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"Everything with Square Enix is focus tested to within an inch of its life."
- Anonymous Game Developer who worked on the unreleased Legacy of Kain sequel
Eurogamer's Wesley-Yin Poole has done some deep digging into the history of an unreleased Legacy of Kain sequel, fleshing out the origins and plans for a gritty action-adventure game meant to introduce the series from new fans and be the equivalent of "Zelda as made by HBO."
According to Poole, UK developer Climax Studios was hired for its reputation of delivering game ports on time and on budget, and set off with a grand vision to turn out a gritty sequel to an already grim franchise. The game, tentatively titled Legacy of Kain: Dead Sun, was to be made in Unreal 3, and feature a new cast of characters, with players taking the role of a human named Asher trapped in the body of a vampire named Gein after the vampire kills his family.
The report's a lengthy read into how relationships between a 3rd party contractors like Climax Studios and publishers like Square Enix can sometimes play out, with both inspired design decisions and frustrating notes playing back and forth between the ones who own the franchise rights and the ones actually making the game.
Worth noting: By Poole's own account, some of the statements from the different interviewed sources are conflicting, so some anecdotes may need to be taken with a grain of salt. In particular, the accounts of Legacy of Kain's multiplayer, later released on Steam Early Access as Nosgoth, seems to be muddled as to whether it always intended as stand-alone multiplayer or a component of Dead Sun.
What's striking about the developers' accounts is that Legacy of Kain: Dead Sun's development doesn't seem doomed by any one particular feature or an especially roughshod development cycle. The company met milestones, responded to requests, and grappled with sometimes seemingly arbitrary decisions from Square Enix. Some of the anonymous accounts complain of unclear feedback and frustrating meetings with producers, but also admit that Climax struggled to get the visually demanding game running on Xbox 360 and PS3 hardware.
According to Square Enix London's Brian Beacham, the game was simply cancelled because it wasn't meeting expectations. The anonymous accounts claim that a Metacritic analysis showed the game was only expected to poll an 80 with gaming critics, when Square Enix was hoping for an 85, and there were worries over the financial struggles of similar titles like Darksiders 2 and Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2.
The most frustrating part of the accounts may be descriptions of a window where Square Enix continued to pay Climax Studios for production, but internally had already cancelled the game, leading to developers working to meet milestones for a game they weren't certain ever ship.
You can read the full story for more details, including some amusing connections between Legacy of Kain: Dead Sun and the 2015 smash hits Rocket League and Her Story, and review more stories about the inspiration and struggles of this cancelled game.