This post will contain major spoilers for
The Kingdom Hearts series
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Final Fantasy X
and Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn
Warning: This post contains images of violence. Reader discretion is advised.
I love video games.
Games, like any good story, would suck without a source of conflict. You want to beat that high score. You need to devote time and resources and careful planning to build that statue of yourself in Minecraft. And you really don’t want to get eaten by that GIANT TENTACLE MONSTER COMING OUT OF THAT VILLAGER’S FACE OH NO PLEASE DON’T—
Needless to say, while it’s not a requirement for a great game, most of my favorite games also have some great antagonists. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Here’s my personal favorite Top Ten Video Game Antagonists.
10. The King of Cosmos (Katamari Damacy series)
A giant colorful purple monstrosity of a (god?) king with a funny-shaped head your character the Prince inherited, the King of All Cosmos isn’t quite portrayed as the antagonist of Katamari Damacy, but let’s be real: he’s the true villain here. After all, it’s his fault we have to keep picking up his mess when he knocks the stars out of the sky.
Yes, your irresponsible father accidentally kicks the stars into oblivion. So what does he do? Take personal responsibility for his actions? Apologize for affecting the lives of every human being on Earth? No way! Quickly he ships you off to Earth to pick up lots of stuff he can use to make new stars. After all, he has much more important things to do than fix his own problems—he’s king of the entire Cosmos, you know!
The King is playful and absolutely absurd and immature. In any other setting, he might be a recipe for disaster, but you almost can’t help but love him for causing this ridiculous mess (I mean, this is Katamari Damacy, the game about rolling random crap around people’s houses until you make a ball the size of the moon). He may constantly force you to do his dirty work, but his cheerful and upbeat attitude (and his hilariously puffed-up view of himself) makes the task entertaining every time.
Plus there’s something irritatingly charming about the way he speaks. Something about his eloquence while being the world’s biggest baby. And his voice is just DJ record scratch sounds. It’s hilarious.
9. Jamie (Harvest Moon: Magical Melody)
This sullen-looking farmer is your bitter rival in the otherwise cheerful and laid-back game Harvest Moon: Magical Melody. While most Harvest Moon games are relatively calming, low-pressure environments, Magical Melody seeks to shake things up by giving you a rival who farmz alongside (well, against) you.
And there are few rivals worse than Jamie.
Most villagers can be a little standoffish when you first meet them, but Jamie takes the cake, being outright rude to you at every meeting. Jamie is constantly putting you down and claiming how much better they are, always telling you to buzz off and leave them alone.
And what’s worse is they’re right. Jamie is better than you. Constantly.
At the end of every day, the game compares your sales to Jamie’s; and every time, no matter how far you get, Jamie is always one step ahead. Especially when you begin the game, Jamie always ships out just a little more than you do, close enough to feel like you had a chance, but always just a little bit ahead so Jamie can rub your face in it. And you get treated to that same grumpy face mocking you every. Single. Night.
But maybe grumps are your thing! Maybe Jamie just needs a little persistence to win them over. Only one problem… if you finally win Jamie’s affections and marry them, the game ends, as if to scold you for making such a poor decision in life as to permanently bind yourself to this trash human being who is always just a little better than you are.
No, seriously, darn you, Jamie.
8. Braig (Kingdom Hearts series)
Braig is a smug and sly sharpshooter with a big mouth. He gleefully goads you on in every fight, always trying to get under people’s skin.
Braig undergoes a metamorphosis, beginning as little more than a snarky thug with a crossbow and a lust for power. When Kingdom Hearts big bad Xehanort gets a hold of Braig and lures him with the promise of power a keyblade offers, Braig agrees to work for him. Unfortunately for the sly ne’er-do-well, the plan backfires; Braig finds himiself in over his head, fighting against kids that prove stronger than he bargained and himself embroiled in a conflict far bigger than he realized. When he loses an eye, Braig’s had enough, and he angrily confronts Xehanort about the… less than ideal situation. The next time we see Braig, however, something’s shifted inside him. He’s still the same loudmouth taunting you as he rains crossbow bolts down from the sky, but this time he seems confident. Uncomfortably so. Because now… he seems to know something he didn’t before.
It’s this element of hidden threat that makes Braig such a great villain. While he looks and sounds like a harmless rogue, he’s really much more calculated and sinister. When he joins the evil Organization XIII, Braig seems content to fly under the radar beneath all the back-stabbing and shadow-handed treachery. Though he’s got a big personality, Braig tends to go with the flow with the Organization… except when fishing for more information about its other members. Braig knows things he has no right or business knowing. And I love that dangerous undercurrent of knowing more than this unassuming villain should.
7. Gaspard (Dark Cloud 2)
Dark Cloud 2, 2003 / Photo from Dark Cloud Wiki
A smooth and confident officer in Emperor Griffin’s army, Gaspard will do whatever it takes to help his master achieve his plans to destroy the world by erasing its history… and cutting you down with his scythe.
Gaspard is one of the few villains with a tragic backstory I like. Born as a half-demon, Gaspard and his human mother were feared and despised in their home village. This ultimately drove him into the services of Emperor Griffin; both of them found the world to be an intolerable place. And both of them hated the world for taking away what they loved most.
Gaspard may think he’s just fulfilling his duty to Griffin; he doesn’t take sadistic pleasure in attacking protagonists Monica and Max. But he’s a constant threat throughout the game, offering a powerful opposition as a recurring boss throughout the story. Seeing Gaspard tower over Monica while hefting his beautiful crimson scythe is truly a sight to behold.
6. Kreia (Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II)
An elderly woman isn’t usually someone’s first choice when it comes to video game companions, let alone memorable antagonists. But this blind Force-sensitive lady with enough sass and sarcasm to power a space station is one of the best. Kreia is a complex character, teaching you to wield the Force without the pesky inhibitions of most Jedi masters nor the singlemindedness of a Sith. Kreia becomes a whole lot more complex when you reach the end of the game and discover she’s been the main antagonist all along, wanting to use you to destroy the Force forever.
Kreia steals the show and has arguably made what could have been a trainwreck of a game into a classic that has stood the test of time.
While I’m normally not a big fan of sympathetic villains, Kreia is one of the notable exceptions. Her fall is truly tragic. Betrayed at every turn by Light Side and Dark Side Force-users alike, Kreia believes neither side of the Force holds any fairness, meaning, or justice. But while she has every right to harbor resentment for all the people who betrayed her, most of her wrath is directed toward the very thing that’s a part of her: the Force itself. After all, Kreia reasons, if it hadn’t been for the Force, she would have never been in this situation. All the pain, hurt, wars, suffering—so much of it was driven by the power of Force-users. Not that she really cares about the galaxy, mind you; she just wants revenge for all the suffering she’s undergone. She wants to bring the system down, and she’ll use every machination at her disposal to convince you to join her or manipulate you into doing it for her.
This mentor-turned-enemy is an incredible antagonist. After all, there’s little more memorable than fighting a villain you wish you didn’t have to.
5. The Queen (ICO)
A mysterious and regal figure slowly fading away as her life-force disintegrates, the Queen rules a ruined castle where horned children, presumed cursed by their villages, are taken to be sacrificed. A ruler of ghostly shadowy figures (including the spirits of the dead boys), the Queen seems to have no personal attachment to anything in her kingdom and only craves the opportunity to continue to live. Everything in the castle serves her purposes… even her own daughter, Yorda, whom she plans to sacrifice to possess her young and hale body, destroying Yorda in the process.
The Queen is otherworldly; beautiful but cold in appearance, cloaked in a mantle of shadow. While her smile and the kind initial lilt in her voice seems a bit charming, there’s nothing inviting about this ice-hearted villain, as she reveals when protagonist Ico attempts to escape the castle with Yorda in tow. At the prospect of losing her chance at immortality, the Queen’s sweet demeanor changes immediately, her voice turning into a deep and dangerous snarl. She warns Ico not to meddle in her affairs and to leave Yorda if they both know what’s good for them.
The Queen physically and emotionally abuses Yorda, having kept the poor feeble girl locked in a cage like a bird. Yorda initially hesitates to leave, but when Ico finally convinces her and the Queen hears about it, the Queen is quick to try to cull that desire for freedom, manipulating Yorda and telling her how fruitless her desire to leave is.
Overall, worst mom ever. Which makes it so satisfying when you finally get to impale her against her own throne.
4. Ganondorf (The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker)
The powerful, ominous, menacing, regal big bad of The Legend of Zelda series somehow seems even more impressive in a world of colorful cell-shaded characters like Wind Waker. Ganondorf towers over Link physically and mentally, standing nearly three times Link’s height and possessing vast years of experience attempting to pry Hyrule out of the rightful king’s hands.
Ganondorf is one of those villains who’s so confident in his superiority that it’s unnerving to face him. All he has to do is stand there and grin, and you know you’re in big trouble. He’s not all bluster, either; Ganondorf has been biding his time for decades, waiting for his chance to seize the kingdom he came so close to capturing in the past. His second chance is finally coming, and he’s not about to let some little destiny-born squirt ruin it again.
Ganondorf’s cool and composed demeanor offset him a great deal from his more passionate and fiery younger years, making him that much more intimidating as he struts toward you with two massive blades drawn. He truly is a force to be reckoned with, larger than life in both silhouette and power.
3. Ghirahim (The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword)
Ghirahim is one nasty, slippery villain. Charismatic, flamboyant, and condescending, he’s the perfect villain to pit the player up against repeatedly. Despite fighting Ghirahim multiple times throughout Skyward Sword, I never once rolled my eyes at fighting him again. No, I dreaded it (in part, granted, due to janky swordplay mechanics that I didn’t quite understand, but…) in large part due to how intimidating this guy was.
Despite his gaudy appearance, Ghirahim is no pushover in a fight. His overflowing confidence allows him to just stand there smiling smugly as he waits for you to approach him, one hand outstretched toward you. Make the wrong move, and he’ll grab your sword with his bare hand, robbing you of your only offensive weapon and rendering you vulnerable in an instant.
Ghirahim knows he has the upper hand every time you encounter him, and it’s this smugness that make him so perfect to hate and pushes the player to become strong enough to take him down and protect Zelda from his wicked clutches.
And it’s this fact that makes it all the more gut-punching when you learn Ghirahim is not even the big bad of the game, but a tool who’s been happily used by his master, fulfilling his purpose. For being the soul of a demon king’s sword, Ghirahim sure can stand on the villain pedestal all on his own.
2. Seymour (Final Fantasy X)
At first, you’re led to think Seymour is nothing but an unsettling and annoyingly beloved religious figure: a powerful member of the ruling body of the island nation of Spira and totally into protagonist Tidus’s love interest, Yuna. Tidus doesn’t like Seymour all too much, and neither do we. But he’s a summoner like Yuna, which means he just wants to bring peace and stability to a country literally being torn apart by monsters. He can’t be all that bad… right?
Well Tidus definitely thinks he’s bad, and a little snooping reveals Tidus’s suspicions are beyond correct.
Not only is Seymour not who he portrays himself to be, he’s been actively deceiving the people of Spira. He killed his own father to ascend to his position, and he’s determined to bring peace to Spira all right—by killing everyone and everything in an effort to end what he sees as a cycle of endless pain.
Seymour is manipulative and clever, a great foil for Tidus’s brash and impulsive but good-hearted nature. He’s a politician at heart, maneuvering chess pieces across the board to achieve his ends. What he can’t schmooze, he’ll eventually force out of your hand anyway. For instance, he begins by attempting to appeal to Yuna’s self-sacrificing nature, offering her his hand in marriage allegedly for the sake of Spira’s peace but in truth to acquire her services as a summoner. Together they can create a summoning spell powerful enough to destroy the world. But when Yuna sees the light, Seymour easily shifts into forcing the marriage by threatening her friends—and then, once he gets his wedding smooch, he grins smugly and orders his men to kill Yuna’s beloved companions anyway.
This holy-man politician is as slimy as they come, but his power is no joke. Shortly after we’re first introduced to Seymour, he shows off his powerful summon, Anima. Anima is a towering, hulking, terrifying creature that single-handedly destroys an arena swarming with monsters. Knowing you’ll have to fight against that when you take on Seymour… Well, it makes it clear you’ll be in for a good, tough fight.
1. Emet-Selch (Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn)
Hoo boy, the beloved villain of FFXIV himself.
Emet-Selch is a fan favorite, so much so that he rose to the ranks of top Final Fantasy villain over the legendary Sephiroth himself in a poll run by Japan’s national broadcasting organization (and for those of you who haven’t played Final Fantasy, I know you at least recognize the name of that guy).
Emet-Selch is an Ascian, a shadowy group puppeteering all kinds of trouble in the land of Eorzea to achieve their final goal. He’s also another one of the few sympathetic villains I actually adore.
Emet-Selch has all the qualities I love in a good villain: he’s smug, he’s cool, he’s composed, he’s sarcastic (gosh his eye rolls alone just send me into a delighted tizzy)—but he’s also dead wrong. Though he’s fun to have around as a villain, his ultimate plans for the world involve killing off every person in all thirteen existing universes so his homeland can be put back the way it once was.
To achieve that end, Emet-Selch has been playing the long game. And I mean the very long game; Ascians are immortal, and Emet-Selch has lived lifetime upon lifetime, manipulating world events alongside his fellow Ascians to bring the world to its knees.
Ordinarily when you have these kinds of super-powerful, almost god-tier villains, they tend to be a little… bland. Usually they boil down to “Mwahaha” simpletons so bent on taking over the world they can’t be bothered to notice the little peons who end up taking them down. But Emet-Selch isn’t like that. Far from being an out-of-reach villain, Emet-Selch has just enough humanity to make him almost irritatingly likeable. In fact, during the whole “destroy the world to rebuild it” thing, he actually lived a good long life as a regular mortal being at least once, getting married and having kids and grand kids—oh and, you know, founding an empire that became so powerful that it’s single-handedly overrunning Eorzea.
Emet-Selch sees himself as a god among mortals, and he makes sure you know it. Everyone else is a plaything, a puny pawn for his use or his amusement—maybe sometimes both. After all, there’s no need to get too attached when all these people are going to be sacrificed for the “greater good” of his society being reborn. This gives him a presence that is nearly unmatched in the gaming world: like when he clicks his tongue and scolds his naughty grandson for pumping him full of lead immediately upon his revival. Just. Dang.
With his overwhelming charisma and his almost sympathetic goal of wanting to reunite with lost loved ones, you almost start to feel for Emet-Selch. Which makes the moment of fighting him that much more emotional. By this point, he’s done everything he can to get you to see things his way: introducing you to his world that was summarily wiped out through no fault of his own. All he wants to do is get that life back. But he’s determined to do it no matter how many billions of lives he’s got to sacrifice along the way.
As you destroy Emet-Selch for good, he has one final plea: “Remember us,” as he fades into nothing.
He’s certainly the kind of villain you can’t ever forget.
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All games and characters mentioned are the property of their respective companies. And I am not affiliated with them.