Following on from my previous ‘game character’ list posted a while back I feel it’s time I shared who I think the best antagonists to grace our consoles have been. As I mentioned during my previous lists these are my own choices and by no means reflect a collective consensus, some you might agree with and others you might not. I use the term “Antagonist” because no matter however I look at it I just cannot use the title of “Villain” for some of these characters. To me the term “Villain” is an overused label for characters who oppose our heroes, and despite coming across as being a bit introspective I feel that just because they oppose our heroes does not mean they’re either wrong or even evil for that matter. The way I see it “Villain” implies that a character is just inherently evil and who probably has been since day one, this isn’t always the case – Some characters develop into antagonists, some still have a measure of humanity that always holds them back, and some you can even emphasize with and even understand. However some are indeed truly heinous but take the stereotypical role in unexpected directions that you remember them for it even more.
Having a cookie-cutter villain (Someone or something you just shot/beat up/dropped into a lava pit for the sake of it) might have been the norm back before script writers in the industry got a clue, but these days gamers have come to expect better quality storytelling from certain genres. Good thing studios have upped their game as well!
So, without further delay here are my own “Top 5 Game Antagonists”.
There will be some spoilers ahead!
5. Kuja (Final Fantasy IX, 2000)
Everything about this character smacks of narcissism, from his eloquent mannerisms and vocabulary to the flamboyant and provocative way he dresses. Because of this most gamers accustomed to outwardly intimidating antagonists in their Final Fantasy games might have snorted at Kuja when they first encountered him in Final Fantasy IX. However, as the story develops the player learns that there is a lot more to Kuja than meets the eye and that his narcissistic display belies a menacing disposition and deep-seated insecurity. In a way he reminds me of the way Jim Moriarty was portrayed during the BBC’s Sherlock series (2010 – present), which by the way is a series I cannot recommend enough. Kuja is a genetically engineered ‘Genome’ sent to Gaia (The world of Final Fantasy IX) from his home world of Terra with a mission to cause war. Terra is a world in decay and needs the life-force of other planets to survive. Kuja finds a way to channel the souls of Gaia’s dead to Terra to heal it but needs war on a grand scale to sustain this cycle – to this end he becomes an arms dealer providing monarchs with weapons centuries beyond their time. If this means he needs to cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people to complete his mission, then so be it. Kuja’s total lack of empathy, icy indifference, and volatile temperament stems from him being branded a “Failed Experiment” by his creator Garland and having been born in a test tube as a 24 year old man never experiencing childhood – which in a way makes him a sympathetic character. Might he have been different had he grown up normally?
Towards the story’s final acts we see Kuja’s narcissistic veil torn to shreds as Garland informs him of his imminent and inevitable death, causing Kuja to do a complete 180 turn and become unhinged. Throwing away his eloquent facade Kuja, out of sheer anger, murders Garland and annihilates Terra with his newly-augmented magical powers.
The final kicker to Kuja is that he is the biological brother of the story’s protagonist, Zidane.
4. Nicole Brennan (Dead Space 2, 2011)
Imagine your worst ever experiences with an ex-girlfriend, stack them together and odds are they still won’t come close to matching the horror that is Nicole Brennan. In the first Dead Space we discover that Isaac Clarke volunteered for the Ishimura repair mission that claimed his sanity because he encouraged his then-girlfriend Nicole Brennan to join the ship’s crew. Isaac’s sanity decays in a very subtle way during the first Dead Space as he sees her throughout the ship, but it’s the revelation that Nicole has been dead the whole time and that he has been hallucinating all along that finally breaks him. In the sequel Dead Space 2 Isaac is a husk of a man, mentally broken and suffering from extreme dementia from his horrific experience on the Ishimura. Upon breaking out of a mental asylum Isaac is tormented by macabre hallucinations of Nicole that get increasingly violent, even life threatening. The segments where Isaac’s dementia overwhelms him are absolutely terrifying as the player has to discern what is real and what is not.
Apart from the emotional attachment Isaac still has with her what makes Nicole such a terrifying antagonist is that Isaac has absolutely no defense against her, she is in his head and there is no escape! He feels that he’s entirely responsible for creating this monster and unless he comes to terms with her death he faces an even worse fate.
Most guys get over a bad break-up with girlfriends with a bedroom clear out and a few pints down the pub, Isaac… errr… doesn’t have it so easy.
Nicole Brennan: Making gamers think twice before breaking up with their partners.
3. Psycho Mantis (Metal Gear Solid, 1998)
From the subconscious manifestation of a mind***k to the physical personification of one. This is an antagonist that still haunts many gamers to this day and for a very good reason: This was the first time that gamers felt that the game was using a cheat code against them! Psycho Mantis is a special forces ‘Psychic Soldier’ who got too far into the mind of a killer, becoming just like one himself. There is a laundry list of reasons why Psycho Mantis (We never learn his real name, but he has a Russian accent) is such a memorable character but I’ll only go into a few of them, I don’t want to spoil too much. He offers nothing in the physical department but hits you where it hurts… in your mind: HE SERIOUSLY MESSES WITH YOU.
First, he turns your own comrade against you and forces you to knock her out before she kills you. He then comments on the content of your memory card and makes your controller vibrate uncontrollably in your hands (Which he keeps doing during the fight). Then, if he’s feeling particularly vindictive he turns your screen black during the fight making you think you’ve either had a power outage or your TV is broken. He also reads your mind by reacting to your controller inputs, making him invincible. On top of all this he has the ability to go invisible and levitate himself, making him move quickly and stealthily around the room while levitating various objects and hurling them at you like a scene from The Exorcist.
Despite these OVERWHELMING odds being stacked against the player for once there are ways to beat him which had some players literally screaming, if they weren’t already, “WHAT THE ****!?” when they found out. So, how do you beat this guy? Now that REALLY would be telling!
If you miraculously manage to defeat Mantis a powerful scene follows where Snake (The Player Character) takes off Mantis’s gas mask and talks to the man underneath it… You learn about his horrific past and his disdain of human nature turns out to be well founded.
It would be a crime to leave out Psycho Mantis because he’s responsible for one of the hardest and groundbreaking boss battles in video game history.
2. Andrew Ryan & Rapture’s Philosophy (BioShock, 2007)
At the start of BioShock players descend into the watery utopia of Rapture, founded by this man: Andrew Ryan. Ryan is introduced the player by way of a propaganda video as they first enter his city, in this video he expresses his hatred of the societies promoted by the USA, the Soviet Union, and of the Church. His alternative is a secluded city hidden underwater where artists, scientists, and workers could better reap the rewards of their labors without restraints. However, as soon as the player sets foot in Rapture they realize that his social experiment has failed and failed big time. Ryan’s faith in his belief that people would be responsible with this much freedom was clearly misplaced as scientists have managed to perfect genetic splicing to an extent where it gives people superhuman powers but steals their sanity. This much power placed in the hands of everyone reduced Rapture to hell-under-the-sea where anarchy reigns supreme. Throughout the story players find out (through a series of audio diaries) that Ryan only practiced what he preached (Free markets, no state intervention etc) whilst he was the top-dog. When his standing was in jeopardy he then resorted to corruption, intimidation, bribery and violence to maintain his position at the top of Rapture’s pecking order. Damning him even further, Ryan couches all of his insidious actions in patriotic zealotry proclaiming that it is somehow better than life elsewhere. Ultimately he emerges as a deluded and naive hypocrite, who for all his rhetoric about truth and the nature of man, never owns up to what he eventually becomes, which is a liar, a thief and a killer.
The player only encounters Andrew Ryan in person once in the entire story but is forced to contend with the insanity that he has caused. The player fights their way through Rapture as victims of Ryan’s social experiment fight each other for the precious resource “ADAM”. What makes this worse is that the player is forced to buy into Ryan’s philosophy to even survive, when faced with “Splicers” who can throw thunder and perform superhuman feats the player is left with no other choice but to even the odds and splice themselves.
Could this philosophy have actually worked if the people were more responsible? Well… that’s for the player to decide.
Immensely thought-provoking and occasionally terrifying to consider Andrew Ryan and his ideology earns it’s place on this list.
1. Kefka Palazzo (Final Fantasy VI, 1994)
Remember what I said earlier about “Some” antagonists being actual “Villains”? Here is one such case. Kefka is to me, without a doubt the greatest villain to have ever hit a console. Imagine taking Heath Ledger’s “Joker” from The Dark Knight and putting him in a game giving him magic powers and multiplying his insanity tenfold – That’s Kefka. For once I cannot say anything to try salvage this character’s personality: Kefka is an absolute homicidal maniac with an unquenchable thirst for power. What makes Kefka so memorable is beholding the MASSIVE amount of death and destruction he causes, all done whilst dressing like a clown and cackling like a maniac. Amongst his chaotic resume Kefka has some shockingly evil acts to his name.
When faced with the prospect of besieging a kingdom for months Kefka pours poison into a nearby river single-handedly murdering everyone inside the castle: Men, Women, and Children.
Kefka has a twisted sense of humor and frequently kills people for the sake of it.
Kefka hunted down magical beings known as ‘Espers’, drained their powers to make instruments of war and left them for dead.
Kefka, from a prison cell orchestrates an international peace summit to put an end to a global conflict and to appease the ‘Espers’ running riot across the world, only to break out of prison and gatecrash the occasion murdering scores of people – No, I’m serious.
In one of the most shocking moments in the entire Final Fantasy franchise Kefka actually succeeds in destroying the world by bringing about the apocalypse and turning himself into a god in the process. The player then has to reassemble their entire party scattered all over this bleak world while looking around at the state the remnants of civilization is in.
What really separates Kefka from his fellow antagonists is that he is not possessed by a demonic force, he is not seeking acceptance in a twisted way, he is not out for revenge for an unjust childhood, and he is not serving a higher force or ideology. There is not a chance in hell that someone could reason with him or stop him from doing something. Kefka is pure pixelated anarchy, crazy to an extreme and incredibly threatening. Every RPG fans knows his iconic theme tune and his legendary cackle a mile off. In summary Kefka is just an EVIL human being, and in my opinion the greatest antagonist to have ever been written.
What are your own “Top Antagonists”? Why do you like them so much?