Sin, Predestination and The Legacy of Kain

Stoker, Soul Reaver and Biblical homage

A text that discards the whimsy of the previous decades to center on adult themes and antiheroism, Legacy of Kain and its sequel, Soul Reaver are games steeped in the concept of destiny, especially as examined through the lenses of Greek tragedy, the Judeo-Christian Bible, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

The Legacy of Kain series was originally created with the idea of making a game that would be enticing for adults—unaware of how the medium would be co-opted for adult audiences in the years to come. The game stands out as one of the first to feature cutscenes with recorded dialogue on the PlayStation, with an all-star cast of voice actors with impressive pedigrees, designed to appeal to older audiences with an interest in major names.

With this in mind, it’s no surprise that the game would also pull its inspiration from the long and rich history of biblical tradition, vampiric folklore, and the work of Bram Stoker. While the similarities to Dracula are to be expected from any vampire story, the fact that the main character’s name is but one letter off from one of the earliest recognizable figures in Judeo-Christian mythology is certainly no throw-away reference.

The story of Cain and Abel is directly tied to the themes and narrative of Legacy of Kain, both Blood Omen and Soul Reaver, and its interpretation of such classical literary devices as the anti-hero and penance. The games’ directors have also directly cited Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex as a major influence, and with that we see the true purpose of the Legacy of Kain series; it is an exploration of the concept of fate, and what it means to be cursed by a god.

You Can’t Talk Vampires Without Talking Dracula

Mirroring the murder of Biblical Cain’s brother Abel, in Blood Omen, Kain’s canonical ending has him opting out of sacrificing himself to save Nosgoth from corruption, instead choosing immortality and rulership. Very reminiscent of Vampire: The Masquerade’s utility of the first murder as the origins of Vampirism and Dracula’s own pact with darkness.

The first game in the series, Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain, was released in 1997 for the PlayStation. It introduced the world of Nosgoth, a gothic fantasy realm populated by humans and vampires. In the opening of the story, the protagonist, Kain, is killed by bandits and turned into a vampire in order to exact vengeance on them, setting into motion the events of the game. The world largely casts aside any of the familiar vampiric legends; sunlight is not particularly harmful, most notably to elder vampires, and impalement can be done by any instrument, making wooden stakes unnecessary.

The primary weapon against the Nosgoth vampires is water, of all things; this is a reference to some often overlooked weaknesses in vampire legend, but absent in almost all pop-culture depictions—such as holy water, or the inability to cross running water. Certainly the biggest deviation from standard, vampire lore is the method through which vampires are created. While folklore has varied over the centuries, the common parlance is that vampires create other vampires through an exchange of blood—either by passing a virus when they feed from someone, or by feeding their own blood to their victim to give them immortal life. In the world of Legacy of Kain, vampires are created in the afterlife.

“I didn’t care if I was in Heaven or Hell; all I wanted was to kill my assassins. […] Sometimes, you get what you wish for. The necromancer Mortanius offered me a chance for vengeance, and like a fool… I jumped at his offer without considering the cost. Nothing is free. Not even revenge” [ 1 ].

Kain is transformed into a vampire through a contract with Mortanius, voiced by the late, great Tony Jay, famous for roles such as Claude Frollo in Hunchback of Notre Dame, Megabyte in Reboot, and Galactus in Fantastic Four: The Animated Series. This resurrection is a great deal more literal than is sometimes depicted among vampires, although it’s not so far removed as one may think.

Compare it to the process to turn Lucy Westenra into a vampire in Bram Stoker’s Dracula; she is slowly killed by the Count over the course of weeks (elongated by the frequent transfusions she gets from her suitors and Van Helsing). Then, after she’s been buried, she rises from her grave as a vampire [ 2 ]. We do not see the spiritual resurrection of Westenra in Dracula, but the two transformations are not mutually exclusive. However, in the case of Kain, he is not killed as part of the process of turning him into a vampire. His death is a random accident that is then used as the catalyst for his transformation.

While there are many changes to vampire lore for Legacy of Kain, the one thing that remains a constant is, of course, the drinking of blood. Health is replenished by drinking red blood from living beings, and there is the addition of blue blood, which is found in ghosts and the like, to replenish magic; black blood from undead creatures, which is harmful to the drinker; and green blood from mutants and demons which poisons Kain. This is an original aspect of the game’s lore, not built in particular from anything in previous stories about vampires.

There is possibly a connection with the cliché of “virgin blood,” and certainly a connection with the drinking of vampire blood and its special properties, which can be found in everything from Stoker’s influential novel to Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles.

Blood Omen also has a stylistic similarity to Stoker’s novel—and, indeed most other literary works of the Victorian era—in its reliance on narration. Throughout the game, Kain, as voiced by Simon Templeton—who shared screen time with Tony Jay on Fantastic Four as the voice of Doctor Doom—narrates the game’s story, providing insight into his emotions and thoughts on events as they happen, but doing so in a past-tense, prose-filled way that is reminiscent of the writing style of the likes of Mary Shelley, Arthur Conan Doyle, and, of course, Bram Stoker.

Some reviewers liken the dialogue to Shakespeare, but at times it seems more modern than that, while retaining a distinctive, antiquated prose that makes the game stand out from its contemporaries. The set-up of the beginning of the game is not unlike some adaptations of Dracula.

In Hammer Horror’s Taste the Blood of Dracula, Jonathan Harker is trapped in Dracula’s castle and transformed into a vampire at Dracula’s hands, much like Kain’s transformation thanks to Mortanius. This, of course, is not present in Stoker’s novel, but it can be compared to the fate of Lucy. The primary difference, though, is that in Dracula, the audience meets Lucy as a victim and as an enemy to be vanquished, while in Legacy of Kain, the vampire in question is our hero… or at least, the closest thing we’ve got.

As the plot progresses, there’s a pivotal moment where Kain discovers that William the Just, known throughout the game as The Nemesis and voiced, again, by the talented Tony Jay, is rallying an army to attack Willendorf, the kingdom that the game centers around, and the home of our protagonist.

“Kain: The Legions of the Nemesis are on the march from the north, crushing all in their path. ’Twas not too long ago that the Nemesis was known as William the Just, a caring and gentle benefactor of the land. But, as his army grew in strength and he himself grew in power, the veil of tyranny fell and one kingdom was not enough. So many cities, so many dead. Willendorf will be sure to follow. The Nemesis must be stopped or all shall be lost…

Kain: How can one stop an army?

Ariel: You must rally the forces of Willendorf; they are the last Hope of Nosgoth” [ 1 ].

This plot point bears a certain resemblance to the anxiety that fuels Dracula. The threat of vampirism crossing from continental Europe to England—and, by extension, to the Americas—is likened to a plague within the narrative, often interpreted as a reference to the syphilis outbreak that was contemporary with the book’s writing.

This theme does make its way into Legacy of Kain, particularly with the ultimate revelation that the cure for vampirism that Kain seeks throughout the game is merely his own death, curing the world of vampirism by destroying the last known carrier of the disease [ 1 ]. This is particularly strange, given the change in the method for creating vampires. However, the introduction of The Nemesis’s army gives the game more of a foreign invasion theme. A straightforward metaphor for the myth of the vampire is to represent oppressive forces.

Similarly to the referential allegory of Kain’s name and choices at the end of the first game, Raziel ends up slaying his ersatz “brother” Melchiah, in a direct homage to Cain and Abel.


As written by Robert T. Carroll in his book, The Skeptic’s Handbook, “the vampire has become a metaphor for those who define and create themselves by destroying others.” While this can be interpreted in a broad sense to all abusive individuals, in the case of both Legacy of Kain and Dracula, it manifests as a metaphor for conquerors, and for invading colonialists.

Thus, the ultimate goal of the Harkers, Seward, Godalming, Morris, and Van Helsing in Dracula is to prevent vampirism from infecting England, and Kain seeks to prevent the vampires from attacking and oppressing humanity in the Arthurian analogue that is Willendorf.

It’s certainly no coincidence that the countries that are being threatened are Britain and a thinly veiled British stand-in. As one of the most oppressive empires in modern history, the anxiety that some foreign force may one day do to them what they did to countless other countries across the globe was a nightmare for the British consciousness during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and Dracula was published during the height of that national fear. This presents an interesting note about Legacy of Kain, then, which was written in a completely different social climate than Dracula, but maintains the same theme, perhaps as a holdover from the book that so closely inspired it.

They Named Him ‘Kain’ for a Reason…

The figure of Cain has become intrinsically associated with vampires. Despite the seemingly organic connection, the only other medium that directly references Cain as related to vampires is Vampire: The Masquerade, which describes “Caine’s” murder in the Book of Genesis as being the creation of the vampire curse. “Outcast from mortal society for the killing of his brother, Caine (sic) was cursed with eternal life and a craving for blood. We, his children, are heirs to that curse, condemned to repeat his crimes endlessly” [ 3 ].

The only other reference, that in any way resembles this, is the Old English poem Beowulf, which describes Grendel and his mother, some of the oldest monsters in Western literary tradition, as having been descended from Cain. It’s doubtless that Denis Dyack, the series creator, chose the name “Kain” name based on this connection, but it’s also unlikely, given their attention to detail and dedication to classic literature, that this reference would not, in some way, seep into the character’s arc. As quoted by the lead director of Soul Reaver, Amy Hennig:

“If you remove the melodrama and just look at the human elements of his character, you can see that he’s flawed. […] In my opinion, characters painted as ‘true villains’ just aren’t interesting. They’re too two-dimensional; no one is ever really so uncomplicated. Everyone always has their motives for what they’re doing—everybody believes they’re doing the right thing within their belief system. Kain is basically screwed by his own character flaws—which is more interesting than the idealized hero figure” [ 4 ].

By this quote, it’s clear that Kain was conceived with the idea of an anti-hero in mind; he is not just someone whose motivations are limited to “doing what’s right,” but a character who is plagued by flaws and doubts. Indeed, the term “anti-hero” has steadily evolved over the years, originally referring to any character who was not stalwart and just, including such noble characters as Spider-Man, who has always been defined by his flaws as much as his virtues.

Nowadays, the term is primarily associated with characters who toe the line between good and evil, a line which Kain very certainly jumps over at the end of Blood Omen. At this point, he transitions into an anti-villain; someone who is not just a black-hearted spirit of evil, but who has motivations that, at the very least, the audience can understand, if not empathize with.

The idea that originally drove Dyack and his team of developers was to create “a game where the player is put in the position where everyone believes you are evil” [ 5 ]. creating a protagonist who would serve as a sort of underdog, a pariah among society that would be judged not for his actions, but for the prejudices of those around him. This is similar to the curse laid upon Cain in the Bible.

“And Cain said to the Lord, ‘My punishment is too great to bear. Now that You have driven me this day from the soil I must hide from Your presence, I shall be a restless wanderer on the earth and whoever finds me will kill me.’—And the Lord said to him, ‘Therefore whoever kills Cain shall suffer sevenfold vengeance.’—And the Lord set a mark upon Cain so that whoever found him would not slay him” [ 6 ].

The idea here is that Cain’s curse is so great that all that encounter him will immediately recognize him as evil. This very closely ties to the idea behind Kain, a being plagued by regret who would be instantly recognized as a villain by everyone who he crosses paths with. And while, throughout Soul Reaver, Kain’s motives are mostly altruistic, it still holds true that he can’t escape the monster that he’s become.

And as discussed at length above, the method in which Kain is transformed into a vampire is very different from the usual vampire myth, but it is very similar to how Cain was cursed, although in this case his curse was a means to murder, not a punishment for murder. Kain seems to come to a similar conclusion on his own, comparing himself to a god with his newfound power.

“Gift? Pah! Vorador thought my curse a blessing. That we were gods and that mortals offered their blood as sacrifice so that we could enjoy our supernatural powers. And somewhere deep inside my new self I knew he was right. That mortal dreams were prayers. Prayers to us—begging for our power” [ 1 ].

This mentality persists in Kain’s characterization as we progress into the later games in the series, and Kain’s role moves to that of an antagonist in Soul Reaver. He is not too far off the mark, however. Given his ability to manipulate time via his time-streaming device, recovered after he slays Azimuth the Planer, Kain certainly has a godlike control over all events in history, capable of shaping them as he sees fit.

In Blood Omen, his motives remain only to protect humanity and find a cure for his own vampirism, but by the time we get to Soul Reaver, this level of power has corrupted him into an autotheistic tyrant who has used his power to turn the world of Nosgoth into a hellscape. In addition to the Biblical comparisons, one of the headliners for the project, Amy Hennig, described the story of Oedipus as a major influence as well, focusing, not on the more popular Freudian interpretations involving incest, but on the original themes of preventing a prophecy or destiny as it’s been foretold, only to accidentally set them in motion. “They are heroes because they refuse to submit, even when all the odds are stacked against them” [ 7 ].

This comparison certainly holds true, with Kain’s attempts to prevent his preordained fate as the monster of Nosgoth, ultimately setting events in motion that turn him into exactly that. Thankfully, there is no actual prophecy involved in Legacy of Kain, merely the overlying assumption that a vampire is a monster, and as Kain tries to reverse that fate, he ends up becoming an even worse monster. The above reference to sacrifice is also significant, given the action that leads to Cain’s curse in the first place was a disagreement over his offering to God.

“And it happened in the course of time that Cain brought from the fruit of the soil an offering to the Lord. And Abel too had brought from the choice firstlings of his flock, and the Lord regarded Abel and his offering but did not regard Cain and his offering. And Cain was very incensed, and his face fell” [ 8 ].

The difference between the two sacrifices is implicit but can be clarified after learning that Abel was a shepherd, and Cain was a farmer. One interpretation is that each of them offered from their wares, and when God was unimpressed with Cain’s offering of plants and vegetables, and showed preference to Abel’s offering of livestock and blood sacrifice, Cain attempted to murder his brother in the hopes that this would be an offering more in line with God’s preferences. It’s this interpretation that fuels such retellings as East of Eden by John Steinbeck. In a way, this can be framed as an innocent, almost child-like misunderstanding—if it were not so blatantly grisly and cost an innocent man his life. The sacrifice that Kain refers to, a sacrifice of human blood, is a continuation of that mistake, as vampires continue to murder across the world so they can continue to prolong their own lives.

The thematic elements that make up Blood Omen are inexorably tied to the Bible and to the story of Cain and Abel, but while the game shares its themes with the biblical myth, it does not serve as a direct analogue to the story, nor is it an exploration of its plot. That exercise was saved for the sequel, Soul Reaver, and its protagonist, Raziel.

Soul Reaver and Kain’s Legacy

The central staples of the Cain and Abel myth come about a lot more clearly in the plot points for Blood Omen’s sequel, Soul Reaver. Set centuries after the first game, it follows the assumption that Kain made the “wrong” choice at the end of Blood Omen; when presented with the option of sacrificing himself to save humanity, or becoming Nosgoth’s sole vampiric ruler, he chose to rule, and the world has fallen into chaos in his wake. Soul Reaver then presents Raziel, Kain’s most loyal lieutenant, who presents newly sprouted wings to his master. Kain, in a fit of jealousy, rips off his wings and then casts Raziel to die.

Again, we are reminded of Cain’s humble offering and God’s rejection, which led to Cain’s act of murder in the first place. In this case, Raziel’s offering is simply showing his new power, unaware that it would stir jealousy in him. However, Raziel’s punishment is not to be cursed by Kain, and he is instead rescued by a third party, who charges him with his mission throughout the game, which is to kill Kain. That third party, it just so happens, is the Elder God, once more tying the idea of religion to the narrative.

It’s important to note that at no point is Raziel treated like some kind of an angel, in spite of his name following the popular naming scheme of angels in the Bible. Most angels’ names end in the suffix “-el”; Michael, Gabriel, Azrael, etc. This naming convention is not unfamiliar to the development team of Legacy of Kain, as they included, in the first game, Ariel, the guardian of balance who shares her name with an angel from the Jewish and Christian Apocrypha. This convention was so significant that it even gave birth to Superman’s birth name, Kal-El.

Raziel’s rage against Kain is a strangely lionized mirror of Biblical Cain’s anger at God. In essence, Kain has become a dark patron of Nosgoth, a demiurge who’s shaped it for generations.

And so, when we meet Raziel, it’s very clear that he is meant to be a send-up to the angels of the Bible, as he arrives before his master and unveils his golden wings. However, this does not mean he is a just or saintly character. As a lieutenant in Kain’s army, he has spent much of his life as an accessory and even the perpetrator of the atrocities that have led to Kain’s power. It is only when he himself is wronged by Kain that he turns on him and becomes, in a sense, the “hero” of the story. In a way, Raziel could be compared just as much to Cain as to Lucifer, an angel who God felt was too powerful, and had become a threat, and when Raziel is cast into the Lake of the Dead, it is analogous with Lucifer being cast into Hell.

One of the first things that Raziel is charged to do is to reenact Cain’s infamous crime by killing his own brother, Melchiah, named after a number of figures in the Hebrew Bible, with various spellings. Melchiah has devolved into a horrible monster, and almost resembles the popular depiction of Grendel of Beowulf. While popular depictions like to frame him as a hulking, brutish monster, there’s no actual description that describes him as such, and so the more humanoid design for Melchiah, with monstrous features that make him clearly inhuman.

All of this serves to set up a key difference between Melchiah and Abel; when Raziel kills Melchiah, it’s not portrayed as an act of evil. He is justified in the execution of his brother. As Melchiah dies, Raziel absorbs his soul as a part of him, which could be interpreted as creating his own “mark of Cain.” But as he is not cursed, like in the cases of Cain and Kain, Raziel’s change is for the better, giving him the power to confront Kain. In that confrontation, the two discuss philosophy.

“Raziel: I am your creation, Kain. Now, as before. You criticize your own work. What have you done with my clan, degenerate? You have no right!

Kain: What I have made, I can also destroy, child.

Raziel: Damn you, Kain! You are not God! This act of genocide is unconscionable!” [ 9 ]

Raziel’s rage against Kain could be compared with Cain’s rage against God, although the narrative is far more sympathetic toward Raziel than it would be to Cain, given that Raziel’s only crime was to possess something that made Kain jealous. In Soul Reaver, Kain fills the role of a vengeful, unjust god, much as Cain must have seen his God. Kain is also convinced of his innocence and cites a pre-ordained plan—not one of God, but one of destiny—as the excuse for his actions. When Raziel discovers the depth of Kain’s conspiracy and confronts him in the Chronoplast’s control room, Kain excuses his actions, claiming that he, himself, is merely a pawn of destiny.

“As long as one of us stands, we are legion. And that is why when I must sacrifice my children to the void, I can do so with a clear heart. […] These chambers offer insight for those patient enough to look—in your haste to find me, perhaps you have not gazed deeply enough. Our futures are predestined. Moebius foretold mine a millennium ago. We each play out the parts fate has written for us. We are compelled ineluctably down pre-ordained paths. Free will is an illusion” [ 9 ].

This last line relates to a popular discussion by theologians, over whether free will can exist as long as there is talk of God’s pre-ordained plan. Indeed, it refers to both Kain’s entire character arc, and the central theme of the Legacy of Kain series in general. Kain’s conclusion is actually quite similar to that of Oedipus at the end of Oedipus Rex, who bemoans himself for trying to defy fate. However, Oedipus does not completely renounce the idea of fighting fate, merely his own hastiness in his methods. As the play famously said, “Those who jump to conclusions may go wrong” [ 10 ].

Conclusion

Terms like fate and destiny are perhaps the laziest writing conventions to turn up in the modern era. They remove characters’ autonomy and provide a cheap motivation that lacks any emotional stakes for the audience. The Legacy of Kain games, however, manage to take this weak, outdated convention and turn it on its head, exploring it in ways that are nuanced and interesting. As the characters fight tooth and nail to be more than pawns to the plot, they become anything but, acting and reacting to the concept of fate as humans would. Denis Dyack, Amy Hennig, and the development teams at Silicon Knights and Crystal Dynamics managed this by taking stories that deal with the concepts of fate and curses, like Oedipus Rex and the parable of Cain and Abel, and spinning them into themes that explore new game territory. Let the game explore them in ways that might leave the mortal soul bare, vulnerable, and trembling.

Images

i. Composite14_ThreeCains-GradientFix.jpg
“Mirroring the murder of Biblical Caine’s brother Abel, in Blood Omen, Kain’s canonical ending has him opting out of sacrificing himself to save Nosgoth from corruption, instead choosing immortality and rulership. Very reminiscent of Vampire: The Masquerade’s utility of the first murder as the origins of Vampirism and Dracula’s own pact with darkness.”
a. “CainKillsAbel.jpg”
Source:https://www.nationalgalleries.org/sites/default/files/styles/postcard/public/externals/2142.jpg?itok=PHBhBivt
b. “LegacyOfKain-Ending.jpg”
Source: https://legacyofkain.fandom.com/wiki/To_the_End
c. “KainOnHisThrone.jpg”
Sourcehttps://legacyofkain.fandom.com/wiki/Vampire_Scourge 

ii. “RazielVsMelchiah.jpg”
“Similarly to the referential allegory of Kain’s name and choices at the end of the first game, Raziel ends up slaying his ersatz ‘brother’ Melchiah, in a direct homage to Cain and Abel.” Legacy of Kain: Defiance. Eidos Interactive, 2003. Sony PlayStation 2 game.
Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=NyoJ6NQjQjg

iii. “lokdefiance8.jpg”
“Raziel’s rage against Kain is a strangely lionized mirror of Biblical Cain’s anger at God. In essence, Kain has become a dark patron of Nosgoth, a demiurge who’s shaped it for generations.” Legacy of Kain: Defiance. Eidos Interactive, 2003. Sony PlayStation 2 game.
Source: https://thecredhulk.wordpress.com/2014/07/01/legacy-of-kain-defiance/

With a BA in English from the University of Massachusetts and his service in the public library system, Marcelo Gusmão’s considerable experience has served him and this endeavor well. Since joining Steam-Funk Studios in 2018, he’s demonstrated a blend of exacting, finely honed analysis, boundless creativity and skillful interpretation, all framed by a vigorous joie de vivre for all things nerd culture. A key member of SFS’ Intermediate writing and editorial staff, he’s penned several series.

Resources

  1. Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain. PC Windows Version, Crystal Dynamics, 1997.
  2. Stoker, Bram. The New Annotated Dracula. United Kingdom, W.W. Norton & Company, 2008, pp. 313.
  3. Rein-Hagen, Mark, et al. Vampire: The Masquerade. Revised, White Wolf Publishing, 1998, pp. 13.
  4. Davison, John and Joe Rybicki.  “Legacy of Kain: Funk Soul Brother.” Official U.S. Playstation Magazine, no. 36, September 2000, pp. 94. static.wikia.nocookie.net/legacyofkain/images/9/99/OPM-36-6.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20191123204940
  5. Silicon Knights. “SK: The Complete Guide To Legacy of Kain—Behind The Scenes.” Dark Chronicle, Marie Tryhorn. www.dark-chronicle.co.uk/resources/bo1_faq/faqbehin.htm Accessed 20 May, 2022.
  6. Alter, Robert. Genesis. United Kingdom, W.W. Norton, 1997, pp. 18.
  7. Perry, Douglass C. (May 18, 2006) “The Influence of Literature and Myth in Videogames—PC Feature.” IGN, IGN Entertainment, 18 May 2006. www.ign.com/articles/2006/05/18/the-influence-of-literature-and-myth-in-videogames
  8. Carroll, Robert T. The Skeptic’s Handbook. BB Publishing, Inc., 2012.
  9. Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver. Dreamcast, Crystal Dynamics, 1999.
  10. Garner, Stanton B., et al. “Oedipus Rex”, The Norton Anthology of Drama: Antiquity through the eighteenth century. United Kingdom, W. W. Norton, 2009, pp. 161.