Antagonists in video games are a mixed bag. Sometimes, they are written well and leave an impression on players, while others are used as mere plot devices to move the story forward.
While the latter might be more common, especially when looking at the thousands of video games available, the subjects for this article are the former.
When written well, certain antagonists can seem almost righteous in their goals and beliefs, prevailing in the screen time given to them. Through characterization backstory in the video game, such characters may go on to earn some amount of respect from users.
While other antagonists may leave a different sort of impression, these characters embody the role so completely and authentically that they leave no other option other than to despise them.
Note: This article reflects the writer's opinion.
Five respected antagonists in video games
1) The Boss - Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
The Boss, appearing in the video game Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, was a mentor to series protagonist Naked Snake and also somewhat of a mother figure to him. She played an important part in his life by teaching him everything he knew about being a great soldier and upholding the country's honor through her tough love personality.
It is quite the heart-wrenching moment when Snake is sent to eliminate her by the US military.
After her seeming defection to a terrorist unit, Snake is tasked to take her out, so he has to maintain peace. But once the final confrontation happens, it is revealed that the Boss has actually been acting as a double agent, embedded into the terrorist unit in the hopes of locating critical information.
However, her actions with the terrorist group have destabilized the US and Russian relations. Thus, Snake has to execute his former mentor to avoid a war.
The Boss challenges Snake to a duel, leaving him no choice but to kill her. In her final moments, she urges the protagonist to take on the title of Boss, passing on the mantle to her protegee. Thus, the iconic video game character Big Boss is born.
2) Isshin Ashina - Sekiro
Over the course of the video game Sekiro, the players meet Isshin Ashina, the grandfather of the main antagonist of the game, Genichiro. Despite the actions of his grandson, Isshin is a relatively peaceful character and even advises Sekiro on ways to defeat Genichiro.
Isshin is on his deathbed and wants little to do with immortality, unlike his grandson.
In the game's plot, Isshin finally succumbs to old age and dies. Players probably don't think much about this and head off to complete the game, eventually coming to the final confrontation with Genichiro.
But, once his health bar is depleted for the first time, users are treated to a surprise.
Using a mystical blade, Genichiro sacrifices himself to call upon his recently deceased grandfather, the strongest warrior of his clan, to uphold the family honor. Isshin arrives on the battlefield and clarifies to Sekiro that the ensuing fight is not a personal one, but he is beholden to the oath.
And so ensues one of the hardest fights in the video game, testing the mettle of the two strongest warriors in an epic showdown amidst wildflowers and lightning.
3) Deathstroke - Batman: Arkham Origins
Batman is known to be the world's greatest detective in the comics, while mercenary for hire Deathstroke is given the title of world's greatest assassin.
These two have gone up against each other many times, in climactic duels in comic book pages. However, Batman fans got to live that experience in action in the prequel video game Batman: Arkham Origins.
It tells a precursor story to Rocksteady's Arkham series but is developed by WB Games Montreal. In this title, Batman is hunted by many assassins, one of which is Deathstroke. He crosses paths with Batman aboard the Penguin's ship, taking the Caped Crusader by surprise. A duel of epic proportions follows as two of DC's best fighters go up against each other.
Going down as probably the best fight in all of the Arkham video games, Deathstroke operates like no other enemy in the series. His moves are similar to the ones used by the player, and he can even counter Batman's hits a lot of the time.
Throughout the fight, Deathstroke switches between melee combat and his gadgets, making users feel like they're taking on an equal. In the end, Batman eventually defeats the assassin, but only after gamers have given the opponent the due respect he deserves.
4) Lady Maria - Bloodborne: The Old Hunters
Bloodborne is full of sad, lamentable bosses throughout the main game as well as its DLC. But Lady Maria, who resides in the Astral Clocktower in the Hunter's Nightmare, has a personal reason for being there.
Once a hunter like the player, she once committed some heinous acts against innocent people in a fishing village for which she was cursed to eternal torment in the Hunter's Nightmare.
Even there, however, she safeguards the village's secret so that the truth may not be revealed. As users encounter her, she warns them (cryptically) to stay away and then engages them in a nail-biting boss fight.
Through it, she utilizes probably the coolest weapon in the video game, known as Rakuyo, and about halfway through the fight, she starts using blood tinge attacks.
The last part is even more evidence of her steadfast nature, as, through the video game's lore, it can be learned that she disavowed weapons that drew on the user's blood, as she was not fond of the over-reliance on blood by the hunters.
But when fighting against gamers, she is forced to use it as a last resort, giving her all to protect the secret.
5) Vaas - Far Cry 3
Contrasting to empathizing with a character, Vaas is a memorable and respectable antagonist due to the opposite reason. His sheer one-mindedness and lack of remorse are what sets him apart in the world of Far Cry 3.
Players first meet this charismatic psychopath in the opening cutscene itself, when he has captured the protagonist and their friends. In each scene with Vaas, he steals the show to the point where the protagonist, Adam Brody, feels small and insignificant.
Vass also has a tragic backstory that goes some way to show why he turned out how he did (although none of his acts should be condoned).
Throughout the game, Vaas is such an imposing figure that it is hard not to respect him, and it feels all too soon when he is killed off. He is then replaced as the antagonist by Hoyt Volker, who comes off as a pale imitation compared to his predecessor.
Vaas set a standard for Far Cry antagonists that has yet to be fully met.
Five detested antagonists in video
1) Kai Leng - Mass Effect 3
The first Mass Effect game included a human (well humanoid) antagonist in the form of Saren, a member of the turian species, who had been led to believe by the series' big, bad reapers that all sentient life must be erased and the galaxy purged. As a sentient creature himself, Saren stood as a mirror against series protagonist Sheppard, who fought against the reapers.
While Mass Effect 2 lacked such a sentient character, ME 3 tried to take a similar approach by introducing Kai Leng, an assassin under the control of the Illusive Man, who was under the reaper's influence. And while Kai Leng did exist as an example of what would happen if Sheppard had stayed under the Illusive Man's control, it was very hard to like such a cheater.
Throughout this title, players come face to face with Kai Leng three times, and each time, the assassin avoids a head-on fight, relying on assistance from a gunship and other forces to have the upper hand and escape. It would have been fine if not for the fact that he taunts Sheppard at every turn, even sending snide emails to him.
With quite a lot of satisfaction, users get to end his boss fight later by getting the better of him and shooting him through the chest.
2) Sephiroth - Final Fantasy VII
The result of an experiment that saw him injected with alien cells while he was still a fetus, Sephiroth is the overarching villain in Final Fantasy VII. Believing himself to be a god worthy of ruling the universe, his goal is pretty simple: to remove all life from every planet.
As far as villains go, that's pretty basic, to be fair, but it was 1997.
Throughout the main campaign of the original video game, Sephiroth commits a few heinous acts, although one would probably stand out in fans' memories. This was the cold-blooded murder of the embodiment of innocence known as Aeris (or Aerith for the Japanese).
The death of this fan-favorite party member hit fans like a tow truck on a blissful Sunday morning, so sudden was its execution. And so when the video game was remade in 2020, players were hesitant to see this scene recreated in HD, although they needn't have worried.
In this remake, the timeline is somewhat different, and while Sephiroth is still a murdering psychopath, he does not kill Aerith in this one. He kills Barret or at least tries to, but the latter is restored to life for plot reasons.
However, as the Final Fantasy VII remake continues its story in the next video game, players still worry if Aerith's death at Sephiroth's hands is inevitable or if this hated villain will be treated differently this time?
3) Capra Demon - Dark Souls
While the soulsborne video games are generally known to be hard but fair, most players would probably agree that that statement is a lie concerning the Dark Souls Capra Demon boss fight in the Lower Undead Burg area. That fight is as cheap as it can get.
Set in an arena about the size of a small one-bedroom apartment, users don't just have to deal with the hulking goat demon with twin machetes because this guy has two pet undead dogs, who come running at them right as they step through the fog gate into the boss arena.
It then becomes a game of roll the dice of which attack will get them first. One of the two dogs? Both dogs? Or the Demon with his giant blades?
If gamers avoid any of the above three options, they might start wrapping their head around what exactly is happening. While eventually doable, especially once they have gotten an idea of the arena, this fight is the point where most people stop when trying Dark Souls for the first time.
4) The Nemesis - Resident Evil 3
While there was a tyrant in Resident Evil 2, more popularly known as 'Mr. X,' he was not nearly as exhausting and irritating as the Nemesis was in Resident Evil 3. At least Mr. X had only one form for most of the video game and followed players at a leisurely pace, allowing them much breathing room.
In comparison, the Nemesis had an annoying habit of bursting in at the most unexpected of times and ruining the day.
The Nemesis is a special tyrant level bioweapon from Umbrella, which follows protagonist Jill Valentine throughout Resident Evil 3 in such an unrelenting fashion that, after a point, it gets annoying. This is evident with even Jill voicing her irritation at times.
While she initially gets shocked when first coming face to face with the gigantic creature, by the end, all she wants to do is put a permanent end to it.
This bioweapon also has many different forms, allowing it to narrowly avoid death many times. Toward the final encounter, it is almost unrecognizable from its initial appearance, now resembling a giant sentient blob of flesh.
It is in this form that Jill uses an experimental railgun to end this monstrosity for good.
5) Micah Bell - Red Dead Redemption 2
From the very first time Micah Bell came into the story of Red Dead Redemption 2, he is purely unlikable. Constantly rubbing shoulders with protagonist Arthur Morgan and always forming the most questionable plans, this character was written to be a thorn in the player's side.
It wasn't much of a surprise then that throughout the story, it is revealed that he is the main antagonist of this video game.
Playing no small part in the gang's deteriorating status quo while whispering in Dutch's ears about the other members, Micah is a rat of a character, which Arthur quickly wisens up to. However, despite all that users do, it will inevitably happen that directly or indirectly, Micah will be responsible for Arthur's death at the end of his story.
Yet, the game does not end there, thankfully, as, during the epilogue, gamers get to play as John Marston and get one last chance to avenge Arthur. In the final mission of the story, John, with a few of his old buddies, heads back up to the mountains (around the same place where the game starts) to hunt down Micah.
They are successful, and after a problematic standoff, the game finally lets individuals dead-eye Micah full of bullets. For Arthur.
Note: This article reflects the author's opinions.
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