How Do You Properly Write a Video Game Villain?

-by Dylan DiBona

Heroes are important for any story-based game, but inversely so are the villains. A good villain verifies all of the heroes trials and growth, making them feel like they’ve changed for the better by the time the final battle rolls around. Not only that, but a powerful villain should evoke feelings of hatred and even fear.

It’s hard for me to think back on a game that I felt had a really standout main foe. I like Ganondorf for basically being Satan himself, the complete manifestation of all that is evil in the universe, but he lacks depth and reality. Plenty of acclaimed bad guys are mostly comical like Gruntilda from Banjo-Kazooie or Bowser from Super Mario Bros. When was the last time you played a game and genuinely felt like “I have to take this guy down!”?

 

Image result for kefka

There’s something so special about old-school Final Fantasy artwork.

You can debate on whether a great villain is supposed to make the user feel as though the world truly is ending, or simply intrigue you. I’ve never completed Final Fantasy VI, but fans around the globe cite Kefka as one of the greatest villains in gaming due to his psychotic nature and iconic 16-bit laugh.

On the flip side, my time with Final Fantasy VII provided me with Sephiroth; a villain I found to be interesting and deeply disturbed. Sephiroth was given a personal past with the hero Cloud and we see him grow into the madman he is. There’s something inherently interesting about seeing a normal person fall into immoral insanity.

Usually when I play a game, there’s a part of my brain in the back reminding me that “it’s just a game”. It might be simply impossible, but imagine if a villain were to topple that part of my brain and truly make me feel upset and like something were at stake. Simply put, that’d be astounding. Maybe it’s a bit too much to ask that out of human writing, but the very idea makes me excited.

The best way to make a villain is the same way you make a hero; make them relatable and believable. Part of the reason viewers loved Breaking Bad’s Walter White was because he was a down to Earth common person. By the time he turned into essentially a villain, we still liked him and maybe even rooted for him. It’s why Sephiroth was so cool to me, he was a strong and smart soldier brought down to a villainous nature by his twisted past.

A villains goals are also very important. Does everybody have to rule or destroy the world? In very few cases such a desire feels justified; in Majora’s Mask, Skull Kid would rather obliterate the world than feel loneliness ever again. When I look at my own personal list of favorite games, it becomes evident that the villains don’t truly matter in those games- it’s the adventure.

I hope one day to find a game with a bad guy so sick, twisted yet real enough that I almost feel bad taking them down.

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So what do you guys think about video game villains? Which video game had the best villains? What’s the key to writing a good villain? Let me know down below and I’ll try my best to reply! As always, thanks for reading.

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11 thoughts on “How Do You Properly Write a Video Game Villain?

  1. Nice! I just wrote about this over on my site, and have another article on antagonists going up this week, so I don’t want to completely spoil all my ideas haha. But I definitely agree that a good villain is relatable in some way, either because we can understand where the villain is coming from, or because they have very human characteristics and are more than just “bad.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Most video game villains are pretty lame as they really are just a plot point and a goal to head towards and then defeat. I actually didn’t mind a lot of the villains that showed up during the story in Baldur’s Gate and the sequel though again the main villains were pretty ordinary. Mostly I enjoyed some of the dialgoue and banter these charactes offered up at times.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Gotta agree with you, not too many standout villains in gaming, I hope that changes. Baldur’s Gate is a series that has always been a mystery to me since I was raised on consoles. I hope to play 2 one day since I hear so many great things about it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It is pretty dated now, but I loved it when it came out. Got a demo-disc when I bought a DVD (there’s something they need to bring back – demo discs) and got hooked on the first chapter. Immediately went out and bought the game and it became an obsession. Again, dated now, but good representation of the times.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. No villain means no hero!
    For me, the best villains have a motivation that makes sense. One that I can understand what their goals are and why they’re trying to achieve them but have gone too far. I find ones who are just flat out psychotic a little too unbelievable (although they certainly have their place in some narratives).

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I also find a good villain has sensible motives. It’s possible to make a one-dimensional megalomaniac work, but they tend to be the exceptions rather than the rule. Sadly, a lot of writers (not just in this medium) disagree, and they just make their villains as psychotic as possible without questioning why they’re making them that way. One thing I find intriguing is when it turns out the main antagonist isn’t evil, but there’s something that causes them and the hero to unavoidably clash.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ll admit. I’m a Kefka fan. I actually prefer villains that are written to be the kinds of jerks that you just want to punch in the face. They don’t necessarily have to be relatable for me. I get that enough in anime, haha. When I’m playing a game, I just want a reason to beat them up, and then do it. 😛 Great thought-provoking article!

    Liked by 1 person

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