Villains are an integral aspect of most good stories, and if you’re interested in fiction (which I would like to assume you are if you’re here) you’re likely to have some villains that you find yourself most interested in.. I myself am particularly fond of Vergil from the “Devil May Cry” series as well as James Sunderland from “Silent Hill 2”
Looking at these two characters together creates an interesting juxtaposition. While in the context of each of their respective stories they are seen as the villain, their features and the ways in which the player of each game reacts to them is typically completely different from one another. Most people don’t feel the same way about Vergil as they do about James Sunderland. And that’s what I wanted to write about today, different kinds of villains. There isn’t a single way to create a good villainous character. There are many, many different ways to go about doing so, so I wanted to talk about some of my personal favorites as well as see some of yours. From this point on beware of spoilers for the following works of fiction: Devil May Cry 3, Silent Hill 2, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, Death Note, Yakuza 0, Yakuza Kiwami and Yakuza Kiwami 2.
The dissonance between these two antagonists can be discerned initially from their physical appearances. The two look nearly nothing alike besides their skin color and gender. Vergil stands tall and imposing, with an intimidating stance and a deathly glare that says he isn’t to be taken lightly. He also wields his weapon with confidence and strength. Vergil is evidently somebody who has been fighting for quite some time and is in perfect condition to continue doing so.
James Sunderland on the other hand is a completely different story. Not only is his back slightly hunched, but his eyes give off no sense of a fighting spirit. They instead come across as dull and bland, so much so to the point where any energy that could be seen within him is stripped away just that quickly. His attire is also directly at odds with Vergil. While Vergil wears a bright blue garm which signifies him as somebody special, James’ clothes are dull and typical. With no intricate patterns or particularly striking colors.
The direct visual difference between these two characters isn’t the only difference they hold however, nor is it the most notable. Not by a long shot.
Any fan of Devil May Cry will likely associate Vergil with being one of the most hype and awesome characters they’ve ever witnessed in a video game. From his attire to the snobby tone in his voice and his many array of badass quotes that I couldn’t list the entirety of right now even if I wanted to. Vergil is also a character that has a good amount of amazing and iconic powers, the most popular of which of course being the ever loved Judgement Cut. Compare this perception of the character to that of James Sunderland. Who is likely to be associated by fans with being a tormented and pained man who commited evil acts for both selfish and selfless reasons. Sunderland is not associated with badassery, but instead ire and pity. In short, Vergil is a badass villain, while Sunderland is a sympathetic one. And while Vergil does have certain sympathetic aspects to his story, none of these elements are as played up as the ones which make Vergil a loveable and hype antagonist. Whereas every aspect of James’ existence acts as the exact opposite. His sympathetic qualities not only being the primary elements of his story, but very nearly being the only ones present.
It’s clear that these two characters are completely different from one another as villains, but that doesn’t mean that either is necessarily more or less effective as a character than the other. As every encounter with Vergil brought my heart to race and my voice to grow even more shrill than it usually does in my loud and excited screaming. And the final encounter with James Sunderland after receiving the “In Water” ending, left my eyes stinging and my throat sore from the amount of crying that I had done afterwards.
Other examples of the badass and hype villain type are Jetstream Sam from Metal Gear Rising Revengeance, whose simple samurai style simply can’t be disliked. Monsoon from the same game, whose amazing theme only enhances the insanity of both his character and the battle that ensues with him during it. Daisaku Kuze from Yakuza 0, whose repeated encounters and amazing theme made it a treat to kick his ass all five times it was required. And Keiji Shibusawa from the same game, who for my money has the most hype boss intro of all time.
Another character that fit into the mold of sympathetic villain are antagonists such as Nishikiyama Akira from Yakuza Kiwami. His intimidating factor is greatly diminished by the pain he experiences due to the death of his sister and downfall of the little respect he once had previously.
A villain can however be both badass/hype and sympathetic at the same time. A key example of this being Ryuji Goda from Yakuza Kiwami 2. He initially comes across as a purely badass villain, working with persistence and pure strength to make sure that he gets what he wants. However, as his past becomes slowly revealed we learn of a man who has had everything taken away from him. A man who has never known true family, only a fake family hiding the true reality of his existence from him. And just as he finds out that Kaoru is his only remaining relative left, his life is snuffed out short. Robbing him of any chance to live a life with his loving sister.
Many villains don’t hold any of these qualities but are simply so dastardly and horrid that their actions form a true hate within the audience. A villain that above all, you want to see fall. The most notable (and first) example of this for me was that of Light Yagami, the main protagonist of the iconic series “Death Note”
Yagami initially comes across as incredibly intelligent and ambitious in his goals. He would most notably be described as bored. Bored with the life given to him, bored with the mundane and somewhat rotten world around him. And so when he initially takes to ridding the streets of crime using the Death Note, one might not immediately take to disliking him. Even when his negative traits might emerge, such as his rageful killing of Lind L Tailor early on in the series. However, Light doesn’t truly ascend to the status of garbage man deluxe until the second volume of the series. Where he executes the innocent FBI agent Raye Penber. Not only killing him, but smugly gloating his success in the face of the dying man.
From this point on, I was ready to see Light Yagami bite the dust as soon as possible.
Other characters that could fit this mold would be Griffith from Berserk, Askeladd from Vinland Saga, and even for some, James Sunderland from Silent Hill 2.
Those are only a few kinds of villains, dozens of others exist as well as many different iteration on the types that I listed here. What are your favorite villains from fiction and why? What types of villains do you prefer most in the stories you read, what about the stories you write? Let me know below! Thanks for reading!