The most evil villains in gaming – Reader’s Feature
A reader tries to rate the most evil of video games’ bad guys, from the ineffectual Bowser to the terror of Flowey from Undertale.
‘Wicked men and imposters will advance from bad to worse, misleading and being misled.’ 2 Timothy 3:13, New World Translation.
Yes, some culture! It is strange to think that for as long as we as a species have been self-aware, we have always measured the balance between good and evil. And yet, they don’t actually exist. We call them forces and yet they exert no tangible, observable influence upon our universe. They are just abstract concepts invented by humans to identify one set of behaviour or conduct from another.
But still, throughout the ages of man, nothing has quite captivated us as what we perceive to be the eternal battle between good and evil.
It has been tricky to define evil. Primitives thought it meant it simply refusing the will of whatever barbaric deity was in vogue. That is much too simplistic and gives rise to an even greater evil.
As only people can be evil, what does that mean? The dictionary is quite vague and circular on the matter, not being a philosophical authority and all, so I shall make a reasonable, well-educated attempt here. I would assert that to be evil is to wilfully cause harm or suffering for the sole purpose of either selfish gain or the enjoyment of such actions. To that end, let us examine the wicked men and imposters we must oppose in our games. And no, I don’t mean Bobby Kotick or Randy Pitchford.
Usually what makes us the champion of virtue in whatever quest we are assigned is simply putting a stop to the villain who is the cause of all manner of bad things. It really was that simple when gaming began and is often still no more complicated.
Strangely, though, when you think about it, some of gaming’s oldest antagonists aren’t very evil at all. King Bowser from the Mario series is guilty of invading the Mushroom Kingdom so frequently he’s practically a citizen and kidnapping its rightful ruler, Princess Peach, so much that she must know the layout of Bowser’s castle like the back of her tiara.
But there is a theory that Peach is a willing participant – that there is never any real danger to either her, Mario, or her kingdom. Nintendo have said that she is the most powerful being in the Mario universe and has shown it in the Mario & Luigi games by shoving Bowser aside like he was nothing. So, really – what has Bowser done? Has he ever killed anybody? Canonically? As he can be an erstwhile ally, I see Bowser more as a big rascal rather than a heartless monster.
Ganon or Ganondorf can be written off too. His body count is presumably higher in Zelda: Breath Of The Wild, yet his impact on Ocarina Of Time was arguably very slight. He postures and he schemes, checking many of the standard villainous motivations, but I think that there are Care Bears villains more evil than he is. [In the future with older Link he’s killed almost everyone or turned them into ReDeads. He’s won multiple times in various games and always committed near genocide in doing so – GC]
No, for the oldest truly evil character in a video game – at least to my memory – is Doctor Ivo Robotnik. He seems very silly and oafish, but he’s not. Even when taking the games at face value. His entire mechanical army of badniks is kept running by the animals trapped within their metal shells. Which, according to even the earliest lore are all Sonic’s friends and must therefore be self-aware and fully sentient. But even if they weren’t, this would be an extremely monstrous act of breathtaking cruelty. And what does he use his slave army for? To destroy the natural world so as to further his industrial power.
And, while not truly canonical, the bad ending of Sonic The Hedgehog 2 for the Game Gear and Master System shows us that he has killed. And not just any kill. If you fail to acquire five out of the six Chaos Emeralds before facing the penultimate boss, you will not be able to access the final level. The game will end and Sonic runs along the picturesque fields of Emerald Hill Zone to a very sad tune as the credits roll. Dawn becomes dusk and when the night is at its blackest, Sonic comes to a stop and looks up. In the stars is an image of Tails – strongly implying that he is dead.
Now, regardless of your feelings towards Tails these days, the fact remains that Robotnik has murdered Sonic’s best friend. And worse still, Tails was just a child! Yes, you’ll look at the ‘good doctor’ a little differently now, won’t you?
Another extremely evil figure comes from one of the oldest fighting game series there is. No, not Bison from Street Fighter. Sure, he killed Chun-Li’s dad, made Charlie Nash rubbish, and gave F.A.N.G a job – but he’s too woolly and vague.
No, I speak of Shao Kahn. He looks like an evil He-Man but he’s no joke. According to the lore, he started his career by poisoning his admittedly also evil master, Onaga Kahn – the Dragon King. But it was no altruistic act on his part. Shao Kahn really, really wants to be in charge. Of everything. Everywhere.
He invaded the realm of Edenia because he fancied King Jerrod’s wife, Sindel. Like how Uther Pendragon invaded Cornwall to have his way with Lady Igraine. Yes, more culture! I guess that makes Kitana Morgan Le Fay and Mileena King Arthur… with sharper teeth. Huh.
After Kahn’s champions have killed Jerrod himself in Mortal Kombat, he eventually drives Sindel to suicide and lies to Kitana her whole life about her history. He then clones her so he can have a more bloodthirsty version of her with Mileena.
Which gives you some indication as to how he governs. People he elevates to his court include Baraka, Skarlet, D’vorah, the Kollector and Shang Tsung. All of whom are either corrupt, brutal, thoroughly ruthless or all of the above. Only Baraka seems to have any honour and he paid a heavy price for it in Mortal Kombat X. Yes, Baraka. The guy that likes to eat people.
He has also successfully invaded EarthRealm – that place where we live – and harvested the souls of billions. Only a few chosen ones with Raiden’s magic plot armour were spared the first cull. Now, this was reversed but it does not change the fact that he did it. And that he’s done it to other realms who were not fortunate enough to have a Liu Kang lurking around. This level of genocide, and appetite for more of the same, is staggering. Genghis Khan is somewhat similar, having wiped out entire rival tribes – but I think even he would have balked at Shao Kahn’s thirst for blood.
Want more genocidal maniacs? How about Lord Galcian from Skies Of Arcadia. At thirst glance, he is just another naughty noble with dreams of world domination (baby) and assuring the supremacy of his home nation, Valua. But Galcian is no patriot, for what little virtue that’s worth, he is in fact one of the most callous, self-serving psychopaths you will have ever seen in fiction. He seems to only respect strength and power – but only from those who he expects to be naturally superior, i.e. other nobles. Certainly not the hero, Vyse, who he only sees as a worthless pirate and not the equal who managed to assemble an international fleet large enough to defeat his own. If you were born to power, he expects nothing less of you. That is why he strips the cowardly Alphonso of his command early on after a humiliating encounter with Vyse and Aika.
It is strongly hinted that Admiral Belleza and even Ramirez are infatuated with him. But it’s clear that he cares nothing for them, only for how useful they can be. When he sends Belleza out on a diplomatic mission to Valua, he gives Ramirez a smirk and comments that ‘Valua could do with a little Rain…’ I won’t spoil the exact details of what that means, but you can guess that any rain with a capital R is not going to be the kind of rain anybody wants. It’s a chilling moment and an ugly insight into Galcian’s mind.
I won’t discuss characters that originated in other media, like the Joker, who were quite frankly much more compelling in other media. Don’t @ me, you know it’s true. However, characters that were specifically invented for games based on existing franchises are definitely viable. Like Darth Malak from Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic. He will annihilate an entire planet, a commercially vibrant centre for galactic trade, just to make sure one person doesn’t escape. And it doesn’t even work! What a card, hey?
The Resident Evil series has been responsible for some seriously awful people. William Saddler from Resident Evil 4 has an extreme disregard for human life, who refers to killing as though it was like swatting a fly. Al Wesker is a traitor, has killed without remorse and in his swansong, Resident Evil 5, he wanted to unleash a virus that would kill billions and any survivors would be turned into monsters or a ‘superior race’ that he would rule. Yes, like an actual Third Reich situation! And dyeing Jill’s hair blonde is very creepy.
But when it comes to atrocities there is the issue of who is ultimately accountable. And none are more guilty than Oswell Spencer, founder and CEO of Umbrella Corp. Before he died in Resident Evil 5, the man was ancient – having been born in the early 1920s. As part of the British aristocracy he already had an inflated view of his own ego and was keen follower of the eugenics movement. Nazis beget more Nazis after all. So apart from the fourth instalment, Spencer is responsible for all the horrors of the series. The cruel destruction of the Trevor family, dangerous and unethical medical experiments performed on who knows how many unwilling test subjects that would result in either their death or a living death. Which would include all those children in Raccoon City orphanage. The likes of Chief Irons and the Birkins may also share the blame, but it was still Spencer who gave the orders.
But psychopaths have to start somewhere. And there was always at least a handful of them at school. If you didn’t meet any at school, that’s because the psycho was you. Speaking personally, Gary Smith from Bully is Rockstar’s most chilling antagonist thus far. He’s creepy from the moment you meet him but when he dresses as a Nazi commandant for Halloween, you can guess what’s coming for the rest of the game. Yes, Nazis again. Man, I hate those guys. ‘Why, Gary!’ you’ll exclaim. ‘You’ve betrayed me and turned the entire school against me! How totally unexpected that is!’ He may not have the kind of name that strikes fear into your soul – I mean, come on, ‘Gary’ – but it still feels great sticking it to that little punk.
Let’s move on to ideological villains. I haven’t played the old Fallout games, but the best villain of the modern era has been undoubtedly Caesar – commander of the Legion. These guys like to crucify people! And wipe out entire towns with either the sword or massive radiation clouds. Oh, and they keep slaves. In fact, the best thing a woman can hope for under Caesar’s rule is to be an officer’s wife. Everything else is really, really bad.
There is a moment in the game where you have the option to parley with them at their main encampment. Caesar himself is in a fancy tent atop a hill. Once you are near the top, you can look back and see the many tents of the many Legionnaires all ready to fight, to sweep through the Mojave like a firestorm, all of them dedicated to their savage cause. It sends a chill down the back of my neck every time I come to it.
Another extreme authoritarian is Masayoshi Shido, the nasty politician from Persona 5. I won’t go into exact details, but Shido does not care whose life he ends or ruins so long as he gets into power. This will include having his cronies convince a young girl that she was responsible for her mother’s suicide which was in actual fact a murder perpetrated by him! He even has imperialist ambitions.
But Shido does in fact have a very powerful weapon at his disposal, one that doesn’t call for navies or nukes, but to attack the very minds of rival world leaders would make Shido unstoppable on the world stage. Not a happy thought.
I said that there were more serious evils from the Mario and Zelda franchises and there are. The more eldritch, nightmarish type of monster. She didn’t appear until the very end of Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, but the Shadow Queen cast a very, a-ha, large shadow over the proceedings. Unlike the other, more oafish villains in the game, the Shadow Queen is genuinely horrible. When she arrives, the whole world is draped in shade. This usually does not herald peace on Earth.
We know very little of her misdeeds, only little glimpses into the empire that she once ruled. It can’t have been happy, as the seat of her power at the Palace of Shadow is glittering in its sinister opulence. It’s hardly a leap of logic to suggest that this grandeur came at the expense of bleeding the rest of her kingdom dry.
You may already be able to guess at the greatest Zelda villain yet produced. The dark and mysterious god Majora from Majora’s Mask revels in the suffering it causes. Not only will it bring the world of Termina to a violent, fiery end by hurling what might be a false moon into its capital city of Clock Town but it will inflict petty and cruel punishments upon many of Termina’s people too. Every tragedy and misfortune you witness is either directly or indirectly caused by Majora. And only by becoming a dark god himself can Link hope to overcome it.
Yes, we are now in the pure evil category. Those who do evil for evil’s sake. Like Pious Augustus from Eternal Darkness. Though in fairness, the Pious you meet at the start of the game is not the one you oppose from then onward. He died the moment he laid his bare hands upon one of the three strange artefacts sealed away in the Temple of the Ancients. What rises to its feet is a twisted mockery of what once was – a servant of a darkness so profound and terrible that you can barely comprehend it.
The list of this skeletal lich’s crimes is enormous. He ordered the assassination of Charlemagne the Great, started the Inquisition and the First World War just so there would be enough blood sacrifices to fuel his powers and abominations, and threw lots of people into a tower and poured concrete all over them. ‘You are wicked!’ he declares as the victims are thrown in. ‘But I am more wicked than you!’ Truer words. Not to mention that most of the cast are crushed without pity should they stand against him. It was so satisfying to kill this guy.
And finally, a villain who makes the Joker look like Mr Rogers, Flowey from Undertale. He’s not your friend and those aren’t friendship pellets he wants to give you. Through some very unhappy accidents, Flowey had all the powers of time and space at his command. Then you came along, and he loses those powers to you. That is, the power to save your game and essentially turn back time. With that ability, Flowey tormented and murdered the residents of the underworld countless times. The more elaborate and vicious the torture, the more fun it would be for him. And he would like nothing more than to extend his fun and games to the rest of the world.
But it turns out that even your best nightmare is just a warm-up for Flowey. Being the merciful pacifist sees you manipulated into getting Flowey even more power. It would be easy to feel so pitiful and powerless against something that is literally almighty. How can you possibly save the world now? Or yourself, even? But maybe, with determination, you’ll have just enough strength left to save someone else…
Hey, you’ve got to really earn the happiest endings!
Yet these are just some of gaming’s most malevolent opponents. Whose crimes are also unforgivable? Let’s get a discussion going down in the comments! Just like an overly enthusiastic YouTube video!
By reader DMR
The reader’s feature does not necessary represent the views of GameCentral or Metro.
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