Developer: Crystal Dynamics (PS2), Nixxes Software BV (PC, Xbox)
Release Date: 11/11/2003 (PS2, Xbox), 12/17/2003 (PC)
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Legacy of Kain was a very popular series back in the day. An epic tale about vampires, Defiance is the final entry in the long-running series. You play as a vampire Kain and Raziel. You switch between the two solving puzzles, fighting enemies, and discovering secrets.
The game is well worth a play through and you don’t have to play the previous games to understand what’s going on. The story is told so well that you get the entire picture by the end of the game and it feels satisfying. It’s one of the few games back in the day that had a fantastic story that was worth trodding through the mediocre gameplay to see unwind. Playing as Kain is actually a lot easier than Raziel as his sections are shorter, he doesn’t have to do as many puzzles, and he’s more powerful, however, I was seriously disappointed with many aspects of this game as it became frustrating and repetitive long before I reached the end.
For starters, the level design isn’t the best and there’s more backtracking in this game than I can stand. You don’t just visit the same area twice or even three times, but over half a dozen and it becomes a drag. Kain’s segments are mostly just combat oriented and finding Balance pieces to acquire one of four sword abilities. Raziel’s segments require him to find seven different swords and each element temple is exactly the same just rearranged. You go into the temple, get the new sword, fight a mini-boss, use the new element to unlock a portal, and repeat nearly a dozen times. It’s so tiring and boring that most people won’t finish the game.
It’s not just the temples that repeat but the rest of the game. You swap between the vampire citadel and a mansion and both Kain and Raziel revisit multiple times each. You go through the entire area once and then come back with a new ability to break through some wall that leads to a new area just to go through all over again as the other character. I find this poor level design, and some of the levels are confusing and maze-like and I just didn’t care for it. Raziel has to shift between the Material Realm and Astral Realm several times throughout levels, but you have to find a conduit spot to shift back into the Material Realm. It’s a neat idea, but later you realize this is more of a hindrance and doesn’t really add much to the gameplay. There aren’t any special puzzles that require you to swap between the two to make things really interesting. You just use it to pass through certain doors and for platforming.
Combat is also full of flaws with one major one being that Kain and Raziel fight nearly identically with Kain just being slower than Raziel. Both have telekinesis powers, both use a sword, and both dodge nearly the same. Dodging is one of the biggest problems in the game as you have to hold down the jump button while moving in a direction. Enemies move too fast to have to time holding the button down. Why do you hold a dodge button? It doesn’t help that there are knockback animations and I absolutely hate these as it makes combat a drag. Throw in the fact that you don’t get more powerful throughout the game, each sword element just adds a different power attack when your meter is all the way up. There’s no sense of character progression at all, and this game is long enough (roughly 12 hours) to have that kind of system. You can acquire new special combos but they are difficult to execute and most of the time you just button mash. After about half way through the game, I just ran past enemies unless I was forced to fight them. There’s no reason to fight these enemies at all except for health (both characters can absorb them to replenish) as there are no skill points or XP to gain.
I will say that the combat animations are fluid, the controls are solid, and everything works. The second biggest issue is the damn camera. It’s a static camera most of the time that spins around and you can’t control it. A lot of times objects were blocking the camera during combat, or I would fall and die because I couldn’t judge a jump right. The camera is atrocious and really detracts from the overall experience here.
The puzzles are also a joke as they are barely puzzles. Just push this block onto that switch and that’s all you do. There’s no thinking involved at all like other games in this genre. Now, it seems I’m ragging on the game, but I did enjoy it despite its many flaws. The voice acting is just fantastic as well as the story and characters, it’s the sole reason why I pushed on. The graphics are somewhat decent with lots of detail everywhere, but there are games that look much better especially since 2003 was a time where developers were really pushing these systems.
Once you beat the game there are zero reasons to go back. There are no alternate endings, to special unlocks, no nothing. There is great making-of stuff when you finish, but that’s it. Take it for what it’s worth and definitely pick this game up. It was one I missed growing up as a kid and I plan to play every game in this series despite all their flaws.