“You can’t judge a book by its cover”
A saying that’s not always the case when it comes to games. In general, you can usually tell who the bad guy just by looking at some box art or watching a trailer. Both the protagonists and antagonist(s) in games are by their distinct appearance that set them apart from the fodder of filler characters that can be used to create the atmosphere and the world. In this article, I am focused on a few examples of the villains that involve plot twist reveals to their true nature and intentions. Some coming off more obvious than others. Sometimes just by looks alone.
Warning! There are spoilers ahead for the following games: Mass Effect 1, Final Fantasy X, Persona 4, and Shadow of the Colossus.
Starting with the more obvious: The villains that in the context of the story disguise themselves as ‘good’ even though they could be easily pegged as villains. When that twist reveal takes place there are people, like myself, saying “What did you expect?” Two examples that I distinctly remember doing this for is Seymour Guado of Final Fantasy X and Saren Arterius of Mass Effect 1.
Seymour Guado- Final Fantasy X
From Seymour’s first introduction, I had a bad feeling about him. Still, at the start of the game, he was helpful. Not to say he was a cheerleader to their goal of facing Sin, but he still didn’t seem to be in their way or out to harm them, even becoming a bit of a role model and pillar of strength for Yuna.
Still, when Seymour’s deceptions were brought to light, I was not surprised. I remember cheering in celebration for being right all along.
Before meeting the group, Seymor had killed his father to take over the position. Then many of the attack events that he was present for were orchestrated by him. Then, after learning of his evil doings, players will have to face him four times. Even after dying in that first time, he continues to come back as a nuisance. His most evil deed was trying to force Yuna to marry him.
Saren Arterius – Mass Effect 1
It doesn’t take much more than a picture to point out Saren as a villain. The glowing blue parts of his body that resemble the Husks are just one tip-off that he’s not like other Turians. Granted, players don’t get much of a look at Saren before learning he is evil, but knowing is half the battle of this game. Just because you know Saren’s evil doesn’t mean everyone else does.
The scene where you have to argue with the council over what you know of Saren’s misdeeds. All I wanted for a dialogue option was, “Just look at him!”. By the time they do realize Saren’s evil, it’s a bit late. Some of their denial is based on Saren’s achievements. Still, his dark nature wasn’t unknown. They are aware of his more brash and uncaring nature, completely willing to sacrifice lives unless ordered not to.
I will grant that Saren isn’t the big evil of the Mass Effect trilogy. And he was only influenced by the Reaper, Sovereign. Still, that doesn’t take away from him being the main antagonist of the first game.
In contrast to these villains, there are some villains that present a plot twist. Sparking a different reaction than, “I knew it!” My two examples for this are Tohru Adachi of Persona 4 and Dormin of Shadow of the Colossus.
Tohru Adachi –Persona 4
The partner of your Uncle Dojima, Adachi is introduced as clumsy and mildly incompetent at his job as a police officer. He plays a comic relief character for the majority of the game, but takes a sharp turn for the worse when you discover that he’s a psychopath that caused the murders of Mayumi Yamano and Saki Konishi. He knew the danger of the television and then used it for his murders. All the events that unfold became an entertaining game to him.
Adachi was even one of my friend’s favorite characters of the game before learning of that truth. I myself have played the game a couple times since that first run. Even knowing that Adachi is a villain, I still found no sign or clue that would have pointed me to him earlier in the game. Even as he points the characters and players in the wrong direction of finding the killer, his suggestions sound and seem like innocent comments.
Dormin- Shadow of the Colossus
Dormin isn’t a villain that you see right away, but still, I would count him. When Wander goes to the forbidden land seeking help in reviving his female companion, Dormin is there to help. Dormin instructs Wander and the player that to revive Mono they will need to defeat the 16 Colossi that reside in the forbidden lands. When the task is complete, it ends up not being the fairy tale ending of reunion. Dormin’s real intention for guiding Wander to the task of killing the Colossi was to free himself.
The pieces of himself that were scattered to the different colossus are now together inside of Wander. Dormin takes control of Wander’s body, but before he can do much damage, Lord Emon casts a spell to seal both Dormin and Wander. Mono awakes as Wander is sealed, and the chance of a happy reunion and ending is gone forever. Before that point, Dormin was a voice I trusted, like a god guiding on the tasks needed to reach the goal. But rather than a god, it is the misleading whispers of a devil.
In the end, why do I bring this all up? When the more blatant villains are revealed, it sparks reactions that are anything but shocked. It almost feels like spoiling the game by being so clear from the start. It can even make them slightly less grand than they could have been. If there is a need or desire to do that big twist reveal then be more subtle with the design and actions. Stand out as a character first and then as a villain. If that isn’t necessary go in head first. Mass Effect might have been all the more amazing if when testifying of Saren’s true nature to the Council he showed it right then and there.