I love evil people.
Perhaps it's a quirk, but more likely a feeling many people share. There's something intriguing about villains. A powerful sense over the hatred one feels and the raw admiration of power. Seeing him blast through hordes of innocents is enough to inspire the loathing of every creature in the land and warrant a title, in our minds, of greatness in villainy.
Unsurprisingly enough, I disagree. It seems to go almost without any argument that a good villain, like any good character, has to retain a trio of dimensions. A motivation, perhaps style, hopefully a personality, I don't know. I'm not a doctor.
Naturally, there's more than one way to do the right thing, and there are different degrees of evil-doers: you've got your Jowies, your Kujas, your Indalecios, your Kefkas, et cetera. These are all effective archetypes when placed in their respective places, and there are many different types of RPGs to identify said places. That is to say, my postulate ignores these and speaks directly to those which strive to be epic in nature. Because quite frankly, Rhapsody is going to be lacking in the villain department anyway.
So, upon difficult analysis, much of which was conducted under less-than-stressful circumstances (a method to provide those who doubt with reassurance), I feel I have identified the most effective paradigm for any ambitious title which dares to be epic, which I have dubbed the "Forever but Untouchable" villain (allowing in the future for a
humorous but succinct "F.U." abbreviation, if you please). To illustrate my mother archetype, I will use for the sake of the example three classics.
Step 1: Bury Yourself
Chrono Trigger is the first. Like any masterpiece, it is filled to the brim with the good, the bad, and otherwise, but in this instance I speak simply of Lavos. He is always there, just out of reach, mocking you with his borderline sentience. And the glorious thing about the fiery rain from above is that in each era he carries so much influence, and exists at the beginning and end of all things. The human reaction to omnipresence is, of course, indignation. It is, in effect, a violation of personal privacy; something a human with a controller can more than easily relate to, and the repeated offenses have the collective effect of something like the Machiavellian taboo of dealing injuries in consecutive succession rather than simultaneously.
Yes, Magus waged a war on the humans that lasted about one hour of game time; he even turned Glenn into Frog. But recall how easy it was, when the time came, to put aside your differences and cooperate with him because you loved him so much; he was quite simply awesome. But what isn't awesome about raining hell and demon spawn after awaking from a dormant state of energy thievery, civilization destruction, and demi-human wizard displacement? Not much, but where one is instanced, the other is not.
Looking at Chrono Cross, the final enemy is neither clear at any point in time nor especially developed, all of this crammed into the last hour of gameplay. Is it FATE? She's been controlling you. No, it's the Dragon God! After all he aided in the destruction of FATE and has also been controlling your actions to an even greater degree! But wait, he's dead now. What's this "Time Devourer"? Why am I fighting all of a sudden? Look, end credits; now they're going on about the meaning of life? What the hell just happened?
Lavos was indeed Forever, across millions of years, and equally Untouchable, until the time of that final confrontation, which put all the fiery fury and endless emotion of gathered centuries into a glorious singularity. And what a sweet singularity it was.
Step 2: Seize the Leash
Final Fantasy VII was unique because there were really two villains: Sephiroth and Jenova. Now, I think we've all read a fair amount of documentation on the machinations of one and the latter, and can feasibly agree to Jenova's yanking of the proverbial reins.
Together, these two composed two parts of a whole that made reaching the Northern Crater that much more of a desirable goal. Jenova, like Lavos (so begin the similarities) was planted on the planet for millennia, and had the profound effect of single-handedly destroying the Cetra (Zeal, anyone?) She forces Hojo, speaks to Cloud, and manipulates Sephiroth. As her counterpart, Sephiroth is the manifestation of the untouchable evil; always in front of you (mostly in astral projection), but too strong, too fast, too see-through to attack. And that's where Final Fantasy VII succeeded where its
direct successor failed.After all, Ultemecia wasn't even introduced until the late portion of Final Fantasy VIII, and was so disconnected from the actual calamity that she was just another wrung on the ladder to finishing the game. That's why there was so much joy in trouncing Jenova time after time; there was no end in sight to her. On the other hand, there is a
decent amount of rage directed at Sephiroth for putting an end to the flower girl (so say many; I had no penchant for her), which, together with his former acts combine to form the power of good villainy.
But perhaps I'm being too idealistic; perhaps the real villain here is Shinra. After all, is not Gil the root of all evil?
Step 3: Genocide is Fun
Xenogears. More particularly, Miang. In a game where nearly almost everyone opposing you finishes with the revelation of a hidden goodness and a spectacular turnover to the positive energies of the universe, Miang remains the hidden collectivization of evil; one which I scientifically classify as belonging to the category of malum canis (read: heinous, heinous bitch). Throughout the ages, she lives and dies with the directive of resurrecting Deus, striving to control all circumstances on the planet, whether those circumstances are Zeboim's presidency or Lahan's fate. The immediate response to this control is a feeling insurgence. On further inspection, the player can conclude that the Miang entity was responsible for the death of the Zeboim, as well as the Elru, and this self-deduction incites surprise, alarm, and a feeling of dread in her presence. The step from fear to hate is simple, and by the dawning of the final battle, the stylized adrenaline rush is unmistakable.
But before the final encounter, Miang remains rather elusive, hidden, but certainly omnipresent. She assists Ramsus directly, but you really can't seem to pursue her. Like Lavos, she has existed since the beginning and like Jenova, and she controls human wills with a will all her own. That is why she performs so magnificently in Xenogears.
With Xenosaga, it is difficult to speak to a particular villain, especially since the series, in its first two incarnations, has shown itself to be of fragmented pieces. It is easy to remember that even in its predecessor, the most important villains weren't even
revealed until later in the game, and likewise may not be with Xenosaga. But for a series that advertises itself as epic, there is little indication at this point of a powerful villain to fill his or her appropriate role. That Wilhelm does look fishy, though.
Step 4: Repeat Steps One Through Three
These are things that register subconsciously in the player's mind; emotions drawn from the appropriate characteristics that are shared by well-drawn villains. Although I have provided for three which I believe fit the trend, there are more: Kefka and even Zemus, to a lesser extent.
The point here is that developers need to know their history. There are patterns to be seen, and mistakes to be avoided. Obviously, the Forever but Untouchable archetype is just a template, and we wouldn't want things to stagnate by dull repetition, but the natural human reactions to specific actions are important; they are tools in the toolbox of game creation. Today, producers and writers ought to be more responsible for putting forth more than just half of a compelling experience. They are charged with the divine duty to supplement clever gameplay with a clever storyline, complete with a brilliant villain.
That is why I believe a villain needs to be present, being villainous, all the time, forever but untouchable. It's a tough job, and the hours aren't too good but the health benefits of godliness are unsurpassed, and the dental plan ain't half bad, either.