What is a game without a good villain? Well, many are still pretty great games, but many of these we don’t actually remember either because the villain was poorly developed, or because the villain just did not exist. The most memorable game is one that features that great villainous plot twist, or just that one consistent villain that pesters the protagonist. We remember these games for these characters, they are often the key point that draws us back into the world just to spend a little bit more time with them. I would go so far as to say that many games are defined by their villain, whether by their entrance, their exit, or just their personality, it is these games we remember.
What would Batman Arkham City be without the Joker? This lunatic was a constant thorn in our side during the game, but also at times a hilarious voice over our communication system. For a lot of reasons we remember Joker, not only for the fact of how iconic his and Batman’s story is in the comics, but for how the story plays out in this game, especially more than Origins and even Asylum. The point that I often think back to in Arkham City is Joker and his illness, this made for an interesting plot point throughout the game, and at times, has some funny moments. It was us racing against time to save the lives of both Batman and Joker, as we dealt with what came our way in Arkham City right up until the games satisfying conclusion.
Batman was prepared to save the Joker, in a sense these two characters are entangled, they are the opposites of one another and if you want to think about it, they need each other. Unfortunately Joker makes a costly mistake for himself, in desperation to get the cure Joker decides to attack Batman and this causes him to accidentally drop it. This final moment is truly sad, especially as Batman tells Joker that "its funny... but I would have saved you", this was a huge moment in the game and honestly, I can’t think of a better way to end it, and its Joker’s last words that cement the character as a memorable villain. After all he had done, Batman would have saved Joker, and as he lay dying his final words are memorable especially as a showing of how insane Joker was, he tells Batman:
“That actually is... pretty funny...”
It is this line that forever cements the Joker in videogame history, as he goes out with a laugh, a signature of his character, and as we see Joker try one last evil act just out of desperation and it backfires. These last words are his legacy and a brilliant one at that.
Endings are often great for a character, they can truly define who they are or just give us a reason to remember them, but more notably, can be the beginning of one’s story. Some games give us a reason to remember our villain right from the moment the game begins, and looking through many games I could not find a better example than that of Handsome Jack in Borderlands 2.
This villain’s very first act happens before the game has even started, he attempts to kill our protagonists by sending robots after them, and then having failed, blows the train that they are aboard up. The reason this is so memorable is simply by how you immediately notice Jack’s portrayal, his reasoning’s for killing the vault hunters is because he is the hero, and it is his job to save Pandora. Handsome Jack is not subtle about where he thinks his role sits, he has delusions of grandeur and of thinking that he is the good guy in his story, positioning your character as the villain set to undo his acts of good.
From this point Jack becomes a constant fixture in the story of Borderlands 2, he will constantly communicate with you and will discuss his view on things as the hero. But as great as a character he is in Borderlands 2, Jack becomes more intriguing as a villain post Pre-Sequel. What is Jack’s motivation for being the hero of Pandora, what is his delusion? Well, Jack was once an honest hero, a man genuinely trying to save the world, but after being betrayed, he faced delusions of his true perspective. He was deluded into thinking he was still the hero, even though he had become the villain. With this perspective, it just makes Handsome Jack even more memorable, we understand his reasoning’s, and through Borderlands 2 he becomes a fascinating villain who we remember, and actually feel bad for. However, Jack draws to mind a quote from the The Dark Knight, in this movie Harvey Dent says:
“You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”
While Jack does not see himself as the villain due to his delusions, (and also some of the twists that his life took,) this quote reflects him. He didn’t die the hero in Pre-Sequel, instead he lived long enough to become the villain in Borderlands 2, and what a great villain from the first moments right up to his end, Jack is compelling and I would argue one of the greatest game villains ever conceived.
Mario games are not exactly known for their plot, and yet there is one element that I have always found fascinating and memorable, Bowser. As far as a villain goes, is pretty bland and generic and his actions leave much to be desired, let’s be honest for a moment, his plots basically boil down to “hey, it’s Sunday and I am bored, let’s try to take over the Mushroom Kingdom”. These plots are honestly quite weak and explain the multiple adventures, but that is what makes him memorable, he has ambitions that far outreach his own potential at least as far as the rules of the Mushroom Kingdom allow.
Bowser is what you consider the generic villain, but it is for this reason and his multiple failures that he stands out, for years he has tried the same thing and he continues to do so. Of course, there were rare moments where he does extend beyond the generic stance of his usual role and does develop, in Mario Sunshine for example, we get a new look at the character and why he does things as he explains that he just wants a mother for his son. This explains the kidnappings of Peach and the hostile takeovers of the kingdom, but in the end, his dreams are still too big for his own potential, as well as capabilities.
What is more iconic to a game than its villain, despite everything that they put the player and the character through, their actions and motivations are often interesting. They can keep us invested right to the closing credits just by a simple matter of presentation and development, of course, there is far more villains than I mentioned here that are worth exploring and are worth remembering.