Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Top 20 Video Game Villains: Introduction

Villains. These are the characters that we love to hate. The characters we want to see defeated. The characters that are our heroes' greatest challenge. Villains are usually some of the most dynamic characters in a story, and that is especially true in video games. In video games, villains are your motivation for doing your quest. They are an obstacle that needs to be overcome and they serve as your justification for playing the game. While games without villains certainly do exist, there's no beating fighting against a character that is everything you stand against. And for the rest of the month, I'll be talking about my 20 favorite video game villains, the cream of the proverbial crop.

Before we get started though, I want to be clear about a few certain qualifications on this list. Unlike my other lists, this list has a very set methodology and order to how the villains will be ranked. I compiled a list of over 50 villains, some that I decided on, others found from lists throughout the internet, and a few recommended by readers. Regardless of where they originated though, all of those villains were ranked in five different categories, which I'll share with you now. 

Style: How memorable is the villain? Do they have a distinct appearance and personality that separates them from other villains, and if so, how iconic is it?

Power: How strong is the villain? Mostly from a gameplay perspective, how difficult is the villain to fight, defeat, or overcome? Can they even be overcome?

Fear: When the villain appears, are you afraid at what they are going to do? Does their presence make the protagonist terrified or take a step back?

Intelligence: Just how smart is the villain? Are they able to plan for every occasion? Even if the hero is able to defeat their plans, do they have a plan B set just in case?

Feats: What are their victories? Have they won? If not, what else have they done to justify their villainy?

With those five categories, each villain was ranked from 1-10 in each category with the highest score possible being a 50. All of the villains that made the list are above a 30, but there were those few villains that were so close to making the list, but just couldn't scrape into the Top 20. So before we even begin the list, which will appear later this week, let's take this time to honor a few villains that were almost bad enough to make this list. 

Dracula from the Castlevania series
Ah, Dracula. Vlad Tepis. Vlad the Impaler. Call him whatever you want, this is one guy that you certainly never want to mess with. He's appeared in every Castlevania game over the past 25+ years and has always been a credible threat to the Belmont family. Sometimes he's the main badguy, other times he's just simply a weapon used by others to fight, but Cracula is an institution. Not only does he have dark magic and demonic powers behind him, he's fully capable of transforming into several demonic entities to fight his opponents. 

However, he doesn't make it on the list because of how varied each of his appearances can be. Sometimes he's a brilliant villain, like in the original Castlevania, Castlevania IV, Symphony of the Night, and Aria of Sorrow, but then you have times where he's a joke of a villain. Castlevania II has him dying in only a few seconds, while Harmony of Sorrow has him barely formed and completely ephemeral to fight his foes. Worse still, in the reboot Lords of Shadow, our friend Dracula is now portrayed as an anti-hero instead of an outright villain. Anti-heroes have no place on this list, but classic Dracula is a foe that all Belmonts fear to cross. 

Sander Cohen from Bioshock
One villain trope that usually gets swept under the rug is the villain who believes they are making "art", or a villain that is so egotistical that their hubris is their greatest downfall. Sander Cohen is just plain crazy. Sander is an artist that mostly worked for Andrew Ryan, the founder of Rapture. There, Sander was viewed as a celebrity, though as Rapture fell into disrepair, so did Sander's mind. Slowly, Sander became more and more insane and more devoted into creating his "masterpiece". When you encounter him, Sander asks you to photograph corpses of his disciples for him, which pretty much cements how crazy this man is. 

Sander was kept of the list though for being more of a secondary villain than a central antagonist. He most certainly is crazy and disturbing as all hell, but Sander isn't a strong or a smart man, or if he was that long since left him. Plus most of his acclaim and regard was created by Andrew Ryan, not through Cohen himself. It's difficult to try and put a cap as to why Cohen doesn't belong on the list, but let's put it this way; Cohen is disturbing whenever you encounter him, but you don't encounter him enough to be a credible threat.

Vamp from the Metal Gear Solid series
If you're looking for a franchise with insane and colorful villains, look no further than the Metal Gear Solid series! With villains like Psycho Mantis, Big Boss, Revolver Ocelot, The End, and Liquid Snake, this franchise has a ton of villains that are ripe for the picking. Vamp is in a league of his own though. This man is legitimately immortal and is able to survive a BULLET TO THE HEAD in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. Even afterwards, it takes a cyborg ninja to even give him a real challenge, so whenevr Vamp makes an appearance, shit is about to go down. Even better, after the events of Sons of Liberty, by looking around in the cutscene of the final scene and manipulating the camera, the player can find out that Vamp survived the events of the game and is alive and well, leading into him appearing in MGS 4: Guns of the Patriots

So why isn't he on the list? Well, Metal Gear villains are usually very hard to take seriously on a story level. Gameplay wise, they're fantastic, but they usually don't have a place in the overall plot than being arbitrary boss battles. What do you really know about Psycho Mantis as a character, or as a villain? Why did he join Liquid Ocelot in his rebellion in Metal Gear Solid? Who is he? The same falls for Vamp. He's the most developed of the one off bosses, but he's still not terribly developed and mostly serves as a device to raise the stakes and show off Raiden being a badass. Vamp is a product of the franchise he came from, for better or worse. 

GLaDOS from Portal 
This is gonna piss people off... I know that a lot of people love GLaDOS as a villain, but I honestly don't see the hype and amazement of the character. She functions as a sadistic A.I in Portal, and while I do think she's funny, she mostly just serves as a narrator. And evil sadistic narrator, but a narrator at the end of the day. She's incredibly smart, but all other categories I ranked her on didn't do so well. She's not powerful outside of Aperture Science, she doesn't really inspire fear in the traditional sense, and her greatest accomplishment was killing the entire staff at the facility. 

I don't want to this sound very negative, but GLaDOS is a very good character. Someone like her really doesn't exist in video games and I'm happy that we have more sarcastic and sadistic computers in our video games. However, as a villain, she really doesn't hold that much of a candle to most other villains on this list, even the honorable mentions. 

Majora from The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask
Majora was the hardest villain to keep of this list, and really it came down to the smallest of technicalities. Majora, as an entity, is one of the darkest that the Zelda series has ever produced and is a being of pure malice. Majora is a dark entity from an ancient civilization that has possessed a mask that has fallen into the hands of the Skull Kid, an innocent kid that feels isolated an lonely because his friends left him. He comes across Majora's Mask, and the spirit of Majora manipulates the Skull Kid to destroy the world by dropping the moon onto Termina Field. Majora is powerful enough to do that. 

Majora is everything that makes a villain great. It's strong, it's terrifying, and it is iconic beyond all recognition. Just seeing the mask is enough to fill a gamer with a sense of dread. However, Majora was kept off this list when it came to his achievements. You see, outside of nearly destroying the world (which was perceived as a folktale by the Happy Mask Salesman), Majora was never able to do anything truly villainous. It mostly stayed on top of the clock tower waiting for the moon to drop and doing nothing else. The one thing it's even supposed to do, destroy Termina Field, is iffy at that, because the nature of the game has Link constantly going back in time to stop Majora. The moon never really drops, and when it does, it results in a Game Over. If the point of the game is to stop Majora from destroying Termina, and you stop him from doing it and prevent him from ever accomplishing his goals multiple times, then is Majora really a successful villain. That may be nitpicking, I fully admit that, so just consider Majora to be #21 on the list. 

And with all that said, tune in later this week for the continuation of this list. Next time, 20-11 of the greatest video games villains in existence. 

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