It’s easy to root for the hero, but not as easy to root for the bad guy. The Final Fantasy series introduces some of the most heartbreaking bosses in video game history. Here are nine you need to know.
Final Fantasy IV: Mist Dragon
The first boss players encounter in Final Fantasy IV doesn’t seem like much more than a sparkling beast at first glance. Upon slaying the Mist Dragon, however, you’ll realize that you’ve committed a horrible crime.
The dragon protects the Mist Village, where the Dark Knight Cecil and his friend Kain are ordered to visit to deliver a ring. Upon slaying their foe, they meet Rydia, a seven-year-old girl from the village. She seems horrified that the dragon has been slain, and explains that it wasn’t a normal dragon at all–it was a summon cast by her mother. In FFIV, when a summon dies, so does the Summoner, and thus, Rydia’s mother is dead. Congratulations, you’ve made an orphan out of a little girl.
Final Fantasy VIII: Seifer
From the very beginning of Final Fantasy VIII, players are encouraged to develop a deep dislike for Seifer. He’s shown as an uncaring bully, wielding power without responsibility and seeming to never care for anyone but himself. However, his childhood tells the story of a romantic whose dream and ego are torn to pieces over the course of the game.
As a young boy, Seifer fantasized about becoming an honorable and powerful knight. The image he has of this person is idealized and childish, and upon becoming Edea’s defender, he is slowly driven mad by his own ideals. His story is a warning to those who are consumed by the past, as Squall manages to mature and rise from his childhood trauma.
Final Fantasy IX: Kuja
While countless players have referred to Kuja as one of the more annoying Final Fantasy antagonists, many have also found him to be the most human and well-developed villain in the franchise. Playing through the first three discs, it’s hard not to see Kuja as just another sadistic narcissist who enjoys killing for no reason, but upon entering the dungeon of Pandemonium, Zidane learns the truth. Kuja is a Genome, a race of humanoids produced by Garland.
Though typical Genomes view themselves as disposable and show little interest in self-expression, Kuja is the opposite to an extreme. He does not want power or world domination–he simply wants to be more than just another puppet or tool. He wants only the right to determine his own future.
Final Fantasy IV: The King and Queen of Eblan
Returning to Final Fantasy IV, the King and Queen of Eblan are the parents of notorious flirt and skilled ninja, Prince Edge. After the castle is attacked, the people of Eblan flee to the Cave of Eblan, while the King and Queen are abducted by Dr. Lugae. While this would be a troubling enough circumstance, the doctor then transforms the King and Queen into chimeric monsters and keeps them hostage atop the Tower of Babil.
Understandably, Edge sets out with a group of soldiers to rescue them, but not all goes according to plan. As the player fights the royals, they suddenly come to their senses long enough to tell Edge that they are no longer human, and wish to die with their minds intact. They then self-destruct, leaving all of us feeling more than a little bummed out.
Final Fantasy VII: Dyne
Fan-favorite Final Fantasy VII has plenty of heartbreaking characters to choose from, but one is often overlooked. Dyne, Barret Wallace’s best friend during the gunner’s life in Corel, is the biological father of Marlene. Dyne, understandably, opposed Shinra’s mako reactor being built near the town. When an explosion occurred after it was built, Shinra burned down Corel, killing Dyne’s wife, Eleanor, and Barret’s wife, Myrna. At that time, Dyne assumed that Marlene, then a newborn, had been killed as well.
Saving Dyne from falling to his death in a large crevice cost Barret his arm. When Barret finds his friend again in the Corel Prison, he tells him that Marlene is alive. Dyne, rather than being happy, seeks to kill Marlene to ease Eleanor’s loneliness in the afterlife. Barret is forced to kill him, and as he drifts away, Dyne claims that his hands are too stained with blood to ever hold his child again regardless.
Final Fantasy XIII-2: Caius Ballad
The Final Fantasy XIII trilogy is often maligned, but it contains plenty of well-written characters that deserve a second chance. Caius Ballad is the main antagonist of Final Fantasy XIII-2 and is introduced as Lightning’s fated rival.
Originally a Gran Pulse l’Cie charged with protecting the seeress Yeul as her Guardian, players soon understand that his devotion to her is born more from love than duty. With every vision of the future Yeul sees, her life span grows shorter. She dies over and over at a young age, only to be reborn once more. Each reincarnation has the same appearance and same ability, and each is once again given the name Yeul. Caius fights to break this cycle so that he can stop watching the woman he loves die over and over again. Ouch.
Final Fantasy X: Jecht
Sure, Tidus’s dad seems like nothing more than an arrogant alcoholic, but he’s a good guy at heart. As he traveled alongside Summoner Braska as he made his pilgrimage to defeat Sin, Jecht grows as a character, offering to help people along the way simply because it was “the right thing to do.”
Jecht offers up his life to become Braska’s Final Aeon, asking Auron to look after Tidus after his death. Yu Yevon’s spirit then possesses him and transforms him into the core of a new sin, leaving Jecht’s soul trapped for ten years.
The reluctant antagonist of Final Fantasy X, who knows how many lives Jecht took against his will as he was forced to rampage through Spira. The guilt must be unbearable.
Final Fantasy XV: Ardyn Izunia
Upon meeting Ardyn, players might immediately write him off as just another eccentric and quirky villain hiding a warped wish for power. The truth? 2,000 years ago, Ardyn was the firstborn son of his family. He held the power to heal others by transferring the ailment into his own body, and in his thirties, he traveled the countryside healing those with the Starscourge in secret, and entirely out of the goodness of his heart.
His brother, on the other hand, rounded up the infected and burned them alive to contain the outbreak. When it was time for the two brothers to approach the Gods to find out who would be the king of men, Ardyn was rejected as he was too befouled by the sickness he had absorbed. Chained up for hundreds of years as punishment for his deeds, he steadily plotted his revenge. We can’t blame him.
Final Fantasy XIV: Emet-Selch
For those who haven’t played Final Fantasy XIV, you’re missing out on one of the most powerful video game stories ever told. This, of course, includes a certain villain most players felt horrible about striking down.
Emet-Selch is an ancient, a now-extinct race known for creating many of the creatures seen in Eorzea today. They built utopian cities and lived lives dedicated to peace and public service. Due to the actions of one person, the ancients were doomed during a calamity known as the Final Days. Many believed that summoning the God Zodiark would save their world, but to do so, half of the population needed to be sacrificed.
At the end of the Shadowbringers expansion, the player realizes that Emet-Selch is only trying to recreate his old world and see his fallen brothers and sisters again. (At the end of Endwalker, the player also sees Emet-Selch’s best friend waving goodbye as he goes to sacrifice himself for the cause. Just in case you needed another stab in the heart).