Across gaming history, it is typically the hero or protagonist that gets the bulk of the attention from the player. After all, that is who the player usually plays as in most games, so that’s a reasonable stance to have. However, what would a hero be without a villain? This article seeks to evaluate the best villains across gaming that have been genuinely good or even great for any sort of reasons.
Be warned, it will have fairly moderate or even somewhat heavy spoilers. The game attached to the villain will be highlighted, so be wary before scrolling too quickly or too far.
Villains listed either must have originated within video games or have a significant presence in video games. For this reason, characters such as Plankton (Spongebob: Battle for Bikini Bottom) or Merle Dixon (The Walking Dead – Survival Instinct) were not considered.
Additionally, because many of these villains end up being boss fights, it is important to note that this is not a second coming of my boss fight lists I made recently. Many of these villains are on this list in such a way where their associated boss fights have almost been completely disregarded in favor of their backstories, aesthetics, etc.
10. King Allant (Demon’s Souls)
This guy is a pretty great way to kick off the list. Villains with flaws are generally pretty fun, and Allant was no exception. Allant’s story is one of a benevolent ruler who was nearing the end of his life, and wanted to simultaneously ensure the prosperity of Boletaria and leave his successor with a near unlimited amount of power that he himself would also enjoy before calling it quits. He does a pretty good job at attaining both goals. However, power corrupts, and he goes as far as reaching out to the Old One, the origin of humanity and the source of demon hood. His philosophy became twisted in his dealings with the deity, and his stance altered towards believing the only way he could stop the suffering of his people was ultimately to murder them and destroy their souls once and for all.
However, his lust for power doesn’t stop there. He ultimately feasts on a copious amount of these souls himself, further corrupting him to the point where his human body was ravaged, and he himself became a demon. However, unlike thrilling demon bosses the player encounters, power has shifted him so badly when the player reaches him, that he is simply a pathetic pile of some kind of inhuman sludge that becomes extremely easy to slay.
His story is compelling enough to land himself a spot on this list. However, he is towards the end of it mostly because of how anticlimactic he is for a final boss. It would’ve been a better idea possibly to shift how the endings to the story go, make the Old One the actual final boss, and leave poor King Allant as an incredibly minor road block before getting to experience the real boss fight at the end.
9. Delilah Copperspoon (Dishonored 1 & 2)
Delilah ends up becoming the ultimate opportunist, taking advantage of Empress Emily Kaldwin and Royal Protector Corvo Attano on the anniversary of Emily’s mother’s death. She infiltrates their stronghold and throne room under the guise of visiting to pay her respects. What actually happens is that she arrives with a sizable army to complement her own wicked powers, overthrows the Empress, and takes the crown by force.
The under-the-table workings Delilah worked so diligently on to make it all possible are truly stunning. Aligning herself with powerful allies created a forest fire of people who were suddenly quite hostile to Emily or Corvo, depending on who the player chooses to play as. Moreover, the game affords a few different endings regarding her fate as she is defeated at the end of the game. Perhaps the most compelling, also implied as the ‘canon’ ending, gives her a taste of her own medicine. If the player manages to incapacitate, but not kill her, they will be prompted to insert and seal her away in a painted world that is essentially a simulation of what happens if she remains Empress for the rest of her life. The thought of tricking and eventually torturing her into falsely believing things worked out for her in the end is great. Of course, the option of satisfactorily slicing her throat and calling it a day is perfectly enjoyable in its own right too.
8. M. Bison (various Street Fighter games)
While he may seem to simply boast a generic lust for world domination that is far from rare, M. Bison’s appearance on this list derives largely from his aesthetics and his powers. Unlike domination hungry villains, M. Bison practically operates all by himself. He is a super genius. He is far from frail and helpless, and will absolutely kick the player’s meddling ass if it even slightly seems necessary. He is entirely unique for mainly using psychic powers at a distance, which is just slapping the player in the face about how stupid they are, and how much of a genius he is. Finally, capes in generally are silly, but M. Bison’s is cool. His animation of tossing his aside as a fight is about to begin is the equivalent of Randy Marsh taking his shirt off as he carelessly shouts “You wanna go?”, “What’re you gonna do about it?” and the like. Overall, M. Bison is a thrilling villain, a testament to why generic things are generic: they work and they’re readily available, add your own spin to it and deploy!
7. Wolf O’Donnell (Star Fox series)
“Can’t let you do that, Star Fox” is arguably the most iconic line in any Nintendo game, ever, uttered by the antagonistic Wolf O’Donnell. However, Wolf doesn’t spend all of his camera time fighting or harassing the Star Fox crew. In fact, his admiration and respect for Star Fox adds some breadth to his character. Unlike Fox and Falco, his approach to hindering their team isn’t always just flying his crew into battle with them at every chance. As supporters of the mad scientist Andross, Wolf and his unique, vibrant crew have been known to take it off the battlefield more often than not.
That said, it cannot be understated how satisfying hearing him say “I’ve got you now, Star Fox!” before he and his crew gun them down during his Final Smash in Smash Bros is.
6. Ghetsis (Generation V Pokémon games and Ultrasun/Ultramoon)
A good deal of Pokémon villains end up being relatively poor. Apart from being underwhelming challenges, their overall personalities are a bit too incompetent/oversilly to make sense in the context of being a leader for a large evil corporation. Instead of toying with the player in a Pokémon battle, why not just have your vastly superior numbers of evil workers subdue or restrain them and kidnap them so your evil plan can proceed? It is relatively understandable, since Pokémon is marked towards children and all. Well, Ghetsis isn’t quite ‘smart’ enough to have that level of foresight, but he’s also not at all jovial or stupid enough to fall prey to the same dynamic as his predecessors. His boss fight in the generation five Pokémon games is quite challenging. He even gives his Pokémon held items!
However, he isn’t a one trick pony- he is a seriously dark, heartless man who will quite literally resort to physical abuse as seen in Ultrasun and Ultramoon when he shoves Lillie to the ground and issues physical threats to both her and the player. So he’s not messing around! His overall demeanor makes him easily hateable. Because he’s a genuinely challenging fight, there is a lot of satisfaction to be had about putting him in his place, justifying his positioning on this list.
5. Emperor Andross (Star Fox series)
Another leap of faith villain from Nintendo, deciding to make a bit more of a questionably child friendly villain has paid off for Nintendo for the better part of the last twenty years. Andross brings with him a fairly common “power corrupts/originally well intentioned” character trope. His positioning on this list is due to how surprisingly beautifully that trope meshes with the added trait of being a mad scientist. Also, there’s something to be said for this chilling liner he delivers to Fox towards the end of Star Fox 64:
I’ve been waiting for you, Star Fox. With my mighty intellect, the universe shall soon be mine to command as I see fit. Opposing me is truly a death sentence… Just ask your father.
His relationship with Fox, the main protagonist, really caps off a wonderfully written, perfectly hate-able, satisfying to defeat villain. He was a no brainer for this list.
4. Tom Nook (Animal Crossing series)
Even in the lighthearted series of Animal Crossing stems a devious, enjoyable yet hateable villain. He is lovable because his dynamic is very comparable to the real world ‘villains’: he’s a greedy capitalist constantly bent on screwing the player out of their hard earned money. He is the ultimate embodiment of a lawful evil character: he entices the player into buying land, sends them on a handful of various quests, and while they’re gone, will come up with various loopholes or maneuvers to bleed them for every cent he can get. He isn’t the type of villain to want this final, bloody confrontation at any point, nor will he attempt to slit their throat as they sleep. Within the context of an otherwise incredibly casual game, he offers the counterbalance to keep things interesting.
3. Dr Robotnik/Eggman (Sonic series)
There is just something so endearing about incredibly powerful, well written villains who are also rather heavily flawed. The flaws themselves serve to keep the villain relatively in check, giving the player excitement at exploiting those gaffes.
I can already hear readers thinking “Well Andrew, if that’s the case, since you like Bowser so much, where is he on the list?”
To that end, let’s compare and contrast why Robotnik is such a better designed villain than Bowser, while simultaneously talking him up as a great villain:
Unlike Bowser, Robotnik’s flaws are reasonably common and aren’t incredibly silly with their various setbacks. Robotnik has a bad habit of overlooking one singular detail that ends up being his downfall. Unlike Bowser, it isn’t “oh crap, I accidentally put this self destruct button right here for no reason, better hope Sonic doesn’t effortlessly jump over me and hit the button.” With Bowser, that’s almost precisely what his flaw tends to be. With Robotnik, it’s more like “wait, why did I create a huge robot with a large drill and cannons that doesn’t have anything on the roof to protect itself?” These flaws are more reasonable and still allow him to present a reasonable challenge to the player, unlike Bowser.
Apart from being flawed, Robotnik is an incredibly creative, resourceful villain that has thrown countless numbers of different creations and roadblocks at Sonic and his friends over the years. No two snowflakes are alike, and it’s rather exciting just to see what he will draw up next. For those reasons, he deserves a place on this list.
1B. Micolash, Host of the Nightmare (Bloodborne)
Micolash is a beautifully written villain, and if his opposition on this list wasn’t so amazing as well, he would’ve captured first place by a hundred miles. He is essentially the one in charge of maintaining the world in which Bloodborne is based in. There’s more to that of course: he takes mad scientist to the absolute extreme, ripping out the eyes of his victims to try and gain insight for his huge intelligence, attempting to fill the world with “Great Ones” to study and simultaneously cause havoc for the people of Yharnam, and more horrendously unethical things, even with those inhabiting spots in his very own Healing Church. He regularly attempts to commune with the all powerful Kos, and is totally hellbent on trying to summon her to his elaborately crafted world.
Part of what makes him so amazing are how amazing his liners within the game are:
Ah, Kos, or some say Kosm… do you hear our prayers? No, we shall not abandon the dream. No one can catch us! No one can stop us now!
As you once did for the Vacuous Rom… Grant us eyes, Grant us eyes! Plant eyes on our brains to cleanse our beastly idiocy! A grand lake of mud, hidden now from sight. The Cosmos, of course! Let us sit about, and speak, feverishly. Chatting in the wee hour’s of…new ideas of the higher plan.
Ooo! Majestic! A hunter is a hunter, even in a dream! But, alas, not too fast. The Nightmare swirls and churns UNENDING!”
These deranged ramblings put chills down the player’s spine, furthering his status as an iconic, amazing villain.
1A. Valindra Shadowmantle (Neverwinter/ various other Wizards of the Coast games)
The chock loaded lore behind Valindra and the level of attention she receives make her a memorable and incredibly interesting villain. Seriously, there’s no shortage of things to talk about here. In the interest of time and what would essentially be a several page essay, let’s have an itemized list:
- Valindra’s backstory is incredible; as someone who was stunningly beautiful in life, died, came back to life as an ugly lich and progressively lost her stability over time as a result.
- Valindra’s ambitions and hatred quite literally manifest themselves into a wicked, exclusive spell that does tons of damage and give the user briefly immunity to all damage. How awesome is that?
- Valindra’s various assaults and conquests against Neverwinter aren’t just summoning her undead army to harass them. On numerous times, she secures alliances with other notable villains, tries raising her own undead dragolich, and doesn’t hesitate to confront any challengers directly herself. She isn’t the type of sit behind a heavily guarded palace and issue orders to her subordinates.
- She is skilled with pretty much every single kind of magic, and has the tools to competently combat practically anything.
- Her lich design has an extraordinary amount of attention to detail, and just looks incredibly awesome.
- As mentioned previously, characters with flaws are incredibly interesting: going mad and losing her stability with her deteriorating beauty being the catalyst is both petty and enthralling, giving her a unique flair.
- She will no doubt continue to be a major villain: she is a lich and cannot die without her phylactery being destroyed, and that is practically impossible to achieve. It’s a way of keeping her around that isn’t just “lol, plot armor, make her survive because reasons”.
Ganondorf (Legend of Zelda series), Siguru Kamoshida (Persona 5), Star Dream (Kirby Super Star), The St Johns (TellTale’s The Walking Dead), Black Shadow (F-Zero series), and Goro Akechi (Persona 5/Royal)