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Villains: So you want to be The Traitor


For this week's musing, I would like to look beyond a single villain that I liked. Why? Simply because there are too many good ones to name. So instead, I will do things a little different, I'm looking at a certain kind of villain. The Traitor, the one that everybody loves to hate. This blog will obviously contain spoilers, but they are mostly from older games and I will try to warn in advance. Don't worry, I won't stab you in the back on this.

So, mr. Evil McKillington, you have decided to become a villain in a video game. Even though you will most definitely lose in the end, that is a good choice. The villains are usually some of the most memorable characters in the game, and you will surely be remembered fondly. Now then, what type of villain would you like to become? Big Bad? Right hand man of the big bad? Incompetent comic relief underling? Take your pick.
Ah, so you would like to become The Traitor, do you? Interesting.
The Traitor is the character who seems to be helping the heroes throughout most of the game, only to stab them in the back later on. The fact that you build up trust first will ensure that you will be remembered for times to come. Players will hate the Traitor from the depths of their hearts, and they will love doing so. And that is exactly what's so great about this type of villain. Well, mr. McKillington, you have made a wise decision. Become a good Traitor, and your status as a classic villain will be guaranteed.

However, you have to keep in mind that being an effective Traitor is not easy. Slip up once, and the impact may be quickly destroyed. If you don't do it right, you might not be taken seriously, and we wouldn't want that. Fear not though, because as a player of many a story-based game, I can tell you exactly what to do, so that you may be the best Traitor gamers have ever seen.
Here are some guidelines to help you on your way.


1) Shock and awe (and foreshadow)
This is the most basic rule of becoming a memorable Traitor. When it finally turns out that you were evil all along, you want the players to be stunned by the revelation. I know this sounds straightforward, but you would be surprised by how many characters forget this rule. Some characters make it so obviously clear that they are actually evil, that no one will be shocked by it anymore. For example, many characters still believe that they can be a Chancellor or an advisor to the king, and expect it to be a shock when they turn out to be evil. However, gamers have long since realized that there is no such thing as a "good" advisor. It just doesn't work.
But then, look at Chancellor Cole, from The Legend of Zelda Spirit Tracks:

Yeah, he's not fooling anyone

Clearly, that is a guy who could use a healthy dose of subtlety.

However, there is one thing you should remember. Before you bust out your "I'm a friend to all living creatures" T-shirt, you should know that you can in fact be too subtle. How is that?
Quite simple really: if you become too nice and too helpful throughout the entire game, people simple will not believe you anymore when you turn out to be evil. They will feel that this plottwist is conveluted and makes no sense, and that your betrayal simply isn't credible. This will be a major strike against any Traitor, so make sure that you don't fall into this trap. An example of a game that clearly did fall into this trap is Fire Emblem Radiant Dawn. In this game there was a character who was quite literally the nicest guy in the game. He was a monk, and therefore inherently peaceful, and he went out of his way to help you in any way he could. In short, there was no way on earth that he could be evil. So when it turned out that he was, it just fell flat. His betrayal wasn't credible at all. He was just.too.nice.

To avoid this, you should use foreshadowing. In the correct dosage, foreshadowing can greatly help your cause, and it is advised that you invest in this vital aspect of your character.
Mysteriously mutter to yourself and respond "Oh, it's nothing" when your fellow travelers ask you what's up. Disappear without a trace every once in a while (but make sure to come back with useful information for the heroes, to keep their trust up). Have certain clear character flaws. There are many things that you can use, as long as you're creative enough.
Just make sure that your betrayal is believable in any way you can.
Basically, what you want is that it "all falls into place" for the players at the end. Everything just has to make sense all of a sudden. When they replay your game, make sure that they can catch the subtle hints that they missed the first time. That is the mark of a great Traitor.

In short, what you should remember is this: Make sure that your betrayal is credible, but have the shock be incredible.
This is a difficult balance, but if you manage to do it right, you're well on your way to greatness.

2) "Just brainwashed" is a no-go
This will be a brief one, and it ties in to #1. If you're going to be evil, just be evil. The "just brainwashed" cliché is already well known, and it just takes away the impact from your acts. Don't worry, you can still become good again after a while, if you want. Just become good again because you have seen the error of your ways Make it matter! The brainwashing is just an excuse to make you do evil things without the consequences. You don't want that, you want everything you do to have meaning. Only then will you become a memorable Traitor.
I'm looking at you, Kain.

Remember kids: Winners don't use brainwashing!

3) Make it personal
A more or less random person can make a good traitor. But what really makes a betrayal work, is if the Traitor in question is able to make it personal. Are you the best friend of the main character? Have you raised one of the heroes from birth? Or did you simply save the life of the hero's love interest? If so, you are in a fantastic position. Not only will you be one of the last people that gamers will suspect of being evil (see #1), changing sides ensures that you'll really hurt the heroes on an emotional level. They thought that they could trust you, that you would never do something like that, but they were horribly mistaken. Taunt the heroes a bit for good measure, really rub your evilness in their faces.

Evil as you are, you will love the look on their faces once they realize you're not kidding, trust me.

Clearly the work of a true master

But obviously, you're doing all of this to leave a lasting impression on the gamers. Still, this remains a vital piece of advice. The reason is clear.
If the game you're in is any good, then the players should be completely immersed in the story. They will be relating to the heroes very strongly. This can be exploited.
If you hurt the heroes, chances are that the gamers will feel it too. You will instantly become "the guy to kill" to anyone who cares about the game's story, and this is exactly what you want.
If the gamers want you dead beyond all else, you have made it as the Traitor. You have cemented your position in the game, and these people will remember you for years to come. They will hate you, yes, but they will love doing so. That, right there, is exactly what you should be going for. And if you really do it right, even the main antagonist will have to bow before your treacherous ways.
Look at Tales of Symphonia. Who was the best villain in that game? It certainly wasn't the Big Bad, and you know it!

4) Go from great asset to even greater threat
In a way, rule #4 ties into to the previous one. When you become the Traitor, everything is about hurting the player as much as you can. This is the best way to be a memorable villain. Look at Sephiroth, one of the most famous villains ever. How did he become so big? Why, he killed Aeris, off course, and gamers hated him for it. He hurt them on a whole new level.
You, as the Traitor of the game, have this opportunity as well, and there is only one thing that you have to do.

Be an asset to the team while you're still 'good'.
If you are one of the best fighters in the hero party, it will physically hurt to see you go. Not only are the heroes now robbed of one of their most valued people, they have gained a powerful enemy as well. You will deal two strikes at once. If the player thinks "My god, I wish this guy was back on my team" when he's finally fighting you, you have done incredibly well. In contrast, if you were not of any use while you were still good, then the player most likely will not care when you leave. He or she knows that there are much better fighters still on the side of good, and (s)he know that you are going to be incredibly easy to kill. Memorable, this is not.
You can still save it, a little bit, by giving some vital piece of information to the Big Bad, but that will only get you so far. Let's look at someone, a guy from Final Fantasy VII, who made this mistake.

Look at the little guy. Could you ever see him as a credible threat? He's a little cat doll riding a somewhat larger Moogle doll, for crying out loud!
Hardly anyone ever used Cait Sith in their main party, because he was simply outclassed. Even if you desperately wanted a cat in your party, you could always go for Red XIII, who was a lion with a flaming tail, and therefore awesome. So, this guy usually stood on the sidelines during most of the game. It turns out, as should be obvious by now, that he betrays you. But did anyone really care? Not really, because what was Cait Sith going to do? Throw furballs at us? Seymour also failed hilariously in Final Fantasy X, where he would keep coming back over and over again, only to be beaten instantly. Besides that, he barely had more subtlety than Chancellor Cole.

No, you don't want this to happen to you. When you leave, you want both the heroes and player to physically feel it. So buff up, learn magic and just allround kick butt wherever you can. And when the player finally feels like he has a great party with you in it, leave. Just like that, leave the party and watch the player try to fill up that tremendous void that you left. After that, watch them try to fight you and fail hilariously.
They will hate you for this, and again, that is exactly what you want.

And last but not least: 5) Die well
What you do need to understand, however, is that you will not survive. You can't. You want to become the villain in a video game, and that means that inevitably you will die. It might be in this game, or you may get lucky and come back in the sequel. At any rate, at one point you are going to die for real. Yet, this is not a moment for sadness. It is actually quite the opposite, your death is your chance to really hit it home. If you pull off a good death scene, nothing will get the gamer's minds off you for a very long time. If you want gamers to remember your name in 10 years, your death may be vital.

There are a couple of ways to go about this, but first and foremost:
Try to get killed by the one you hurt the most. Were you the main character's best friend? Make sure that it is him who kills you. Did you kill the boyfriend of a sidecharacter? Have her do it. You can come up with many other scenarios yourself. A karmic death can really work wonders.

She may be just a computer, but she betrayed me and she.is.going.DOWN!

You want this because it provides a great deal of closure for everyone involved. Again, if the player is engaged in the story, nothing will feel better than to end you once and for all with the character that has the most reason to do so. All that hatred that you build up towards you over the course of the game, will instantly turn into a sense of victory and satisfaction. Of course, you shouldn't die just like that, you have to die after you provide an epic bossfight. Get yourself a cool location and an incredible boss-theme, and you're ready to go. No one will remember you if you unceremoniously die for no reason, because that is nowhere near as satisfying. So do it right and craft your death carefully.

What you could also do is to turn good again at the very last minute. Although this may be a bit harder to pull off, the rewards for success are more than worth it.
Just before you die, monologue about how blind you have been, about how the heroes were always in the right. Then, at the very last moment, save the heroes by sacrificing yourself. Stay behind to disarm a bomb, tackle the Big Bad into the lava, just be creative about this in any way you can.
The added benefit to this approach is that you will keep the players guessing.
"Was he really that evil?" will be the title of many a topic on the fanforums. Players will be discussing your character long after you have passed, and this is a great way to go. If you really pull this approach off well, people may even start to sympathize with you. They will wonder whether you may have had a good reason to betray them, if you maybe had a point somewhere. You will have both the villain creds, and the hero's. That really is the best that you could ask for. Just be sure that you explain yourself well, and don't turn good again for no reason (remember #2). Your transition has to make sense, just like it did when you turned evil in the first place.

Done well, any death scene can keep you memorable for a long time. So by all means, go all out. You have nothing left to lose, so have your death be the greatest that it can possibly be!


And that's it. These are the most important guidelines that I can give you if you want to become an effective and memorable Traitor. Who wants to be the main antagonist anyway, when your deception can net you just as many fans? Do it well, and you will be the talk of the internet.
You have made an excellent choice, and I wish you all the best. I hope I will be able to love to hate you in whatever game you decide to appear.
You are now ready to join the real world of Traitors. Go out there, and make us proud.

what are you doing with that knife?...

- Us heroes, we have so much to do

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About ShadeOfLightone of us since 7:43 AM on 07.16.2010

The Dutch one, Grand Marshal of the Nintendo Defense Force, heckler of GajKnight, and zen personified; I am ShadeOfLight, one of your Community Managers .

I'm a Dutch law PhD who loves to play the vidya. I'm a Nintendo-fanboy at heart, and I could play Zelda games continuously from now until the end of time. I also used to be on the Cblog Recaps team for Thursdays, and I did that for 4 whole years.

Next to Zelda I'm also obsessed with the Monolith Soft RPGs Xenoblade Chronicles and the Baten Kaitos series. I will not pass up the opportunity to mention them, ever, and I consider myself to be Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean's biggest fan. I'm fairly certain Monolith Soft exists specifically to make me happy.

Being the good Nintendo fanboy that I am, the Switch is the new love of my life. I'm on a steady course of turning it into a Nintendo + Indies machine, as Iwata intended.

Even a list of my favorite games across all platforms will be dominated by Nintendo and indie, with a few wild cards here and there.

Besides gaming itself, I like reading up on gaming-related news on my favorite website in the whole wide world: Destructoid. I'm pretty much here all the time. I love all the people here, and I'm glad that I get to be a part of this whole thing. Wouldn't know what to do without you!

And it turns out you guys love me too!
I've had some blogs promoted:
- Digital Property: Entering the Third Age
- Better with Age: Batman: Arkham Asylum
- Waifu Wars: Midriff or Bust
- And posted as The Wombat: 2014: I want to make love to you. Seriously.

MikeyTurvey drew me as an archer:

StriderHoang made me a Trading Card:

and a Spell Card for The Wombat:

Meanderbot drew me plus himself and Pixielated drinking root beer:

RobertoPlankton drew the following scenario based on my username and avatar:

And Alphadeus wrote me a theme song:
Radiant Umbrae (ShadeOfLight)
Steam ID:ShadeOfLight


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