The Best Video Game Villains of All Time, Ranked

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A well-realized villain can help turn a good game into a great one. The best video game villains, however, can make games truly spectacular while also leaving a lasting impression on all those who play through them. These villains define franchises and are some of the most recognizable characters in the entire entertainment industry.

With narrative-driven experiences becoming increasingly popular, many now feel that a game is only as good as its characters, which is perhaps why so much time and effort goes into crafting the perfect villains these days. Not every developer has what it takes to create a truly iconic antagonist though, making the best video game villains all the more impressive as a result.

Updated June 21, 2023, by Tom Bowen: The best video game villains have a way of sticking with players long after the credits have finished rolling. They help to emphasize the strengths of the heroes, and, on some occasions, can even end up overshadowing them due to their fantastic designs, overwhelming strength, and charismatic personalities. These brilliant video game bad guys are impossible to forget and perfectly punctuate their respective games and franchises.

This list will focus only on villains whose first appearances came in video games, meaning that characters like the Xenomorph from Alien Isolation and the Joker from the Batman Arkham series will not be considered.

12 Lavos (Chrono Trigger)

Lavos in Chrono Trigger

Most of the best video game villains are remembered for their interactions with the playable character, whether this be witty banter or intimidating threats. The main villain of Chrono Trigger offers neither of these things though, with the aptly named Destroyer of Life simply serving as one giant ball of death. It’s a lot like Sin from Final Fantasy 10 in that regard, though pre-dates the dirge of Spira by more than half a decade.

One of the things that makes Lavos so memorable is the way that players are free to try and fight it from very early on in the game. Depending on when exactly they choose to tackle the apocalypse-bringing alien parasite, the resulting fight can play out very differently. However, one thing that remains constant is the immense threat posed by Lavos, which remains the same regardless of which time period players happen to be fighting it in.

11 Dr. Wily (Mega Man)

Dr. Wily from Mega Man

Given the ongoing discourse surrounding the threat posed by artificial intelligence, it would be hard not to mention Dr. Wily from the Mega Man games when discussing gaming’s best bad guys. The evil genius has created countless robot masters over the years, most of which seem to have little to no regard for human life. Granted, none have yet managed to truly best Dr. Light’s titular creation, but they still serve as a stark reminder of the potential dangers of artificial lifeforms.

Though Wily is arguably a little generic as far as evil geniuses go, that doesn’t make him any less memorable. He serves as the final boss of most of the Mega Man games and has been a constant thorn in the side of Mega Man and his allies for several decades now. It’s this enduring longevity and perhaps his glorious mustache that have helped to cement Dr. Wily’s place among the very best video game villains of all time.

10 Team Rocket (Pokemon)

The first Team Rocket fight in Pokemon Yellow

Over the years, there have been plenty of fantastic villainous teams in the Pokemon games, but few can compare to Team Rocket. Initially, these generic grunts didn’t make much of an impression on players, but, thanks to the Pokemon anime and the release of Pokemon Yellow in 1998, it’s impossible to play through a Gen 1 Pokemon game without being reminded of the ridiculous antics of Jessie, James, and Meowth.

Not only that, but Team Rocket would go on to serve as a template for all future villainous teams. Granted, without the anime and movies to flesh out the team’s lore, these iconic video game villains would probably be pretty bland, but thanks to the fantastic synergy between the many different Pokemon mediums, they manage to be anything but.

9 General Shepherd (Call of Duty)

General Shepherd - Best Call Of Duty Protagonists Villains

A lot of people only play Call of Duty games for their fantastic multiplayer modes, but that’s not to say that they don’t occasionally have strong single-player campaigns as well. The Modern Warfare titles are a great example of this and are packed full of shocking and memorable moments from start to finish.

Other than the infamous “No Russian” mission from 2009’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, one of the series’ more notable twists came in the form of General Shepherd’s betrayal. Having spent much of the game working alongside players, he eventually shows his true colors, which leads to the deaths of both Roach and Ghost.

8 Albert Wesker (Resident Evil)

Wesker as shown in RE5, looking to the side through his glasses.

Never has there been a more stylish video game villain than Albert Wesker. This Resident Evil baddy just oozes class and steals just about every scene that he appears in, but there’s much more to him than just sharp threads and those iconic shades. Wesker is a good old-fashioned bad guy, the likes of which seldom show up video games these days.

Wesker carries the weight of being a villain incredibly well, managing to still feel incredibly threatening even when he’s trying to come across as kind. He’s remarkably powerful too, and, like some kind of terrifying Terminator, just keeps on coming back; at least until his unforgettable death in Resident Evil 5, that is.

7 Ridley (Metroid)

Samus facing off against Ridley in a small room in Super Metroid

The best video game villains tend to be defined by their attitudes as much as they are by their actions, yet this is far from the case with Metroid‘s Ridley. The terrifying Space Pirate is unable to speak in a language that players and Samus can understand but still manages to leave quite the impression on both.

Ridley always seems to show up at the worst possible times and causes Samus an ungodly amount of trouble whenever it does. Without either ever saying a word, players can sense the mutual hatred between these two longstanding rivals, showing that, sometimes, actions alone can be enough to help establish a villain’s excellence.

6 Vaas (Far Cry)

Vaas from far cry 3

As a franchise, the Far Cry games arguably boast the best selection of villains in all of gaming, though one stands out above the rest. Portrayed by Michael Mando of Better Call Saul fame, Vaas Montenegro is an incredibly complicated and charismatic villain, but also an incredibly compelling one.

His interactions with Jason Brody throughout Far Cry 3 are perfectly scripted, with the protagonist changing drastically throughout the course of the game as a result of Vaas’ actions. Pagan Min and Faith Seed also deserve a mention here, but neither quite measures up to the psychotic pirate leader.

5 GLaDOS (Portal)

An image from Portal showing a close-up of GLaDOS.

Being psychotic may not be a requirement when it comes to crafting a great video game villain, but it certainly helps. To see the trait applied to an AI is particularly interesting, with GLaDOS seeming to take genuine pleasure from teasing and tormenting Chell throughout the two Portal games.

The thing that makes GLaDOS such a great villain is the fact that players can only actually hear her for much of the games. This places extra emphasis on her dialog, which strikes just the right balance between witty humor and sadism and is all the more effective for having been delivered in her cold, emotionless voice.

4 Sephiroth (Final Fantasy)

final-fantasy-7-remake-part-2-sephiroth

The Final Fantasy franchise boasts plenty of great villains. Some will perhaps argue that Kefka is the pick of the bunch, and, while this may well be the case when focusing solely on each villain’s respective game, when looking at the impact that they’ve had on the wider gaming industry, there can only be one winner: Sephiroth.

The one-winged angel is one of the most recognizable video game villains around, not to mention one of the most intimidating. The way he’s used throughout the events of Final Fantasy 7 is both unique and unusual, which makes him all the more compelling as a villain. His relationship with Cloud, which was inspired by Japanese mythology, serves as the metaphorical icing on the cake.

3 Dr. Robotnik (Sonic)

DrRobotnik

Dr. Robotnik (or Eggman, as he’s come to be known in more recent years) isn’t particularly intimidating. In fact, when it comes to his appearance, he’s not really that scary at all despite his awesome ‘stache. That’s not to say that he isn’t still incredibly dangerous though, albeit through somewhat unconventional means.

Like Dr. Wily in the Mega Man games, Robotnik’s biggest asset is definitely his brain. It allows him to come up with all kinds of crazy inventions and has even seen him create clones of his arch nemesis Sonic. Granted, none of Eggman’s evil schemes have worked out egg-sactly how he would have wanted, but he remains one of the best and most memorable villains in all of gaming nonetheless.

2 Ganon (The Legend of Zelda)

Link and Navi standing before Demon King Ganon at the end of Ocarina of Time

Every once in a while a Zelda game decides to focus on a new villain, but the series always seems to come back to Ganon after a short while. The Demon Lord first appeared in the original Legend of Zelda game on the NES and has gone on to appear in countless other titles in the years since then.

Like Thanos in the Avengers movies, Demise’s curse ensures that Ganon and his human form Ganondorf are somewhat inevitable, yet each story in which the characters feature still manages to feel unique in its own right. His connection to Link and Zelda through the Triforce is an intriguing one, but it’s perhaps Ganon’s many terrifying forms that really help to set him apart.

1 Bowser (Mario)

Bowser Captures Super Star

If one were to write down a list of all the things that make a great villain, Bowser probably wouldn’t tick off too many of the boxes. He’s not particularly intimidating, he’s incredibly predictable, and he hasn’t really changed all that much since making his debut way back in 1985. Despite this, however, Bowser remains a force to be reckoned with.

As iconic as he is enduring, the Koopa King is one of the first great examples of a video game villain, which in turn has made him ridiculously popular. Just as his arch-nemesis Mario can be recognized by people from all over the world, so too can Bowser, and it’s this, together with his perseverance and dedication, that makes Bowser the best video game villain of all time.

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