“A Hero is only as good as his villain.” This general thought, often attributed to Batman and his villains gallery, is profound in how we look at the villains of stories throughout time. Although the thought may not be 100% true 100% of the time, the threat that the villain poses certainly plays a huge role in the story of a game. The hero must grow to beat the villain, must overcome every challenge put in their way, and when done right, this journey can add so much to the narrative of a video game, cementing these particular villains as some of the best.
Today, we’ll look at the five antagonists that I personally enjoy the most. A combination of straight coolness, narrative importance, and in-game impact, is generally how I decide the few antagonists that make this list. There are a lot of good ones out there, threatening gamers across the world, but in my opinion, these five are the cream of the crop. With that said, let’s get to it!
5. General Shepherd (Modern Warfare 2)
Almost certainly the dark horse of the list, General Shepherd of Modern Warfare 2 makes the list, as an example of how an antagonist in a first person shooter SHOULD be done. I was considering putting fellow Modern Warfare villain, Vladimir Makarov in this position, but the impact, and pure intimidation factor that Shepherd has, puts him in this number five spot.
In the world of Modern Warfare, Shepherd led the United States military, hopping around certain leadership positions, and was a very respectable, smart, and resourceful general. However, under his command, 30,000 men were killed in a nuclear explosion in Iraq- an event that left Shepherd bitter, thirsty for revenge against Russia, who was in his eyes responsible. He wished for the world to acknowledge the United States as the most powerful nation on the planet, and for the U.S. to become something greater than what it was. To that end, he helped spark World War III, betrayed the Task Force he created, and became the full leader of the U.S. military.
Shepherd has a rather typical revenge story, but his conviction that he is in the right, as well as the unexpected nature of his cold-blooded betrayals, separates him from other, far more bland antagonists. He always seems to know what he is doing, expresses no hesitation or doubt, but at the same time, has very strong nationalistic motivations that, in his eyes, justify his actions. Powerful, smart, and cold-blooded, Shepherd is a wonderfully done villain, one whose presence and actions can be felt throughout the whole of the initial Modern Warfare trilogy.
4. Your Rival (Pokemon Red/Blue)
Remember this guy? Blue, Gary Oak, the rival from the original Pokemon games? Yep. He’s my pick for my fourth favorite gaming antagonist of all time. The corny-as-hell, self-absorbed little prick does not have depth, isn’t really “powerful” per se, and does not have much complexity to his character at all. However, what he DOES do is be a jerk, and provide an obstacle that you, as the player, feel SO good to beat.
The grandson of Professor Oak, your rival barges in when you’re about to receive your first Pokemon, only to choose the Pokemon that beats yours. You’re about to head to the Cerulean Gym, only to find out that your rival beat you to it. And of course, right as you get to the Pokemon League, poised to be the champion, your rival beats you to it, spouting the same cocky words, proclaiming that he is the best in the world- not you.
Pokemon is a series that prides itself on its feeling of adventure. You start out small, and build your team, find Pokemon, and grow to become the champion. However, in recent years, Pokemon has come to focus more and more on the friendship aspect of that adventure, being able to grow with others, which is a great lesson to teach the youth! In a video game though, having a jerk like your rival to motivate you, and the catharsis that results from being to beat him, is an absolutely great feeling. He contributes a lot to the game, and in that way, he is a GREAT antagonist.
3. Arthas Menethil/The Lich King (Warcaft series)
The first truly intimidating antagonist I remember in any video game, the young, headstrong Arthas Menethil was actually, in many ways, the first real interesting villain I had encountered in gaming. Much of my youth, surprisingly, was spent playing Warcraft III, and for a short while, I remember being absolutely immersed in the lore of that game, unaware that World of Warcraft even existed. This sentimentality helps Arthas achieve my #4 spot, along with the fact that he is quite an interesting antagonist on his own merit.
Originally the Crown Prince of Lordaeron, the largest human kingdom in Warcraft’s setting, Arthas found himself walking a dark path, corrupting someone who had once been a devout Paladin. Consumed by the desire to destroy the Undead threat, Arthas picked up the cursed sword Frostmourne, taking his soul, preying on his anger, and turning him into a dreaded Death Knight. His quest for power eventually led to his becoming the all-powerful Lich King- the Lord of the Undead, a dreaded, terrifying figure that seemed to have the power of a god.
This heel-face turn, from the pinnacle of a Holy Knight stereotype, to an almost demonic leader of the forces he once hated, is too ironic for words. His fall from grace is a wonder to behold, and speaks to the corrupting influence that power can have on a character. There are other antagonists and villains that have started good, only to become evil, but Arthas, in my opinion, surpasses them all with great characterization, beautiful irony, and, of course, a blatantly badass design.
2. Porky Minch (Earthbound series)
In my opinion, one of the most dastardly, blatantly evil villains in any form of media, Porky Minch from the Earthbound series gets the number three spot. Earthbound, and its sequel, Mother 3, have their share of emotionally complex, powerful, and downright disturbing antagonists for the main characters to face, but Porky Minch stands out, simply for the fact that he’s just…kind of an asshole.
Porky Minch, the 13 year old neighbor of Earthbound protagonist, Ness, starts off as the stereotypical cocky, annoying, unpleasant kid. What first appears to be mischievousness turns into blatant malice, as pranks and selfish wishes turn into disregard for the lives of others. By the time of Mother 3, he has become an abomination, a 1,000 year old nightmare with the mind of a child, delighting in the brainwashing of Lucas’s brother, completely oblivious to the pain of other people.
Absolutely selfish, childish, and malicious, Porky is an enigmatic villain- one you assume must be terrible, evil, disgusting for the atrocities you see throughout the game. Finally reaching him, you realize something astounding, something that makes Porky one of my favorite villains of gaming- he’s not evil, he barely even has genuine hate. Rather, he’s simply selfish. For the themes of Mother 3, this is absolutely fascinating to take into account, and as such, Porky, with his simple-minded selfishness, serves as a great antagonist, a strange one, that fits the game he is in perfectly.
1. Ganondorf (Legend of Zelda Series)
A predictable pick, yes, I know, but can you blame me? Ganondorf, the Prince of Evil, King of Thieves, is in my opinion, the perfect representation in any story of the classic good vs. evil struggle. He is imposing, powerful, evil for the sake of evil, and always represents the largest hurdle to overcome, in the path of the hero.
Starting out his early days as the pig-beast Ganon, all we knew was that Ganon had stolen the Triforce of Power for himself, with the goal to steal both the Triforce of Wisdom and Courage, to obtain whatever desire he wishes. Throughout our adventures in the realm of Hyrule, it is always the same- Ganon, armed with the Triforce of Power, reincarnates, to face off against Zelda and Link time after time. Every story, every fight, Ganon is there and responsible- whether it’s by conquering Hyrule, ruling through subterfuge and cunning, or operating through unsuspecting pawns, Ganon is always the final boss.
Ganondorf beats any other gaming villain, simply because, despite being, in many ways, a barebones antagonist, he is always everything he needs to be. Other games have great villains, strange ones, powerful ones, complex ones, that are in games with the intent of being sympathetic, understandable, while still being a threat. Ganondorf, on the other hand, has no need for that- his motivations are simple, but he always has the strength to back it up- he is unquestionably villainous, but has the smarts and will to not make it feel cliche. With his imposing design, great power, and an undeniable, seemingly immortalized presence throughout the Legend of Zelda, Ganondorf has to be my favorite video game antagonist of all time.
Just some honorable mentions by the way- Kefka Palazzo from Final Fantasy VI was so close, but in the end, my personal preference for Shepherd got in the way. Also, shout out to GLADoS for her delightful, affably sadistic personality.
What do you guys think? Who’s YOUR favorite gaming antagonist? Leave a comment down below!