Greatest Videogame Villains

 Writing a halfway decent hero isn't that difficult. Strong facial features, some angst and/or over-arching motivation, and a few quips and BOOM! You've got a pretty good hero. Villains, on the other hand, are much more difficult to make compelling, let alone motivated or, God help you, realistic. Giving a villain a motivation beyond "I'M EEEEEEEEVIL! THAT'S FUCKING WHY!!" is difficult for a number of reasons, but when it works, oh MAN, when it works, you've got an unforgettable character. Here are some characters I can't seem to forget. The list itself contains no spoilers, but the descriptive text does, so fair warning.
You might notice this list lacks a few great characters like Darth Vader or The Joker. There's a reason for that: the first guy is from a movie and the second is from a comic book.

List items

  • Never in the history of videogame-dom have I encountered a villain that I have so utterly loathed than Kefka of Final Fantasy VI. Starting out as practically comedic relief, the right-hand man of Emperor Gestalt, seemingly the primary antagonist, who whines and forces his henchmen to clean sand off his boots in the middle of a desert.

    The next time you see him, he's poisoning a castle's water supply, killing every man, woman and yes, child in the place, including the family of one of your party members. Kind of a turnaround, no? Finally, on the floating island that the game has basically convinced you is the final area, he stabs the Emperor in the back (literally and figuratively) and not only absorbs the power that they were trying to harness, but also destroys most of the world. Which he then rules over from his tower, blasting out a random magical laser beam whenever he particularly feels like it. I never wanted to defeat a villain so badly and I haven't wanted to since.

  • An incomprehensible, monstrous, malevolent being of pure psychic hate that has destroyed the future of the world of Earthbound, unless a group of children can save the past. What I liked about Giygas was how little the game told you about him for the vast majority of the game. Even by the end, you're not entirely sure what it is or was or why it was doing what it was doing, but rather than feeling underwritten, the game makes it seem much more Lovecraftian. Like a being that isn't MEANT to be understood. It doesn't even have its own pixelized avatar, you literally fight the background in the final battle. Contrasted against the general feeling of joy and whimsy in the rest of the game, it makes for an incredibly memorable encounter.

  • Moebius the Timestreamer is one of the primary antagonists across a staggering four of the five games in the Legacy of Kain series and he EARNS that title. He plays almost every character against each other for his own benefit, he is a master manipulator, and he is constantly self-satisfied with how whatever plan he has is going. And he can travel back in time AND return from the dead, so he's damn near impossible to be rid of. Until his final comeuppance in Legacy of Kain: Defiance, which is so completely satisfying and so well-executed (pun intended) that it made the near-decade that he's been a thorn in my side worth it.

  • The clandestine leader of the Super Mutants in the first Fallout game is horrific, driven and most of all: realistically motivated. So realistically, in fact, that you, with high enough Intelligence and Speech (along with some evidence) can cause him, the final boss of the game, to commit suicide. You can talk the last boss of the game into killing himself because his master plan is so subtly flawed. You can spec a Speech-based character and actually not have to trudge through some bullshit final battle where you're chipping away with a pistol because you didn't care enough to learn how to use laser-weapons.

  • Saren Arterius is named after a chemical weapon that kills almost instantly on contact and doesn't even need to be inhaled to be lethal. So when Mass Effect presents you with him and tells you he's one of the good guys, it's a LITTLE hard to believe. And sure enough, he turns on you and aligns himself with a swarm of murderous machine. But it's all for a reason and it's all extremely well-developed and well-told and in the end, he turns out to be extremely sympathetic and even remorseful and it all seems very organic and even tragic.

  • Teyrn Loghain isn't in Dragon Age: Origins for long at either end (beginning and finale), but he makes one hell of an impact at both ends. He begins by being vaguely menacing (being voiced by Simon Templeman will do that) but seemingly on the up-and-up, then he refuses to show up at a critical point in the first major battle and the king gets KILLED. You go through most of the game hating his guts and finally encountering him at the end demanding an explanation.

    An explanation so well thought-out and sensible that it becomes immediately apparent why he did what he did and makes fully hating him almost completely impossible. Whatever happens to him is up to you, but it makes the decision a great deal more difficult.

  • Another character you go through much of the game thinking is the main villain, but it turns out he's just kind of a jerk. He's also an optional party member, but the neat part is: he doesn't become a nice guy or learn the error of his ways...he's still just basically a jerk. It's nice to see a villain who sticks to his guns and refuses to change, but he's so ridiculously powerful and badass that you can't hate him. You also learn WHY he's such a jerk and that makes him a nuanced and interesting character, moreso than a great many other characters in the game.