Fri
Apr 22 2011 10:36am

Top Five Overrated Video Game Villains

Hey game fans, welcome back. In honor of the release of Portal 2 and the return of the wicked GLaDOS, yesterday Tor.com counted down the five best villains in video game history. Today, we will be counting down the Five Most Overrated Villains in video game history. We were going to do a Top Five Worst list, but since those awful tedious boss battles are all in games we hate, we will instead examine popular villains who have been getting off the hook for a little too long.

5. The Jefferson Memorial - Fallout 3

The villain…is free will.

Fallout 3 shook the industry with its innovative gameplay and fully realized post-apocalyptic world. The retro-futurism never misses a beat, and players found themselves immersed for countless hours, fighting ghouls, robots, and vampires, and disarming (or detonating) nuclear bombs. There is even an ominous villain, the Enclave President John Henry Eden, played with his usual diabolical flair by Malcolm McDowell (although why the President of the United States in the future is British, I guess we will never know).

In a shocking third act twist, it is revealed that President Eden is not a man at all, but a supercomputer programmed with the personalities of past presidents. (Maybe we could set him up on a cyber date with GLaDOS?) Eden asks the player to commit genocide so that mankind can live on only in its purist form. There is no intense battle here. Just a conversation with a talking TV monitor. If you tell Eden to blow himself up, or erase his memory banks, he will. It is fiercely anti-climactic.

The game does not end there, however, and the finale becomes even more underwhelming. With the help of the Brotherhood of Steel and an iron giant called Liberty Prime, the player infiltrates the Jefferson Memorial to release clean water across the DC wasteland. But there is one problem. The room with the release mechanism is flooded with deadly radiation, and the building is about to explode! The final battle becomes, essentially, a moral question. Will the player sacrifice his own life to save the wasteland? He can kill himself, or tell some woman he barely knows to do it, or he can tell his friend the super mutant (who is immune to radiation) to do it. Not much of a moral argument, is it? The player tells his radiation-resistant friend to turn on the purifier. The mutant obliges, giving the machine a kick for good measure.

Least. Climactic. Ending. Ever.

 

4. Arcturus Mengsk - Starcraft

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Emperor Mengsk began his career as a revolutionary, fighting the oppressive Terran Confederacy. To help him, he enlisted a ragtag band of rebels including Raynor, a space marshall, Kerrigan, a telepathic assassin, and Duke, a former Confederate general. But once his victory was assured, Mengsk betrayed his allies and appointed himself Emperor of a new galactic civilization, the Dominion.

It all seems good, right? He is the puppet master pulling the strings. He even created another supervillain—when Kerrigan was left to die in a war zone, the Zerg turned her into the Queen of Blades. But Mengsk is a bland coward. It has been fourteen years since we first met Mengsk, but never once has he taken the field. Players are never allowed to fight him directly.

In Starcraft 2, Mengsk is presented as the big bad, but just like in past games, the other villains overshadow him. Mengsk is totally forgotten in the first game once the threat of the Overmind appears. Kerrigan and Duran are much cooler (and more frightening) in Brood War. Even Mengsk’s pageboy son Prince Valerian has more screen time in Starcraft 2.

Palpatine this guy is not. More like Darth Also-ran.

 

3. Ganon - The Legend of Zelda

Well excuuuuuuuuuse me, princess.

An evil ugly wizard kidnaps a princess. A good handsome boy with a sword rescues her. That is the plot of countless games. The Legend of Zelda may not have started the trend, but it certainly popularized it. Calling it a cliché would be an understatement.

Not to say that Ganon does not have his merits. Supposedly based on the man-pig Zhu Bajie from the classic Chinese novel Journey to the West, Ganon is the antithesis of Link — enormous, powerful, a monster. My image of him was shaped by the original game, when Ganon appeared as a big blue demonic boar-man, like something out of Dante’s Inferno or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I recall my disappointment when he appeared as Ganondorf (Ganondork) in Ocarina of Time, only to be completely blown away by one of the greatest “Oh !@#$%” moments in video game history, when Ganondorf transforms into the gigantic sword-wielding monstrosity Ganon.

At the time Ganon was one of the largest monsters ever encountered in a game. He looks remarkably like a Colossus in size and shape, but Ocarina of Time predates Shadow of the Colossus by a good eight years.

If all of this sounds like an argument for why Ganon is one of the best video game villains ever, it is because he is one of the best. Like Bowser, Ganon has an untouchable place in video game history.

But Ganon is bad for us. He represents a screwed up psychology that has corrupted generations of children. Why are the wizards (smart people) always bad, and the warriors (strong people) always good? Why does might make right? In much the same way that Disney princesses have encouraged generations of girls to expect a prince to solve all their problems, games like The Legend of Zelda teach boys an anti-intellectual philosophy. Don’t study. Don’t learn magic. If you see an obstacle, hit it with your stick. Kill everything on the board. Sometimes there are rewards for that.

This warrior vs. wizard phenomenon has reached critical mass. Prince of Persia, Castlevania… Look at the Dissidia games, which pit Final Fantasy heroes and villains against each other in single combat. Nine of the ten heroes have swords. Seven of the ten villains are wizards. The other three use magic.

There will always be a place for evil wizards, and boys with sticks to fight them in their backyards. But as gamers mature, so should their villains. We deserve better.

 

2. Liquid Snake - Metal Gear Solid

It’s Alaska, put your dang shirt on!

Liquid is another villain who sounds good on paper. He is the evil twin of the world’s greatest soldier, a devious mastermind with plans to…wait a minute, what was Liquid’s objective? You would think that after 25 minutes of cutscene monologues, explaining his history and motivations, that players would have some idea of what Liquid’s goal was. Something about sabotaging the START treaty, or starting a war between the U.S. and Russia. Why? I have no idea. I’ve played this game a dozen times on three systems and it still doesn’t make sense.

Also, Jacob from Twilight wears more shirts than this jerk.

He should be called Liquid Cat, considering how many lives this guy has. In the first game alone, he is in a helicopter struck by no fewer than a dozen stinger missiles and survives the following crash. He blows up inside a giant walking battle tank, then gets punched out by his brother Solid Snake and falls off the wreck of the aforementioned battle tank. Then he chases Solid Snake through a narrow tunnel in a jeep, gets shot by an automatic rifle about 5,000 times, and crashes the jeep on a snowy cliff. And then, finally, Liquid Snake dies of… a virus? Seriously? After all that torture, players don’t even get to kill Liquid. He just falls over. It’s the video game equivalent to the ending of War of the Worlds.

To add insult to injury, Liquid returns in the sequel, tarnishing Revolver Ocelot, a villain who is actually cool. In the first game, Ocelot loses a hand, so in the sequel he has the dead Liquid’s hand grafted onto his arm. Somehow, this transfers Liquid’s personality and memories into Ocelot, guaranteeing many more sequels with monologue cutscenes so long they require cutaways to stock footage.

 

1. Sephiroth - Final Fantasy VII

Surprised?

Sephiroth is famous because he stabs a girl in the back. Maybe if I had not been on Team Tifa from the start I would have cared more, but Aeris was always a bit saccharin for my taste.

People love Sephiroth because he is tall, dark, and handsome, but his totally illogical goals (“I am going to destroy the world so I can be the most powerful being in the world!”) make him the most overrated villain of all time.

He has his moments. After a lecture from the president of the evil Shinra Company, Cloud and the other heroes are thrown into a jail cell and fall asleep. When they wake, the cell doors are open, the guards are dead, and the walls are smeared with blood. The heroes make their way to the president’s office, where the old man (the arch-villain up to this point) lies dead, a big sword sticking out of his back. Cloud observes that only the mysterious SOLDIER Sephiroth could be responsible for this carnage. The first time I saw him, in a flashback, huddled in the rear of a truck, mako eyes glowing, I got chills. On my first playthrough, after watching my party get decimated by the Midgar Zolom, a giant swamp serpent, I reached the other side of the swamp and saw a huge tree hewn into a spike, the serpent’s head skewered. Lightning flashed. We have to fight someone who can do that? Really? Gulp!

But it is all down hill from there. Confusing plots with clones, mind control, a side story with his mother, and another side story with a different mother, all muddle who or what Sephiroth is. What role does JENOVA play? Who is controlling who? It’s ambiguous in the original translation, and incomprehensible if you don’t watch all the hidden cutscenes.

In another Act III twist, it is revealed that Sephiroth has actually been encased in materia at the North Crater the entire game. Okay, that’s fine. Then who have we been chasing since we left Midgar? Cloud’s spiritual manifestation? A phantasm? Then who killed President Shinra and the Midgar Zolom?

I will embrace a new translation of this game with open arms, because currently it does not make one lick of sense.


Matt London is an author and filmmaker who lives in New York City. He is a graduate of the Clarion Writer’s Workshop. He writes about video games and other stuff for Tor.com, Fantasy Magazine, Lightspeed, and Realms of Fantasy. His fiction is out right this second in the anthology The Living Dead 2. Follow him on Twitter.

26 comments
Jeffy D
1. Jeffy D
I guess Matt London, likes hate mail.
Sim Tambem
2. Daedos
I guess Matt London hates me.

Interesting list. I do not agree 100% on Sephiroth, though. The fact that he makes no sense and is wicked-strong just makes him that much more dangerous. Predictable villains are easy to beat and much less intimidating.
Evan Langlinais
3. Skwid
Which tenth of your party did the serpent destroy, now?

More seriously, you have reinforced my lack of desire to play the Metal Gear and FF games, so thanks for that.
F Shelley
4. FSS
huh - i never looks at the boy with sword beats old wizard as an argument for anti-intellectualism. i'm not sure i buy it, but it's an interesting take.

how would the opposite story go? boy discovers he has magic powers and kills off an older, waning, warrior king (a la Theoden) from long range using a well-placed fireball? Seems anti-climatic...
[da ve]
5. slickhop
What about the awful anticlimactic boss fight at the end of Borderlands? I legit thought they were going to let you fight your way into the vault or whatever but instead you killed this bizarre alien blob and the credits ran.
Marcus W
6. toryx
I actually liked the end of Fallout 3. The unusual nature of it, where everything is literally in your hands, is what appeals to me. And I didn't send in the mutant to do the job for me until the third time I played through the game.

Give me a difficult choice over yet another super big, super bad baddie anytime.
Jeffy D
7. Edgewalker
Not wanting to play MGS and FF are your losses. Two of the greatest franchises in history.

And Sephiroth is the ONLY answer for most overrated. It doesn't mean he is a bad villain, just that he gets too much praise.
Jeffy D
8. JeffR23
Sephiroth isn't cool because of his looks, or for having killed Aeris. He's impossible to overrate because he had the best theme music of any game villain before or, arguably, since. One-Winged Angel is more than sufficient to outweigh all of the (entirely legitimate) complaints leveled here...
Daniel Goss
9. Beren
ok, it's been a while since I've listened to either, but isn't "One-Winged Angel" just basically Carmina Burana with some minor tweaks?

Not saying it's bad -- that's one of the most BA pieces of classical music out there . . . just wondering.
Corey Sees
10. CorwinOfAmber
One-Winged Angel better than Dancing Mad? I beg to differ. I don't know if it's possible to write a piece of music for orchestra and a chorus that shouts in Latin without it sounding like Carmina Burana (or at least parts of Verdi's Requiem). I would say One-Winged Angel is less Carl Orff than some other FF music (namely the intro to VIII).

I completely agree with Sephiroth being the most overrated. Not necessarily a bad villain, but not the irreproachable paragon of villainy he is often made out to be.

Sure he looks like a badass, and he kills stuff efficiently, but he falls a little short for me. I've always said that my biggest Sephiroth complaint is that he comes off as a tragic figure. Good villains should make you hate them; I just felt kind of sorry for Sephiroth at points.
Jenny Thrash
11. Sihaya
3) I don't get it - how does going up against a giant Colossus with magical powers while playing as the tiny character with limited resources in any way promote the Might Makes Right philosophy? It looks like a classic David vs. Goliath story, and I'm pretty sure that *wasn't* the moral of David. I'm pretty sure that was the opposite.
Ashley McGee
12. AshleyMcGee
Oooh, then you're really gonna hate this. Sephiroth occupies the armpit section of my Final Fantasy VII tattoo. Cloud and Zack (a phantasm to say the least in the game) are more prominent, and I wore Aerith's dress as my wedding dress and walked down the aisle to her theme song...Well there is a reason I stuck Sephiroth in my armpit: he stinks *evil grin*.
Jeffy D
13. foogoo
Fallout pissed me off royally - after all those hours of really fantastic gameplay, I was confronted with utter illogic - the rad-immune mutant simply couldn't be sent in to do the job. I tried everything, but only me or the woman were options. I don't know how y'all got the mutie to do it...
Jeffy D
14. JeffR23
One of the DLC expansions takes place after the main game's ending. I believe it ressurects you if you sacrificed yourself, and since that lowers the stakes of the whole thing considerably, they went ahead and gave some more sensible NPC options. I believe that it gives a considerably better ending to the game, although that it a low bar to pass..
Jeffy D
15. lagomorph_rex
Must be nice to be anti-crowd and still follow the crowd eh?
Jeffy D
16. Haggis
Ganon doesn't really scream intelligent wizard to me. Cunning yes, but in the end he basicaly just throws whatever's handy at you. Be it swordplay, magic, or monsters he focuses more on crushing link with brute force, while link relys on his wits to win.

There's a reason he has the triforce of power and zelda has the triforce of wisdom.
Scott Skocy
17. skoce
You are completely wrong about the anti-intellectualism of Ganon as a villain. You somehow seem to equate him with the intelligent despite noting the he is a super-strong monster. He is the one with the strength. The only way the player has a chance of beating him is outsmarting him. The player has to solve tons of puzzles and aquire the magic he needs to defeat Ganon. Link is barely a warrior. Combat is one of the least improtant parts of the game; it is about solving puzzles, about outsmarting foes. Zelda teaches the opposite lesson from what you propose. It teaches players that even in the face of overwhelming strength victory can be achieved through smarts.

Dead on with Sephiroth, but you're wrong about Liquid Snake. Brotheeeeeerrrrrr!!
Erik Amundsen
18. Bigerich
@FSS
Why, did you really expect something good to come out of Pandora's little box? Sure, the fight itself wasn't very interesting, but then I didn't play Borderlands for the bosses.

@Matt London
Surely Zelda with her Triforce of Wisdom is the mage? Ganon has the Power piece, remember.
lawrence henderson
19. justinius23
over-rated? probably.

but sephiroth is so f'ing cool.
Matt London
20. MattLondon
@3 That's sad to hear about FF and Metal Gear. I don't think I would be able to examine those series with a critical eye if I didn't have great admiration for them. The narratives are captivating, the characters iconic, and although both series have their flaws (both rely heavily on cutscenes, for example) I can't imagine my gamer life without them.

@11 @16 @17 @18 RE: Ganon -- Perhaps it is a semantic argument, but I believe there is a difference between Power and physical strength. In Ganon's case, Power refers to his ability to control hordes of monsters and wield unbelievable magical energies. Wise and Cunning Wizard archetypes fall into many sub-categories, from an evil corporate CEO like Rufus Shinra to a more traditional example like Saruman, who commands a powerful army and has great personal magic powers. If a wizard villain has strength, it comes from his magic, which requires intelligence to wield. Think about Jaffar in Disney's Aladdin, who transforms into a giant snake. The snake is stronger than Aladdin, but only because of Jaffar's magical knowledge.

A look at Zelda games as a whole sees this trend more clearly. Agahnim in A Link to the Past and Ganondorf in Ocarina of Time are perfect examples of the evil wizard who corrupts a kingdom. There is not much room for character development in the original game, but the animated series based on that game depicts Link as a bumbling swordsman and Ganon as the diabolical mastermind, surrounded by moronic henchmen. Of course, Ganon is thwarted at the end of every episode by Zelda's intelligence, which is a whole different cliche and probably deserving of its own post. At its most basic, Legend of Zelda boss battles boil down to Ganon flinging magic at Link, and Link hitting Ganon with his pointy sword.

I'll end by saying that while it is true Link must display some intelligence to solve all the puzzles in the games, how smart must Ganon be to design all those traps for him?
Scott Skocy
21. skoce
@MattLondon--I was content to let this go until that last line. Ganon didn't set up the traps, those were set up by the people who hid the magical macguffins at the end of them. Ganon is generally also trying to get them (triforce pieces or whatever they may be in the different games) but, as smart as he is(?) Link always beats him to all of them.

Since Ocarina of Time there may have been Ganondorf who is much more wizardly, but before that Ganon was more monster than wizard. His Triforce of Power seems to represent physical strength.
Jeffy D
22. Frontliner
Aww, it's kind of cute you put Sephy on here. Cause that's just what the internet does. But I guess if you only read a bunch of VII fanfic you WOULD think people love Sephiroth because he's tall, dark, and handsome, but that's not truly why. Let's not forget he was once a well-respected and skilled general, a hero for many, and idol for one (Cloud). His eventual discovery of the experiments that made him, his subsequent fall from grace, and then ultimate rise to evil is what makes people love him. He's that rare villain afforded a back-story, he's that rare villain that asks us both to love and hate him. And for many, they did. So sorry the story confused you. It seemed pretty easy to understand when I played it in 97 at the age of 16. I can agree on the need for a new translation however. Off course, that probably won't happen soon.
Jeffy D
23. SZX
Separating Sephiroth's character from Jenova, is the same thing as separating Ganondorf's character from the Triforce of Power.
Both are so intrinsically connected, that you cannot judge one without including the other.

It doesn't matter who was in control, because by the time FFVII starts, both Jenova and Sephiroth are basically one and the same.
The villain of FFVII isn't just Sephiroth, but a combination of Jenova and Sephiroth(I call it Jenoviroth).
Jeffy D
24. Kaesaru
Whoever wrote this article entirely missed the point about Sephiroth. I've never seen someone ramble on so unintelligently when it comes to the story behind the character. Overrated? In what way? By what statistic says it's overrated? Are there as many Sephiroth haters as there are Sephiroth fans? I don't think so.
After Advent Children, possibly... but not in the least from the original game. Sephiroth was an interesting take on the main villain. He was a victim of science and his mind worked like a virus. The way Cloud and him interacted were moments to behold. The Aerith death scene was shocking but necessary and back then, no game presented the same effect of drama. FF7 in many ways shows that gaming was not just something kids played. It was deep, passionate storyline. And Sephiroth was an amazing villain. The other villains you mentioned, I couldn't care less about.
Daniel Bastion
25. Daniel Bastion
I've never paid attention to any of these villains. XD
Jeffy D
26. buck wade
I'm sorry but there's nothing actually unique about ganondorf or really remotely interesting. He's a copy and paste pure evil dude who wants to take over the world because...he's evil. that's litterally all he is. He's not like those charismatic villains or the ones with philosophical stuff coming out of their mouths. He usually doesn't even have a real backstory

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