It's rare enough to find a truly memorable main character in a game, let alone two. Legacy of Kain: Defiance is instantly appealing to fans of this long-running action adventure series, since, for the first time, it lets you play as both the arrogant vampire, Kain, as well as the determined half-demon, Raziel, in their continued quest to confront each other and defy their respective fates. The strength of the Legacy of Kain series has always been these characters, though the Soul Reaver games starring Raziel also featured some rather striking innovations and inventive puzzles. The new Legacy of Kain: Defiance, now available for the PC weeks after the game debuted on the Xbox and PlayStation 2, follows in the footsteps of its predecessors, but it offers a new, faster-paced combat system, a typically smooth frame rate, and an overall presentation that clearly resembles Capcom's influential PS2 game Devil May Cry. Unfortunately, this new presentation isn't fully realized, leading to awkward camera angles and needlessly confusing gameplay, though Legacy of Kain fans will still want to struggle through just to see what happens when Kain and Raziel finally encounter each other once again.
Two great characters are better than one: Kain and Raziel are both playable in Legacy of Kain: Defiance.
The story of Legacy of Kain: Defiance is convoluted and seems intended primarily for those who've been keeping up with the series, but even if you have, you might find the events of this game difficult to follow. Basically, you'll alternately play as Kain and Raziel through many of the same levels, but at different times. Kain's journey begins when he raids the Sarafan stronghold to confront the manipulative Moebius, who seems to know how Kain's and Raziel's fates will intertwine and what is to become of the land of Nosgoth once their conflict comes to an end. Raziel's journey begins when he breaks free from the clutches of the octopuslike Elder God and presses on to meet his destiny.
Simon Templeman and Michael Bell, the expert voice actors who have provided these characters with their personalities ever since the first Legacy of Kain and Soul Reaver titles, again reprise their roles and deliver the same high-quality performances that fans would expect. Frequent in-engine cutscenes are used to convey the storyline, but it's all still rather confusing and eerily similar at first to the plot of Soul Reaver 2. If you've been following the series, expect to encounter the same cast of characters and to listen to the same type of philosophizing that you've heard before. On the other hand, if you've been following the series, you'll be pleased to know that things finally come to a head here, and the characters confront the answers and the enemies that they seek. And, if you're new to the series, Defiance offers some supplemental material that can bring you up to speed.
The PC port of Defiance is essentially identical to the console versions, though you can run it at higher resolutions. Of course, you'll need an eight-button gamepad (digital or analog are both fine) to get it to control reasonably well or else you're stuck with the clunky default keyboard controls. It seems exciting to be able to play as both Kain and Raziel, but, in the context of the game, the biggest difference between the two is their personalities, rather than how they play. They have very similar moves and abilities, which is rather disappointing, since there was clearly an opportunity here to make both characters unique in their own rights. Each character brandishes the powerful reaver blade--Kain, in its bloodthirsty corporeal form, and Raziel, in its soul-stealing spirit form--and each character can perform nearly identical moves and combos using his respective version of the sword. Both characters can also rapidly dodge from side to side, easily eluding most foes. For good measure, they can use telekinetic blasts either to break objects or to shove enemies. In Kain's case, he can grab hold of them and fling them around, which is good for some sadistic fun but is usually not as effective as the reaver's heavy slashes.
Both characters may feed on their victims to restore their health. Kain sucks their blood, either telekinetically or, for the first time ever, by chomping their necks like a good vampire should. Meanwhile, Raziel literally swallows their souls. When fighting groups of enemies, it's really not dangerous to stop and feed on one, since the others will tend to do nothing while you drink or eat your fill. Even if you do lose all your energy, you just start back at a recent checkpoint--Kain and Raziel are both immortal--so the combat in the game isn't challenging. It definitely gets tedious, though, due to the generally bland variety of enemies and the limited variety of attacks available to Kain and Raziel. They'll acquire a few special moves during the course of their adventures, but actually, these are nothing special, so you'll instead be relying on the same types of combos over and over. Eventually you'll realize you can just run right past most enemies, though often enough, you'll be forced to fight before you can proceed to the next area.
Kain and Raziel play almost exactly alike, but the disorienting camera perspective is a much bigger problem.
As in other games in the series, once you've smacked around the typical bad guy, he or she will be dazed so that you can finish the job. Feeding on them is one way to finish off most enemies you'll encounter, or you may run them through with the reaver, which charges it up. It's easy to fully charge the reaver, and when you have, it'll do more damage and let you pull off a special move--usually an area-effect attack of some sort. It's too bad that Kain and Raziel are limited to using the reaver. In previous games, they each had various brutal finishing moves depending on which weapon they were using, including just their claws. In Defiance, you'll have seen everything the combat has to offer very quickly. You can use a fierce attack to pop enemies into the air, then jump up and whale on them while they're still aloft, but this actually seems pretty goofy in a game that otherwise tries to take itself seriously. Capcom pioneered the over-the-top midair combo, and Capcom can keep it.
Both Kain and Raziel run equally fast--much faster, incidentally, than in previous Legacy of Kain games--and their jumps are virtually identical. By pressing and holding the jump button again while in midair, you can make either character drift down more slowly, which often comes into play when you need to catch a ledge that seems just out of reach. Both characters can climb and also dematerialize through barred doors, though the catch is that Raziel can't do so while in physical form.