A games narrative can hinge on the engagement of the player with the focal point characters and the situations they are given to overcome. A keenly woven story will see you invested more in the people of the world that you interact with by virtue of making you feel empathetic towards them. The easiest way to get this across is typically to have you be a grand hero on a mighty quest to stop a tyrannical foe. Its a simple formula of good vs evil that has been capitalized to the fullest in the video game industry. However, Certain games can venture off the beaten path and go a different direction by giving villains dimensions with the purpose of grounding their character in realism. Its a tactic of making you question morally if anyone is truly evil or if they are simply misunderstood. Today, I would like to pay homage to this trend of multi-layered personalities that have more than just capturing princesses on their mind. This is a gander at the sympathetic villains of the gaming world.
Jecht – Final Fantasy X (PS2)
Final Fantasy X for the Playstation 2 was a landmark entry into the series as it steered gracefully into the moonflow for its first iteration on a second generation console. Debatably the best of the series, It brought fresh eyes to the storied franchise. The plot slotted you in the role of Tidus, a star player of a sport called Blitzball, as he is left adrift in a world he does not recognize. Its a world in which he hears murmurs of his missing father being a hero of sorts. His father, Jecht is the biggest Blitzball player in the world. A tough act to follow. We are introduced to Jecht’s parenting method as a “sink or swim” dynamic with Tidus. Through flashbacks we learn his pettiness towards his sons inability to master his techniques. We hear of his splendor yet are presented only with arrogance and candid neglect of his grown up son, who we get to know quite well.
The big reveal of Final Fantasy X is Jecht’s fall from grace. In this new world named Spira, Jecht had become a guardian for a high summoner that entails a pilgrimage to occur. It is a journey of which Tidus takes himself leading him to find that Jecht has become a monster known as Sin. You are brought to this world to kill Sin and end the suffering he has caused for people throughout Spira. The anger of your character comes from his hatred of Jecht and you are constantly fueled by his negativity. Video files in the later areas of the game show a kinder Jecht. One of whom was proud of his son and knew he pushed him too far. The final culminating fight is a grand release of emotion from Tidus as the image of Jecht he knew is shattered. His memories were largely skewed and untrue. Jecht was tough, but fair. He saw Jecht as a “bastard”, because he hoarded the attention of his mother. Jecht had always fought for Tidus. The riveting final fight captures the wave of sorrow that washes over the character, while the person behind the controller fights an uphill battle that they don’t wish to win — as it will signal the death of a beautifully written character.
Holly Summers – No More Heroes (Wii)
No More Heroes for the Nintendo Wii is a tongue in cheek, hack and slash game that utilizes the functionality of the wii-motes motion controls. The story tells the rise of unlovable loser Travis Touchdown as he seeks to become the number one assassin in the world, merely so he can sleep with the woman who runs the assassin organization. Judging purely by Travis’s motivation as a protagonist; You can imagine how much worse the villains must be by nature of Travis needing to be perceived as the good guy. The assassins you encounter range from conniving to bloodthirsty to completely unhinged — and then you meet Holly.
One of the toughest fights in the game, Holly employs her missile launcher that is attached to her leg accompanied with a plethora of pitfall traps and grenade to un-yield the player’s strategy of a full frontal assault. It is upon the defeat of Holly that you get your sympathetic moment. Travis refuses to kill her on grounds of her being a woman. Holly informs him that the rules state if an assassin loses they must be killed. She thanks Travis for “his hesitation” as it showed her a side of humanity she had not seen in a long time. The fatal end to Miss Summer comes when she pulls the pin from a grenade and takes her own life. This gesture ripples throughout the rest of the game as it starts to resonate the idea of nobility with the frat boy mentality of Travis. A memorable scene that changes the mindset of the character and the player.
N – Pokémon Black and White (NDS)
Pokémon Black and White for the Nintendo DS took a unique spin to what is often a formulaic story from the past games. Far gone were the days of Team Rocket trying to steal Pokémon. We had Team Plasma planning the segregation of humanity and Pokémon altogether. The logic being that humanity was hindering Pokémon, who wished to be free and live in the wild. This motivation gave you all you needed to want to stop this evil organization as you assembled your team of six friends to conquer their schemes and each gym along the way. The roadblock you hit along that path was their leader known as N. When you read the above you may of thought of Plasma as a cultist group who have no inkling what they are talking about.
Upon chatting to N, You find out how eloquent he speaks and how sound their organizations motivation actually is. You start to doubt what you are doing. The liberation of Pokémon movement makes sense even if you factor in yourself as a player. The implication of the player being friends with their Pokémon is used as a major hindrance of N’s ideals in the narrative. Yet if you factor in the people you have encountered in past games it illustrates exactly why “training” could be considered enslavement as not every trainer is a good person. Its the truth in his words that makes you sympathize with N. Right up the final reveal he is portrayed as a villain. To put a long story short, He had the right idea, but implemented it in the wrong way and was being used as a puppet. This is what makes him an easily sympathiz-able figure as opposed to the run of the mill cronies you encounter in Team Plasma.
That’s all for this week Arcadians! Tell us in the comments about which baddies you reckon have gotten a rough deal in the past and deserves a bit more love!