A few days ago I mentioned on Twitter I was going to be talking about my three favourite villains, protagonists, and supporting characters. We’ll start the series today with the villains.
The thing about villains is they’re often more interesting than the heroes. And, as they tend to be the driving factor behind the stories we see in video games, they’re arguably more important as well.
So, without further ado, here they are: my top three villains in video games.
3. The Reapers (Mass Effect Trilogy)
I know I’ve been banging on about Mass Effect recently but I have to say I do enjoy the Reapers as villains, though they aren’t quite what you may expect.
A race of sentient machines, the Reapers were built before humanity even evolved on our homeworld of Earth. They exist for one reason and one reason only: to cull all advanced, sentient life from the galaxy every 50 thousand years.
All of the technology used within the Mass Effect universe is derived from the Reapers. They allow this because it causes all life to develop upon a path that makes it easier to hunt down and exterminate.
In terms of motivation, the Reapers believe they represent salvation through destruction. They believe it’s impossible for biological life to exist without eventually overrunning its boundaries, which can only lead to mass starvation and, ultimately, the death of the galaxy as a whole.
So, they wait in dark space – the space between galaxies. When galactic life hits its zenith, they swoop in. Usually the “cycle” as it’s called takes an additional thousand years to complete after the Reapers initially invade.
The question one has to ask themselves as they go through Mass Effect is, “Are the Reapers right?” If in the end you decide they must be, you can, in fact, choose to allow them to destroy civilization. This leads to the next cycle learning about “The Shepard” and finally destroying them. But where’s the fun in that?
The Reapers are confusing and poorly-explained in the main game. A better understanding requires the purchase of the Leviathan DLC, which I didn’t actually get around to doing. But, suffice it to say, the Reapers aren’t as timeless as they’d like to believe. They were, in fact, built by another hyper-advanced race called the Leviathans. The Leviathans lost control of the Reapers and had to go into hiding before they were eradicated. And so they’ve suffered through countless millenia of guilt in their self-imposed exile as they watch the galaxy burn for their mistakes.
2. Ganondorf (The Legend of Zelda)
Ganondorf is the recurring protagonist of the Legend of Zelda series. Sometimes he’s a man, sometimes he’s a pig. Sometimes… he’s a pig-man.
Ganondorf is the leader of a group of desert dwellers called the Gerudo, a tribe entirely made up of women. Every so often a single male is born to the clan and he becomes the king. He inevitably uses his position as leader to get close to the king of Hyrule and kill him, which then kicks off some type of war that Link and Zelda are ultimately responsible for fixing.
Along the way, Ganondorf usually manages to get his hands on the Triforce, the ultimate symbol of godly power in Hyrule. It then breaks into its three component parts: power, wisdom and courage. He then begins a crusade to reunite the Triforce so he can have his wish of complete power granted.
Invariably, the pieces of the Trifoce end up embedded in Link and Zelda. This happens mystically and is represented by a triangle, usually on the left hand. It imparts various abilities to the owner of each piece.
Link’s represents courage and the powers it conveys is never really explained, except that it seems to enhance Link’s already abundant courage and physical abilities. It also allows him to control magic.
Zelda has the Trifoce of Wisdom. This piece tends to give her visions and minor clairvoyance. It also, depending on the story, makes her powerfully psychic and able to craft weapons from light itself.
Ganondorf controls the Triforce of Power. It always grants him new, powerful dark magic. Usually in addition to his already considerable skills as a warlock. It also grants him great strength and a thirst for blood.
Near the end of each game, it also regularly awakens Ganondorf’s true form, Ganon, the giant pig monster we saw in the first Legend of Zelda, back in 1987. This is said to be physical representation of the evil in his heart.
It is explained in the Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker that Ganondorf had a reason for starting his many wars. The winds in the Gerudo Desert are harsh and full of pain. He wanted his people to have freedom and good land to live on. Since that particular game, however, the story has been largely ignored and we have gone down a different road.
In the Legend of Zelda: Skyward sword, a villain named Demise makes an appearance. At the end of the game, he curses Zelda and Link, saying he will always return. And he does, as Ganondorf. A supposed mortal reincarnation of this deity. They look exactly the same, and Nintendo has confirmed this is the case.
In two of the three timelines, however, Ganondorf is currently dead. In Wind Waker, Link impales the Master Sword through Ganondorf’s head, while in Twilight Princess he drives it through Ganondorf’s chest.
Ganondorf is a great villain who repeatedly haunts the lives of the heroes, themselves reincarnated constantly. He is deep and he is utterly evil, not unlike the next villain on our list. Though our number one is considerably more tragic.
1. Arthas (Warcraft III, The Frozen Throne, World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King)
Fallen heroes often make the best villains, and Arthas fits this mold perfectly.
The prince of the Human kingdom of Lordaeron, Arthas has been a part of Warcraft’s most important moments almost from the First War. He was there when Anduin Lothar (Knight of Stormwind) and his boy-king Varian Wrynn arrived to meet his father as refugees, fleeing the Orcish Horde. He was there when the Horde tried to sack his city.
As Arthas grew, he became a powerful warrior, but also a man of faith. As such, he became a member of the Silver Hand, one of the Paladin groups that inhabits the Warcraft Universe.
Then the plague came.
Without going into too much detail, a plague of undeath began to sweep through the Alliance lands, starting with Lordaeron. Arthas, caring a great deal for his people, tried to hunt down the source of the plague. It turned out to be a demon called Mal’Ganis. In his hunt for Mal’Ganis, Arthas began to slide down a slippery slope, thinking that any means was justified if it ultimately saved his people. This included the genocide of one of Lordaeron’s most populated cities, Startholme.
Arthas continued his pursuit to the northern continent of Northrend, where he claimed a Runeblade called Frostmourne, with which he was finally able to kill Mal’Ganis. But in so doing, Arthas surrendered his soul to the blade and to the sword’s ultimate master, the Lich King.
Following this, Arthas made war on several kingdoms on Azeroth (Warcraft’s main planet). In the process, he nearly wiped out the Elves and ultimately became the Lich King himself. He was the central focus of the Wrath Of The Lich King expansion, in which he was at last destroyed by a group of adventurers as the final boss.
At the end of it all, as he lay dying in a pool of his own blood, Arthas released his hold on his dark powers, realized his mistakes, and then died – unmourned, unloved, and utterly damned.
This was not a happy expansion.
There. These are my three favourite villains. I’m sure people are going to disagree with me, especially since I didn’t include Sephiroth from Final Fantasy VII, which is usually considered some kind of crime. That being said, I’ll leave you with one final word on villains in video games: they must be the engine that drives the story. It’s easy to have a hero. We are the heroes. We fill the boots of whomever needs to get the job done. But without the villain, there is no reason to even put those boots on in the morning.
Oh, also? I didn’t like Final Fantasy VII. It was awful.