Video game villains can be strange. Sometimes they come off as intended and we’re given a love to hate character whose dastardly motives prove him a viable threat. Sometimes we just kinda feel bad for them.
The video game villains we sympathize with don’t work like regular villains, and often provide some very memorable cases. Our ever present desire to beat the bad guy and save the world is tinged with an unfamiliar empathy. The great video game villains are marked by their ability to force you into hating them, to make you oppose every breath they take as a crime against humanity.
The following video game villains are marked by their failure to do so, instead becoming something almost entirely separate from a villain – a more sympathetic group of video game villains whose intentions may have been purer than they first appeared.
Top 10: Misunderstood Video Game Villains
10. Loghain Mac Tir (Dragon Age)
It’s not exactly difficult to hate Loghain of the Dragon Age series. With a personality that exudes snootiness, a pompous exterior, and a condescending tone, all of this swirls together to make a remarkably punchable character. However, just below the extremely unlikable surface is a man whose motives are quite admirable.
With Fereldan’s independence at stake and assailed by a deadly Darkspawn foe, Loghain’s actions are certainly not the wisest but they stem from a deep place of caring for his kingdom and a belief that the Wardens were partly responsible for the death of the former king, as he did battle alongside them on the front lines.
Foolishly viewing the Grey Wardens as enemies, Loghain redeems himself if you choose to spare him by dealing the death blow to the Archdemon, the greatest threat in the darkspawn army, and dying in the process.
9. Marlene (The Last of Us)
The Last of Us thrives when it’s presenting the player with near-indecipherable moral greys. Marlene, leader of the Fireflies, is arguably the best of them considering that many have asked themselves, despite the fact that she ordered her staff to scoop out a child’s brain, was Marlene ever really a villain?
Take into account all the comrades she’s watched fall to the virus that turns humans into cannibalistic monsters, and the many more she is bound to see die. Was taking Ellie’s life in an attempt to cure it really the wrong move, or was Joel the villain in the scenario for bringing her plans to a halt? These questions were what left the majority of players absent for words when they put an end to the games ‘villain’.
8. Alma Wade (FEAR)
There’s nothing that makes you empathetic to a character’s plight quite like making them a full-on, total victim. With horrific enough treatment you can pity just about any video game villains, yes, even terrifying little girls with monstrous psionic powers.
Abused by Armacham in a series of experiments, with the ultimate goal of profiting from her abilities, Alma is much more than just a spooky visage. Upon learning just how deep her despairing tale goes as the abused scientific ragdoll of a corporation attempting to harvest money out of her supernatural powers, you’ll feel a sincere pang of pity woven into the sincere terror her appearance inspires.
7. The Boss (Metal Gear Solid)
Breaking Snake’s arm, betraying her country, and lending her lethal services to an equally lethal terrorist unit, there seems to be no returning from the dark side for Snake’s mentor, ‘The Boss’.
That is, until you unearth the information that this perceived traitor is actually a double agent working for the US, who subsequently gets betrayed by her own government as they order you to kill her. The entire situation is made even worse by the fact that they were going to ultimately double cross The Boss even if you failed in your task, as they feared the influence she held you. It’s safe to say the Boss, despite initial appearances, was the clear victim of the situation.
6. N (Pokémon Black/White)
Even superficially, the Pokémon Black/White antagonist had good intentions woven into his madness. Sure, he’s trying to change the trainer/Pokémon bond that defines the world as a whole but in a twisted kind of way he feels somewhat reasonably justified that he’s doing it for the Pokémon. He’s one of the misguided video game villains, but a fairly tame one that thinks he’s doing the right thing.
But even then he’s not that much of a loon at all, simply being manipulated by his father Ghetsis, who wishes to hoard power for himself. Starting out from a somewhat understandable position and falling straight into the territory of ‘cool guy’, N was one of the more stand out antagonists in a series usually offended by teams of fashionable baddies.
5. Sif (Dark Souls)
In a series as brutal as Dark Souls, it can be difficult to picture how you could ever sympathize with any of this series’ video game villains. Especially if it’s a giant, sword swinging wolf, even though it is an awesome sight. The Abyss DLC provides some insight into Sif, though. It turns out that the sword he’s been rending you with once belonged to his master and that monument he’s perched atop? His grave. The relentless onslaught of this boss was simply to defend his best friend’s resting place.
To round it off, should you meet Sif in the DLC, years before the events of Dark Souls and acquire his master’s greatshield from him, he will recognize you and regretfully nod before assailing you – which almost makes up for the repeated deaths he dished out immediately afterwards.
4. Zulf (Bastion)
Bastion’s primary antagonist has led a life marked by tragedy. Losing his parents at an early age, Zulf was forced to scrape by in a meager existence, and when things finally started to look better for him, what happens? The city he lives in and the woman he loves are destroyed before him.
Obviously there’s some frustration to be vented there, though a little misplaced. You can see why he’d vent these frustrations towards the player as he learns they’re part of the race responsible for the destruction wrought upon his city and people. Fortunately, you can choose to rescue Zulf from his tortured existence at the game’s climax and take him away. Hopefully on a lengthy vacation, since this is one of the poor video game villains who deserves it.
3. The Illusive Man (Mass Effect)
Greater evils can force perspective on video game villains to the otherwise ignorant. When that greater evil is a race called The Reapers who are trying to press the reset button on the galaxy, exterminating all organic life, some extremist views become a little more reasonable.
The Illusive Man becomes a little more alarmist in his methods in Mass Effect 3, taking the true villainous mindset of desiring to control the enemy to assert his own dominance. This is a by-product of his OWN indoctrination and being controlled by the reapers. When you force this information upon him he does what’s right in his mind, taking his own life to atone for his sins. This exposed him for what he truly was, one of many video game villains with a killer sense of fashion, who really did just want what was best for humanity.
2. GLaDOS (Portal)
A body that resembles a woman hanging upside down in shackles is the icing on the cake for the tortured mind that is Portal’s unforgettably charming antagonist, GlaDOS. GLaDOS’ personality stems from the personal assistant of Cave Johnson (the founder of Apeture Science), Caroline, and you can tell from the various tapes found throughout the games she was a highly unwilling component in this process.
A mind that never wanted this in the first place trapped within an immobile body. Wrap these qualities up with some humorous dialogue, and the warm-hearted among you could actually forgive GLaDOS for the grueling tests she put you through.
1. Andrew Ryan (Bioshock)
Andrew Ryan was the ultimate example of video game villains who used to be decent human beings. With intentions as pure as driven snow, Andrew Ryan desired for man to be able to control his own fate, and a utopia that would beget this vision for him and his fellow people. No doubt, due to some unhelpful input from wrongdoers such as Fontaine, this vision becomes twisted and leaves Ryan as the state censor he was seeking to avoid.
Unforgivable as that may seem, Ryan has one shining act of redemption; he reveals the player’s trigger phrase, “Would you kindly?”, and prompts them to beat him to death with a golf club. This leaves Ryan in a much more sympathetic position, especially considering he was your father all along.
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That’s our top 10 list of the most sympathetic video game villains out there. Do you agree with our choices of sympathetic video game villains or, understandably, have a little trouble connecting with the video game villains whose sole motive is usually to murder you? Let us know your views on video game villains in the comments section below, and tell us who you think are some of the more deceptively kind-hearted video game villains in gaming history. Thanks for reading, and we’ll see you next time gamers.