As much as we all love a good hero, it’s the quality of the villain that usually makes or breaks a story. We learned this lesson as children, with such classic villains as Scar, Jafar, and Cruella De Vil – for being all about “happily ever after” and clapping if you believe in fairies, Disney is suspiciously talented at creating memorable villains. Antagonists are important, as they define what the good guys/girls are fighting for, often have the best lines, and let us live out some of our less-than-honorable fantasies vicariously through their wicked deeds.
But it’s not just classic animated films that rely on villains. Video games rise and fall on the backs of their baddies. But in an age where superheroes are being shoved down our throats every waking moment, it’s easy to forget the villains that made their respective games so memorable. While there are an insane number of solid villains to choose from, we’ve narrowed it down to these happy few.
Also, buckle up for some major spoilers.
Kerrigan – StarCraft
Every player of the original StarCraft remembers where they were when they saw Arcturus Mengsk’s infamous betrayal of the much-loved Sarah Kerrigan. It was like video games’ JFK moment. Of course, we were all in for an even bigger shock when Kerrigan returned as a Zerg-Human hybrid known as the Queen of Blades. That’s right – sweet, psionic Kerrigan, Raynor’s not-so-secret crush, became the villain of the game’s expansion, Brood Wars.
The best thing about Kerrigan isn’t the semi-nude purple carapace thing she has going on (although our 14-year-old selves might have disagreed), nor is it her ability to control an entire alien species. Rather, it’s the emotional roller-coaster we get to ride on as we follow her story. Betrayal at the hands of Mengsk (the real villain), rising to power as the Queen of Blades, fake redemption to claim more power over the Zerg, real redemption after Raynor wipes the Zerg infestation from her body, and real-real redemption after re-integrating with the Zerg to save the Terrans. And, y’know, getting revenge on Mengsk, because that bastard – end sentence.
That’s a lot of exposition for someone who started as a side-character/potential romantic partner for the game’s protagonist. Normally, that many twists would leave us exhausted from trying to keep up, and make the plot feel thin and weak. Instead, we were invigorated – we pushed forward because we wanted to see what the hell was going on with Kerrigan. And boy, were we rewarded. After a tumultuous pseudo-relationship with sheriff-cum-freedom-fighter Jim Raynor, they team up to take down Mengsk once and for all, with Raynor letting Kerrigan do the honors. After all, nothing says “I love you,” like letting your girl use her world-destroying psionic powers to explode your enemy’s head in an epic inferno.
That Raynor – such a romantic.
Solas – Dragon Age: Inquisition
Some of you might protest that Solas wasn’t really the villain of Dragon Age: Inquisition, but anyone who’s played the game all the way through will know what I’m talking about. The primary antagonist of the game is an ancient Magister named Corypheus, and between his half-dead face, claw-like hand, and the fact that most of his magic involves crackling red lighting, it’s pretty clear he’s a bad mamajama. But after the Inquisitor (that’s you) saves the day, it’s revealed that all isn’t well.
As it turns out, the magic orb that allowed Corypheus to come close to destroying the world with a doom-green sky-hole actually belonged to Fen’Harel, AKA the Dread Wolf, Elven God of Betrayal. Not only that, the villainous elf god deliberately arranged for Corypheus to find the orb. This would have been a big enough plot-twist by itself, but it also turns out that the Dread Wolf is your mild-mannered elven mage companion, Solas.
This is huge. Like, “Luke, I am your father,” huge. In order to understand why, one needs to delve a little deeper into Dragon Age lore than the main plot necessarily requires. The short version is that there were two factions of elven gods: the Creators and the Forgotten Ones. Fen’Harel, a sort of trickster god, played both sides by offering to broker a truce between the factions. Instead of betraying one side, as we would expect a trickster god to do, he seals them both away from the mortal world forever. Harsh, much? The elves blame the fall of their society on the Dread Wolf, because their gods weren’t around to help when they were needed most.
And this guy was in your party.
I mean, Solas was up-front about not being a people-person, but… wow. That’s just taking it to a whole new level. The good news is that we now have a properly epic villain set up for the next Dragon Age game! Of course, that doesn’t help the devastated players who romanced Solas throughout the game. Hey, all’s fair in love and war… right?
Pagan Min – Far Cry 4
The Far Cry series is known for its villains, and therefore had to make an appearance on this list. However, I’m going to spark controversy by saying that Vaas is not the series’ greatest villain – while he had great potential, his death in an anti-climactic fever dream depressingly early in the game loses the race for him.
No, my money is on Pagan Min, the stab-happy dictator of mountainous Kyrat. Min has a lot going for him, not least of which is his fantastically flamboyant wardrobe. His lavish mansion/compound, exceptional hair, sultry voice… everything about Pagan min screams, “Pay attention to me!” In fact, he’s the kind of person who would actually shout that. On live television. With a bloody object in his hand.
And you absolutely should pay attention to him. The entirely forgettable player-character, Ajay Ghale, finds himself “abducted” by Min in the opening cinematic of the game. The volatile villain even goes so far as to repeatedly stab one of his own soldiers in the neck with a pen, then throws a small tantrum over getting blood on his shoes. (We can’t blame him – those shoes are on point.) The reason we put “abducted” in quotes is that you are then whisked away to one of Pagan Min’s compounds, where you are treated to the finest Crab Rangoon ever served to an abductee in the history of Crab Rangoon.
Unfortunately, the feast is interrupted as members of the rebel faction The Golden Path attack the compound. Before leaving the room, Pagan gives you explicit instructions not to move until he comes back. But he’s an evil dictator, so you ignore him and escape with the rebels, ultimately murdering your way across Kyrat just to have a long-overdue chat with the surprisingly calm Min. If you let him, he goes on to explain that he and your mother were a thing, there was a lot of family drama/murder involving your father, and, long story short, he wants you to have Kyrat – the whole country.
Of course, if you had done as he said and stayed put in that dining room at the beginning of the game, you would have gotten the truth much sooner. Pagan Min returns after 15 minutes of real-time, takes you on a helicopter ride, and shows you where your mother wanted her ashes put to rest, which was the whole reason you came to Kyrat in the first place. The entire game finished in 30 minutes, and all without you having to help a group of drug-lords and fundamentalist terrorists take over the country (which you now own).
So, is Pagan Min really a villain? Absolutely – he’s a ruthless dictator who murders on a whim. He has people tortured on a daily basis. He lives in comfort and safety while his people starve and get gunned down by terrorists. He dresses like David Bowie got lost in an episode of My Little Pony. But, while these are all villainous qualities, we can see the sanity that lies underneath; it’s simply tarnished by a lifetime of war and tragedy. After all, his daughter was murdered, his lover fled the country, and the organization founded by the man who ruined his life is trying to usurp his throne. While we clearly shouldn’t be shedding too many tears for Pagan Min, maybe we can at least manage a sad emoji? ☹