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Legacy of Kain is a series of dark fantasy action-adventure video games primarily developed by Crystal Dynamics and formerly published by Eidos Interactive, then Square Enix Europe after 2009. The first title, Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain, was created by Silicon Knights in association with Crystal Dynamics, but, after a legal battle, Crystal Dynamics retained the rights to the game's intellectual property, and continued its story with four sequels. To date, five games comprise the series, all initially developed for video game consoles and later ported to Microsoft Windows. Focusing on the eponymous character of Kain, a vampire antihero, each title features action, exploration and puzzle-solving, with some role-playing game elements.

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The Legacy of Kain series had been available for external developers to license through the Square Enix Collective service until 2022. That year, Square Enix sold the rights of the series to the Embracer Group, who have expressed interest in developing sequels, remakes and remasters of Legacy of Kain.

Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain was created by Silicon Knights under the direction of Denis Dyack, with assistance from publisher Crystal Dynamics, and was released in 1996 on the PlayStation. In 1997, it was ported to Microsoft Windows. Dyack conceived the "vampire project" under the title The Pillars of Nosgoth in 1993, and Crystal Dynamics producer Lyle Hall chose this fantasy concept over two other proposals (one of which was Too Human).[2][3][4] Pursued in hopes of bringing a strong narrative and artistic cinema to consoles, it was built as "a game which adults would want to play", featuring an unconventional hero and gameplay that demanded thought as well as reflexes.[2][3] Developed as a 2D action-adventure game with role-playing game elements,[5][6] it debuted to positive critical and commercial reception.[2][6][7] Selling points included its 50+ hour length and the wide array of items and abilities the player character commands.[8] Blood Omen introduces Nosgoth, a fictional land designed with novel-like complexity,[3][5] and gives the player control of Kain, a newly resurrected vampire seeking revenge against his murderers and a cure for his vampiric curse.

Soul Reaver 2 had an accelerated development cycle and was released after two years, despite a switch to sixth generation consoles early in the project. It was initially targeted for release in late 2000 on the PlayStation and Dreamcast, but was reworked and released in 2001 as a PlayStation 2 exclusive, and was ported to Microsoft Windows later that year.[16] The developers' goal was to retain the elements that made its predecessor successful,[17] but they decided to eschew the "complete a level, fight a boss" flow of the previous game in favor of a more narrative-driven approach.[18] The plot serves as a direct sequel to Soul Reaver, picking up immediately after its ending. The player controls Raziel as he uncovers the mysteries surrounding Nosgoth's distant past and his own destiny. Meanwhile, Kain attempts to subvert fate and restore the world by manipulating history. While Soul Reaver was still in development, Crystal Dynamics initiated another project - a successor to Blood Omen - and when the Soul Reaver team had started work on their follow-up in late 1999, two Legacy of Kain games were in simultaneous development.[18][19]

Blood Omen 2's "creative seeds were sown" in 1999, and the finished product was released in 2002, six months after Soul Reaver 2, for the PlayStation 2, Xbox, Microsoft Windows and GameCube.[20] It was not produced with the involvement of the Soul Reaver crew, instead being created by a new team at Crystal Dynamics under the direction of Glen Schofield.[19][21] A key point of focus for the developers was the main character, Kain;[22] Crystal Dynamics had "a huge investment in Kain as a character".[23] Shifting the focus of gameplay towards action, gore and combat instead of puzzle-solving, it retains several of the qualities which made the previous games popular, but was criticized for lacking innovation. Despite middling critical reception, it was released on four platforms and sold well.[24] The setting, an enormous industrial city, is a departure for the series. While the game was released after Soul Reaver 2, the events of the game actually happen after Blood Omen but before the events of Soul Reaver, in an alternate timeline created from the Soul Reaver 2 events. In Blood Omen 2 players control a younger Kain after an unsuccessful campaign to conquer Nosgoth, as he is opposed by traitorous vampires and a new enemy.

Nosgoth, a multiplayer game, was formally announced by Square Enix London Studios community manager George Kelion to be in development in June 2013, in response to a series of internet leaks and resultant speculation. According to Kelion, it was to be set in the same universe as previous Legacy of Kain titles, but would not be "a traditional or even single-player LoK experience". The game was intended to be viewed as "very much on a separate branch to both the Soul Reaver and Blood Omen series", and Crystal Dynamics were not involved in its development. Kelion stated that Nosgoth would be more formally announced and revealed at a future date, sometime beyond the Electronic Entertainment Expo 2013.[33][34] However, Nosgoth was never officially released, but began open beta in January 2015. The game officially shut down its servers on May 31, 2016.

Simon Templeman and Michael Bell voice protagonists Kain and Raziel respectively. Supporting cast members include Paul Lukather as Vorador, Anna Gunn as Ariel, Richard Doyle as Moebius, and René Auberjonois as Janos Audron. Tony Jay played Mortanius in Blood Omen, and returned as The Elder God in subsequent games; in Defiance, Mortanius was recast as Alastair Duncan. Gordon Hunt and Kris Zimmerman provided voice direction from Soul Reaver and onward.[11] The developers coordinated the actors by ensuring they were involved as collaborators, recording their dialogue together rather than in isolation, and thus established techniques which would later carry over to Naughty Dog's Uncharted series.[10]

Each of the Legacy of Kain games concerns distinct themes and dilemmas, but their overarching philosophical topic involves fatalism and man's struggle for free will.[35] Blood Omen was intended to ask "what is evil? Perhaps it is merely a perspective", and to "address morals, evil and good, propaganda and fate in ways that have never been explored in a computer game before".[3][5] Other latent issues included trust, manipulation and betrayal, which carried over into Crystal Dynamics' sequels. In Soul Reaver and Soul Reaver 2, Amy Hennig identified "the question of free will in a universe apparently ruled by fate" as the core of the story.[35] Gnosticism, in which "the material world is an illusion, a lie perpetrated by a false and malignant god whose aim is to keep the human soul in darkness and ignorance" and the hero's goal is "knowledge, enlightenment, and the exposure of the truth", helped to formulate Raziel's arc.[1][10][35] Themes of despair, hope and illumination in the works of T. S. Eliot and James Joyce influenced the story.[35]

The developers also attempted to subvert the monomyth and other tropes within literature and gaming. Silicon Knights conceptualized Kain, a vampire antihero inspired by Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven, as an atypical "gray" protagonist, neither good nor evil, despite being advised in 1993 that such a character would not appeal to gamers.[3][5][35][79] Similarly, Hennig developed Raziel as a "self-righteous little twit" with villainy, seeking redemption and transcendence through knowledge, in contrast to an idealistic hero.[1][23] Drawing from Joseph Campbell's ideas,[6] she felt it would be interesting to see how players interpret morality in this context, and argued that "the only way a hero can ever succeed is by following his own path. As long as he's following a path laid out by someone else, ultimately he's going to fail".[1] Defiance portrayed Kain and Raziel as Sophoclean Oedipus-like figures, "being railroaded by fate".[35][80] Hennig said that "they are heroes because they refuse to submit, even when all the odds are stacked against them".[35]

In 1998, Silicon Knights filed a suit against Crystal Dynamics for rights to the Legacy of Kain IP, requesting an injunction to prevent Crystal Dynamics from marketing the sequel.[85] The two studios settled their legal dispute privately, and Crystal Dynamics and Eidos retained rights to the Legacy of Kain franchise, provided that Soul Reaver acknowledge Silicon Knights as the series' original creator.[84] Paradise Lost was the original inspiration behind the concept,[10][19] and sources such as Rabbinic lore, vampire mythology, Eastern myth and mysticism were also key influences.[6][19] Visual cues were borrowed from films such as The City of Lost Children and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and H. P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos.[10][19][21][35] Soul Reaver was highly anticipated despite several delays, and was promoted on the covers of over ten game industry magazines,[12] but schedule pressures forced Crystal Dynamics to cut content from the ending sequence. They intended to integrate the removed material into the sequel.[15][86] Soul Reaver 2 was inspired by time travel fiction and Kurt Rudolph's research into Gnosticism.[1] It was slated to include more of Blood Omen's role-playing game aspects and a wider breadth of acquirable abilities,[6] though the team was handicapped by the release of the PlayStation 2.[16]

In October 2015, Crystal Dynamics' senior designer, Michael Brinker, stated that there was "a 50/50 chance" of a sixth Legacy of Kain single player game releasing during the eighth generation of video game consoles.[94] In November 2017, Square Enix Europe's director of indie publishing, Phil Elliott, confirmed that the company had no specific plans for Legacy of Kain, but would consider licensing the property to external developers through its Square Enix Collective service.[95] In April 2019, Elliott stated that no such projects were in production as no team had come forward with a credible proposal,[96] but that the Collective program would remain open to future Legacy of Kain submissions.[97]

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