Black, White and Gray

In every story and for every protagonist, there must be an antagonist. Whether this force that acts in the contrast of the "hero" is a physical being or simply a mental construct, conflict is what drives a story forward and what brings out true characterization. Now, I want for you to remember that word: characterization, as, in the case of RPGs, your antagonist is typically going to be some Big Bad Evil Guy (BBEG) whose sole desire in this world is to thumb his nose up at you. This thumbing action in most cases is to destroy everything you've ever loved without a second thought, but to leave it so black and white is to do the medium a disservice. Just as was the case with the original Gameboy games, there needs to be some gray thrown in to create a balance between absolutes and bring out the true value of a game. So here we go, the run down of typical villain archetypes and what you should consider when writing for them.

Take over and/or destroy the world because yes:

“But I will be reborn once more. So even as you die, again and again, I shall return. Born again in this endless cycle I have created!” ~ Chaos (FF1)

Bare-bone antagonism through and through; this guy just wants to watch the world burn. We've all seen this multiple times in early JRPGs, the one-dimensional, millenium-sealed, all-powerful demon destined for destruction at the hands of a few kids brandishing pointy sticks. It is because of this that extra attention must be given to justify their actions and personalities thoroughly to combat the cliché and the stigma that comes with it. So what makes for a good example and a not-so-good example of this style of villain?

Let's start with Final Fantasy VI's Kefka. His legacy has been written out simply as a military general turned insane court jester turned all-powerful god, a compilation of events that made for one of the most memorable villains of the time. And while there's nothing inherently wrong with that, something so specific is a bit like lightning in that it can't strike the same place twice, something we found to be the case with Sephiroth (a.k.a Kefka 2.0). Much like Kefka, Sephiroth viewed himself as the judge, jury and executioner of the world as instructed by his "mother", an ancient alien named Jenova. It is shown throughout the events of Final Fantasy VII that while he can be cold and calculating, he also shares a bit of Kefka's wile and insanity, which could be seen as an attempt by Square to both redefine what makes a true villain and also cash in on previous success.

Another similarity between the two is the final form they take being that of a seraph. Once again, nothing wrong with this, but the problem with this villain if written incorrectly is the very unnecessary transformation from man to god as the final battle plays out like any other just with more HP, so you never truly get the feeling that you're confronting a being that could tear the world asunder with a single thought (or a light of judgment or whatever). Instead of simply destroying them in their ultimate form, I believe it would have been more "realistic" to somehow bring them back to mortal man status and then kill them, such as if Kefka was held back by the heroes while some Espers came in to take him down a peg.

Final Fantasy V's Exdeath, on the other hand, I felt rode the line perfectly between existing to destroy but remaining "mortal" thoughout (never gaining a ridiculous amount of power). From the beginning to the end, he's simply a tree taking on the form of a warlock with extensive-yet-limited magical abilities who in the end is devoured by the very power he sought to obtain. His destruction, although mostly akin to the other stories surrounding him, still managed to feel focused and deliberate as, instead of focusing strictly on destroying towns, he sank Ghido's island in an attempt to keep the heroes from seeking his help and also burned down the Forest of Moore, the very place that bore him.

Ignoring the need for change (or at least definition and justifications for actions) results in a style of villain that quickly loses its worth and excitement and, seeing as the antagonist pushes the story forward, damages the overall desire in saving the world in the first place, which is troubling if you consider that there were others inspired by even the most overused villainous deeds who might in turn inspire another, each "generation" losing more and more worth as the cliché stagnates.

Make ends meet/fulfill a promise because yes:

“When did my journey end? I haven't done anything my mother asked. It's just hatred that drives me now... I just... didn't have anything worth protecting.” ~ Gaspard (Dark Cloud 2)

Sometimes there comes a villain who is pushed onward by its own twisted desires yet whose actions were first inspired by a promise made to someone they cherished or a deep-rooted desire to benefit someone else. This is all fine and dandy, but unless you delve deep into the course of events that led to them razing an entire village out of the blue, any actions they make against the world could easily be misconstrued as falling into the previous villain archetype.

Gaspard of Dark Cloud 2 fits more into this than a hero turned villain as his mother on her deathbed told him to find something worth protecting, this he ends up accomplishing shortly before his own death. True, he did spend most of the game killing and destroying whatever stood in his way, but the added tidbit of his actions being inspired by the loss of his mother adds a thin bonus to an otherwise uninspiring character.

Starts bad, good at end:

“I can't hear the Hymn so well anymore. Pretty soon, I'm gonna to be Sin. Completely. I'm glad you're here now. One thing, though... When it starts, I won't be myself anymore. I won't be able to hold myself back. I'm sorry.” ~ Jecht (FFX)

Dare I say it, but this is potentially one of the most damning villain archetypes if not handled correctly. One must make sure that the seeds that flourish into this person's eventual redemption are planted early and shown throughout the story, though never taking full root until much later. Attempting to have the villain show empathy with the heroes halfway through the final cutscene or moments before their death will most likely come across as unintentionally comedic and plot-breaking.

It's important to show that this villain was once human and perhaps even carefree as a child to show how far they've fallen and give a point of reference as to who they strive to be once more. Star Wars' Darth Vader is pretty much the go-to example of this archetype in that he is shown as this terrifyingly powerful sith lord until mainly around Return of the Jedi when Luke attempts to turn him from the dark side and he denies him heavyheartedly. The finale of this movie sees him finally throwing off his shackles to the emperor but succumbing to his wounds shortly after though not before Luke attempts to save his father from his fate only to be imparted with Anakin's final words that he has already saved him.

Once hero, becomes villain:

"Daddy screamed REAL good, before he DIED!" ~ Pigma Dengar (Starfox 64)

Typically this sort of villain will end up having some sort of connection to the main hero in a way not always bound by blood. This will typically fall into the territory of a friend, a love interest or a renowned defender of a kingdom. This type of villain is as potentially interesting as one that starts bad yet becomes good, though may come across as more predictable if even one thing doesn't seem right or if the character's dialogue seems forced towards them becoming corrupt. What this archetype relies on is that:

1. The reason behind their corruption is both realistic and effective.
2. The to-be-villain's time spent on friendly terms is explored fully.

I would use Anakin Skywalker from Star Wars episodes 1-3, but that character was so hamfisted and forced I feel using it as an example would be worse than no example at all. In turn I could use Pigma Dengar, but he was always kind of a villainous douche. So I'm going back to 1988 with the NES port of Double Dragon because I'm desperate. Jimmy Lee, brother of Billy and the retro gaming's Necron, wants to pound your face in because he's got a crush on your girlfriend.

Possessed puppet:

"When a body is used by another, it can be called nothing but a puppet. This one has served its purpose, and it is useless." ~ Majora's Mask (LoZ:MM)

Much like the hero turned villain archetype, it's important to show who this kind of person was before and what lead them to become a slave of a much higher puppetmaster. Typically, the most effective examples of this come in the form of an innocent, child-like character whose curiosity got the better of them and in turn were forced to commit unspeakably wicked deeds.

Inherent to this style of villain is the need to establish some sort of sympathy to the face behind the mask and seek to free it from its prison, a face I found especially in the Skull Kid of Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask. Fitting this archetype to a T, he starts as a child simply looking for friends but one day happens across a dreaded mask that ends up claiming his body as its shell to pursue its dark ambitions to bring about the destruction of Termina.

Final Statements:

"Ahem... there's SAND on my boots!" ~ Kefka (FFVI)

While it is true that an interesting hero will inherently bring worth to the quest and make things easier to digest, an interesting villain will inspire thoughts beyond the quest and will likely stand out as memorable more-so than any do-gooder. It is with that that I implore everyone to take a good hard look at their "enemies" and ask yourself: am I making full use of this specific character, or could I be doing more to flesh it out and act as an inspiration towards future works. Make a villain you love to hate, and the game world will thank you for it.

And remember, the villain sees itself as the hero of its own story.


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"Life is a riddle I wish I had the answer for..."
Good article! ^_^ I'll definitely come back to this as I work on the "antagonists" for my latest project (the current one is already set in stone, alas.)
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