If there is one thing that most games have, regardless of the era they were made, the platform they run on, or the genre of game, that thing would be a villain. With the type of objective oriented stories that are inherent to the gaming medium, antagonists are pretty essential. Throughout the history of games, there have been a wide of variety of villains, from complex multidimensional characters to evil for evil’s sake mustache twirlers. There is merit to both types, and all will be represented as I count down my top 10 favorite video game villains. Also, be warned, there will be spoilers for some of the games mentioned.
10. Dr. Wily (Mega Man)
Dr. Wily is certainly one of those villains that falls more into the “iconic” category as opposed to some of the more complex modern villains. Like most classic 8-bit villains, Dr. Wily is a one dimensional bad guy that wants nothing more than world domination. Wily isn’t one to do the fighting himself, instead putting his genius mind to work creating an army of robot masters, usually eight at a time, each complete with their own unique theme. Even though he routinely gets defeated his nemesis Dr. Light’s creation, Mega Man, that doesn’t stop him trying again. Dr. Wily has appeared in an impressive number of games, and is one of the most memorable and iconic villains to come out of the NES era.
9. Saren (Mass Effect)
Saren Arterius can definitely be classified as a tragic, even sympathetic, villain. While at first he may appear to be completely evil with a lust for power and an irrational hatred of humans, it is later revealed that he originally had good intentions. When he first discovered the Reaper, Sovereign, his original intention was to save civilization from the Reaper threat. However, the more time he spent with Sovereign, the more his own will was bent and manipulated by the ancient machine. By the end, he was doing Sovereign’s bidding, working to bring forth the end of galactic civilization. The worst part though, was that somewhere in his twisted and warped mind, he still believed he was saving lives. It wasn’t just that his will broken, but that he was completely unaware his thoughts were no longer his own. Saren was initially a villain that was easy to hate, but as the game progressed, he became very easy to feel sorry for, and that’s what makes him such an interesting villain.
8. Dr. Breen (Half Life 2)
While the combine are the main enemy of Half Life 2, Dr. Breen is the face of the enemy. He was the head of Black Mesa, the research facility where Gordon Freeman working in the original Half Life. During the Combine invasion he became the liaison between humanity and the invaders. Basically, he betrayed his species and his planet to save himself and win favor with the new overlords of Earth. He lives in relative luxury compared to most of City 17, but what makes him truly despicable is his insincerity, both to himself and humanity. He spends a lot of the game trying to convince humanity and himself that he did what he did for the good of all, that he represents the best interest of humanity in dealings with the Combine. Dr. Breen is the most cowardly type of villain there is. His betrayal was not out of some desire for power or riches, but the feeble hope that by offering up the lives of millions, he could save his own.
7. Magus (Chrono Trigger)
For most of the first half of the game, Magus is the primary villain. At first it seems that he just another conqueror, waging war so his kind could dominate over another. Later though, it is revealed that everything he had done was for a single purpose, one that wasn’t so far off from the goal of the heroes. His methods however, were far from heroic. Magus is not evil, but indifferent. He had a goal, and used any means possible to achieve it. He was willing to wage a war that meant nothing to him, resulting in countless deaths, simply so he could achieve his goals. Later in the game, when his objective meshes with that of the heroes, he even joins them, ending the game alongside them. Despite helping the heroes, his prior actions definitely classify him as a villain. Morality is meaningless to him, making him much more dangerous and unpredictable than those with a clear stance.
6. Dr. Robotnik (Sonic The Hedgehog)
Even though he is now officially known as Dr. Eggman (his originally name in the Japanese version) in all versions of the game, he will always be Dr. Ivo Robotnik to me. Over the years he has been portrayed in many different ways, diabolical evil genius, mad scientist, and most often the continuously failing comedic villain. Whichever way he was being portrayed, he was always the big bad for pretty much every Sonic game. As a Sonic fan, Dr. Robotnik will always be one of the first characters that comes to mind when I think of the term “stage boss”. At the end of every zone, Robotnik had a new machine he would pilot to try to and thwart Sonic. In all his portrayals, he was never what you’d consider a deep and complex character, but he is certainly a memorable one in one of the classic platformer franchises.