“A story is only as good as its villain”
An often-repeated quote and one that is almost impossible to argue against.
Almost every acclaimed book, film and game is as fondly renowned for its villains as it is for its heroes and the connection and interactions between the two is what drives the reader, viewer or player’s ongoing investment in the story. It ultimately sees them develop attachments to the protagonist and hope to see them triumph over the adversity that has been inflicted upon them by the antagonist.
The Final Fantasy series has played host to a long list of villains throughout its storied history, with every title in both the main numbered series of games and its multitude of sequels and spinoffs boasting one or several adversaries for the leads to overcome.
The hit to miss ratio is heavily tilted in the direction of the former, as many of the games have been immensely bolstered by the inclusion of memorable nemeses. There have also been several forgettable foes, however, which often leads to their associated game scoring lowly in any fan's list of favourites as a result.
What follows is a list of the 25 greatest villains to grace the series. From those that see the error of their ways to those who remain hellbent on destruction to the very end.
Spoilers are widespread. Consider yourselves warned.
25. Leon (II)
Final Fantasy II
begins with the escape of four orphans, Firion, Maria, Guy and Leon, from the
city of Fynn as it is ravaged by the Palamecian Empire. The subsequent story
sees the first three of these join a rebellion and seek revenge on their
oppressors, with a constantly rotating fourth character filling Leon’s spot as
the player is left to question his fate.
The revelation that Leon has been recruited into the Empire, serving as the Emperor’s right-hand ‘dark knight’, is one of the first shocking moments in a series that would come to be defined by them. His motivations for turning to the dark side are never really explored, as he isn’t shown to be under mind control like Kain, Edea and many others that would follow, but after the largely plotless affair that was Final Fantasy I, he has the distinction of being the first villain with a personal connection to the leads.
He is elevated by this, eclipsing the largely faceless Emperor in importance and serving as a formidable opponent. His eventual redemption (of sorts) is predictable, but his departure in the finale and aspirations to rule seemed to set up a new narrative that was never explored. He certainly had more potential, but given the limitations of the NES he does well to still stand out more than thirty years later.