What makes a good video game villain

Far Cry 3/ Ubisoft

We all think villains and anti-heroes are cool, right?

Let’s face it, with the majority of our favourite titles, we tend to gravitate to those charismatic, infamous and dangerously cool bad guys. Sure, we’re out to beat them, but we have to concede they have some pretty fantastic dramatic timing and great taste in flamboyant costumes.

But what turns an enemy into a legendary foe rather than just an obstacle.

Let’s have a look below at 3 great villains, but also at 3 that don’t quite measure up and see what turns an antagonist from a zero into a…Ok, bad choice of words there, but still, let’s have a look!

Below we’ll take a look at a few baddies from some of my favourite games.


(SPOILERS BELOW)

Beware spoilers for the following:

Bioshock, Dragon Age:Inquisition, Far Cry 3 and Borderlands

Immoral and Infamous -The best baddies:

Undertale/ Toby Fox

3. Flowey – Undertale

With his devious nature, deceptive skills and ability to break the fourth wall, this little flower is no joke. Flowey is your first encounter in the fantastic indie classic, but don’t let his smiling face and supposedly kind advice fool you, this guy is anything but helpful.

Fooling the player into accepting his ‘friendliness pellets’ Flowey then turns on you, attempting to kill you before your adventure has even begun, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Following you throughout your journey, Flowey waits for his chance to steal more souls before attacking you again, this time as an all-powerful, terrifying mass that cackles with laughter at the idea of your perpetual dying through the manipulation of your saves.

Not only deceiving the player and taunting you with your mistakes, Flowey even manipulates others within the game to make his dream of ultimate power a reality, tricking Papyrus and even Sans in order to make his gathering of potential victims larger at the end of the game.

He’s a fantastically written character who really inspires a sense of dread in the player, despite his initially sweet and kind appearance. Flowey is really proof that good writing creates a good villain. His appearances leave the player with an ominous sense of dread that pays off in the final encounter. This coupled with a strong story and lore that sets up the character within the world as a multi-layered character really makes him all the more believable and even more terrifying.

This flower is more appropriate for a funeral wreath than a bouquet.


Far Cry 3/ Ubisoft

2. Vaas Montenegro – Far Cry 3

A terrifying pirate leader and captor, Vaas both captivates and unnerves with his chilling speeches about freedom, morality and the concept of insanity.

Vaas first speaks to us through the bars of a cage, taunting and insulting us before intimidating a nearby guard as a joke. Moments later, we’re running from him through thick undergrowth after he brutally murders the player’s brother, Grant.

He shoots him in the neck leading us to an incredibly graphic and disturbing death before encouraging us to run.

This perfectly encapsulates Vaas’ own hostile and turbulent nature. A violent and aggressive antagonist, frequently flipping between his own thoughts, he can turn within moments, a joke turning into a brutal killing with little or no provocation.

Vaas cements himself as a fantastic villain from the moment he first appears. His nature is such that he’s believable. We can perceive him as someone we could potentially meet, but with a twist. His charismatic nature means that he appears as something almost akin to a force of nature, unpredictable and destructive whilst also unnervingly interesting.

This is further reinforced through the perfect delivery of the, now infamous, ‘insanity speech’ by Voice Actor Michael Mando in arguably one of the best performances in video game history.

Then, after our own destructive escape, we see a lone figure approaching us through the flames and chaos, like an immortal, immovable object, unafraid of its own destruction.

‘Did I ever tell you the definition of…insanity?’

With a brilliant script and through haunting delivery, Vaas Montenegro redefines the very nature of the antagonist as something like a tornado. Unstoppable, unflinching and chaotic.


Bioshock/ Irrational Games

1. Andrew Ryan – Bioshock

Andrew Ryan is unforgettable.

A cult of personality, Ryan shapes the underwater city of Rapture to match his own ethos. A city free from external influence that can grow and progress for its own sake, rather than at the behest or will of others.

Andrew Ryan is iconic because of one real reason.

He doesn’t see himself as a villain.

When we look at our own bad choices and decisions, do we ever see ourselves as truly wrong, or do we always assume the best. We made that decision for the greater good, right?

Ryan sees the manipulation of the brilliant by those he calls ‘parasites’ as the ultimate evil. Technology and ideas stolen by others is just a way for the weak to profit from the strength of the many. He abhors altruism and instead becomes what Ayn Rand (an acronym of Andrew Ryan and famous founder of objectivism) would see as perfect. A man who succeeds via his own merit, attempting to create a perfect world where others can do the same without compromising themselves to have to obey the whims of government, religion or social movement.

Andrew Ryan cements himself as a brilliant antagonist for this reason. His documented fall from grace allows us to see his own flaws and human nature slowly overtaking his initial rational mission, instead he becomes a power-hungry tyrant, terrified of losing control over his slowly sinking city.

Ryan is the quintessential dictator, having appeared as a saviour but slowly revealing himself as no better than those that he sought to escape, yet even in his last moments, Ryan still sees himself as the hero of his own story. He chooses his own fate and dies still holding onto the dreams that he has shaped his life around. He even deactivates his own Vita-Chamber, illustrating that he’ll never allow himself to be captured or imprisoned by those that seek to own that which they haven’t created.

He is a man and the player merely a slave, sent to destroy what he has created. When the final blow is struck, we almost pity Ryan as someone caught up in the tide of time, misguided and flawed, clinging to his ideals as he faces his own death.

His emotions often overtake his rational thought, leading to truly gruesome and grizzly acts that shake us to our core. He’s a brutal and violent man slowly losing control. His true feelings and reactions exploding in violent and primal acts that scar and destroy those around him.

This, coupled with his long drawn out death by his own golf club, causes us to second guess our own choices and decisions thus far.

Perhaps we could even say that his death was a metaphor for how he lived. His own tool being wielded by someone else leads to his slow and drawn out death, much like the way in which Rapture is slowly dying, having been subverted by the control and influence of others?

Ryan encapsulates exactly what makes a villain memorable.


Bioshock 2/ 2K Games

Fiendishly forgettable foes:

3. Sofia Lamb – Bioshock 2

A lacklustre attempt to capture lightning twice, Sofia Lamb is the main antagonist of Bioshock 2. Haphazardly inserted into the tightly-knit universe of Bioshock 1 without any previous mention, Lamb is put forwards as an inspirational and influential psychiatrist on par with Ryan himself. This falls flat, however, due to her lack of ability to measure up to Ryan.

Her plans seem far-fetched from the off, making it hard for the player to suspend disbelief. This, coupled with the rewriting of the iconic first game, means that the player ends up feeling a lack of urgency to stop the villainous Doctor.

Lamb suffers having to follow after an icon like Ryan, seeming like a different flavour of the same villain rather than someone with her own agenda and destiny.

A forgettable and poorly timed villain within a game that didn’t measure up to the series as a whole, Sofia instead becomes a sacrificial Lamb on the altar of bad game baddies.


Borderlands/ Gearbox Software

2. The Destroyer – Borderlands

This is a great example of a bad villain.

Set up in the last moments of Borderlands as the big evil, The Destroyer appears as a huge mass of tentacles dominated by a large, ominous eye.

That you easily beat and roll the credits.

Never mentioned during the story before suddenly being credited as the most powerful and dangerous force in the universe, the player has no time to really comprehend or feel towards the mass before it’s lying dead at your feet.

This, arguably, can also be seen as one of the reasons why Borderlands 1 is never remembered for its story. A lack of a clear and established enemy, such as Handsome Jack in Borderlands 2, leads the player to just trundle along without much care for the story or world itself.

Each wacky character is isolated and humorous, but no link forms to bring everything together, leading to a game that feels disjointed and jarring when it comes to overarching plot.

Proof that a good villain can really turn a plot into something special, whereas a lack of one can lead to a plot being hard to discern at all.


Dragon Age:Inquisition/ BioWare

1. Corypheus – Dragon Age: Inquisition

Who?

Exactly.

Corypheus is one of the major negatives about Inquisition. Appearing initially as a mysterious character in part of Dragon Age 2’s DLC, Legacy, before becoming the main enemy in Inquisition, Corypheus sets himself up as a strange and illusive antagonist steeped in history.

Who is he exactly? How did he become the way he is? Did he really reach the Maker’s seat in the Golden City?

Who knows?

Many of these questions are answered in an ambiguous way or abandoned all together and the final encounter with the boss is lacklustre and tedious.

This sticks out as even more of a negative when compared with Bioware’s other villains who are still remembered fondly, like the conflicted Saren Arterius or the eerie and Lovecraftian Reapers from the Mass Effect franchise.

Corypheus is an example of what happens when you think of ideas and create a character before fleshing them out fully.

His story ends up feeling disjointed and unfinished and he’s forgotten the instant he’s defeated.

At least that’s a positive, I suppose.


These are just a taste of some of the worst and best game villains, but who tops your list?

Who’s your worst villain?

Who do you think deserves another shot at beating us?

Let me know in the comments!

2 replies »

  1. Although both bizzard, kerrigan and the litch king for me.

    I love the transition of characters from good to bad. They make them believable and you follow them through the story with loss etc wich is just awesome.

    Like

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