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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Great Villains of Gaming Part 2

It's time, once again to rap about some of my favorite characters in video games. The heroes? Get outta here with that noise. I'm talking about the bad guys. We've got plenty of familiar faces for Part 2 of Great Villains of Gaming as well as one unfamiliar baddie. I shouldn't have to say it, but SPOILERS AHEAD!

Kefka Palazzo - Final Fantasy VI

What is it about clowns? Despite their goofy outward appearances, they do a bang up job causing trouble for the good guys. Take The Joker and The Green Goblin. They've given Batman and Spider-Man more grief than any other foe in their respective rogue's gallery. Kefka, also known by fans as "The Psycho Clown" due to his jester clothing and psychotic nature is without question the greatest villain in the history of the long running Final Fantasy series, managing to rack up more atrocities midway through the game than most villains spend their whole careers trying to achieve.

During the Gestahlian Empire's quest to gain more power through the revival of the lost secrets if magic, they began experimenting with the process of infusing human beings with magic through technological means. Two people underwent this process, Celes Chere and Kefka. Celes was actually the second to undergo this experiment and by the time she did, all the bugs were worked out so not only could she use magic, her sanity was well in tact. The same could not be said for Kefka, who went through with the experiment in the infancy stages. He could wield the power of magic, but his mind went bye-bye and it only got worse as time went on.

Many villains in the Final Fantasy series start off with god-like or nearly god-like powers. By the time the heroes meet Golbez, Exdeath and Sepiroth, these guys are already far above the capabilities of the heroes. On numerous occasions, Exdeath makes it more than apparent that he can easily dispose of Bartz and company without much effort. Kefka does not fall into the all-powerful character type when we meet him. In fact he and the heroes are on  a level playing field in the beginning. Exdeath and Sepiroth already posses inhuman strength and powers when the player is introduced to them, yet they thirst for more. Kefka is a power-hungry lunatic but we actually get to see his ascension to godhood and I think he's a far more interesting villain because of this. One could argue that because he hasn't reached the status of omega-level threat that he has a right to grab power. Did I mention that Kefka is also a subordinate? Sure he can order imperial soldiers around, but he starts out answering to Emperor Gestahl. So not only is Kefka initially under-powered, he's also under someone else's thumb, something all of us can identify with.

We first catch a glimpse of Kefka in a flashback scene where he puts the Slave Crown on Terra and delights in her killing his own imperial soldiers. Kefka's actual introduction scene where we see him walking through the desert to Castle Figaro is unlike most villain introductory pieces the series is known for. He's complaining and telling the soldiers accompanying him to dust the sand off his boots, to which the quickly oblige and Kefka gives us his trademark cackle. It's a very stand out character intro that does absolutely nothing to tell you that this clown will bring absolute ruin to the world later in the game. The only thing most would take away from this scene is that Kefka is a little off.

Kefka's theme music is vastly different from other Final Fantasy adversaries. Golbez, Exdeath, and Sepiroth? All of these guys have character themes that scream "I'm the bad guy of this story, flee in terror!" But kefka? If we're just talking music, you'd have a hard time getting someone to believe he's a complete monster. Kefka's theme starts out rather jovial with wind and string instruments heard throughout. The light nature of his theme begins to dissipate as the drums and cymbals begin to dominate the song. His theme seems like a reflection of his further decent into madness. The upbeat part of the course represents how little power he has but later in the game, he becomes completely unhinged and has more power than he ever had before and the clashing drums and cymbals mirror this. Quite frankly, it wouldn't feel right if Kefka were given a character theme that immediately paints him as the prime antagonist.

Another contrast that Kefka has to other series antagonists is that while many of them are merciless, driven by mad ambitions and distant, Kefka is loud, flamboyant, short-fused to the extent that would make Donald Duck blush and posses frighteningly destructive tendencies. Just about every Final Fantasy baddie is a nut job, but none of them come close to the maniacal nature of Kefka which is very much on par with that of the Joker and on some levels, Kefka's even worse.

Kefka's one joy in life comes from destroying and he takes great pleasure in ending lives. I mentioned earlier how remorseless he was when he had Terra burn his own imperial soldiers alive. Well he was just warming up then. He brings the Doma conflict to a screeching halt by poising the entire kingdom through the water supply. Among the victims are Cyan's wife and child. Much later he obtains enough power to outmatch the Espers, tuning them into Magicite and using their powers to add to his own. General Leo tries to slay Kefka, but he's just too strong and after a sound defeat, the noble general gets his neck snapped. Shortly after this, Kefka and Gesthal find the Waring Triad and on the Floating Continent and it's here that the emperor finally realizes that Kefka is out of control, but by this time, it's far too late. Gesthal's magic is useless against Kefka because he's standing between the Waring Triad statues. Kefka has his former emperor struck by lightning and to make him deader than dead, he then proceeds to toss Gesthal off the Floating Continent. Once that's done, Kefka moves the Waring Triad out of alignment, upsetting the delicate balance which unleashes surges of magic so powerful that it results in reshaping the geographical structure of the planet's continents, along with killing countless people. Of all the horrific things Kefka has done, this one is by far his finest act of villainy.

Some argue that Kefka didn't destroy the world, saying that if he truly did, there would be nothing left. To me, this seems like nitpicking. Compared to what the planet once was before Kekfa moved the statues and created the World of Ruin, a world that has positively putrid living conditions and decays day after day, many people giving in to despair and committing suicide while the remaining survivors live in fear that Kefka may one day kill them with his Light of Judgement, well, I'd pretty much call that destroyed. At end game, Kefka is so far off his rocker that he develops a case of nihilism, seeing no value in having life, hopes or dreams when all of it will eventually die. And since he's become the god of magic by this point, he has more than enough power to make that happen, but the heroes prevent this.

Kefka really is something. He started out at the bottom and worked his way up. For all the awful things he does, you can't help but love him. Kefka is a terrible, despicable human being but you have to admit, he's very good at it. As Alfred told Bruce in The Dark Knight when referring to the Joker, "Some men just want to watch the world burn." 

Bowser - Mario Series

The Mushroom Kingdom's greatest antagonist and frequent (boy do I ever mean frequent) kidnapper of Princess Peach, Bowser has been locked in a struggle with Mario since the mid 1980s. Bearing the appearance of a combination of a dragon and a turtle, this behemoth has the strength to match his size, fire breath and commands the Koopa Troop, the most iconic army of minions in gaming. And he always gets his shell handed to him by those plumbers.

Cool and strong as this king is, he always, always loses to Mario in the end. Whether it's something as illogical as placing an ax on the wrong side of bridge or jumping in the same spot one too many times, Bowser seems destined to always get the short end of the stick. One thing I've always admired about the koopa king is his unbreakable determination. No matter how many times Mario thwart's Bowser's plans and rescues Peach, Bowser gets up off his spiked, kicked shell and gives it another go.

For all his failings, Bowser has had some pretty good moments. He bested Mario in combat at the beginning of Paper Mario thanks to the Star Rod. In Super Mario Bros. 3, the Koopa Kids kept the plumber busy while Bowser laid plans to kidnap Peach. In Super Mario 3D Land, Bowser not only abducted Peach but he also stole a whole tree's worth of Tanooki power-ups and bestowed them upon his troops. Taking Mario and Luigi hostage in Super Princess Peach was arguably the best move he ever made. Bowser has attacked the Mushroom Kingdom more times than I can count, but his assault on Peach's castle at the Starbit Festival in the opening of Super Mario Galaxy? That was awesome! You've got the Airship's blasting away with cannon fire, Toad's being crystallized and the whole thing reaches it's climax when Bowser takes the whole castle and Kamek swats Mario away like a fly. No long was Bowser content with just kidnapping Peach, he had his sights set on the whole galaxy. I dare say the villainy that Bowser exude in the first Galaxy was Bowser's finest hour.

Much as he hates Mario, he can team up with him when faced with a mutual enemy. When Smith invaded and took over his keep, Bowser reluctantly joined forces with Mario and proved to be a very powerful ally. Still, Bowser never forgets that he and Mario are sworn enemies and once the enemy of his enemy has been taken care of, it's back to business for Bowser. He may get foiled time and again but Bowser is one big bad I never get tired of.

Dr. Albert Wily - Classic Mega Man Series

What do all mad scientists what to do? Why, rule the world of course! Well that's what my many years of playing Mega Man games have taught me, at least.

In his younger days, Dr. Wily attended school with Mega Man's creator, Dr. Thomas Light. Light is often seen as the father of modern robotics and has received a plethora of recognition for his work. Out of jealousy, Wily has tried to achieve world domination through the use of robotics either through the reprogramming of Light's creations, blackmailing Dr. Cossack by kidnapping his daughter, and framing Proto Man for his crimes among others.

Like Bowser, Wily's schemes often end in failure and even though Light gets all the attention, there lies a brilliant scientific mind behind that whacked out hairdo. The man somehow managed to make Magnet Man able to generate a magnetic pull without causing any harm to Magnet Man himself. With Flash Man, he gave a robot the power to halt time. His Roboenza virus can either make robots fall ill or cause them to run amok. Bass, while unruly was one of his finest works, but he was surpassed by Zero, by far his crowning achievement and long after Wily had died, his influence could be felt in the Mega Man X series.

Wily is generally good at escaping capture but when Mega Man succeeded in apprehending the doctor in Mega Man 6, he already took measures to ensure a breakout at the start of Mega Man 7 by having Robot Masters activate in the invent that he doesn't check in. These Robot Masters proceed to tear the city apart as cover for Wily's jail break. Wily also took advantage of Mega Man's trusting nature through Bass and had him fake injure to get access to Light's lab where he stole plans for the Super Adapter for Rush and Mega Man. Bass showed his thanks for allowing him access by leaving the lab in ruins. Needless to say, Mega Man was not pleased and this was the one time Mega Man considered ending Wily's life.

Dr. Ivo "Eggman" Robotnik - Sonic Series

Call him Robotnik (my preferred name) or Egaaman, but he has and always will be Sonic's arch enemy. Like all crazy scientists, Robotnik wants to rule the world. Unlike a lot of other crazy docs, however, this one sports a snazzy red jacket and an IQ of 300, which helps him invent all sorts of inventions like his army of Badniks that house cute little animal critters when smashed and the multi-functional Eggmobile, that Sonic and Tails wreck over and over.

Even with a massive IQ, Eggman has tasted defeat time and again. Many of these loses result from his overconfidence, overlooking details and being betrayed by a far greater power he sought to control and in the case of that last one, he'll form temporary truces with Sonic and company to deal with a threat that's grown beyond his control. Some may view his repeated team-ups with Sonic as a fall from villainy grace, but I like it when a villain can see that there's a greater evil that needs to be stopped and can stomach working with their hated enemy long enough to do so.

You do have to give Eggman his props for stepping up his game over the years. In Sonic Adventure 2, he blew up half the moon. In the horrendous Sonic the Hedgehog 2006, he pretty much abandon his affably evil traits and was straight up sinister. In Sonic Unleashed he lured Super Sonic into a trap, uses his power to awaken Dark Gaia and tear the Earth into pieces. This threats to the Zeti in Sonic Lost World at the end of Frozen Factory Act 2 makes you wonder if some of the old SatAM Sonic the Hedgehog Robotnik are in there somewhere. Even Sonic and Tails are shocked by his words.

Jade - Breath of Fire

Two Capcom baddies in one entry? We're diving into obscure territory on this one, but Jade is certainly worth mentioning even though he only appeared in a single game. The most powerful general under Emperor Zog's command, we get our first look at Jade when he leads the assault on the Light Dragon clan in Drogen where he defeats Sara, Ryu's sister, in combat. Rather than kill her, he has her placed under mind control as a servant for the Dark Dragon clan.

Zog's plan is to obtain the Goddess Keys to release Myria and make her power his own and rule the world. Jade, thinks this is a sound idea, but has no intention of staying under Zog's rule and in disguise helps Ryu throughout their journey, most likely so he can release Myria for himself.

Jade could have easily killed Sara at the start of the game, but why not have a little fun by tormenting her brother by using her against Ryu with mind control? Sara slips in and out of Jade's mental grasp long enough to inform Ryu what's going on but Jade works his magic on her again, causing her to take the form of a dragon and engage Ryu and the rest of the party in battle. Why kill Sara when he can have Ryu do it for him? Jade even mocks Ryu by stating that he thought he would have finished Sara off a lot sooner.

While Jade is ultimately defeated by Ryu and the gang, he was able to awaken Myria and grab greater power and Sara was one of the many casualties in his trek to the top. Zog also dies without any knowledge of Jade's betrayal. In the Japanese version of Breath of Fire, Jade's name is Judas, this could be a reference to the Biblical Judas that betrayed Jesus.

Part 1


Justin said...

I think one villain is very obscure but very awesome was Zio from Phantasy Star IV. Yeah, he dies midgame but is way cooler than his master Dark Force and perma-kills Alys, who was up to that point by far the strongest character in the game. So, Zio is really one of my favorite videogame villains of all time.

Justin said...

Voltech said...

"Whether it's something as illogical as placing an ax on the wrong side of bridge or jumping in the same spot one too many times..."

Heh. I get that reference now, thanks to the Game Grumps' playthrough of Mario Bros. 3. Now I'm 0.85% more well-versed in the gaming canon. Rejoice!

Also, thanks to this post I'm now required to look up Eggman's Sonic Adventure 2 theme. I need to confirm whether or not he "has the master plan".