You can’t have conflict and resolution without a protagonist and a villain. While a great many good guys are just voiceless husks, whiny emo-kids, or one-note super-soldiers, it’s often villains that steal the show. Today we’ll take a look at some of the best villains of all time! Did we miss any in this “dirty dozen +1″? Jump in and shout about it in the comments below!
12.) Bowser (Donkey Kong / Mario Bros. Franchise - Nintendo)
You’d imagine that most lists would end with the big bad green and orange bossman Bowser, but our list starts with him. He was a barrel tosser / kidnapper (who is this Pauline character he kidnapped? Does Princess Peach know?!) in Donkey Kong, he was the main boss in Super Mario Bros., a ‘disaster’ in SimCity on the NES, a heavyweight racer in Mario Kart, a (slow) baserunner in Mario Baseball, a breakdancer in Dance Dance Revolution: Mario Mix, and even a good guy for a while in Paper Mario! There is no doubt that Bowser is the bane of Mario’s happy existence, but there is one question that sticks in my brain....why? What is it that makes Bowser keep kidnapping Princess Peach? Is there a bit of Stockholm Syndrome going on? Is there something not quite rated E going on while Mario is storming YET ANOTHER castle to find her? Why does Bowser store the axe for the bridge he’s standing on right next to it? Why doesn’t he just eat Princess Peach and call this age-old conflict done? I think Bowser wants to get caught, enjoying the requisite triple-pounding that Mario hands out each time. Bowser is a masochist.
11.) Kerrigan (Starcraft Franchise, Blizzard Entertainment)
Starting off as an elite Ghost (Ghost No. 24601 to be specific) in the Terran Army under royal bastard Arcturus Mengsk, Sarah Kerrigan suffers the worst fate that no soldier alive or dead should ever experience - being left behind. After planting a Psi Emitter onto the planet surface in a bid to wrest control of the vile brood from their Overmind master, Kerrigan finds herself abandoned and surrounded by the Zerg. Transformed via the Chrysalis, Kerrigan emerges from her cocoon as the all-powerful Queen of Blades. As much as StarCraft was all about multiplayer, the story of Kerrigan is compelling. She manages to rise from the ashes like a Phoenix, take control of the Zerg, destroy entire worlds, pit the Protoss against themselves, and emerged unscathed. Even though we’ve lost our chance to play with her alongside Nova in the indefinitely delayed/cancelled StarCraft: Ghost, Kerrigan rises again - she’s the main character in the upcoming StarCraft: Heart of the Swarm. Kerrigan is responsible for the death of billions, and she’s only getting started.
10.) Sephiroth (Final Fantasy VII, SquareEnix)
Never has one enemy been so hated as Sephiroth. For somebody who doesn’t speak (at least in Final Fantasy VII), this Shinra SOLDIER defined in a single moment what it meant to be a cold and calculating evil boss. Running pink-laden flower girl Aeris through with a Katana (it’s been 16 years...shut up about the spoilers already), Sephiroth emerges from the flames to square off against silent-protagonist Cloud. Tropes about Phoenix Downs not being able to bring her back aside, it also immediately solidified our need to murder him as our measured response. As is tradition in Final Fantasy, we dug deep and assaulted the Northern Crater, revealing Sephiroth’s true form and crushed him as a team. Ok, I guess it’s not tradition as this was nearly the last game to take the team boss approach, but you get the idea. At least the ending made more sense than Final Fantasy XII-2.
9.) SHODAN (System Shock franchise, Eidos/EA)
System Shock 2 was one of the best survival horror games released prior to the Xbox / PS2 / Gamecube deluge. Given the nature of the game, it should come as no surprise that Bioshock Director Ken Lavine was at the helm for this title as well. Co-Developed by the much-loved and now-defunct Looking Glass of Thief fame, this title was also an Irrational product at its core. It launched an entire genre of villains in video games - the quasi-omniscient being that dangles the player from unseen strings. In much the same way as Bioshock, the game drops you in unfamiliar territory with enemies around every corner, all controlled by one entity - in this case, SHODAN. In a “would you kindly?” sort of twist we find out that the malevolent AI has been masquerading as a would-be friend and manipulates us into unwittingly releasing her into the wild within a human host. She calls you insect, a pathetic creature of meat and bone, and ultimately betrays you in ways you can’t have possibly seen coming. She’s smarter than you, she can manipulate you, she can kill you, she’s evil, and she knows it. Which brings me to...
8.) Frank Fontaine / Atlas (Bioshock franchise, 2K Games)
Continuing as the spiritual successor to System Shock 2, BioShock is heralded as a triumph. As we march towards the much-anticipated release of BioShock Infinite it’s hard not to want to re-play BioShock to prep for it. As your bathescape / elevator enters the world of Rapture you are soon met by the voice of Frank Fontaine. Andrew Ryan (the John Galt of this Atlas Shrugged-inspire world) founded Rapture and helped develop the gene splicing / ADAM that eventually lead to its downfall. The primary leader of the rebellion against Ryan is a man named Frank Fontaine - a man driven to horrible things in his bid to seize control of Rapture from its patron. The war that ensued between Ryan and Fontaine’s troops was fueled by the steampunk mechanical devices and horrible twisting of the human genome, wrecking large portions of Rapture in the process. Fontaine rallied the workers of Rapture to his cause and asks you kindly if you’d help them in the overthrow of their oppressive overlord. The player is also guided by Atlas (in a similar plot vein as Janice Polito from System Shock 2), ultimately culminating in betrayal that reveals that Frank Fontaine is actually Atlas. Using mental programming, the player had been guided all along with simple phrases by Atlas to do his bidding, eventually being forced to kill Andrew Ryan - a man revealed to be the player’s father. The best part? This twist happens at the halfway point in the game, giving you the rest of the game to hate Fontaine to his very core. Subtle deception at its finest!
7.) Dracula (Castlevania franchise, Konami)
Bram Stoker brought this character to life, so to speak, in 1897 with a novel simply entitled “Dracula”. While Stoker didn’t invent the concept of vampires, his titular character was given far more backstory and power (both physical, metaphysical, and even political) than any in writings before it. He has been the subject of plays, over 200 movies (including a horrible Leslie Nielsen adaptation), and quite a few books before landing a role in Konami’s Akumajō Dracula - better known in North America as “Castlevania”. Not unlike Samus in Metroid, the character is unceremoniously dropped into the boots of Simon Belmont with the sole purpose of destroying Count Dracula. With a short walk through the garden behind him, Belmont ascends into the massive castle to make his way past the denizens of Hell to eventually face the undead Count. Slaying the undead lord, the Belmonts purpose is fulfilled...until the guy comes back. Turns out Dracula cursed Simon and the only way to break the curse and live is to bring him back to life. Off he goes to collect items (“You now process Dracula’s rib!” ENGRISH!), brings the caped one back to life, and then immediately slays him. That is, until Dracula rises again in...oh who am I kidding, there are 26 of these damned games. Rising from the grave seems to be the only thing Dracula does well. Either way, you have to respect a guy that just refuses to die. If you’ve not played Symphony of the Night, you are missing a critical part of your gaming library - it’s on PSN and XBLA and you should go download it right now. The most recent incarnation, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow takes a different slant on the Dracula monster, giving players a very different character arc - a worthwhile trip if you somehow missed it. Speaking of Dracula, if Paul “Weak Sauce” Anderson of Resident Evil infamy gets his hands on the rights to this film (as is the current rumor), I can promise that I will personally drive a stake into his chest and then throw holy water bottles on his corpse.
6.) Alma Wade (F.E.A.R. franchise, Vivendi / WBIE)
Maybe it's how much I was spooked by the movie The Ring, or maybe it was that first time I turned around from a ladder while playing F.E.A.R. and she appeared directly in my face and then melted to ash, but I gotta say - Alma freaks me out a little bit. All throughout this series, the player is lulled into a false sense of security and relaxation only to have a horrifying screeching sound predicate her abrupt appearance. Walking through a dark hallway and swinging the flashlight around when...WAIT, did I just see what I thought I saw?! Look again...nope, nothing there. While Amnesia currently rules the roost on horror titles, it was Alma that wore that crown before they did. Named after Alma Mobley in Peter Straub's novel Ghost Story, Alma manages to bring a horror angle to an otherwise fantastic shooter. One minute you are using a railgun to nail soldiers to the wall in interesting positions, and next you are doing the backwards shuffle in real life and in game as you scramble to get away from a little girl / psychic experiment straight out Japanese horror movies. If you say you got through F.E.A.R. without jumping, and if your heart didn't leap from your chest at the ending, you are simply lying.
5.) Ganon Dragmire (Zelda franchise, Nintendo)
It's likely you've heard of Ganon by another name - Gannon or Ganondorf. A cunning swordsman, a clever trickster, a powerful sorcerer, and an all-around madman, Ganon is Link's eternal foe from Gerudo. Frequently sporting pig-like traits, Ganon is later shown to be a man named Ganondorf. If you've played the CD-i games (and I do feel sorry for you if you have) you might recognize him as a rather flamboyant boss, and if you've watched the Legend of Zelda TV show or Captain N: The Game Master he might be a humanoid Gerudian or a magic-spewing warthog. Ganon has identity issues is what I'm saying. His goal is almost universally the same - seize the Triforce of Wisdom, kidnap Princess Zelda, and/or conquer all of Hyrule. Since the guy can be beaten with "light arrows", smacking his tail with a sword, or a bug net, his chances of success are, shall we say, slim. Still, ask anyone who has played Zelda II: The Adventure of Link what they think about the silhouette of Ganon laughing at them and you'll likely get the same profanity-laced response.
4.) GlaDOS / Wheatley (Portal franchise, Valve)
Whether she's in her full-fledged glory running the Aperture Science Test Facility or if she's defeated and stabbed into a potato, there is no doubt that GlaDOS is one of the best examples of how dark humor can absolutely make a game. If you created any game that clocks in at 4 hours or less from start to completion, the gaming community would have your hide. When those 4 hours have every second packed with dark humor and fantastic writing throughout, you have something altogether different. Even though our time with Aperture Science began with the amnesia cliche', our seemingly helpful host GlaDOS guided us all through our testing until she deemed we were no longer useful, and then helpfully guided us towards an incinerator. Our narrow escape didn't dissuade the now less-than-helpful AI from then heckling us, calling us names, belittling us, and eventually trying to 'persuade' us to give up by flooding the room with toxic gas. When we encountered her again in Portal 2, she seemed changed. More vengeful, more sarcastic, and eventually more potato. While we will never forgive her for forcing us to destroy our weighted companion cube, we can never forget her for somehow conveying far more human traits than any of the humans in the game. While it could be as simple as using her awesome voice for the trailer, let's hope our malevolent AI matron makes her way into Pacific Rim - we miss you, you crazy angry starchy spud. A special nod to Wheatley for taking over the crazy-spot from GlaDOS in Portal 2 - Spaaaaaaace.
3.) The Guardian (Ultima franchise, Origin/EA)
Rumored to be an allegory for Origin’s eventual purchase by Electronic Arts (don’t get me started on what Origin.com has become...), the Guardian is a powerful malevolent force that has conquered other worlds and has now set his sights on Britannia in the Ultima series. First appearing in Ultima VII: The Black Gate, the Guardian’s plan was to open a black moongate that would allow him to physically enter Britannia in much the same way Lord British and The Avatar once did. Using the cube, sphere, and tetrahedron as his symbol (Google search the old EA logo and you’ll some familiar elements), the Guardian declares himself the ruler of Britannia through the formation of a new religious order called the Fellowship (with Elizabeth and Abraham playing a large part in leading The Avatar astray....E&A...) in Ultima VII: The Black Gate. Thwarted by The Avatar, again and again, the Guardian eventually captures The Avatar (are you getting this connection to EA yet?) giving the evil beast opportunity to destroy large swaths of Britannia while the player is indisposed by awful jumping puzzles. Eight pillars are erected in Britannia to act as magnets to pull the moon into the surface of the planet - if he couldn’t have the world he would instead destroy it. After quite a few team departures, several script rewrites, entire engine overhauls, and a rough reception on its buggy release (EA had to issue a replacement Disc 1 as the copy protection prevented legitimate purchasers from playing it), and one of the worst endings to a series that had defined my very childhood, one might argue he succeeded.
2.) Joker / Harley Quinn (Batman franchise, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment)
Mark Hamill. If you go back and look over his acting in the Star Wars movies and really evaluate his performance as an actor you will likely be somewhat mortified at the results. Hammy and overacted hardly covers it. There is one place where hammy and overacted works beautifully though - his role as The Joker. His work as Batman’s nemesis in Batman: The Animated Series was universally well-received, garnering him the opportunity to play the character to this day in all manner of animated mediums. Most recently he played the warped maniac in Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City on current-gen consoles and PC. His performance, especially when combined with the equally-over-the-top rendition of Harley Quinn by Arleen Sorkin and then Tara Strong for the sequel took the game to a whole new level. The Clown Prince of Crime, the Harlequin of Hate, the Ace of Knaves, or as you know him, The Joker is a prankster with a completely warped sense of humor. Delighting in the torture and murder of innocents, the homicidal maniac has killed over 2,000 people and has only had pitstops at Arkham as his only penalty. Every kill holds his head further under the water of madness, making him a vicious and unpredictable (and perfect) villain for Batman - his polar opposite. In Underworld Unleashed, the Trickster says, "When super-villains want to scare each other, they tell Joker stories."
1.) Handsome Jack (Borderlands 2, 2K Games)
Given how new this title still is, I’ll avoid as many spoilers as I can but suffice it to say that Handsome Jack is a bastard. From the very start of the game he lures you onto a train and then crashes it because he hates you. Taunting you relentlessly and trying to murder you at every turn, Jack enjoys reminding you that there is no way you can succeed - he is more rich, powerful, sexy, and otherwise more awesome than you, and he will kill everything you love. The man even built a space station in the shape of a giant H in the sky to remind you that this is a guy who has a pony made of diamonds. You will never be as cool as he is, you will never be as powerful, and you will dance like a puppet on his strings. You’ll need a lot of guns to deal with that sort of bravado, and that doesn’t even count what he intends to unleash from the vault...
Bonus personal favorite - Kefka Palazzo
Final Fantasy III (VI if you are following the Japanese series - we missed a few!) is widely considered to be one of the best role playing games of all time. I believe that a lot of this has to do with my personal favorite villain of all time - Kefka Palazzo. As the first human to be infused with Magitek, he wielded incredible magic. Unfortunately it also made him a complete psychopath in the process. The kingdom of Figaro? Set on fire killing everyone inside. The castle of Doma? Poisoned the water killing all inhabitants. The noble espers? Enslaved and then murdered all of them. His own Emperor Gestahl? Murdered him and then kicks him off the edge of his floating fortress to his doom. Not enough? He then destroyed the surface of the world, killing millions with his “Light of Judgment”. Still not enough? His intention if the player had not stopped him was to destroy the entire universe. The man revelled in murder and took pleasure in crushing innocents under his boot while cackling maniacally. Megatron looks like a parasol-sporting pansy compared to Kefka.