Video game villains are the yin to the hero’s yang. The villain provides the hero, and vicariously the player, with a purpose and motivation. Some simply seem to do it better than others, though. There are some villains who you just know scored straight A’s in badguy school. It takes a special combination of sprites, pixels, or polygons to make a lasting impression on the player, but with their personality, tenacity, and overabundance of the evil gene, these men, women and “it”s have done so. Some are exceptionally evil, some have personalities that we cannot forget no matter how hard we try, and some simply will not give up and go away no matter how often we beat them down.
Arthas/The Lich King – Warcraft series
He turned his back on and betrayed his people, murdered his father in cold-blood, and is generally one creepy, if slightly emo guy. He is also the first real story villain in World of Warcraft who actually feels like a genuine antagonist. While you do not see him all that often, you certainly see him more than any other WoW villain, and when you do see him, it can be guaranteed that he is doing something deliciously evil. He’ll also be glaring at you with his creepy eyes, and speaking in his spooky, supernaturally deep voice. Arthas is the first villain in World of Warcraft that the playbase seems genuinely eager to fight. There are real feelings of hatred and anger directed towards him by players who are familiar with the game’s lore, and what more could we ask for in a villain? I do not know a WoW player who is not chomping at the bit to fight him.
Bowser – Mario series
What Bowser may lack in charisma and personality, he more than makes up for with his sheer tenacity. Again and again he kidnaps Princess Toadstool, torments the citizens of Mushroom Kingdom, and is an all-around spike in Mario’s side. Although he often comes across as a bit of a buffoon, he still commands a massive army of loyal goombas and koopas, so clearly he has an inner well of charisma and/or intimidation to tap into. He also keeps Mario and Luigi employed as heroes almost single-handedly, and for this we simply must honor him.
Ghaleon – the Lunar series
Much of Ghaleon’s status as an elite villain is due to John Truitt, who voiced the character. His voice is hypnotic, adding to the character’s already considerable charm and charisma. When he eventually betrays you, you feel that betrayal all the more keenly for having been wooed by him previously. Unlike Bowser, it is easy to see how he can lead an army of evil. His voice alone is so intimidating with its embedded arrogance and allure that it actually makes up for the fact that his eventual, final end in Lunar 2: Eternal Blue is so, well, not-very-villainous. As a villain Ghaleon really does not have much else going for him other than his voice, unless it is his tenacity. He appears in multiple Lunar games, despite “dying” in an earlier game. Coming back from the dead to wreak more havoc has to earn him some villain points as well.
Psycho Mantis – Metal Gear Solid
Psycho Mantis is one of many villainous members of Foxhound, but he stands head and shoulders above the rest on the villainy scale, and he does so for one simple yet effective reason: he broke the fourth wall. Using an extremely clever gimmick, Psycho Mantis appears to actually take control of your game and television, and read your mind. He speaks to and taunts the actual player, making the fight very personal, making you all the more eager to fight him. I actually do not want to describe what the game does, because I think that it makes for such a great moment that I do not want to spoil it for anyone who has not played MGS. This one moment, this one gimmick was so memorable that years later it is sufficient to secure Psycho Mantis a place on my list.
Sephiroth – Final Fantasy VII
Sephiroth is the silver-haired hunk that we all love to hate, and hate to love. He is the poster child for what a villain should be, and probably graduated top of his class in badguy school. Other would-be villains need to take notes. He was a constant presence through the game, sometimes as little more than a rumor and a whisper, but it was a rumor and whisper of fear. The beating you eventually give him at the end of the game feels like it is a long time coming, is immensely satisfying, and feels wholly deserved. He garners your hate for deeds both great and small. He threatens the lives of everyone on the planet, which is justification enough for wanting to smack him down, but he is also responsible for the deaths of some people who are extremely dear to you, turning your mission to kill him into more of an obsession. You are not hunting him because you have to, but because you want to with a burning, seething passion. Oh and have I mentioned that, like Ghaleon, he oozes a kind of cold charisma, that is both alluring and terrifying? Because he does. Sephiroth is an all-around star villain.
The Man Who Throws the Tetris Piece – Tetris series
You might be looking at this final addition to the list and scratching your head in confusion, but think about it: has anyone ever beaten him? He has gone up against the best gamers that the nerd world has to offer, but none have defeated him. One by one he has shattered our dreams of victory, and left us frustrated and angry, screaming at our screens for a gosh-darned straight piece that he just refuses to give when we need it. If you need further convincing that this guy is the most vile, hateful and alas, successful villain in gamedom, check out this video.
There are many other villains worthy of note, but alas there are only so many kilobytes on the internet. Please, though, feel free to share your thoughts on these or other villains. I will probably agree, even if I could not squeeze your favourite villain onto the list. Sorry Kefka, Dr. Robotnik, Lavos, Kuja …