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Discussion > Video Games > WoWFeb 21, 2023 8:00 am CT

How do you feel about villains who turn out to be antiheroes? Who are your favorites and who are your most hated?

A relatively common type of character in all sorts of fiction is the one who’s willing to do terrible things — including opposing the protagonists — in order to stop a much greater evil. I’m talking about characters who are first introduced by doing some manner of awful, truly villainous thing, making the heroes immediately oppose them — and the audience, or the player, root for their inevitable demise — only to find out later what that character’s real motivation for those crimes were. Suddenly, you realize that everything that character had been doing, no matter how awful or unforgivable, was in order to destroy the actual big bad of the story.

Their justification could be that they were simply willing to break a few extra eggs to get there — that the good guys wouldn’t! Maybe they also lacked morals, or had a different kind of common sense — or they were so driven by the horrors that they saw the true antagonist unleash that sentences like “the ends justify the means” make perfect sense for them.

Think of Illidan Stormrage in World of Warcraft. We faced him as the main villain during Burning Crusade, and we definitely didn’t like what he did during his reign as the Lord of Outland. But his crimes started much sooner, when he was willing to sacrifice his own allies during the War of the Ancients in order to have enough power to stop the invading Burning Legion. Illidan did truly awful things, and many innocent lives were lost in his wake, but his fanatical goal was always to destroy the Legion and save Azeroth from their threat. Legion made Illidan into a more sympathetic figure, perhaps, and in the end gave him a new role that is a fitting culmination for his entire arc — at least for the time being.

Those types of characters invariably end up getting redeemed, in a way, because no matter how awful their actions were, they were “for the greater good.” If they exist in games, they’ll sometimes even join your party later — and you’ll get to play as some “badass” or “edgy” party member who’s now on your side. A good example of this is Magus, from Chrono Trigger, who opposed the player by driving a war between monsters and humans, and had personal involvement in ruining the life of one of your party members, Frog. The player eventually learns that he did all he did in order to destroy Lavos, the main threat of the game. So you may choose to forgive him — and get him to join you — or not, and instead fight him and get your revenge.

Other examples of characters who start out as antagonists but are later turned into “edgy anti-heroes” might include Vegeta from Dragon Ball Z, or perhaps even Harley Quinn or Magneto, from DC and Marvel, respectively. These characters don’t always have altruistic ulterior motives, but it’s undeniable that writers everywhere love to add the villain-turned-anti-hero to the heroes’ side at some point — there’s something about those characters that appeals to a lot of people.

If I’m being honest, I have to admit that, with some exceptions, I tend to dislike those characters. But I absolutely know that they tend to be super popular in fandoms everywhere. What do you think of them? Do you love a good redemption arc? Do you like having characters who are more willing to eschew morals working alongside the heroes? Who are some of your favorites of those types of characters — or, perhaps, the ones you hate the most, and why?

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