days, lacked a strong presence in the then niche RPG market (Beyond the Beyond didn’t count folks). Silicon Knights’ Blood Omen was just what the role-playing fan ordered. The storyline was deep and entertaining providing the first glimpse into the world of Nosgoth and its vampiric inhabitants. The games overhead graphics, while simplistic and plagued with a spotty frame-rate sported a gothic, almost Victorian look and most importantly the game had some of the absolute best voice acting to ever grace a console game. Followed up three years later by Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver and shortly there-after by Soul Reaver 2, the saga of Raziel and his quest for vengeance against former protagonist Kain provided a new view into the world of Nosgoth. Having morphed into a 3rd person action/avdventure series Crystal Dynamics (Now head developer of the Kain franchise) had found its recipe for success. Now here we are in 2003 and the saga of Razial and Kain is finally coming to a close. Legacy of Kain: Defiance developed once again by the aforementioned Crystal Dynamics puts yet another spin on the familiar gameplay of the series. Familiarity in fact is just what’s in store for you as Defiance does very little to break the mold in terms of the action genre and at times has problems maintaining a grasp on its own play mechanics. The story however remains the focal point of this series and I would imagine that any LOK fan will be gushing by the time they reach the end of the saga. Its like a book but better.. Defiance picks up almost immediately after the events of Soul Reaver 2. Raziel has been imprisoned in the spectral realm with his master the Elder God and Kain is on a mission to discover the true nature of his destiny as the guardian of balance and to find the whereabouts of our blue soul sucking hero. Along the way you will meet and interact with many of the series favorites you’ve come to know. Moebius the time streamer continues forward with his plots and ploys to align Raziel against Kain and vice versa. Vorador is as regal as ever and there are even some surprise guest appearances by some old favorites. Story sequences are told using the games 3D engine and they are the motivating factor that will keep you playing Defiance. Production values are, as usual for the series, very high and never fail to impress. (Yes Simon Templeman continues to kick absolute ass as Kain.). Though not easily accessible to LOK beginners, the culmination of the storyline is the most pleasing aspect of Defiance. Crystal D has managed to expand a storyline begun by Silicon Knights as well as intertwine the storyline of the much maligned Blood Omen 2. All of this is done with a certain aplomb that very few developers could pull off. Players are privy to a tale that is both entertaining and well acted. The themes explored range from the fate and sacrifice of one man to the inevitability of free will. You will no doubt more than once wish that someone would release these characters from the confines of their gaming world and create a live action movie of these events. Congratulations to Crystal D and their talented group of writers as they carry this title from beginning to end. Vampires May Cry Fundamentally gameplay is very similar to its predecessors. Defiance does however make some extensive changes to the Legacy of Kain Formula. Some of these changes are long overdue while others create more problems than they are worth. The games structure is split into multiple chapters (12 to be exact) which allow you to play as both Kain and Raziel. This new structure is actually a welcome change to the sometimes aimless feel of the previous Soul Reaver games. Each character begins their journey from very different locales and eventually “meet in the middle” so to speak to a very satisfying climax. No Legacy of Kain game would be complete without its fair share of puzzles and Defiance has them by the truckload. Most are well structured and are not at all out of place given the subject matter. The game also does a fantastic job of increasing the difficulty of the solutions as you progress. Some of the multi-legged puzzles will have you knocking your noggin against the screen until you finally realize the (mostly) simple solution that eluded you for thirty minutes. It’s a satisfying feeling to finally have the light bulb pop on and one of the high points of the game. The combat system in Defiance is deceptively deep at first and shares more than a passing similarity to Devil May Cry and its brand of stylish swordplay. Both characters have a standard and rising attack. Combination moves can be done by simply tapping the buttons in succession. The rising attack knocks the enemy into the air allowing for mid-air combo’s and magic attacks. As you fight enemies you will gain combat experience which will automatically open up new and more powerful combinations and moves. The controls are thankfully responsive and easy to learn which goes a long way in helping a new comer to the series settle right in. Kain is the slower of the two characters and his way of doing combat involves copious use of his telekinetic abilities (or TK as its referred to in game) that allow you to throw enemies all over the battlefield in conjunction with a healthy nip and tuck from his sword (the physical version of the Soul Reaver). Raziel is far more nimble and is aided by the wraith blade which has become an extension of his arm. Raziel can also make use of the TK abilities mentioned above but his powers are underdeveloped next to Kains, only allowng Raziel to send TK blasts. Both characters have an automatically refilling meter that keeps you informed as to how much of this nifty power you can use. Kain also appears to be a bit stronger in terms of damage dealing but Raziel makes up for it in his ability to use multiple elements which give his wraith blade the ability to use more powerful and varied magic attacks. As you damage and kill enemies both characters weapons will charge until they are able to unleash a powerful magic attack. You can also use a killing blow before your enemy dies to gain more charge for quicker dispersion of your spells. Throughout the game Kain gains balance emblems which grant his reaver elemental attributes and allow him to slow time, unleash a fire attack etc. Raziel on the other hand gets access to quite a few different versions of his reaver each with its own unique spell attack and effects. Of final note is the ability to feed on your enemies before they fall over dead. Kain as in the previous games can suck the blood from an enemy at a distance or he can (finally!) grab and sink his teeth right in. Raziel as in previous games has the ability to “eat” the souls of his enemies from a distance or with an up close and personal rip into their chest. Kain and Raziel will also have access to relics that will enhance their TK and Health meters throughout the course of the game allowing them to both stay in the game longer and withstand more punishment. By now you are thinking that what I’ve described is an interesting combat system that allows for a diverse set of moves that provides two characters with very distinct fighting styles. Unfortunately the truth is that both Kain and Raziel play almost exactly alike with little variation between the two. Gaining new moves means nothing as both Kain and Raziel gain the exact same maneuvers simply renamed in the games menus. These extra moves are also at times frustrating to perform in certain situations and for the most part unnecessary as the mind numbing repetition will cause you to simply fight when you have to and not because you want to. A reoccurring problem that plagues even Konami’s new Castlevania title, though that game has a far deeper and more varied combat system than what we have here. Also, limiting both characters to using only the soul reaver was a mistake in my eyes. Soul Reaver 2 allowed you to pick up enemy weapons and use them against your foes enabling some very gory (and damn enjoyable) killing blows. This system was entirely removed from Defiance and to be honest, I miss the variety it would have added. The focus of having more enemies attacking was a great move by Crystal Dynamics as was the inclusion of the TK powers. It’s satisfying to send your attacker careening off of a bridge or slam them into a spike on the wall. Sure it gruesome, yet satisfying. Also worthy of mention are the games numerous bosses which is a bit of a throwback to the structure of the older games in the series. All of the mentioned improvements come with even more of a price unfortunately. When feeding on a downed opponent, the enemies that surround you simply stare at you without even flinching. It’s a small problem but worth mentioning. Also dying in the game has no consequence as you’ll simply be placed back to the nearest checkpoint unharmed and ready to work your way back to where you met your maker. A minor inconvenience at best that lessens the overall difficulty of the game and removes any sense of urgency the combat might have had. The games bosses are also an absolute cake walk. Even the final boss was easily beatable on the first try which is disappointing to say the least. Going hand in hand with the combat system is the new implementation of the in game camera. Yes, I know you’re quaking with fear as I write this and to alleviate your fears even further I’ll let you in on the fact that the developers have seen fit to go with a more “cinematic” approach. As you move our begotten heroes throughout the games environments the camera will automatically move to what it considers to be the best view of the action ala Devil May Cry and the recent Castlevania: Lament of Innocence. On the positive side this allows the game to really show off its architecture and graphical prowess. However on more than one occasion you’ll be wondering exactly why you can only see the bottom half of your character as you attempt to fight off two or three enemies in a small corridor. It’s frustrating to say the least as you will constantly be blind-sided by enemies that attack from off-camera, behind a railing or pillar and are forced to relocate your position to find a better angle to do battle with. Furthermore the new “cinecam” as I’ve dubbed it creates a myriad of problems when contending with the games many platforming sequences. Raziel and Kain are both forced to make several blind or hidden jumps which will lead to your character dying several times unless you “scout” ahead using the games first person view (of which you will use a lot just get an idea where your headed). The camera is also extremely sluggish in changing views for specific jumps which requires you to move the characters into the same position multiple times to get the “correct” angle I generally have no issue with a fixed camera in these types of games but I feel what’s here is just poorly implemented and at times utterly inept. Its disappointing to me as the previous Soul Reaver games made great strides in providing a really workable and intuitive camera system. Overall this is a mish mash of delight and disappointment. There are some welcome additions here that do offer a substantial update to the gameplay we’ve become accustomed too in this series. The disappointment lies in the implementation of these new systems and the lack of polish and care taken to make these improvements more enjoyable to experience. Oh I didn’t know vampires were this pretty Many will remember the original Soul Reaver as being one of the best looking games released on the Playstation. Defiance thankfully lives up to that legacy with some awe-inspiring architecture, an absolute rock solid framerate and some detailed texture work. The opening Sarafan temple is a great indication of the quality to expect as you move Kain and Raziel through the forests and citadels of Nosgoth. Texture work is defined and detailed. There is a scene as you work your way through the temple that has Kain fighting off a squad of Sarafan knights on a ruined bridge. The scene is bathed in warm sunlight with small snowflakes falling to the ground. In the background are the hulking spires of the temple itself which loom over the, by comparison, tiny character models and just creates an authentic and at the same time enormous sense of scale. The spirit world which Raziel inhabits has been enhanced with a blur effect that gives the already ethereal world a more palpable sense of disconnection. The effect can be a bit difficult on the eyes however so be sure to take it in stride. Each individual location is lovingly crafted with small cracks and grass texures being clearly visible without need of the sometimes over used bump mapping effect. Large pillars and waterfalls with streaming water and lakes are a regular sight to see and are modeled really well. The character models for the main characters are well animated and feature small details such as the engraving on Kains cape and the small nuances of the medallion he wears. The texturing of Raziel’s mouth covering garb is also well done and shows just enough detail to know its made of some type of thick burlap material. Enemy character models also fair well and for once the attention to detail there is almost as slavish as those for the main characters. Everything from the lowly Sarafan warrior to the devlish Hyldan demons are modeled with care and animated quite nicely. The whole experience is further enhanced with 480p and 16:9 combatibility that just really brings out the games color pallete and depth. Aliasing is also very minor on my ISF calibrated Toshiba 42H81 and the games already sharp textures are every bit more exposed as you’d expect. I would have loved to have seen the game in an even higher resolution but for now 480p will do just nicely. As has been the norm for this review for every plus there is a minus as the games overall lack of polish rears its ugly head yet again. The game is rife with small graphical glitches that will see your character fall through the game world to his death for no apparent reason. Clipping and collision detection are both suspect with enemies bodies falling straight through walls and some strikes flying through enemies that are “clipped” into the background. There is also a distinct lack of variety as you move into the third quarter of the game. Level design seems to have been skimped on in favor of padding out the games length. As both Raziel and Kain you will visit the same vampire forges over and over again to solve similarly themed puzzles. It will eventually grate on your nerves as the padding is just not needed and really drags the game and the graphical presentation down. All in all this is a quality effort from the folks behind the Legacy of Kain series. I doubt anyone will be dissatisfied with that their eyes behold. Can you hear the children of the night? The star of Legacy of Kain: Defiance is not the gameplay nor the graphics but the voice acting. You would be hard pressed to find a finer group of voice actors than what Crystal D and Eidos have assembled for these games. All of the majors have returned to reprise their roles. Michael Bell and Simon Templeman continue to be the standouts in the series with the always dependable Tony Jay and yet another guest appearance by everyone’s favorites changeling Rene Auberjonois as the venerable Janos Audron putting in some great performances. The actors treat the material with a certain level of seriousness that is admirable. The dialogue is almost always self-important and Shakespearian in nature but that does not stop it from being engaging and keeping you interested in all that is happening to these two archetypal heroes. The music here is almost identical to that of Soul Reaver 2 with some themes actually being reused and remixed. I don’t find anything bothersome about this per se as Soul Reaver 2 had a very well put together soundtrack. I would have preferred to hear some new compositions for the series finale but alas it was not to be. The game enjoys full Dolby Digital 5.1 support and what we have here is an active mix that makes good use of the surround stage and even puts the center channel to some decent use for several dialogue sequences. This is a pure action title so you’d expect the sound mix to easily be a workout for your home theater but the surprising thing is the game excels far more in surrounding you with small atmospheric noises and music that help pull you into the gothic setting. Weapons and magic attacks all sound strong and give some decent bass feedback. Magic attacks are the real showpiece as they can really light your ears up if listened to at reference level. You’ll find little to complain about here. The saga ends Its difficult for me to give my final definitive thoughts on Defiance. One one hand I am the prime target for this game. I am a consummate Legacy of Kain fan and have enjoyed each game equally for its wonderful story and voice acting above all else. With Defiance both of these criteria have been met and satisfied to the fullest degree. The story is epic, engaging and is the perfect exclamation point to end this story arch on. Even better once the game has been completed (in about 10-14 hours, my completion time was in the 13:21 range) you will treated to a bevy of DVD-like special features devoted to the series which includes footage from the voice recording sessions, outtakes, picture galleries and the original intro movies for Soul Reaver and Soul Reaver 2. Nice features for a fan! On the other hand I can’t ignore the fact that Defiance is also a game of missed opportunities. There was a chance here to create an interesting combat system that differentiated itself by providing two very different characters and experiences. Budget and time are always an important concern for developers and I have no doubt that Crystal Dynamics needed to focus its energies and dollars on what it felt was important. With that in mind it is my humble opinion that the heart of any action game is its ability to draw the player into the conflict with a diverse and interesting set of mechanics with which to wreak havoc and carnage. This is an area I feel Defiance failed in both due to its shallow combat and often frustrating camera system. Quite simply I found myself somewhat bored whenever a large battle erupted and it’s a feeling I just could not shake. Recent games in this genre such as Rygar and even the troubled Castlevania: Lament of Innocence have tread the same ground but they happen to do it much better than whats here. If you’re a fan of the Legacy of Kain series you will without hesitation run right out and buy this just to see how the story ends regardless of what I say. I don’t see a problem with that as any fan will be willing to overlook the problems just to see some of their favorite characters in action again. For the more discriminating action fan I would heartily recommend at the very least a rental as you’ve got little to lose on that end. This is a decent game that is worth playing but only after you’ve experienced some of the better offerings in the genre. Thanks for reading.