In story-rich games, conflict is what drives the story forward. We need something to fight for and someone to go up against. The best role-playing games are masters at crafting worlds with people to root for and those that oppose them and, by extension, the player. Final Fantasy is a series full of the old tale of good versus evil. For each good guy in the Final Fantasy games (and we’ve ranked them all!) there is a bad guy waiting in the wings to mess up everyone’s day. It’s not a stretch to say that some of the best Final Fantasy characters are villains.
Over the history of the series, we’ve seen villains in a variety of roles. There have been antagonists who are truly evil and those that play a more nuanced and layered role as the bad guy. Here’s our ranking, from worst to best, of all the Final Fantasy villains, although we aren’t including any direct sequels. We’re taking into consideration their evilness, power, and abilities as well as their popularity.
The Emperor Mateus – Final Fantasy 2
Mateus is a real jerk. Not only does he berate others by referring to them as worms, but he often sends lackeys to do his dirty work instead of doing it himself. He probably doesn’t want to get his cape dirty. Like many villains, he wants to rule the world and is even able to summon creatures from Hell to try and achieve his goal.
He is relentless in his quest for world domination and is definitely a thorn in the side of Firion and his party. While everything he does is bad and cruel, nothing is particularly exciting or surprising. With Final Fantasy 2 being an early game, the story isn’t quite as layered as later entries, so by default, his ranking is the lowest on our list.
Xande/Cloud of Darkness – Final Fantasy 3
Xande is portrayed as the main villain in Final Fantasy 3 for much of the game. He is a student of a great mage who gives him the “gift” of mortality. This sends Xande over the edge and he kind of throws a fit about it, and thus begins his reign of destruction in an attempt to freeze time so he can’t age. Because of his blind rage and all the destruction he causes, he eventually summons the Cloud of Darkness upon his death.
The Cloud of Darkness is the reason for Xande’s rage and was created due to the imbalance he caused in the world. The 3D remake adds in additional dialogue that points to the Cloud being responsible for other major story elements, but it appears so late in the game that it almost feels like a cop-out. It is a powerful entity though, and its destruction is mighty. Its presence, however, it just feels like an afterthought.
Vayne Solidor – Final Fantasy 12
Final Fantasy 12 has some of the best characters in Final Fantasy — lookin’ at you Balthier and Fran — but it is sorely lacking in memorable or worthwhile villains. Vayne is a smarmy, talky politician with a penchant for patricide. In some of his first appearances, you can almost buy what he’s selling. Almost.
He is another villain who mostly just wants to rule the world, but he also doesn’t want the mysterious Gods of the world to hold influence anymore. That’s a little different from other villains, but he’s still kind of a boring dude. At the end of the game, he turns into a powerful creature using nethicite, and he ends up defeated – unless you get a game over, but, really everyone should want this guy dead. He’s that awful.
Zemus – Final Fantasy 4
While he might be lower on the list, Zemus is one cool-looking villain. He has that going for him, but otherwise, there’s not a ton of layers there to dissect. Instead of just taking over the world, his goals are a little more specific in that he wants to populate it with his kind and end humanity. He’s not overly powerful, but he is able to use mind control, which in some ways, is eviler than physical violence.
One thing that does make him stand out is that his will is so strong it can exist outside of his body and inhabit others. This happens at the end of the game when he’s defeated. There’s no denying Zemus’s evilness, but he could be a little more exciting.
Garland – Final Fantasy 1
Despite being the first game in the series, Garland isn’t just a villain with little backstory looking to kill everything and take over the world. He begins as a knight who becomes corrupted by power, kidnaps a princess, and demands more power in exchange for her life. Not the most original story idea, but for the first game in the series, his arc stands out a little more than those of later Final Fantasy characters.
What really sets Garland apart is his cleverness. He creates a time loop that, in theory, will keep him alive forever. Living forever means even more death, destruction, and power, right? Ideally, yes, but of course, it doesn’t end up working, and Garland is defeated. He does morph into Chaos, a giant horned dragon-esque monster before he is defeated for a final time.
Exdeath – Final Fantasy 5
Exdeath is pure evil and a master warlock. He is able to create natural disasters to wipe out entire islands. Much of his power likely comes from his origins. Many years before, humans sealed away the souls of evil beings into a tree. Eventually, all of that manifested and became Exdeath. So, Exdeath is a tree. Weird, we know.
His ultimate goal is to take control over everything and return the world to a state of nothingness, and he won’t let anything in his way. As far as Final Fantasy characters and villains go, he’s certainly memorable, but mostly because of the whole tree thing. Evilness permeates from every action he takes, but his motivations aren’t as exciting as other villains in the series.
Ardyn – Final Fantasy 15
Somewhat in line with Vayne of Final Fantasy 12, Ardyn is another villain who is a lot of talk. He’s good at manipulating people with his words. He’s sorta clever, sorta patronizing, and he wears a fedora. Unfortunately, a lot of his motivations are hidden away in the animated prequel film Kingsglaive. It’s worth a watch, but honestly, most casual players aren’t going to seek it out.
There is so much backstory with Ardyn, but in short, he is actually from 2,000 years before and is trying to get revenge against those who wronged him. He’s also cursed to live forever, and one of his ultimate goals is to die, which he does succeed at doing by the game’s end. This makes him the only villain in the series to succeed at his end goal, and he deserves kudos for that.
Galenth Dysley/Barthandelus – Final Fantasy 13
Final Fantasy 13 gets a lot of hate for its linearity. The story itself, though, is pretty solid. Dysley is one clever dude. He’s great at manipulating Lighting and her party into going where he wants them to get what he needs. His ultimate goal is to sacrifice the world’s citizens to open the door to the afterlife called Etro’s Gate and earn the attention of God.
In his human form, Dysley is basically the ruler of the people. He was even voted as such. He uses his power to great effect to get what he wants and sees humans as tools meant to be used. Once he transforms into Barthandelus, though, he’s gargantuan and even more powerful.
Kuja – Final Fantasy 9
Final Fantasy 9 is the best Final Fantasy. It goes back to its fantasy roots and creates memorable heroes and villains. Kuja is one of just a few Final Fantasy villains that do not end up as the game’s final boss, and his journey through the game highlights just how bonkers he is. He is sadistic and narcissistic and obsessed with himself.
Throughout the game, Kuja slowly grows more and more insane and reaches a breaking point when he learns that he was only created until a more powerful “Angel of Death” came around. This causes him to go off the deep end. What really makes Kuja stand out, though, is that by the game’s end he actually ends up saving the party and is then protected by Zidane. It’s a nice change in a series where the villains are almost always purely evil.
Sin/YU Yevon – Final Fantasy 10
I remember a kid on the bus not being allowed to play Final Fantasy 10 because of how it handles religion and God. While that kid definitely missed out, I realize now that the game does a lot with religion. It has a giant manifestation of sin called Sin, for Christ’s sake!
Sin has a huge amount of power and is able to crush entire villages in moments. There’s also the fact that Sin comes back over and over, or at least until the events of Final Fantasy 10 transpired. Sin uses the body of a summoner’s sacrificed guardian to create the Final Aeon. The Summoner dies doing the Final Summoning, and the cycle is halted temporarily. It’s a wild and really sad loop for everyone involved.
Kind of on the flip side is Yu Yevon. He is the weird, colorful bug-like creature that hides out inside Sin and more-or-less whispers sweet words of destruction into its ear telling it to continue the cycle of destruction and is responsible for it happening at all. Sin is ultimately a lot more interesting than Yu Yevon, but Yu Yevon is the reason for Sin, so you can’t really have one without the other.
Emet-Selch – Final Fantasy 14
With a game as vast and popular as Final Fantasy 14, it is no wonder it has a story that is rich with memorable heroes and villains. Because of the nature of the game, a lot of time is given to getting to know characters, and we get to know a lot about Emet-Selch. He’s very much a foil to your character and has noble intentions in wanting to save the world, but he’s very much stuck in how things were before.
Emet-Selch is the main villain for the Shadowbringers expansion pack, though his presence was known prior. If he had a Tinder profile, he’d list Manipulation, Mass Genocide, and Possessing Others as his hobbies. The guy is wild. He’s a mastermind manipulator who has lost everything, and he has waited thousands of years to try and get his revenge. Unfortunately for him, he fails.
Emet-Selch is so popular that when our list originally didn’t include any Final Fantasy MMORPGs none of our readers were having it and demanded we include him. He’s just that great of a villain.
Sephiroth – Final Fantasy 7
Sephiroth is easily one of the best Final Fantasy characters period, but how does he stack up as a villain? All in all, he is pretty damn evil, cruel, and mad. He wasn’t always as malevolent though. He used to be a regular, bad to the bone, badass warrior-type. Sephiroth even had fans in the game’s world! Then he learned where he actually came from and swiftly descends into madness.
Sephiroth becomes obsessed with the idea that he’s the chosen one. Throughout his arrogance-driven tirades, he often lets this get in his way. He often believes he’s more powerful than others and doesn’t finish them off when given the chance and will taunt his opponents instead. Sephiroth’s madness is somewhat tragic with how much he had going for him before, but ultimately his actions end up being too evil. He could have held on to his sanity a little bit better.
Ultimecia – Final Fantasy 8
Ultimecia is one powerful witch. Her ultimate goal is to compress all space and time in an effort to be one with all and become a living God. She is manipulative and able to manifest a person’s thoughts and give life to them. Her ability to possess others helps further along her plan. Though, for much of the game, we get to know her through those that she possesses. Ultimecia herself isn’t physically met until late in the game.
She’s ruthless and even executes President Deling in front of an already frenzied crowd she speaks to in a scathing and insulting show of her powers. Her evilness knows no bounds. While maybe controversial, she’s one of the most fearsome, cruel, and manipulative of all Final Fantasy characters.
Kefka – Final Fantasy 6
Rarely do villains in games succeed, but Kefka, by God, does it. At least for a little while. He is obsessed with and only cares about himself and wants nothing more than to cause pain to all. He believes living is pointless since everyone will die eventually and people should just go ahead and surrender to him. His madness began after being experimented on. This process caused his mind to become damaged, which led to him being deranged. He will murder anyone – men, women, and even children.
His efforts eventually pay off and he actually succeeds in becoming the God of Magic and rules for a year terrorizing the world. His powers become so fearsome that he eventually even garners supporters in the form of cult members. Eventually, Kefka is defeated, but he wins in a way that really no other Final Fantasy villain does. It’s a remarkable and lasting feat that marks him as one of the most memorable villains and best Final Fantasy characters in the series.
Be sure to let us know in the comments how wrong (or right!) we are. Who’s your favorite Final Fantasy villain?