Yep, it’s still Villains Month here on Hex. Have you ever noticed how tough it can be to to find a videogame with a decent villain to rise up against? Many villains are too much like pantomime baddies that you just want to boo and hiss at them. But a few antagonists out there in our favourite interactive texts become so much more. Here are some of our favourites.
Despite my love of Mass Effect and Dragon Age, the BioWare game that I consider their best is Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. It’s a big, bold game with a great story and a memorable cast, it still stands up after numerous playthroughs, and it took the Star Wars universe somewhere utterly new, yet managed to make it feel familiar. It’s a masterpiece from start to finish.
What’s interesting is that, by the time the game starts, the big bad, Darth Revan (a Sith Lord with a mask so cool, J. J. Abrams seems to have stolen it for The Force Awakens…) is already dead, killed by his own Apprentice. The Apprentice in question, Darth Malak, takes over the mantel of Dark Lord of the Sith, and turns out to be even worse than his Master.
Malak had some big shoes to fill when the game was released in 2003. The Star Wars universe was already filled with memorable Dark Lords (Vader, Sidious, Maul, Tyranus), and with his unhealthy white pallor, glowing yellow eyes, cybernetic implant (his jaw) and facial tattoos, Malak seemed more than a little familiar.
But despite these similarities, Malak was more than able to stand up on his own two feet, creating both a memorable and monstrous villain. Throughout the game Malak doggedly and unrelentingly pursues the heroes, destroying entire enclaves of innocent civilians just to get at one person, personally torturing Jedi until they either submit to the dark side or die, performing twisted experiments of live subjects, murdering prisoners of war in cold blood and casually ordering his men to “wipe this pathetic planet from the face of the galaxy” (and in a universe where the Death Star doesn’t yet exist, that means a lengthy and drawn-out orbital bombardment).
Malak is a truly terrifying character, showing just how dark and twisted the Sith can really go when their given the power and opportunity. And yet, like all good villains, you can’t help but feel a little sorry for him. In Knights of the Old Republic Malak more than earned his place in the great pantheon of Star Wars villains, and amazingly, despite being dead for the entire game, so did Revan.
The big bad of Morrowind influences your decisions early in the game with strange dreams that increase as you progress in the main quest line. In fact, you see his influences everywhere, and get a clear sense of how much his power is literally plaguing the world. As a villain, it’s not until much later in the game that Dagoth Ur becomes a presence you are fighting against – but his evil, his madness, is obvious from the start. It’s creepy, very, very dark, and a threat that gives your questing, your gaming, great purpose.
As with many villains, Dagoth Ur is a mortal whose desire of power – and his gaining of immortality – made him the villain you fight within the closing scenes of the main quest line. And he’s bloody powerful, too.
Dagoth Ur is a classic villain in a world of rich lore who influences are very villainous indeed. And he’s pretty much responsible for the most hated creatures in Morrowind, cliff racers – very villainous indeed.
There are loads of antagonists in the Final Fantasy series, but none are designed to rival you as much as Seifer from Final Fantasy VIII. He is almost literally your mirror image – you wear black while he wears white, you have dark hair while he has blonde, you both use gunblades and are of equal strength. You’ve given each other matching scars on your faces. What’s really good though is that he isn’t just a random enemy.
Seifer’s there from the start of your journey until the end. While all the other characters jump into the story, and push Squall in several different directions, Seifer is always there simply to challenge you. Heck, even though his motivations change, his story is still a mirror image to your own, perfectly complimenting you at each step. It was even hinted at that he had something with Rinoa.
At the heart of it though, Seifer is ultimately someone trying to build a future. He followed his “romantic” dreams of becoming a knight for the sorceress. Personally, I think it would’ve been good to play through the events of Final Fantasy VIII though Seifer’s story.
Also, he’s so badass he slices up Odin.
It’s a strange thing to realise but, apart from a few flashbacks, Darth Revan never actually appears in Knights of the Old Republic. Even if you take, shall we say, the darker path, you still never actually meet the dreaded Sith Lord who upended the galaxy and put the story in motion. You hear tales of his violence, see evidence of his conquest, and can even choose to follow in his footsteps – but these are all just echoes of his dark influence. Revan is a villain defined by his absence.
But that absence overshadows and colours everything that happens in the game. Every location you visit has been affected by Revan’s passing, every character has been changed by him, and every member of your crew is motivated by his actions – whether they seek revenge or peace, Revan is the driving force behind all of them. No matter which planet you’re on or which quest you’re undertaking, the Sith Lord’s darkness taints everything.
Which makes Darth Revan mythic and omnipresent in a way that few other villains ever can be. Darth Malak – Revan’s apprentice and the actual antagonist who appears in the game – is a serious and dangerous threat in his own right, but even he never escapes the constant shadow of his former master. It may be Malak that the player is fighting – but it’s always Revan that they must overcome.
Because, out of everyone, it’s you – the player – that Revan’s presence hangs over the most. You never meet him, but you feel him every step of the way. Knights of the Old Republic is effective not because it has a great villain, but because you’re haunted by the hole where that villain should be.
Should I stay or should I go? That’s the question you’re left asking yourself as the seminal hit from The Clash thumps out through your speakers for the briefest moment near the beginning of an entry in the one Ubisoft game series that I am happy to go off and play. Just moments before, as Ajay Ghale, you watch the self-proclaimed ruler of Kyrat display his displeasure at how you were greeted upon entry to this fine, picturesque dictatorship. Selfie taken, you’re whisked away in a helicopter, bag over your head.
Pagan Min, if you decide to go against every bit of “training” videogames have conditioned you to unleash, is shown to be an eccentric character fond of extreme measures in an morally dubious world. And that’s how I first encountered him. Having since restarted Far Cry 4, I can’t find myself hating Pagan and his methods or beliefs. He’s dangerously charismatic and a sharp dresser. So if you’re going to pick up Far Cry 4, sure its got an open world feel that’s pretty overwhelming, but I’ve stayed for Pagan Min. The villain I hate to love, love to hate.