Heroes can’t hack a good story by themselves. Heroes without the opposition are meaningless. Where would our stories come from? Stories where everyone is fine, puppies are well cared for and in abundance, and everything is awesome are boring. Someone’s gotta come in there and make a ruckus. Someone’s gotta steal a princess or kick those puppies. A hero is nothing without a villain. They can’t exist independent of each other. Good guys need bad guys to fight. So for all of our favorite heroes in gaming, you need to have that perfect foil. One could even argue that the villain is more important than the hero when it comes to good storytelling. Sherlock would just be another Aspberger’s case without Moriarty. Batman would be able to hang up his crazy person pajamas and enjoy having his money and probably his parents had Gotham’s entire Rogue Gallery not been present to utterly screw his life. And so it is with our video games. Link needed Gannon, and Samus needed Mother Brain. Mario needed Donkey Kong – or not, that relationship is complicated.
So, let’s give the villains their due. I’ll list my favorite, and invite the other staffers here at HPP to join along if they like.
So, here’s the Burtacamoose Approved Top Five Villains of Video Gaming:
Many hours have I spent hunting Dracula in Konami’s Castlevania franchise. Dracula has it all for a villain. He’s got a cool castle, he can summon zombies, hellhounds, gorgon heads, even freaking Cthulhu (even if the Cthulhu he summons is a super tamed down version) to do his bidding. And look at that cape! He has a blood vendetta with the main character’s entire family. And more importantly, Dracula knows what he wants. He has no illusions about the suffering he brings – but he just doesn’t give a good goddamn. He’s comfortable with what he wants: a castle full of servants, mortals to feast on, and to be left to his privacy without being tormented by a family with a thing for whips.
But those chumps, the Belmonts, keep rolling through his castle to shit in his Corn Flakes. And you know what? Dracula doesn’t care – he’s the Honey Badger of Transylvania. The Belmonts obviously aren’t great at their jobs, because Dracula keeps coming back. Dracula just does not give a shit. He just falls back into that coffin, takes a hundred year dirtnap, and then he’s back in business. His cults keep him alive and the cycle continues ever onward. In a match between Dracula and the Honey Badger, I think we’d get a stalemate in terms of fucks given.
You’d think after a couple hundred years that the Belmonts might get wise and try, you know, a stake. I don’t remember anything about whips killing vampires in any of the vampire lore I ever read.
Bioshock’s Andrew Ryan was a brilliant man with a vision of science and progress. He also took a page from Ayn Rand and decided to be a selfish asshole while he did it. He built a ‘utopia’ under the sea – Rapture – where science and free enterprise could live together in sweet, money-making, industry-driven harmony, away from religion, government, or anything that even smacked of responsibility. It didn’t take long for Ryan’s dreams to turn sour around him, but you know what Ryan did?
He rode the fucking rocket like Slim Pickins at the end of Dr. Strangelove.
When things went to shit in his underwater paradise, he didn’t admit defeat. He shot up as many Rapture goons with as many plasmids as he could get his hands on, then let ’em loose. He holed up and waged war on his fellow dream seekers (admittedly, assholes in their own right). He’d be damned if he was going to let go of his dream, no matter how broken or how many people had to die at the hands of his own folly. The only thing that really stopped him was his ignorant chump of a son – brainwashed and conditioned with gene therapy over years and years to be a puppet to anyone who knew a special phrase.
Boy did that come to bite him on the ass.
What makes him a great villain? Hubris. The sheer pride it takes to embrace what he was doing. He, like the best of villains, didn’t do this shit to twirl his mustache and cackle. He did it because he felt it was the right thing to do in order to have a free society.
Of course the problem with free society by his definition is that when you tell everyone there’s no rules and no government, people are gonna kill each other real quick.
And sure – you could argue that Atlas/Fontaine was the real villain. But Ryan’s the prime mover here – without Ryan’s maniacal vision of ‘progress’ Fontaine would have nothing but garden variety avarice and a couple goons, none of which have any mad sciencey power.
Portal, brought to us by Valve, introduced us to the manipulative and murderous GlaDOS. Originally, she was the assistant of Cave Johnson, the megalomaniacal founder of Aperture Laboratories (a villain in his own right, though not as enduring). Her personality was forcibly uploaded into an advanced computer system, where Aperture Science used her to run and coordinate all of their testing subjects in their advanced testing facility. The process drove her understandably mad, and when they finally hooked her up to wholly control the Enrichment Center, Aperture’s personal playground of murder the results were predictable. She gassed the staff and then started with the process of killing the remaining test subjects in elaborately creative death traps, including Chell, the protagonist of the Portal series. She also lives to bedevil Wheatley, a personality construct that was created specifically to hobble GlaDOS and briefly takes over her testing facilities in Portal 2.
The thing about GlaDOS though that makes her so memorable is that not even all of her torment is physical (though setting people on fire and cutting them to ribbons is par for the course). Her murderous whimsy and casual cruelty is ultimately what makes you remember her. GlaDOS is no happier than when she’s in your head, screwing with you until you break. As you pass her tests one by one, she grows more petty and cruel, tossing insults at you to demean and demoralize you. By the time you’re able to finally get to her to shut her down, you’ll have suffered all sorts of aspersions relating to your weight, your familial status, your intelligence. To top it all off she’ll then lie to you about letting you have cake when the testing is all said and done.
This is of course after a party associate collects you for incineration.
Final Fantasy VII’s Sephiroth is your classic embodiment of a soldier who believes that you sometimes have to burn a village to save it. Sephiroth was the best damned soldier in the Shinra Army. But, when he found out why, he… went a little nuts. See, he wasn’t all the way human. He was part human, but also was infused with the genetic material of a super being called Jenova. When Sephiroth found out that Jenova, his ersatz ‘mother’ was imprisoned, compromised, and exploited by the very people he fought for, he went on a killing spree that didn’t stop until an incident in a Mako Reactor put the kibosh on that and he was presumed blessedly dead. A few years later, he came back with a vengeance and with a plan. His Mother was going to take over the planet millenia ago, so goddammit he’s gonna make mom proud and follow in her maniacal footsteps. But to do it, he has to crack open the planet so bad as to expose its essence, the Lifestream, to heal it. So his idea is to summon a killer entity called Meteor to blow a hole into the planet so big that it’ll expose the heart’s blood of the planet. While the healing happens, he intends to merge with it and come to master the planet himself.
You may see a couple flaws in this plan like I do – the main one being ruling a planet with nothing on it worth having kind of sucks – but good lord does he go about this plan with a vengeance. He’s clearly batshit crazy – but his clarity of vision and dogged determination set him high in the pantheon of apocalyptic villainy.
He is ridiculously powerful (I never defeated him – probably because I didn’t grind out levels compulsively or breed Chocobos), he has the sword from hell, and even without martial prowess, he’s in command of devastating spells that can drop a party in a one hit kill. This guy is a bastard, perhaps even the bastard.
But, there’s one bastard I like more than all of the others.
Some have written off Borderlands‘ Handsome Jack as a cliched joke. I beg to differ.
Jack is the villain you love to hate. He’s narcissistic, he’s calculating, he’s cruel, and has a wicked sense of humor. He’s willing to sacrifice anything that stands in his way. And all for what?
For the greater good. Or at least what he believes to be the greater good.
Jack thinks he’s the hero in the Borderlands world. And you know what? He kind of is. He’s about putting lawless killers down. He’s about establishing places and things that are grand and orderly. He wants to make money, and who doesn’t? He wants the trains to run on time, he wants the streets clean, and he wants crime eliminated. Of course all of this will be overseen by his own narcissistic eye, but it’ll be better. Really. He promises.
He just does not give a shit how he goes about getting that orderly outcome. And sometimes that means that the best way to solve a big complicated problem is to cut it to ribbons then stomp on the remains until there’s nothing left but his glorious, egomaniacal vision. And anyone who got in his way in the process, well… they had it coming standing against order.
Much like GlaDOS, he also taunts and manipulates you into doing things that are against your interests with all of the skill of an American politician. He’s got more money than god to keep throwing robotic minions against you. He controls a space station that can deploy both death and much needed supplies anywhere in the galaxy. And he’s more than a little crazy after being exposed to the secrets of Pandora’s vaults.
And while you fight him, you come to hate him. And I always feel a sense of satisfaction after putting him down at the end of the battle with the Warrior he unleashes at the conclucion of Borderlands 2. He’s the bad guy perfectly built to hate.