Quality Villainy Series – Super Mario RPG

What’s a good story without a great villain? All right, to be fair, there are phenomenal stories where the antagonist is not an individual, but is instead a force, idea, or other non-flesh-and-blood opposition.

But c’mon, we love (to hate) those more corporeal rascals and all the mayhem they cause. So why not look at a few of the greats in this new series I’ve devised? What are the different types of baddies we can find in video games, and how do they teach us to write excellent enmity?

I’m gonna be completely shameless and start us off with my childhood.

I’m imagining the confusion now. “What the crap?” the readers say. ” Why are we looking at a Mario game for tips on writing amazing villains? These baddies are so by-the-book.” Listen here, you little upstarts. You don’t question the greats of the medium. Sit yourselves down and get educated.

(Nya!)

(Okay, so maybe that was all a little unnecessary.)

Super Mario RPG boasts some serious randomness, and that certainly extends to its cast of villains. The plot’s primary team, after all, is made up of anthropomorphized weaponry. And what weird-lookin’ weaponry they are…

Add to these fellas a mix of sideline characters of dubious intent, and you have quite the pool to draw from. You have those villains who aren’t necessarily evil, but maybe just a tad deranged and in the wrong place at the wrong time. This leads to some thoroughly memorable characters – there’s a reason SMRPG diehards refer to the maniac manchild Booster so often, after all.

But I’m interested in exploring the nature of a villain whose motives are purely, deliciously devious. Someone who’s completely certain of her malicious intent. Someone who holds the honor of being one of only two female villains in the entire game – and the only one who operates as head honcho over her henchmen. Yes, she definitely has her ways of standing out –

…No comment.

-the illustrious (Queen) Valentina.

Her role in the game (for those who haven’t played – oh, and spoiler alert): in the faraway, isolated Nimbus Land, Valentina has plans to overthrow the present rulers by tricky means. With the king and queen quietly locked away and no one allowed inside the palace, Valentina raises the claim she’s found the long-missing prince of the kingdom, and he’s chosen her for his bride. But why does the prince of a fluffy cloud people look strangely like a giant black toucan…?

So why pick Valentina for this study on excellent villains? It’s true in many ways she’s “by the book” – out for power, going the most direct route by usurping a kingdom’s throne, completely rude and ill-mannered. There’s no subtlety in her designs (tactical or…illustrative). But you know what? Ain’t nothing wrong with that.

Too many stories get caught up in the complex motives of their antagonist, or in the “twist” storyline where a seemingly innocent character was wicked all along. As for Valentina, she’s straight up vicious and awful, and there’s something wonderful about that.

See, because of her one-dimensional morality, the writers and developers can have all the fun they want with her. You think a “twist” villain adds interest to a conflict? Fair enough. But I’d rather have Valentina’s openly snide dialogue.

The point of creating villains is to make characters who stand out just as well as the heroes, and you don’t necessarily need complexity or a game-changing one-eighty to accomplish that. That’s why I love Valentina. She knows who she is, the audience knows who she is, and therefore we can delight in her perfectly devilish actions.

Besides, she still breaks the mold in her own way. It’s not every day you see a villainess get her own “happily ever after”.

#bestcouple

 

Super Mario RPG is the property of Nintendo/Square-Enix. You can purchase it for your own enjoyment through the Wii or Wii U Virtual Console, or play it through the SNES Classic.

The Complex Villain (Part II) – Porky from Mother 3

[Currently listening to: the Shovel Knight OST. Oh yeah. You know we gonn’ talk about that game soon.]

*There are so many spoilers in this post, I can’t guarantee I won’t ruin your life if you plan to play Mother 3. Read at your own risk.


In our previous post about Porky as a villain we covered certain aspects of creating a complex antagonist – looking at the character’s origin, relationships, and reactions to circumstances. Now we move into Mother 3, where Porky makes his return.

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What’s unique about Mother 3 is that, while our protagonists don’t meet Porky until near the very end of the game, he has a hand in everything they encounter, and we can see the sort of person he is just by the results of his influence. There’s plenty to learn from this story as well, which you knooooooow we’re going to cover in gloriously obsessive detail.

What sort of character-development does Mother 3‘s Porky teach us to observe? Let’s look at important aspects with the tried and true “three bullet point” method.

Perspective

Everyone – protagonist or antagonist – will have a skewed view of the world. It’s the nature of experience. Typically, a villain will have a view that causes trouble for the heroes – if not an even larger scope of characters.

Perspective can be boiled down to one idea: how does the character think s/he should serve the world? Or how does the character think the world should serve him/her? For Porky, the world of Mother 3 is his playground.  He sees everything – even human life – as a toy for his personal entertainment.

Despite his age, Porky is still acting on little boy impulses. In his mind, people and nature should serve him according to his selfish wants, which means that perspective and its consequential behavior must be closely tied to –

Morals

It’s obvious that a moral code should shape the actions of a villain, but the spectrum in which their morals could lie can be broad. Typically, the classic villain operates on an immoral code: he knows his actions are evil but is still willing (and sometimes even gleeful) to commit wicked deeds. But can there be villains who operate on a moral code? I leave you to speculate on who could fall into that category. *Jeopardy music*

Porky operates on an amoral code, which might be as common as the immoral code in regards to fictional antagonistic behavior, but – in my opinion – allows for more character development.

Why does Porky hold to his morals (or lack thereof)? His loveless upbringing has something to do with it, no doubt. That sort of emptiness, coupled with his immortality  – it’s a sure-fire recipe for ambivalence.

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Amorality can be even more frightening than immorality: There is NO ground on which to reason with an amoral character. To them, the notion of ethics is completely foreign and unnecessary. For Porky, whatever satisfies him in the moment is his driving force.

Morals are a cornerstone for any character – hero, villain, or anything in between. Once those have been established we’re naturally led to –

Motive

What does it all boil down to? What does our villain want? Sometimes it can be something noble – or at least harmless – but the way the villain goes about obtaining it is immoral and damaging. This is maybe where Porky was at the start of his own story (in Earthbound): He wanted acceptance, but never found a way to fill that hole.

By Mother 3 Porky’s continuous poor choices have led him to a dire ultimatum:

Everything leads up to this point. Porky brainwashes people to like him, destroys their belongings if they don’t, takes the people who are most precious to the protagonist Lucas and uses one of them for his own personal gain. They’re the typical responses of a spoiled child, only magnified by the amount of power Porky has been able to amass.

And when none of that satisfies? When nothing combats the boredom and emptiness? Remove the offending party – in this case, everyone.

So if you need a complex villain for your story, don’t forget: They need just as much love and attention as your protagonists. But not too much love and attention. Otherwise they might stop being so deliciously bad.

 

Mother 3 is the property of Nintendo & Shigesato Itoi and has no English language release. You can, however, emulate the game in Japanese and use this translation patch by Tomato. If you choose this route, please support the developers by investing in their other games and merchandise.

The Complex Villain (Part I) – Porky from Earthbound

[Currently listening to: Starbound OST]

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There’s plenty to love about the stereotypical villain. Baddies like Final Fantasy VI‘s Kefka or Super Mario‘s Bowser are so memorable because of their over-the-top power-mongering. They’ve got no reason to cause our heroes trouble other than for the “evulz”.  Motive isn’t really in focus here; we just want them to cause a little mayhem – the hammier the better.

Think about Disney’s typical villain recipe:

  1. Must want power/control/revenge.
  2. Does not necessarily require backstory.
  3. An eccentric personality certainly helps.

With this perfect fusion of attitude and wickedness we’re guaranteed to love the antagonist, but not so much that we want them to win. I love Maleficent and Hades, but I’m too attached to those movies’ protagonists to root for the opposing team with their barely-developed motivations.

The system works in fiction, especially when the point – or moral – of the story doesn’t require more than a two-dimensional villain. But, of course, in the real world cruelty isn’t born in a bubble. Circumstances and choices (of both the individual and outside influences) can shape the sinful nature of man into someone more complex than a power-monger. Maybe your story’s villain needs that sort of development.

He may not be our grittiest example of a complex baddie, but in this post we’re going to look at:

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Porky Minch.

(Pokey? Porky? Dangit, localization, why must you make things so confusing?)

Here’s a bully with two games in a trilogy focused on his motives. Even though in Earthbound our “big bad” is Giygas, it quickly becomes clear that Po(r)k(e)y is the antagonist to watch (partly because Giygas is just nebulously “out there” controlling the evil in people). And in Mother 3, even though the main party doesn’t even meet him until the last hour of the game, his actions behind the scenes make it clear what sort of person he is.

There’s just too much to cover about Porky (whatever, I’ll just go with that form of his name) in one post, so you know what that means…

…IT’S A PORKY-PALOOZA ALL MONTH LONG!

So! To begin, let’s talk about the way he’s introduced in Earthbound. I’m referring of course to the importance of –

Origin

Who is Porky? Why is he important to the story? How is he introduced? What vibes does he give off?

A villain should make a memorable entrance; it doesn’t need to expose his villainy right away, but it should at least set up the character traits that will foretell a fall from grace. (Even a surprise villain’s motivations need to make sense.) Porky, at the start, is pushy and a bully, but by and large is no real threat. He’s the typical obnoxious kid next door. We’re guaranteed to remember him, though, partly because of his attitude.

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The other part? Well, that would be –

Relationships

Your villain needs to matter to the protagonist. Otherwise, what’s the use in them conflicting? Some stories make it immediately apparent that their baddie intends grief for the hero. In Porky’s case, it’s further into the game that we realize he means business (oh, come on, it’s funny), but the way he treats Ness at the start assures us that their relationship not only has history, but it’s also one blue-colored cult away from turning sour.

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Even the most 2D villains can have a relationship with the protagonist, though. What makes Porky more complex is the secondary relationships that have shaped him – primarily, his relationship with his parents.

This relationship is more inferred than the blatantly antagonistic one Porky shares with Ness. Aside from the abusive discipline we see his father administer at the start of the game, the rest of our information comes from inference in just a few lines of dialogue: like Mr. Minch’s constant focus on money and importance, or the fact that Mrs. Minch has a “gentleman friend” visiting the house at the game’s end while her husband is away.

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Circumstances – positive or negative – will rouse a response in the receiver. You can see this in the whole history of mankind. Since good fiction reflects this characteristic of man (again – positive and negative), it follows that in-story circumstances need to rouse a response from our characters as well. So in light of the information we’ve covered so far, let’s take a look at Porky’s –

Reactions

Porky ‘s upbringing hasn’t left much room for gracious behavior, and it’s honestly something you pity in him instead of hate. He seems to want a good friendship with Ness, but his anger and broken home life cause him to act out in other ways.

What’s he been taught to do when the world doesn’t give him what he wants? Well, it could be argued that his only reference – his father – has taught him that importance is the key to satisfaction. So he seeks it – higher and higher until finally he has it, fully corrupted by Giygas’ hatred.

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In the end, he’s a power-mongering villain like so many others, but what makes him different is his backstory of abuse and inability to foster positive relationships. He’s a reflection of many real people with real struggles and real sins. In some ways, we relate to him more than we relate to the game’s heroes.

But that’s only scraping the surface of Porky’s psyche. In our next video game post, we’ll see what makes him tick in Mother 3.

 

Earthbound is the property of Nintendo and Shigesato Itoi. You can play it via the Wii U virtual console.