When it comes to the console wars and yada yada, I’ve always been a Nintendo guy. Nintendo consoles are what I grew up with, and characters like Link and Mario were my heroes growing up (mostly Link). Playstation became part of my life much later, so with a few exceptions, most of my Playstation experience is limited to more recent releases. And while Nintendo will always be number one in my heart for nostalgia, console exclusives, and awesome handhelds, some of my favorite games made their appearance exclusively on the PS3.
When I look at these games, the thing I really love about them are the great villains. I’ve always been partial to villains – whenever I played make-believe with my sister and cousins or auditioned for a role in a play, I always wanted to be the bad guy. There are lots of ways to write a great villain. Sometimes, you love a villain because he or she is actually just misunderstood, reacting in a perfectly logical way to a backstory full of pain and suffering. Other times you love a villain because they are so incredibly evil that you hate them and literally want to reach through the screen and murder them. That’s just a sign that the writers and actors have done their job well.
So today, we’re going to talk about my five favorite villains from my favorite PS3 games, and the life lessons you can learn from them.
Moral of the Story always has spoilers, but this one has MEGA ULTRA RIDICULOUS SPOILERS and is actually about games that have come out relatively recently. So if you are interested in any of these titles but haven’t played them yet, read at your own risk.
#5: Granny Rags – Dishonored
Granny Rags is first mentioned by name when Samuel the Boatman tells you that you should probably stay the heck away from her house. So naturally, when I was given the option to explore the world on my own, the first thing I did was try and find her. I was playing for Low Chaos, doing my best not to kill anybody, so I decided to take the stealthy approach. I sneaked into her house and walked right past her, out her back door to her shrine dedicated to the mysterious god known as the Outsider. The Outsider visited me there and told me all about Granny Rags’ backstory – she was young and beautiful, with wealthy suitors coming from all over to ask for her hand. Yet she chose none of them. I felt a little sorry for Granny Rags, thinking of what she was like as a young woman and seeing her now as this doddering old woman muttering creepily to herself in a big empty house. But, of course, this was a video game, so I walked back upstairs, saved the game, and decided to choke her out to see what would happen.
Imagine my surprise when she disappeared in a cloud of smoke!
You see, when Granny Rags ignored all those suitors, the choice she did make was to give herself to the Outsider. She gained his mark and learned to control the powers it gave her, making her into a very formidable and powerful witch. Her abilities include teleportation, creating bursts of violent and dangerous wind, and summoning swarms of rats to consume the bodies of her enemies. You know, witchy stuff.
Granny Rags plays the senile, fragile woman, but in reality she is effectively immortal. Her soul is actually bound to a cameo of herself, a little chunk from an old necklace. As long as that cameo remains unmolested, Granny Rags cannot be harmed or killed.
Her interests include learning even more dark magic and becoming the new leader of the local gang.
Moral of the Story: Don’t underestimate old ladies.
#4: The White Witch – Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
Ni no Kuni begins with a young boy named Oliver, who lives in the dinky town of Motorville. He goes to school, he likes cars, and his mom plays an instrument. But while Oliver is living his tiny, innocent life, a powerful figure is watching him from afar. She is the White Witch, and she knows that Oliver is prophesied to unravel all of her plans for her magical world. So she sets in motion a plan to kill Oliver, a plan that instead takes the life of his mother. Oliver crosses the boundary between worlds to get his mother back, and begins learning magic so that he can overcome the ultimate master of darkness, the one who holds his mother’s soul – Shadar.
One of the neatest aspects of Ni no Kuni to me is that, as a player, you know about the White Witch from the very beginning. You see her plotting with her evil council. You watch as her magic takes Oliver’s mother from him. Heck, her name is in the game’s title! And yet Oliver himself does not know about the White Witch for the majority of the game’s story. She is a mystery, the secret benefactor behind the power of Shadar, and when she finally reveals herself the whole world is left shocked and broken.
The other awesome thing about Ni no Kuni is that no villain is straightforward and boring. Villains are people too, sometimes with pure motives that simply go awry. Such is the case with the White Witch.
Her true name is Cassiopeia, and she is the daughter of a character called the Wizard King. The Wizard King was very powerful and wise, and when he passed, his daughter was left in charge with little idea of how to rule a country. Luckily she had a helpful council of senators to do that for her – except that council used their power to manipulate their entire civilization for personal gain. And blame all the cruddy laws on poor Cassiopeia. In an attempt to gain the people’s approval, with the best intentions in mind, she unleashed a forbidden magic called the Ashes of Resurrection. Instead of resurrecting anything, the ashes turned everyone in her country into monsters, destroying her entire world.
Guilty, lonely, and confused, Cassiopeia plunges into despair. Around her, civilization rebuilds and new nations are formed. Meanwhile, she becomes dark and twisted, her lonesomeness and brokenness leading her to hate the world. She blames humanity for all of the world’s problems and desires nothing more than to unleash the Ashes again, finishing them off for good.
However, there is still good in Cassiopeia. That good escapes as a little girl named Pea, the literal inner child of the White Witch who contacts Oliver and helps him on his journey. Pea knows that the mind of her true self can be saved, and with her guidance Oliver both defeats and redeems Cassiopeia. She learns her lesson and the world becomes a better place for it.
Moral of the Story: Dwelling on your past mistakes will leave you sad and alone.
#3: The Outsider – Dishonored
The Outsider is something of a god in the Dishonored universe, but he doesn’t operate the way that most gods do. Usually, divine entities have some kind of mission in mind. They play favorites, they bless one side or the other in a conflict, and they align themselves with either good or evil (or law or chaos, perhaps). The Outsider is different.
You see, the Outsider controls magic and has the ability to grant his magical powers to anyone he chooses. The thing is, he chooses people that he thinks are interesting. Not good people, not bad people – interesting people. The Outsider chooses the man who will assassinate the Empress, and then turns around and chooses her Protector. He’s got people on both sides of the conflict and everywhere in between, all because those people are interesting to him.
The Outsider does not appear to have any kind of ulterior motive, as no matter how things end up, he commends you for it. If you murder everyone in your path to rescue Emily and avenge the Empress, he congratulates you on your success. If you use more peaceful means, he calls you a bigger person for refusing to spill blood even when anybody would say it was called for. Either way you choose, the Outsider is satisfied that you made an interesting choice.
I’m excited to learn more of the Outsider in Dishonored 2. Is he actually building up to something great? Does he have dark and secret plans boiling underneath the surface? Or is he truly just capriciously handing out powers to whoever he thinks might do something cool with them? Either way, the Outsider is a really unique deity that I am excited to see more of in the future.
Moral of the Story: Um…be interesting? I don’t know, this one is a reach. If you’ve got a good idea, post it in the comments.
#2: Kessler – inFamous
The day that Kessler showed up in Cole MacGrath’s life, it seemed like he was out to ruin everything. Cole had been shipping a package for Kessler that actually contained a strange bomb called a Ray Sphere that gave Cole electrical superpowers. The fallout from the blast caused a plague, and when everyone learned that Cole was responsible, he became the most hated figure in the city. His girlfriend hates him, and just when things are about to go back to normal between them, Kessler kills her. Kessler’s meddling also leads Zeke, Cole’s best friend, to betray him for power. It seems like Kessler is doing everything he can to ruin Cole’s life.
And basically, he is.
You see, Kessler knows what Cole cannot. That a Beast is coming, a monstrosity so terrible and evil that it will destroy the entire world. And the only way to stop it is for Cole to be strong enough to face that Beast in battle. In order to accomplish that, Cole must gain superpowers, lose all personal attachments, and become the kind of person who can make hard decisions when it counts the most. Kessler carefully breeds Cole into the hero that the world needs to face the Beast. But how does Kessler know about the Beast? How does he know about Cole, and that Cole needs to be molded before he can ever hope to defeat it?
Because Kessler is Cole.
In Kessler’s timeline, Cole married his girlfriend with Zeke as his best man. The couple had a family together – until the Beast showed up. Cole had begun to develop powers but nothing to the degree to face the Beast. Instead of facing it, he ran, a dogged pursuit that eventually led to the death of his entire family. Desperate, Cole went back in time and took on the identity of Kessler, to train his younger self to do what he could not. Be strong enough to face the Beast.
Kessler needed Cole to be unattached because attachments would give him something to lose. He needed his powers to be at full strength to stop the Beast the first time it appeared. And he knew that if Cole couldn’t make definitive, strong decisions, that he’d simply run at the first sign of trouble.
Kessler’s efforts ruin Cole’s life and ultimately leads to both of their deaths, but hey – at least he tried, right?
Moral of the Story: Be decisive, lest you live the rest of your life with regret.
#1: Shadar – Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
When Cassiopeia decides to destroy the world (you know, for the second time), she delegates the task to her loyal servant Shadar. He then sets about systematically ruining the lives of everyone in the world by breaking their hearts. Oh, not the normal way – you see, when Shadar breaks your heart, he literally steals a piece of it. This radically changes your personality depending on what he steals. Missing enthusiasm? You’ll never do anything you love doing ever again. Missing love? Your relationship with any of your family members and friends will be ruined. Shadar “destroys” the world by making the lives of everyone within it miserable.
So I pose to you a question: is that better than everyone turning into monsters and murdering each other?
You see, Shadar is actually protecting the world, in his own really twisted way. By making humanity weak, broken, and unwilling to fight, he prevents them from actually being killed en masse. But why would Shadar do that? Why would a person called the Executor try to protect anything?
Before he was Shadar the Executor, or the Dark Djinn, he was Lucien. Lucien was a court wizard whose kingdom led a violent and horrible campaign against another. While on the battlefield, he found a little girl and decided to rescue her from his own soldiers. She escaped while he was caught, and as punishment his entire village was burned to the ground. His own heart broken, Lucien gave in to despair. And that’s when the White Witch found him.
Shadar became so powerful that the only way to defeat him would be with the power of his soulmate – a person from the parallel world who shared his soul. Except Shadar killed that guy and severed their connection, making him effectively immortal.
While Shadar was becoming immortal and breaking hearts, the little girl he rescued became a woman and a powerful sage. When she learned that Shadar had destroyed his soulmate, she revealed to him that someday, the soul would be born into a new person. With that, she launched herself into the parallel world. Her son Oliver became Shadar’s soulmate.
Oliver, you know, the kid who saves the world from Shadar AND Cassiopeia? Full circle, punks.
When Oliver defeats Shadar, it should kill him too. But Shadar’s final act is to sever his connection with Oliver so that the boy can live while he fades away. He didn’t always do it right, but Shadar never wanted anything more than to protect the world. It just took Oliver to mend his broken heart and help him make the right choice.
Moral of the Story: Never give in to despair, because there’s always hope for the world.
Now I hand the conversation to you, readers. What Playstation villains do you enjoy? What can we all learn from their stories? Discuss it in the comments and remember – it’s always better to learn from someone else’s mistakes than from your own.