The 10 Best Villains in Video Games – Live by the sword

A sword

What makes a character a “good” villain? In many ways, the most compelling villains in video games often share a lot of characteristics with their heroic counterparts:
Drive, ambition, and adherence to some kind of goal above all else.

But the best villains often transcend the other characters in the cast and make for interesting, if somewhat tortured, figures on their own. These are the villains we want to know more about, those that make us look up Internet lore, and perhaps even haunt our dreams.

That is why in this list of the top 10 best villains in video games, I am not talking about difficulty. Sure, some end bosses can be nightmares in terms of difficulty but that does not make them a good candidate for this list. I will rank the hardest bosses at a later date, but for now I am focusing on what makes a villain the “best” in a video game sense.

You should recognize most of these names on this list but, just in case you do not, I will provide a heft amount of background in each one.

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10. Heihachi Mishima (Tekken Series)

Heihachi Mishima

Heihachi Mishima in Tekken 3

Appearing in the first game as the “bad guy,” Heihachi and his family have found themselves at the center of the King of Iron Fist tournament drama ever since. Head of the powerful and rich Mishima Zaibatsu – a multinational conglomerate that does just about everything you can imagine – Heihachi has traditionally controlled events from on high for much of the series until he found himself fading from glory after the fifth game.

The father of Kazuya Mishima (the Ryu-clone of the Tekken series) and grandfather of Kazuya’s son Jin Kazama, the feud that has torn the Mishima family apart figures prominently in most if not all of the Tekken storylines. What makes him an absolutely exceptional bad guy is that it is questionable just how bad he is.

Outside of being Kazuya’s dad and the organizer of the massive King of Iron Fist Tournament, Heihachi’s actions do not really strike anyone as “evil” or even faintly diabolical. The softening of his character as he has aged has also helped things somewhat as well as his really fun play style that is often beloved by fans.

Heihachi represents that awesome combination of murky qualities that makes someone human, interesting, and exceptional.

9. Doctor Neo Cortex (Crash Bandicoot Series)

Doctor Neo Cortex

Doctor Neo Cortex doing what he does best. Conquering the world? No, threatening and trash-talking Crash. XD

The creator of Crash Bandicoot himself, Doctor Neo Cortex operates under the bad influence of the tiki mask Uka Uka who helps him with his plans for world domination and vengeance. Apparently, Cortex is mad because of some past slights and, as is rational, he thinks the best way to solve these problems is to take his rage out on the world – specifically the animals that inhabit the world of Crash Bandicoot.

Kind of like Dr. Robotnik but with a really twisted psyche, Doctor Neo Cortex is iconic because he is so singularly helpless and pretty worthless. Truly, he has reasons to be insecure and, as Crash Bandicoot often shows him, he’s not the world dominating type. Best of all is that * Doctor Neo Cortex is that rare bad guy, like the Joker, who creates his foil.

Cortex thought Crash unworthy of joining his animal slave army so he banished him from this castle. He has come to rue that day ever since.

8. Kuja (Final Fantasy IX)

Kuja from Final Fantasy 9

Kuja’s vanity is second only to his wickedness

Kuja is what happens if Kefka took lithium. Thoroughly medicated, but completely tapped nonetheless, Kuja speaks in metaphors and riddles but wants something quite clearly defined: World domination.

He’s willing to work with whoever or whatever to achieve it, but he never pretends they are more than a means to an end. This sociopathic tendency makes him hard to sympathize with and, instead, makes him creepy beyond belief.

The fact that he supplants the supposed main bad of Final Fantasy IX without a lot of fanfare just underscores his subtle, understated approach to killing people and ruling the world. Designed with a kind of “deadly beauty,” Kuja is not meant to be relatable but is instead, the embodiment of irrational evil, the kind that does things for their own sake and without regard for consequences outside of his own ambitions.

7. The Queen (Ico)

The Queen from Ico

The Queen is even meaner than The Evil Queen. Enough said.

Of all of the characters on this list, The Queen most belongs on a list of classic Disney villains as well because she looks like she was ripped straight from the pages of a fairy tale. And that makes sense given Ico’s look and general themes.

The fact that she predates on characters like the main character only makes her that much more terrifying and repulsive as a person. Yet she is also hauntingly beautiful and enigmatic.

In true Disney form, once you finish her off, the castle around you collapses into the earth thus solidifying her status as the most understated dramatic villain on this list, but also one of its most haunting.

6. Ganondorf (Legend of Zelda series)

Ganondorf in Ocarina of Time

Ganondorf in Ocarina of Time

The persistent evil that plagues the land of Hyrule, Ganondorf is often a misunderstood character but, lest you fool yourself into thinking he is anything but evil, he is rarely a redeemable character. No matter how you cut it, Ganondorf’s frequent attempts (some successful) at plunging the entire kingdom into darkness and chaos is not the work of a good guy.

He is not doing it to make Hyrule a better place and, indeed, The Legend of Zelda is often quite clear that Ganon wants nothing but power in its rawest form – everything else be damned. And it is this indomitable quality that makes him one of the best villains of all time.

Kind of like the video game version of Sauron from the Lord of the Rings, Ganondorf is so intrinsically tied to what it means to be a Zelda game, that it is hard to imagine someone taking his place. Others have tried, but few have succeeded.

In a way, Ganon is such a good bad guy that he puts Nintendo in a bind: How do you evolve Zelda as a series if you cannot really abandon Ganon as a central evil? Some games have tended to explore Ganondorf’s humanity while others have showed him as a kind of corrupting, semi-omniscient force that plagues the land.

No matter what guise he takes, Ganon is never a joke and he is not interested in peace, compromise, or taking second place. As long as the wheel of time turns in the land of Hyrule, Ganon will attempt to take control of the world.

*
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5. Liquid Snake (Metal Gear Solid)

Liquid Snake

Liquid Snake in the first installment of the series

Twin of Solid Snake and fellow clone of Big Boss, Liquid Snake’s blond hair and sadistic demeanor mark him out as a very different guy entirely from the series hero. In this way, Liquid Snake is the classic bad guy because he is a perfect foil for the protagonist and is his opposite in every conceivable way.

Providing every conceivable roadblock to preventing Snake’s success on Shadow Moses’ island, Liquid’s eventually death by FOXDIE is both perfect and frustrating. We never get that resolution we need between the two brothers but instead, we get Solid Snake questioning his mortality and, in many ways, injecting a bit of existential reality into the game.

Portrayed as a fairly indomitable foe, the fact that Liquid Snake keels over randomly and then forces Solid Snake to come to terms with his own FOXDIE is some heady stuff done in a masterful way. It is almost as if the drama that compels the game forward ceases to be epic for just a few moments and instead focuses on the very specific.

Because FOXDIE is coded into the person’s DNA, with each having a different expiration date, it very much mirrors the reality we live in where anyone could die at any time – no matter how powerful.

4. Luca Blight (Suikoden II)

Luca Blight

Luca Blight respects nobody

Some people become Batman, others become Luca Blight. The son of the inept King of Highland, Luca’s family entourage is attacked when he is young and he ends up developing some PTSD after seeing his mother raped by the brigands, while his father ran away in fear.

Working to avenge this slight ever since, Luca revels in cruelty and sadism. Indeed, he is every bit the psychopath and is not ashamed of it. Calling into question the whole nurture versus nature thing, Luca is shown as unrelentingly irredeemable and the struggle against him is one of unmatched justice.

Bent on inflicting pain on anything and anyone, Luca is never meant to be relatable, likeable, or to survive. He is a flame of vengeance that turned towards the darkness and it is your job to vanquish him. It is that simple.

3. Lynx (Chrono Cross)

Lynx from Chrono Cross

Lynx is downright scary, look at his eyes!

The living emissary of the FATE supercomputer, Lynx murders a bunch of children a la Anakin Skywalker and the rest, as they say, is history. What makes him so compelling is that he is the perfect sidekick to the big bad guy but ends up becoming his very own threat in the end.

Following up on Lavos and Magus is a tough sell, but Lynx handles it well with a cool, reasoned approach to handling his enemies that never leaves him once in the game. Without spoiling too much, his powers are gradually revealed over the course of the game such that the threat he poses was never initially understood, but becomes clearer as the narrative unfolds.

2. Bowser (Mario Bros Series)

Bowser in Mario Party 10

Bowser in Mario Party 10, my youngest kid’s favorite game.

Bowser, King Koopa, or, originally, Great Demon King Koopa, no matter what name you use, everyone that has ever touched a Nintendo property knows who you are talking about.

Replacing Donkey Kong as Mario’s central antagonist, Bowser terrorizes the Mushroom Kingdom on a persistent basis just like Ganondorf with Hyrule yet Bowser’s motivations are often nothing more than besting Mario and showing the world that he can get away with kidnapping the MK’s head of state.

Heck, he is so successful at capturing Princess Toadstool that some have questioned what is going on there exactly. Mario, you might want to ask some existential questions. In the original game, Bowser’s magic transformed the denizens of the Mushroom Kingdom into the blocks that you find throughout the game.

So, just in case you worried about him being “evil enough,” just think about all of that Toad genocide you participated in on the NES. But, to be clear, it is not like he has changed, even if Nintendo has tried to move away from the Great Demon King aesthetic.

Bowser will not hesitate to toss his minions into battle without so much as a thought for their welfare. He even puts his own children on the line against a hero that has defeated him on a consistent basis. “Hey kids, meet the guy that sent dad into the pit of lava. I cannot wait to see how you do!” This is why we love you Bowser.
*

Honorable mentions:

M. Bison (Street Fighter series)

M. Bison in Street Fighter 2

He is bad, but his uniform and his moves are cool, that’s a fact! XD

Known as Dictator in the original concept work for Street Fighter II and as Vega in the Japanese version of the game, M. Bison is such an iconic figure in fighting games that many, many final bosses have mimicked his look and style but few can come close to pulling it off.

Head of the mysterious and nefarious Shadaloo organization, M. Bison is a mixture of nation-state dictator and global terrorist. Often figuring prominently in any and all * Street Fighter drama, M. Bison’s pursuit of greater power is what motivates him to challenge fighters like Ryu and Ken but, his sadistic streak is what makes him such a compelling bad guy.

Unlike Akuma, a living embodiment of rage, Bison is cool and calculating. He plays the long game and is ever confident of his abilities if not those of his organization. Indeed, in many ways Bison is ill served by the people he calls his minions as he is, without a doubt, far beyond their abilities.

Yet M. Bison is also human, showing shades of strange and weird humanity in the backstory lore involving Rose and Cammy, among others. More of a traditional comic book villain than many bad guys on this list, M. Bison looks like he belongs in pretty much any gaming or media universe and that is what makes him timeless and hallowed.

Galcian (Skies of Arcadia)

Galcian from Skies of Arcadia

Galcian setting to fight Vyse, Skies of Arcadia’s hero.

A total narcissist who does not fail to command the loyalty of his men, Galcian is out for himself and only himself. He will step on anyone to get where he is going but, rather than being some malevolent threat, he is often more of a comical Disney buffoon than anything else.

Trust me, he does it well, but he is never some overarching, existence threatening power that the player has to overcome. He is just a jerk with a gigantic airship and an even bigger ego.

Ultimecia (Final Fantasy VIII)

Ultimecia from Final Fantasy VIII

Ultimecia is the embodiment of evil, but I admit that the her “time-compression plan” intrigued me.

You thought Edea was the bad guy, but it turns out there is an even greater, bigger sorceress behind it all and that is Ultimecia. Seeking to control time and all possible timelines within FFVIII’s universe, Ultimecia is both mysterious and really cool.

A bad guy in the classic vein, the sorceress’s desire to control time itself is a high bar for the villains on this list but it is one she is capable of climbing over – if only it were not for those darn kids!

Okay retro mates, let’s take a deep breath and find out who the best video game villain is…

* G2G Limited - Go2Games

1. Sephiroth (Final Fantasy VII)

Sephiroth is the main antagonist in Final Fantasy VII

See you in Final Fantasy 7 Remake, I cannot wait!!!

There are many, many villains in the Final Fantasy pantheon but few of them have the pull that Sephiroth does. Whether it is his long mane of silver hair, oversized, reed-thin katana, or his unrelenting grudge against the world, Final Fantasy VII’s bad guy makes a maniacal corporation like Shinra and a world-destroying meteor look like small threats to the world.

Merciless and unsentimental, this iceberg of a character is “tortured” and “pained” but he is also utterly demented. Twisted by half knowledge of a past he thinks he understands, Sephiroth kills anyone who stands in his way and seems to have a deep, deep well of evil to draw upon when it comes to getting the job done.

His descent into madness is portrayed as a gradual thing though, really, he was never the most “normal” of characters even before that. Players who have experienced Crisis Core know what I am talking about here.

Sephiroth is complex but he is not “undecided.” He is evil without being the embodiment of some kind of generalized force. He is a particular kind of evil that is idiosyncratic, disturbing, somewhat relatable in a strange way, and utterly unforgettable.

[Fanboy Mode ON]

And on top of that, you killed Aerith, you b*****d!

[/Fanboy Mode OFF]

Sorry, I had to say that, lol.

Alright retro folks, another list is about to be in the books, but not before hearing your thoughts. Do you have any favorite villains you would like to add? Please do not hesitate to let me know in the comments below.

Till next retro article!

About Andrew A.

Andrew is the founder and owner of RetroGamingLoft. He considers himself a natural-born gamer and is on a mission to keep our younger gaming years alive through the medium of Retro Stories. His event recount includes hopes, dreams, broken joysticks, magic, nostalgia and another final boss defeated.

16 thoughts on “The 10 Best Villains in Video Games – Live by the sword

  1. RoDarrick

    Oh My God! You always hit the nail on the head spot on with all these your list and this is another great post in line. I’m a great fan of the final fantasy series and I can relate well with the villains that made it to this list however, the one I rate most as one of the best ever made character is Sephiroth. Just a simply pain in the ass with his menace and an ambience of evil. Great one though. Thumbs up

    Reply
    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Hello Rodgers, thanks again and again for being appreciative of my work, I never get used to it.
      Yeah, Sephiroth’s characterization is outstanding, simply “easy to hate” as one of my friends used to say about him.

      I have to say though, that he would have never gained super villain status without that infamous “coup de theatre” we are still talking about, even after more than 20 years.
      He would have still been on this list, but he would have definitely not topped it.

      Anyway, March 20th come we will be able to finally right some wrongs, I cannot wait!!!

      Thanks again for your nice comment, until next retro post!

      Reply
  2. fabio gargiulo

    Great topic and fantastic post! I fully agree with the ranking (perhaps a few more points in Heihachi), it is well done and every description of the characters is detailed. Thanks to Andrew I was able to take a step back in time hoping to share it with my children.

    Reply
    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Welcome to my blog Fabio, I am glad that enjoyed my post!
      Well, a few Tekkens ago (lol), I would have probably ranked Heihachi higher, but man, he has softened up with time… That said, he will always be a great villain, the ones above him have never shown an ounce of repentance or so.
      Thanks again for your nice words, I hope you become a regular here! 🙂

      Reply
  3. Henderson

    Hello Andrew, I am always eager to read through your posts. This is a really great post seeing all the Villains you have put up. I am always frustrated about neo cortex in the crash game. His trashtalks are always annoying and it gets to me sometimes. And then there’s the legendary king koopa who I feel this list would’ve been incomplete if he wasn’t included. He’s ways of stealing away the princess. Great post here, though I feel I need to up my gaming experience with some games I see here.

    Reply
    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Hello Henderson and thanks for your nice comment.
      Always glad to help my readers find more about the (retro) gaming world, so your words mean a lot to me.
      I hated Cortex with all of my gaming heart back then lol… My hatred for him grew exponentially with the time I spent getting all platinum relics in Crash Bandicoot: Warped.
      King Koopa/Bowser embodies the gaming villain. The list would have made no sense, without him. 🙂

      Thanks again for stopping by, please stay tuned for more retro stuff!

      Reply
  4. Adyns68

    I think villains are the best part of the game. They keep us going and thinking of the best solution to win the game (sorry I play to win, LOL). Lynx is the one who really had me confused sometimes, so Chrono cross really took forever to finish. 

    I can really say that for me he is the best villain because his powers evolve as the game goes. What you did to make him weak yesterday may not work today. So, That was exciting because you want to be the one that wins ( so you look for a way out) and annoying at the same time because it is hard to find a solution.

    Thanks for sharing

    Reply
    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Hello Adyns and thanks for taking time to comment on my post.
      Lynx is definitely one of the best villains ever. Further he is the main antagonist of one of my favorite games of all time (you might remember my recent post about the 10 best PlayStation games), so that makes him even meaner to my eyes.
      You are right, very ambiguous, it takes the whole game or so to understand who he is and what he wants, and when you do… WOW, another beyond dramatic coup de theatre.

      Thanks again for stopping by, please stay tuned for more retro lists!

      Reply
  5. John

    Thanks Andrew for helping us relive those flashback gaming moments.
    You have a captivating writing style that brings us back to right where we left of with those characters, pure nostalgia and fun.
    Taking just one of your ten as an example….Mario Brothers and Donkey Kong were all the rage in early 80s, building to Bowser. We followed the series and the characters with interest.
    It was such a time of excitement and adventure, thanks for taking us back there!
    Thank you for sharing, John

    Reply
    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Hello John and thanks for dropping by again.
      Always glad to bring back nice childhood memories through my posts, it is the nicest way to empathize with my readers.
      A total pleasure to hear from you, till next retro post!

      Reply
  6. Mariam

    Amazing post there Andrew.

    Going through your rankings, it was quite interesting to read. Although i’m not a terrific gamer. I kind of have a liking for Mario games.

    Very insightful post, it’s like seeing through the perspective of a ardent gamer. What makes a villian, a good ‘villain’.

    Thinking of villians i would like to add, I can recall one of my favourite, SHINNOK from the Mortal Kombat series: Annihilation.

    Reply
    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Hello Mariam and thanks for commenting on my post, I am pleased that you enjoyed it.
      Shinnok is a terrific villain, definitely one of the best within the beat-em-up genre. The thing is I had to make some choices, and unfortunately he did not make the cut. That said, Heihachi and Bison are worthy representatives of the beat-em-up category.

      Thanks again for your kinds words, I hope you stay tuned for more lists like this.

      Reply
  7. water life

    That’s an interesting topic. I play video games with my friends. In games where there are villains, the action peaks and superpower and narcissism heighten the game and give it even more energy. I studied the list you listed and it was very exciting, although I didn’t know some of them, but I think the  ranking was perfect, as I can see at the descriptions you give for each one. Thanks for the big and fantastic article.

    Thodoris

    Reply
    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Hello Thodoris and thanks for stopping by, I am glad you appreciated my list.
      I think it is safe to say behind every great hero is a great villain.
      A villain elevates a hero’s status more than any hero’s own features. Paying them tribute was the least that I could do.
      Thanks again for your comment, hope you become a regular on my blog!

      Reply
  8. Marlene

    Since I was a child I have played the Mario Bros series of games to no end.  I love Mario Bros, and I loath Bowser,
    (I also love him, he is the best villain ever).  I find it really hard to get past him.  With that being said, now you know I am not a big gamer, but I will play Mario Bros any chance I get.  

    Reply
    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Hello Marlene and welcome to my website.
      Like I said, a best-villain list would make no sense without Bowser, he is so lovably hateful, lol.
      He is definitely one of the baddest men on the gaming planet, but you know, with Sephiroth is just personal. 😀

      Thanks again for your comment, I hope you become a regular here!

      Reply

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