Do Strong Villains Get the Credit they Deserve?

After looking at this Destructoid article, which I recommend you reading, I found myself thinking about properly made villains in the video game industry. Villains in gaming have evolved in a strange way. Originally, there wasn’t any such thing as a villain, only a boss, or final boss. King Koopa (Bowser for you youngsters) wasn’t any kind of villain; all he was, was the setup to the story. Most old school villains were like that, acting only as final bosses and being featured only in the instruction manual as a flimsy excuse for the player to proceed through the game. However, as video games have evolved, so to have the role of the final boss. Games, particularly RPGs began trying to tie a stronger narrative onto their games, and a more present villain was a necessary step in this direction. However, these are still video games and more often than not, making believable real villains is the furthest thing from the developers’ mind. Most of the time the villain will be left with no backstory, or motivation, and if he is given a motivation, it will usually be just to be evil. Occasionally, a developer will actually properly develop a villain, but, strangely enough, these villains tend to be remembered far less than an overblown pure evil type of antagonist. The writer of the Destructoid article sites Vormav from Final Fantasy Tactics as an example of an excellently done villain. This led to me thinking about the relative credit that villains such as Vormav get from the various fanbases. I love Tactics, but I’ve never in my life thought anything about Vormav, good or bad. I’m sure he is far from the first thing that Tactics fans think of, but his treatment was, indeed, very well done and it deserved recognition that he doesn’t really get. Therefore, today we’re going to look at pure evil villains and their popularity, an example of a well made villain that doesn’t get any respect, and an example of a well made villain that does. As a warning there will be spoilers.

I said “well made villain”. Get out of here Necron!

First let’s look at a couple of “pure evil” characters. Kefka, Sephiroth, and Ganondorf are some of the most popular villains in the gaming industry. Although Ganondorf started out as nothing more than a final boss, he was given more of a backstory in A Link to the Past, and had an active role in the story of Ocarina of Time. No matter the motivations or backstories to these characters the common denominator among all of them is being evil for evil’s sake. Ganondorf wants to bring the world under his dominion. Kefka tries that then decides that destroying it is more fun, and Sephiroth went crazy and simply decided to destroy the world. There is more to these characters than that (Yes I know why Kefka is crazy and why Sephiroth went mad), but their end goal doesn’t make any sense unless you simply expect people to act for evil’s sake. Ganondorf wants to rule the world, but has no loyalty to his people or desire to make the world better (Look what happend in Ocarina). Despite being evil for evil’s sake characters, these villains are intensely popular. It isn’t like there isn’t a place for simple characters like this, as everyone enjoys a good old fashioned pure good versus pure evil match every once and awhile, but the problem is that these characters always outshine the more well rounded villains. And no, being insane is not deep.

I love you Kefka, but let’s face it: you’re about as vapid as it gets.

An example of a well made villain that doesn’t get the credit that he deserves (And I’m sure to get flak for this) is Final Fantasy XII’s Vayne Solidor. This is a villain with real world motivation. Yes he wants to rule the world and become the next Dynast King, but he doesn’t want to do this so he can start a reign of terror. He actually wants to bring freedom to humanity, who have been controled by beings known as the Occuria. How he tries to achive this goal is what makes him a villain, but the goal is noble, and not in conflict at all with your party’s end goal. He seizes total control of his country ousting the senate and killing his own father, but all of it was done for the sake of humanity. By the end of the game, I found myself agreeing more with Vayne than I did with the indecisive Ashe. His brother’s betrayal, and Vayne’s subesquent death are sad moments. Even at the end of it, Vayne cared for his younger brother. Vayne’s story is really a matter of how far you would go to achieve your aims. Despite the attrocities he commits, it’s hard not to root for Vayne as your party consistently refuses to take a position one way or another. Unfortunately, Vayne doesn’t get the credit he deserves. He isn’t as flamboyantly evil as more memorable villains, and many players never ended up clearing XII because of its length and because relatively little happens in the first forty hours or so (Considerably more if you are doing all the sidequests). Also, Final Fantasy XII is far from the most story driven Final Fantasy and in that way, he gets the short end of the stick.

The people’s Tyrant

 Next let’s look at a villain that most assuredly gets the recognition he deserves, but really won’t have any impact on gaming as a whole: Andrew Ryan from Bioshock. Yes, I’m aware that Fontaine was the real villain of Bioshock, but how many people would tell you that when you first ask them. Andrew Ryan is a constant force during your stay in Rapture, and through datalogs, the player is able to piece together everything from his noble beginning to his descent into madness. Like Vayne, Ryan doesn’t create Rapture just so he can rule over a city. He builds it based on his own ideals for what would make the ideal environment for human growth and prosperity. His Ayn Rand approach to government ends up collapsing into itself like an ocean collapses into an underwater city (Symbolism). Of course by the time the player enters Rapture, the whole city has gone to hell and Ryan has been driven mad from paranoia, which leads to the player facing off against the mad leader repeatedly as he tries to make it through the collapsed utopia. Like Vormav mentioned in the Destructoid article, Ryan deprives you the pleasure of killing him, as he forces you to do it, showing you to the bitter end that he is in control. Andrew Ryan gets a lot of credit from the gaming world, being one of the most memorable parts of Bioshock, and all of the credit is fully deserved.

Can’t look at a golf club the same way anymore.

There are many other well made villains in gaming, but even in the case of the recognized greats, will they ever share the same level of respect as the more black and white characters? Video games have a tendancy to oversimplify things in order to make them easier for the player to digest. A purely evil character is easy to hate and fun to defeat. On the other end of the spectrum, a purely good hero is easy to love and root for. Developers will often give their villains a backstory, but while trying to make the player hate the villain, they often forget to add the most important element to any character: humanity.

– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer


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