Upcoming games like God of War: Ragnarok also love to explore the nuances of previously “evil” characters, by giving them sympathetic motivations. While their evil acts can’t be forgiven, they can be understood.
Villains are one of the best parts of any video game’s story. There’s always a goal that needs achieving, and nothing makes it more satisfying to achieve than overcoming a dastardly villain. Still, stories have evolved since the black-and-white moralities of saving princesses from giant dragon turtles. Even Bowser himself finds time to unwind and form a truce with Mario.
10 The Colossi
Shadow of the Colossus isn’t a traditional “hero” story. In fact, the player is no hero at all. They are simply a scared, young warrior desperate to save the life of their beloved at any cost. To do so, the player character needs to kill sixteen Colossi, in hopes that a fallen god gains the power to bring his beloved to life.
The Colossi are awesome to behold, towering over the player, strength and power radiating from their very being. Yet, they don’t attack. By all rights, they are perfectly content to ignore humanity and guard their domains, which technically makes the player the aggressor.
Godot is the main prosecutor that Phoenix Wright faces in Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations. His obsessive coffee-drinking habits, talent for law, and utter dislike of Phoenix make him a memorable antagonist. Still, being against Phoenix means he’s the hurdle players have to overcome.
And yet, he has a strict code of honor that makes him stand out from the rest of the prosecutors in the series. He never tampers with the evidence, he follows the law to the letter during trials and is by all accounts a fantastic prosecutor. He also has a deep respect for Phoenix’s mentor Mia, and it informs his entire character for most of the game.
8 Jack Baker
After being forced to sit through a horrifying Texas Chainsaw Massacre-style dinner party, players wouldn’t be blamed for not feeling sympathy towards patriarch, Jack Baker. It’s further not helped by Baker’s determination to end Ethan’s life for much of the first half. However, later in the game, Ethan finds himself in a dream and sees a seemingly “resurrected” Jack Baker.
Instead of greeting Ethan with insults and violence, this Jack Baker is calm and forlorn. He pleads with Ethan to end his family’s suffering and offers him the final piece of the puzzle. The reveal that a semblance of the old, kindly Jack Baker is stuck in a monster’s body gives a horrifyingly tragic edge to the entire character.
7 Alessa Gillespie
Alessa Gillespie is the secret driving force for the entirety of Silent Hill. Born with psychic powers, she was venerated as a saint. Instead of praise and worship, however, she received pain and nightmares from her cult, who believed that her suffering would bring about the birth of their god.
This pain manifested itself throughout the town of Silent Hill. Most players would assume the cause of the nightmarish location was some evil demon or suave cult leader. The reveal that it was an innocent girl, desperately struggling to postpone her apocalyptic fate, makes her plight all the more tragic.
6 Big Boss
The eponymous Big Boss is the overarching villain of the entire Metal Gear Solid franchise. Formerly a war hero who saved the world from a nuclear apocalypse, a betrayal by a woman he loved dearly caused him to become incredibly nihilistic. His pursuit of the right thing slowly got more extreme, until he quickly became one of the terrorists he once swore to stop at all costs.
Even as he becomes increasingly militaristic. He will kill, torture, and even brainwash innocent people if it means the future he wants comes to fruition. Yet he shows nothing but compassion for the men under his employ. The zealous loyalty that his soldiers show isn’t all from brainwashing. He is a genuinely compassionate man who inspires hope. It’s unfortunate it’s used for terrorism.
Emet-Selch is a mysterious Ascian villain whose name is only said with whispers in the main game. The Shadowbringers DLC finally gives the name a full character, and viewers are met with an over-the-top villain with seemingly typical motivations for power. However, as more of the story is revealed, Emet-Selch becomes a tragedy.
His goals once revealed to the players, are not only sympathetic but perfectly in the right. By all accounts, his goals are parallel to the players. They only want what’s best for their people, and love them dearly. It’s the extent that Emet-Selch is willing to go to achieve this that makes him the tragic villain, his hamminess is just a facade to hide a tired old man.
For most of the game, players see how Team Plasma’s goal of segregating Pokémon from humans has affected the world. The fabled “King” of Team Plasma, the mysterious N, is apparently responsible for this chaos, and the trainers march to face this “evil” Pokémon trainer. Which makes it all the more surprising when players find a kind man who adores Pokémon.
He’s one of the few characters in the series to find Pokéballs distasteful, and views them as “slavery”. He frees them once they have served their purpose to him, something the players don’t even do. His view that Pokémon are better off free is not without merit, and the player quickly finds out how much responsibility the “King” actually has for Team Plasma’s wrongdoings.
3 Loghain Mac Tir
Loghain Mac Tir is a legendary hero in Ferelden, who had saved the land countless times from the enemies surrounding it. Later, Loghain betrays the main character and lets King Cailan die in a scheme to take over the throne. His reign allowed for cruelty and intolerance to reign throughout the land.
Like a number of Lords and humans in Ferelden, he is disdainful of other countries and races. However, while not justifiable, much of his actions are down to his tragic past fighting in the war. The constant violence he’s seen changed the once bright-eyed hero into a jaded old man. He values Ferelden’s independence, and sees what would happen should it lose it. It’s only a shame he’s grown too bitter to resolve things peacefully.
2 The Master
The Master is the primary villain of Fallout, who is never seen face-to-face until the literal final battle. That doesn’t mean the player won’t be feeling his presence, as his cultists are everywhere in the wasteland. If that’s not enough, his super mutant army will beat his presence into the player’s skull. While it’s easy to dismiss him as yet another typical power-hungry tyrant, The Master is quite unique among final bosses.
The Master is a relatively moral and intelligent man. From his perspective, unifying humanity through FEV ensures its future. In most video games, villains won’t ever listen to the player’s criticism of their plan. What makes The Master so unique is that he’s willing to admit his mistakes and stop his plans if the player finds a way to talk them down.
1 Shadow Lord
NieR is a famously janky game and was relatively obscure before the massive success of NieR: Automata. Despite all that, it’s still fondly remembered by fans for its incredible storytelling and compelling characters. The Shadowlord is the main antagonist of the game, who looks strangely similar to NieR, the player character. In fact, as the game’s story progresses, the roles of “hero” and “villain” are blurred. The name “Shadowlord” isn’t just a sinister moniker.
They are literally NieR’s shadow. They both have the same goals in the story. They both want to save their sisters. The only difference is that if a certain one of them succeeds in their selfless goals, humanity is doomed. This struggle makes NieR’s narrative tragically complex. It’s easy to feel sympathy for the Shadowlord, for the simple reason that they are literally just a shadow of the player’s experiences.
NEXT: The 15 Greatest Video Game Narratives, Ranked