Final Fantasy titles are well known and loved for their ensemble casts of heroic characters, but their villains are just as iconic – sometimes even more so. I mean, seriously, play One-Winged Angel to a room full of people that are even remotely aware of what a JRPG is and every single one of them will be able to tell you that it's Sephiroth's theme song. Bet on it.
The heart of almost every good story is a compelling villain. After all, if you're going to be a hero, you're going to need something engaging to struggle heroically against. But the operative term there is engaging. If your motley crew's opposing force fails to elicit fear, anger, apprehension, or even a bit of empathy at times, then the whole ordeal's going to boil down to a pointless and unfulfilling grind.
And while the Final Fantasy series has certainly churned out more than its fair share of unforgettable bad guys, it has also introduced us to quite a few that were just totally lame - which brings us to the point of this article. Let's check out ten Final Fantasy villains that failed to impress, alongside ten more that were almost more awesome than the heroes that took them on.
20 HURT IT: Kuja (Final Fantasy IX)
I'm going to be perfectly upfront about the fact that I loved Final Fantasy IX. It was a throwback title that pumped the brakes on the more experimental directions of VII and VIII, while still managing to break new ground on some fronts. It was an absolutely delightful experience for fans of the series' roots.
That said, I had a really hard time feeling any sort of antipathy towards Kuja. Or feeling much of anything towards him, really. He wasn't very well characterized and felt like an incredibly generic anime villain with a needlessly convoluted background. Though I've got to admit, he had a pretty awesome soundtrack.
19 SAVED IT: Sephiroth (Final Fantasy VII)
You really didn't think we'd get through the list without talking about Sephiroth, did you? Easily the most popular bad dude in the series, he's achieved a level of sheer notoriety that no Final Fantasy villain has managed to surpass.
Dangerous and unpredictable, Sephiroth really was a force to be reckoned with. And while he's got a lot going for him, from his rad katana to his complex origin story, let's be real about what really drove us to defeat him - the brutal moment during which he skewered Aeris before our very eyes. I may or may not still be going to therapy over that.
18 HURT IT: Seymour Guado (Final Fantasy X)
He may not have been the essential big bad of Final Fantasy X at the end of the day, but he serves as a pretty centralized antagonist for the greater majority of the game. And he absolutely bored me to tears.
I feel like if he'd been more convincingly portrayed as a good guy leading up to his big reveal as a corrupt demagogue he would've had a much more profound impact. But everything from his aesthetic to his voice acting is a giveaway from the start, and there's little else about him that stands out. Except for that hair. I mean, look at it.
17 SAVED IT: The Lucavi (Final Fantasy Tactics)
So if you know anything about me by now, it's that I love Final Fantasy Tactics, and I'm less than ashamed to let my bias fly free for this one. While each of the individual Lucavi deserves an entry of their own, they'd take up nearly half of the list, so we'll have to make do.
These demonic entities are totally horrifying unto themselves, and fighting them actually feels like an uphill battle against an eldritch horror. But it's definitely Tactics' penchant for rich storytelling that really carries them. Most of them are attached to deep, fully-realized characters, and the heretical conspiracy surrounding their existence is some of the best-written lore in gaming as a whole.
16 HURT IT: Genesis Rhapsodos (Crisis Core)
I'm not quite sure what Square was going for here. I guess they figured that they really needed a dark, mysterious, brooding type to offset Sephiroth's unhinged crazy if they were going to rope in another villain to play directly off of him.
So we wound up with an incredibly generic anime dude that really enjoyed quoting awful poetry. And that's virtually all there was to him. Lore wise, his inclusion is an incredibly baffling and unnecessary retcon. Sephiroth's origin story was perfectly fine without him. Heck, the events of Crisis Core wouldn't really have suffered for his absence.
15 SAVED IT: Dycedarg Beoulve (Final Fantasy Tactics)
The eldest of the Beoulve brothers is a classical Machiavellian villain, weighing his misdeeds against the concept of the "greater good," but ultimately succumbing to the demonic influence of the Lucavi when he accepts the Capricorn stone.
Seemingly a stalwart and stoic man of good intent and even better tactical sensibilities, his story arc is lengthy and incredibly well written. The revelation that he actually poisoned his father is legitimately alarming, and Ramza's eventual confrontation with him is palpably tense and dramatic. I could drone on for hours about the virtues of Tactics' plot, so I'll save you some boredom and say this - Dycedarg is a fantastically underrated villain.
14 HURT IT: Ardyn Izunia (Final Fantasy XV)
I've been perfectly upfront about the fact that I'm not a big fan of Final Fantasy XV, so this shouldn't really come as a surprise. I feel like Square tried way too hard to make Ardyn charismatic and flamboyant to channel previous successes on that front, and it shows. Needless to say, he's no Kefka.
I never found him truly intimidating or worthy of spite, no matter how overtly snarky and patronizing he was over the course of the adventure. Even when his "true identity" is outed and he adopts the whole black metal aesthetic, I just don't buy it. I mean really, were most players even all that invested in the actual story behind Final Fantasy XV: Super Road Trip Bros?
13 SAVED IT: Ultros (Final Fantasy VI)
"Ugh," you roll your eyes, "But I hated Ultros so much!" Well, good, doofus. You were supposed to hate him. And that's exactly why I loved him, corny octopus puns and everything.
Ultros always popped up when you least expected him, and that ridiculous purple sprite always successfully imparted that feeling of exasperation and dread that a recurring boss fight should provide. I'm also going to head out onto a limb here and say that his fourth-wall breaking dad jokes were wonderfully juxtaposed with Final Fantasy VI's oppressively defeatist narrative.
12 HURT IT: Vayne Solidor (Final Fantasy XII)
I'm not trying to hurt anyone's feelings, really. I just can't help but feel like the villains of the series have been gradually devolving into one dimensional caricatures since Final Fantasy X. I've had so much of the blatantly telegraphed and seedy politician guy turning out to be some flavor of evil, otherworldly being that it has totally lost its impact on me.
And that pretty much sums up Vayne, honestly. His total lack of presence, one-note direction and forgettable appearance had absolutely no impression on me, and the entire story of Final Fantasy XII suffered for it.
11 SAVED IT: Zemus (Final Fantasy IV)
To me, Final Fantasy IV is where Square really started to figure out how to craft an engaging and dramatic story arc. And of course, a great plot demands a great villain. So we wound up with what is basically a Lovecraftian moon monster, and I loved it.
While he isn't encountered directly until very late in the game, he influences the events of the story through his sheer psychic power. After the defeat of his initial, alien-looking Lunarian form, he transforms into Zeromus, which strongly resembles something you'd find in the Cthulhu mythos. And that earns quite a few points in my book.
10 HURT IT: Garland (Final Fantasy)
While it seems a little picky to take aim at the earliest Final Fantasy titles as products of their time, they are, unfortunately, just that. They're great games in a historical context, and I doubt anyone would argue against that. But in terms of storytelling, they're pretty underdeveloped and bare bones.
And that's precisely why Garland sort of falls flat as a villain. He's an ageless bad guy that wants to do bad things. Sure, that fulfilled the narrative requirement for conflict, but it doesn't venture much further than that, and Square would obviously go on to develop much more engaging adversaries in the future.
9 SAVED IT: Jenova (Final Fantasy VII)
If you found yourself confused by the concept of Jenova over the course of your Final Fantasy VII playthrough, rest assured, it's totally understandable. But the mysterious and borderline baffling nature of Jenova's existence is precisely what makes her an awesome villain.
An extraterrestrial being of immense power, Jenova was essentially responsible for the creation of the game's (and perhaps the series') most recognizable protagonist, Sephiroth. In fact, you're actually chasing after her for most of the time that you think you're chasing Sephiroth. Yes, it's a little confusing, but brushing up on the lore might help in clearing things up.
8 HURT IT: Exdeath (Final Fantasy V)
Don't get me wrong, Final Fantasy V did tote a decent story, but the characters never felt as fully realized to me as they did in Final Fantasy IV or any of the subsequent games. This includes the leading bad guy, Exdeath.
While the whole concept surrounding his humble origin as a spooky tree is actually kind of neat, he isn't much outside of being an incredibly mean dude that doesn't like nice people or nice things. Sure, it fulfills the basic need for a villain, but possessing even the bare minimum in the personality department goes a long way towards being memorable.
7 SAVED IT: Sin (Final Fantasy X)
While I've explained my issues with Yu Yevon elsewhere on the list, conceptually, Sin was an awesome antagonistic force. During its impetuous rampage across Spira, Sin actually feels like a totally unstoppable entity of immense power.
The sheer hopelessness of standing against it by conventional force of arms is made abundantly clear during the alarming events of Operation Mi'ihen, in which it obliterates the combined forces of the Crusaders and the Al Bhed. Even a small fragment of it proves a stout opponent for Yuna's party at this point.
6 HURT IT: Jecht (Final Fantasy X)
I definitely recognize Jecht's necessity to Final Fantasy X's plot and Tidus' character arc, and I get that both he and Tidus aren't supposed to feel like they "fit in" to the world of Spira given their origins. But I found myself really disappointed by both as characters.
Although they do their best to paint Jecht as a somewhat sympathetic antagonist, he comes off as deeply unlikable at almost every turn. Don't get me wrong, that can be a valid angle for a villain. But we're supposed to see some redeeming qualities with this one, and every attempt to pull that off falls flat. I also feel the need to mention that him still wearing his trademark bandana as Braska's final aeon always struck me as just a little bit silly.
5 SAVED IT: Edea / Ultimecia (Final Fantasy VIII)
Final Fantasy VIII was hit and miss for me in terms of plot, but it's definitely a game that made its mark on the series. And contributing to that success is the complex and calculating dark sorceress, Ultimecia.
Initially taking the guise of the alluring Edea Kramer, Ultimecia is a villain that you encounter in "layers" as the story progresses, and the design of her final form is equal parts creative and intimidating. Leaning more towards the latter, obviously. Great artistic direction combined with an incredibly involved backstory land Ultimecia comfortably among the best villains that Final Fantasy has on offer.
4 HURT IT: Cloud Of Darkness (Final Fantasy III)
Cloud of Darkness, like a few of the other picks on this list, falls into the category of a "placeholder villain." Lacking in any real definitive characterization, all we know is that it's evil, and the heroes need to stop it from doing evil things.
There's just not much there for players to latch onto. It just sort of pops up as the final boss encounter, then you take it down, and it isn't very fulfilling. With so little build-up to the confrontation, it offers little in terms of emotional investment or payoff outside of beating the game. Hooray for you. That's about as much fanfare as you'll get.
3 SAVED IT: Wiegraf Folles (Final Fantasy Tactics)
Wiegraf is interesting because while he is antagonistic and brash, his initial motivation and reasoning can raise conflicting opinions. He's a leading figure of the upstart Corpse Brigade, composed of revolutionary lower class soldiers that the nobility turned their backs on at the conclusion of the Fifty Years' War.
He's also a man of honor, refusing to stoop to banditry during his crusade. The Brigade's seemingly legitimate motivations are enough to make you question your own actions and allegiance as you navigate Ramza and company through their conflict against him, beautifully setting the stage for Final Fantasy Tactics' greater narrative.
2 HURT IT: Yu Yevon (Final Fantasy X)
Yes, technically Yu Yevon was Sin, and that's complicated. But the final, climactic boss fight with this thing at the end of Final Fantasy X really left a sour taste in my mouth that directly impacted my opinion of the whole game for the worse.
We could've had a glorious send-off against something with a little more visual splendor than a glorified floating tick, guys. And if that wasn't enough, it's virtually impossible to actually fail his boss fight. All of your party members have a permanent Auto-Life status effect for the entirety of the battle, and you can actually one shot this dude with a Phoenix Down. "Lame" doesn't even begin to cover it.
1 SAVED IT: Kefka Palazzo (Final Fantasy VI)
Let's go ahead and address my extreme bias on this one – Kefka is the best Final Fantasy villain, and very few others over the long and storied history of the series can even hold a candle to the legacy of the dancing madman.
He's unpredictably dangerous, deviously cunning, and flamboyant in a way that's actually scary – it serves as an extension of his absolute lack of restraint and sanity, rather than a tired aesthetic trope that was slapped onto so many of the villains that followed him. If his trademark cackle doesn't do it for you, how about the fact that he successfully brought about the end of the world and ascended to godhood?