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Villains: Evil like no other

7:30 PM on 10.13.2011 // meteorscrap

[Last week, I asked you to write anything you wanted about videogame antagonists. Today's blog is from meteorscrap, who points to a lesser known Final Fantasy Tactics as an example of a true, developed villain. Want to see your own blog on the front page? Write a blog on the current topic: Integration. -- JRo]

Video game villains are, too often, throw-away boss fights at the end of a game, with little more importance than being the hardest dude in the game to beat. Barring bonus bosses there explicitly for the challenge, the final boss is often nothing more than the guy with the biggest HP total, the most difficult attack pattern, or the hardest to reach boss room. Nothing about them outside of the fact you fight them last really marks them as the villain of the story.

Even when the villain in question is described as performing more tangible acts of villainy than "being Evil", we as players don't often see the results of these evil acts. All we have to go on is the vague assertion that the villains are evil because they're doing (insert action we never see in the game here). In most Castlevania games, for example, if you ignored the opening text trawl it'd be easy to paint the protagonists as the villains, with Dracula housing the world's supernatural monsters in a sort of nature preserve. Monsters from every corner of the globe are there, not bothering anyone, when some asshat comes through systematically murdering the castle's residents and then waking the guy running the place from his sleep for a rousing game of "Kill Your Face".

Or when the villain is actually shown "being Evil", we aren't given any context for the evil. The villain is actually shown killing people, or burning towns, or otherwise being a nasty asshole, but we're not given any context for them to act this way as understandable, relatable characters within the context of the story. Final Fantasy VI's Kefka starts the game as a mockable villain, but we're never shown any shred of humanity beyond a throwaway line about early magic infusion techniques driving him insane before he jumps deep into omnicide. Lost Odyssey's Gongora is so deranged and outright evil from the very start that we're forced to conclude that he's making some plays just to be a dick, even at the cost of his plans.

Few villains rise to my mind as being truly memorable while also being well-characterized, evil, and horrific, and managing to be realistic within the bounds of the story. A true villain should be human enough to be believable, but also pull of some truly bastardly acts which make you want to end them. The best villains leave you unsatisfied with how things played out because the punishment they recieved was not enough to pay the butcher's bill that they owe.

So naturally, I once again turn to Final Fantasy Tactics for an example of true villainy.

I'm not going to be discussing Delita here. While he makes a fine foil to Ramza for the duration of the game, he is not a villain. Any discussion of Villains which includes Final Fantasy Tactics, however, inevitably brings up people who paint Delita as the central villain so it's probably best to get him out of the way before I move forward.

As a straight-up villain, Delita fails to even register. While he does occasionally pull some pretty dickish moves, he's just a reflection of Ramza's own struggle, and one who is all the more effective because he's the commoner to Ramza's noble: They each take the role that the other would play in a more boring story. One would expect the noble-born of the two main characters to be the helpful insider, playing his friend for political power and slowly destabilizing the current goverment to gain the reigns of power for himself. Likewise, being the guy who opts out of talking to whale the tar out of anyone who disagrees with him should be the province of the commoner who lost his sister and is out for revenge against the nobility, not the noble in hiding.

Then there's the fact that even with his arguably less than honest intentions, Delita ends up saving Ivalice every bit as much as Ramza does. While Ramza spends the second half of the game fighting supernatural threats very few people know exist, without Delita working in parallel, Ramza's efforts would have the country without leadership, political or spiritual. All the world would have known was that Ramza, a dangerous terrorist, spent years assassinating nobles and church officials with nobody to stop him before he finally vanished without a trace. Likewise Delita's efforts would have come to naught without Ramza working in the darkness: Even if he were King, he probably could have done little to stop the rise of the world's anti-Christ.

Even apart, they struggle together for one goal: Saving Ivalice. Delita only seems to be the villain because of how he manipulates the people around him, but he is inarguably a force for good within the story. No, the real villain of the story is someone else.

Vormav Tingel doesn't play into the first quarter of the game in any way, shape or form. It's not even until the end of Chapter 2, halfway through the game, that the player even begins to see more of his manipulations than the very basics. All the player knows throughout the Chapter 2 is that Vormav was the guy who paid some thieves to waylay the party in Dorter and that he was there to convince Princess Ovelia to side with Prince Goltana in the upcoming civil war. However, that really only scratches the surface.

Throughout the third of the game's four Chapters, it quickly becomes apparent that the Temple Knights, under Vormav's leadership, are in fact the ones perpetuating the civil war which is currently ripping Ivalice apart, using the power of the holy stones to bolster their strength and generally allowing them to move around unchecked. The sum total of their plot, at the time, appears to be to rip the country appart and allow Goltana's forces, the Nanten, and Larg's forces, the Hokuten, to exhaust themselves on one another so that the Glabados Church can step in and take power from the nobility and assume control for themselves. In and of itself, this is a marvelous plot, especially since it would have succeeded without Delita stepping in to usurp the plot at the last moment, leaving himself in power instead of the church.

However, this derails only one of the two plots, the other of which involves the holy stones themselves. Each contains a powerful Lucavi, which is basically a demon. The game demonstrates that the demons work in tandem with the people who have chosen to take up a holy stone, provided that the person holding the stone is compatible. Vormav, for example, works with Hashmalum to achieve their goals. The stones also allow the holder to assume the form of the demon within.

However, the important part of the holy stones is that their ability to influence the behavior of their holders is also dependant on what the holders are willing to let them do. This is demonstrated aptly with Weigraf, who chooses to spare Ramza rather than kill him outright when he first uses the stone, and then later when he fights Ramza himself until he's forced to use Velius' form. Even while wearing Velius' form, he chooses not to summon demons to help him until Ramza's own allies arrive to back him up.

I bring this up because it means that everything Vormav does, even after he gets the stone, is him. That's the man he is. When Hashmalum whispers in Vormav's ear about a way to bring about the end of the world, Vormav listens. When his children get in the way of his plot, he is willing to kill them out of hand. When the leader of his religious order becomes inconvenient, he orders him stabbed and left for dead.

Throughout the game, he uses his two children as pawns against Ramza, knowing full well that this will in all likelyhood get them killed. He keeps them ignorant not only about the holy stones he gives them, but also keeps them ignorant of the political plot they find themselves enforcing. Izlude gets killed when Weigraf slaughters the residents of Riovanes castle on Vormav's orders. Meliadoul is then allowed to think that Ramza killed her younger brother and chases after him for vengeance. It's only when she sees a holy stone in action that she begins to believe Ramza is innocent.

She only ever learns of it through one of her father's flunkies, with Vormav never acknowledging her beyond that point in the game.

It is not until the end of the game that Vormav's true villainy is laid bare. Chased by Ramza into Hell itself, he and the last remnants of the Temple Knights flee, dropping off one by one to try to buy Vormav the time he needs to turn Ramza's sister into the anti-Christ. It is only when Ramza comes across Hashmalum yelling in outrage over his sister that we learn that the civil war was, in fact, just a front. Hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions, needed to die to soak Ivalice in enough blood to call forth Altima, the head of the Lucavi.

The truly frightening thing about Vormav, of course, is how little he differs from the other characters within the story. Dycedarg, Goltana, and others are large-scale bastards, nearly as bad as Vormav. It is very easy to picture any of them becoming the monster that Vormav does by the end of the game. It's important to remember that even before he got his hands on the holy stone, the plot which was due to plunge the country into a bloody civil war was all Vormav, no devil whispering in the back of his mind required.

This is something mentioned explicitly by another of the Lucavi: The plot to plunge the country into civil war was not an invention of theirs, but something that they hijacked for their own purposes. It's actually quite interesting to note that without the need to run around looking for a suitable host for Altima, it is very likely that Vormav's plot to gain control of Ivalice would have succeeded, even with Delita plotting against him.

Without the distractions and the ultimate unimportance of it all, Vormav would have kept a tighter leash on the plan. In the final Chapter of the game, he basically lets the entire plot go to pot in favour of getting everything ready for Altima's return. He, a bloodthirsty maniac who needed to kill a good chunk of the country off in order to gain power, would have been ruling instead of the saintly by comparison Delita.

Vormav picking up the stone and getting possessed by the right-hand entity to the most evil being in creation was basically the best thing that could have happened to Ivalice. So let's face it: When being possessed like that actually reduces the possibility of you causing problems for your country, you know you've broken the bastardry guage a long time ago.

The war that pitted friends and family against one another was not enough to revive Altima, however, so Vormav pulls the final jerk move left to him. Rather than dying while facing Ramza, he manages to commit an act of villainy against the player: He robs them of the satisfaction of kicking his ass and making him pay. Rather than fighting Ramza, Vormav rips his chest apart and spills his blood on the holy stone which contains Altima, which brings it forth and proves to be the true final boss. Of course, in true Final Fantasy fashion, Ramza and company kick Altima's ass, but that ultimately pales beside Vormav's achievements.

Every goal Vormav set for himself, he was in a position to achieve. The only reason Delita was able to usurp his plan of taking over the country was because he'd abandoned the end result of stepping in to take over in favour of using it to soak the ground in enough blood to bring back Altima. Ramza was two steps behind Vormav every step of the way, and was repeatedly tricked into furthering Vormav's cause, be it by being a handy patsy to pin his crimes on to providing him the means to bring back Altima in the first place. Even his death was just another way of furthering his crimes rather than an admission of defeat.

Vormav is the ultimate villain, personally responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, abandoning his own children to further his goals, manipulating everyone around him, and doing so for the express purpose of bringing back the most evil being in existence. After everything he does, he completely escapes punishment or chastisement of any sort, presumably doing so with a smirk on his face and both middle fingers raised: One for Ramza, and one for the player themselves.

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