We all know the score by now. There are the good guys in video games, and that’s us. We are exiled from our villages at the age of 10, find magic swords that will work for only us and get pestered constantly by Y/N requests that we “End the darkness and save the world”. Then, there are the bad guys. They live at the top of towers, just past that one really symmetrical room, and are at least kind enough to have easily exploitable weakness and to wait their turn to attack. But sometimes, the lines aren’t quite so easy to distinguish. There are villains out there that we’d probably not fight at all. We’d sit in a pub with them, listening while they sobbed with their head in their hands, about how unfair it all is, and asking where they went so wrong. We’re an understanding, empathetical lot, we are.
10. Dr. Ivo Robotnik – (the Sonic the Hedgehog series)
Dr Robotnik (Or Eggman, if you prefer, which you probably don’t) is the principal villain of the Sonic the Hedgehog series, and the only real villain if, like us, you stopped bothering with the series after everybody started talking and they introduced more woodland creatures than an environmental terrorist in Australia. And despite being a Doctor, a robotics expert and a genius with a supposed IQ of 300, the number of actual robots he produces is pathetically slim. Every time the player ‘kills’ one, out pops a newly-liberated small woodland creature, and after a while we can’t help but see this as cheating. It’d be like smashing apart the winner of Robot Wars with a bat and having a load of cockroaches scurry out. Which would actually be kind of cool. His ultimate plan is apparently to create the Eggman Empire, or Robotnikopolis, or something, but from what we see, he spends most of his time making egg-shaped space stations and blowing up.
There are two main reasons we pity Robotnik. Firstly, though claimed to be a man of unmatched technical expertise, he is actually matched by one Miles ‘Tails’ Prower, who most of us remember as the annoyingly-useless fox-boy-thing that we’d be forced to play as at a friend’s house while they, as player one, did all the cool sonic work. When you’re only as intelligent as a mutated fox sidekick, it’s probably time to hang up the maniacal laugh forever. Secondly, he seems to be the ONLY human being in that entire world, the one dominant force powerful enough to have fully-working opposable thumbs. And he still gets his ass handed to him by cute, furry things faster than the unfortunate victims of a tribble motorcycle gang. Pathetic, indeed.
9. Wheatley – (Portal II)
Ah, Wheatley, Portal II’s idiocy core. It’s hard not to feel sorry for a metal sphere in a videogame that manages to show more emotion through slight movements than the entire cast of most Uwe Boll movies. You first meet Wheatley when he’s sent to check on Chell after a rather long period of deep-sleep, and he endears himself almost immediately by smashing your entire apartment through numerous walls, sending you plummeting into the depths of GLaDOS’ own personal science funhouse. Around the mid-point of the game, GLaDOS informs him that he was specifically designed to generate an endless stream of idiot plans and thoughts into her, in order to dumb her down, and he goes a bit loopy, taking over the facility and becoming ruthlessly inept, rather than just inept.
Sure, we could feel sorry for lil’ Wheatley due to his eventual fate, spirally through space with nothing but his regrets and Portal II’s favourite meme for company, but it goes deeper than that. Wheatley is the most human of all the characters in the game, and arguably in any game, despite containing less actual meat than a McDonald’s menu. He screws up constantly, desperately bluffing or ranting his way around impossible situations and given a single lick of power, he goes absolutely nuts and it goes painfully to his head faster than a a roofie slushie.
But then, there isn’t a single one of us that wouldn’t do exactly the same thing, really, and think it was the best idea ever while doing it. Watching the rise and fall of Wheatley is, at times, laugh-out-loud hilarious, but we know that we’d do the same, deep in the back of our minds. The same place in the back of our mind where we keep the memories of that all-night Lexx marathon, the meme tattoo designs and the awesome money-making plan of selling weed from an ice-cream truck.
8. Mid-Boss Vyers – (the Disgaea series)
Disgaea’s universe is a strange one, which consists of many different underworlds, a handful of heavens, and the hapless human world in between. Despite this lack of order, everyone knows their place, near enough. The demons are the bad guys because that’s their job, so they pop on a spiffy black cape and get to work growing a long, twirlable moustache. The angels are the good guys, no matter how insanely self-righteous they get and the human world ends up being the strange, squishy and unpredictable one. So, even though the place of Vyers as mid-level boss is set in stone, he doesn’t seem entirely happy with the job of being beaten to a pulp by amateur protagonists whenever they decide to track mud around his nice, clean mansion. He might look the part, sound the part and act the part, but the part in question is ‘cockney #6’ in a Guy Ritchie film.
And we really pity the guy because he’s powerless to change this. It’s not just his job to show up whenever the party needs a comic-relief villain’s HP to deplete, but it’s his reason for existence. Even when he tries to fight against his position of mid-boss, showing up in other games as a fake final boss and a teacher, he’s instantly labelled a mid-boss once again. It’s his destiny to be such. Kind of like how we’d feel bad for the Dalai Lama if he was required to wear a clown outfit and cartwheel everywhere rather than just schmooze fat, faded action stars.
However, it’s strongly hinted that he is actually the reincarnation of King Krichevskoy, protagonist Laharl’s father. So, instead of a mid-boss, he might actually be the father of an insane little despot, and have choked to death on a pretzel instead.
7. Jecht – (Final Fantasy X)
Deep down, there’s a lot to dislike about Final Fantasy X’s Jecht Nosurname. He’s portrayed as a drunkard and a bully, an abusive father to Tidus and he’s one of those “no shirt, no shoes” guys, which is about as annoying to us as those people who walk around town in pyjamas like they’re too good to put on pants. He spends a long time being the villain of the piece, residing in the belly of a massive sky-whale summon beast called Sin, and crashing beach parties like a bunch of fat, drunk frat boys who brought their own kegs and views on how volleyball should be played.
But as we progress further into the game, we realise that he’s seen as a hero by the people of Spira for accompanying Yuna’s father on his pilgrimage to Zanarkand, getting wasted and fucking up dinosaurs on the way. When the time comes not just to give his life, but to become the very thing that he’s been fighting against all this time in exchange for 10 years of peace, he steps up to the plate like a legend. Because Jecht’s the kind of man (turned monster-whale) that gets shit done.
Why do we pity him? Because fate dealt him a cruel hand. His son, Tidus, doesn’t quite stack up to the manly precedent set by his father. As a child, he’s whinier than a sack of wounded puppies, and as an adult, it takes a trek around the world, around 50,000 random encounters and a battle for the fate of the world just to realise the definition of the word ‘encouragement’. “Oh, you mean my father was strict with me because ours is a strict profession and he wanted me to succeed? I thought he was just being a dick!”
6. Psycho Mantis – (Metal Gear Solid)
Psycho Mantis was one of our favourite villains. He may have showed up very little in Metal Gear Solid, sported a terrible “I vant to svck your blvud” accent, and looked like a BDSM scarecrow, but his boss battle had a neat little controller trick to it, and was suitably freaky. There was nothing more off-putting than watching Meryl shamble forwards, offering herself to a man whose penis, if he had one, would smoke lucky strike and quote ‘Apocalypse Now’.
Everyone knows the controller trick by now, but the meaning behind it was more subtle than we’d come to expect from MGS, which basically means that it wasn’t explained with a two-hour long movie. Psycho Mantis was telekinetic, but he also knew stuff. He could read your mind. He could read everyone’s mind. This seems like a really neat power to begin with, until you realise that most people, on the whole, think about pointless shit all the time. Like 90% of tragic characters, his mother died in childbirth, causing his father to view him with slightly less love and affection than a colostomy bag with a happy face scrawled on it. Perhaps it was the fact that Daddy Mantis didn’t hide his feelings enough, or perhaps it was the fact that Psycho Jr. could read them anyway with 100% accuracy, but their relationship faded somewhat when Psycho Mantis killed his father and set fire to his hometown.
Tragic story aside, it’s his power that makes us feel so bad for the guy. Knowing every little detail that passes through the mind of everyone around you is probably the worst super-power we can think of, next to “Spawn Clown” or “Contract Aids”. It’d be like having that one Facebook friend who posts statuses like “I’m so sad. Don’t ask!” or “This is the worst day ever…” constantly posting inside inside your cerebellum. Forever.
5. Dr. Breen – (Half Life 2)
Poor Doctor Breen. Most of us know him as ‘the jerk on every TV screen in Half Life 2 with the neat little child-molester beard’. Being the Head of Black Mesa when the combine arrived put him in the nasty position of hosting the meet-and-greet with the invading extra-dimensional forces, and it didn’t take long for him to realise that he was stuck between a rock, a hard place and complete annihilation of every last human being on the planet. So there he appears, on a massive monitor screen as soon as the player enters City 17, gushing about how awesome it is that the combine have suppressed the ability to procreate and now wander around the city, cool-as-you-like, getting irrationally arsey about littering.
What a villain! Why would you pity him at all? He sold humanity out to become Administrator of Earth!
These are some of the things you would be saying right now, if you are the kind of reader that shouts things out while browsing articles on the internet. Well, exactly what is “Administrator of Earth” and what kind of job security do you get when you work for a dimension-hopping empire of enslavement? Besides, what qualifies him to speak for every human being on the planet? He’s not a hostage negotiator. He’s the administrator for a scientific research lab that facilitates more stupid ideas than a dumpster factory on prom night. Given the choice, anyone would have done the same. Given the choice, we would have pissed ourselves and then done the same. The only alternative is extinction.
After all, what choice do we have, here? To wait for that strangely-muted MIT guy that disappeared a while back to return, and quantum-entangle his fist into the faces of every single member of a vast invading inter-dimensional army? Not bloody likely. Now pick up that can, and smile while you’re doing it. It really is for our own good.
4. Kefka Palazzo – (Final Fantasy VI)
Final Fantasy VI’s Kefka is a ruthless, power-hungry bastard, and no amount of colourful clothing or clownish horn-honking is going to change that fact. Left to his own devices, he is quite happy to kill his allies, poison cities, and tear the world apart. The fact that he is left to his own devices so often is a fact that we were never able to come to terms with. Any Empire that raises an aggressive psychopath dressed as a harlequin to the rank of General is suspect at best, but it takes a truly corrupt government to take one look at said Pierrot and decide that he’s okay to work on his own initiative. It’s the reason why Gotham doesn’t give Joker the key to the city for dressing so well, or why we don’t appoint Bill O’Reilly an honorary human being. There’s evil there, and it needs to be contained.
So, why is Kefka worthy of pity, if he’s such a castle-poisoning, weird-evil-tower-making magical shitstain? Well, because it’s not really his fault, and because he got the shitty end of the stick from day one.
When the Empire was handing out Magitek Infusions to magically enhance the power of the soldiers, Kefka jumped on that shit like a rabble of gullible teens on iphone launch day. He was one of the first to undergo the process, and though being part of this occult beta test gave him awesome power, it left him mentally scarred enough to dress like a car crash in a big top. The main reason we pity Kefka, however, is Celes. Also a general, she underwent Magitek infusion and came out with no more scarring than the occasional split-end. If we had to work with her, we’d go mental, too.
3. Andrew Ryan – (the Bioshock series)
From the very moment that Jack flushes down into Rapture like a turd stricken with wanderlust, we can see that Bioshock’s Andrew Ryan has let things get a little lax during his tenure as head honcho of Rapture. For a start, his fabled city of free artists, free markets and free ideals has taken a bit of a knock from his policy of selling weapons and superpowers in vending machines. Add to this a vaguely-organised proletariat uprising led by a strangely-charismatic yet completely implausible Irish accent, and Rapture seems to be getting fewer repeat visitors than Euro-Disney. Hiring the contents of the ‘sadist’ section of the yellow pages to run every aspect of the city, from chief medical officer to artistic director doesn’t seem to have been the smartest move, either.
But it wasn’t always this way. Sure, we’re urged to hate Andrew Ryan as much as we can for turning Rapture into a giant underwater Butlin’s, but whenever we pick up one of his audiologs, hearing him talk about how personal philosophies on the “great chain” of industry, we can’t help but think that he was his major flaw was having too much faith in people not to become drug-abusing psychopaths as soon as New Year rolled around. Everyone must pull their weight in a city to make it a community, and everyone, in their own way, can contribute. Needless to say, on our jaunt through Rapture, we felt like a parasite whenever we hacked a vending machine. We’re foreign invaders, plundering the ruins of the impossible utopia.
Though what made us feel the most pity for Andrew Ryan didn’t come around until Bioshock 2, where the writers saw fit to include the audio transcript of the debate between Ryan and upstart collectivist antagonist Sophia Lamb. Ryan was a very strong character in the first game (as well as being the most memorable), so quite a lot of ret-con ‘magic’ had to be employed to turn him into a totalitarian, racist despot.
2. Therese/Jeanette Voerman – (Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines)
Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines takes place in White Wolf’s World of Darkness setting. It’s a grim mirror-darkly kind of deal where things exist as they do in our world, but they’re just that little bit worse. There are more homeless, for instance, and the judicial system is a bit more corrupt. Oh, and the world is an ancient, secret battleground between vampires, werewolves, ghosts, demons and hunters. That, too.
The point is that it’s a grim world. Characters in the game reflect this, and are mostly villains, waiting for their chance. Give them enough rope to hang themselves and they’ll wrap it around the neck of a kitten and use that to beat the shit out of a nun. There are a few exceptions, sure, but most of the characters you meet are in some way maligned, power-hungry or backstabbing. Therese and Jeanette Voermann own a fair section of Santa Monica, the starting area for the player character, and don’t waste any time in threatening, seducing, and threatducing the player into doing their dirty work for them before you eventually find out that they aren’t separate people at all, but two schitzophrenic delusions sharing one vampire body. Like psycho, if you could get nasty with Norman Bates and his mother’s Skeleton.
Why pity anyone in a setting like this? Well, aside from being from the Malkavian bloodline and therefore buggier than a viewing of Naked Lunch in an anthill, the fact that they share the same body is where the similarity ends. Therese is a severe businesswoman with no time for games, and Jeanette is an unruly, playful skank with no time for business. On top of that, they both have daddy issues. All fun and games until you’re stuck in a room with ‘them’ while ‘they’ wave around a revolver, bawling and screaming and threatening to kill the other. It takes a hard, hard player not to do their best to get them to play nice, but that in itself is not an easy task.
1. Dracula – (the Castlevania series)
Castlevania’s Dracula, despite being the Lord of Darkness and aiming to bring the world crashing down into an unending reign of despair and misery, is probably the most pitiable character in all of video games.
Firstly, depending on whatever version of the origin you want to go with, he gets a tragic past. He’s the widower who can’t take “she’s dead” for an answer so turns to the consolation that only the only the Eastern European occult scene can provide, and ends up stuck in a box in a windy, poorly-located castle for all eternity.
Every hundred years or so, he’ll get the chance to escape that box and take revenge on humankind, but before he even gets the chance to leave his clock tower, some fated religious type with a magic whip shows up and bam, it’s back in the box. After a couple of centuries, it wasn’t even the Belmont family any more, and the magic whip wasn’t even a crucial requirement. Any idiot that once met a Belmont at a bus stop could crash the party, kill all Dracula’s guests and mess poor Drac up with a kitchen knife. His own son got in on the action too, which just makes us feel sorry for him all the more.
In the year 1999, Julius Belmont, winner of the 1998 ‘best dressed homeless guy’ award finally put an end to Dracula once and for all somehow. Presumably, he beat the poor bastard extra hard, or convinced him just to give the fuck up. That was the end for Dracula. Endless rest, albeit in Hell.
But no. He can’t die, so his soul was reincarnated into metrosexual Japanese student, Soma Cruz. To make matters worse, his old castle flies out of the moon during an eclipse (a popular occurrence in Japan, so we’re told) and is now populated by some cult that wants to bring back the Dark Lord Dracula, presumably so they can film him getting whipped in the groin again and stick it on YouTube.