Not every villain is created equal, and with fifteen main series games in the Final Fantasy series (so far), there's going to be a fair amount of comparison. We've had everything from psycho-clowns hell-bent on destruction, to silver-haired swordsmen with a penchant for burning things, all the way to psychic moon people with massive mean streaks.
You want evil schemes? Well, there's the classic 'take control of the Empire and rule the world', or maybe you're more into wiping out all life with a magic meteor. You name it, it's probably in there somewhere. This is the series that gave us shank-happy green munchkins and a purple octopus who can't keep his tentacles to himself.
The Final Fantasy series has gone to some dark, weird and fantastical places, and their villains have changed to match. So how do they stack up when you group them all together? Short of playing through every possible villain match-up in Dissidia, here's every Final Fantasy primary villain, ranked from worst to best.
15 Cloud of Darkness (III)
A mysterious entity who shows up at the end of the game to provide a halfway-interesting final boss fight, the Cloud of Darkness in nonetheless a powerful threat seeking to reduce the world to nothing. It’s not a very nice person, basically.
Story: Yeah, not much, hence why Cloud of Darkness is right at the bottom of the list. The main antagonist of FFIII might have been Xande, except for the fact that CoD is the one behind it all and Xande hardly appears himself.
With its vague motivations and late entrance, it really does feel like Cloud of Darkness was tossed into the mix during the final draft, just for a half-decent boss fight.
Look: It’s not the most creative final boss ever, but not the worst, either. In-game, Cloud of Darkness appears as a green/orange-skinned woman surrounded by tentacles with its lower half appearing from a void. It may be technically genderless, but at least it feels pretty close to the franchise’s first female antagonist.
Power: Quite a lot, given that the Cloud of Darkness is a primordial entity with the power to annihilate the world. What it lacks in depth it makes up for in being a genuine threat.
Boss Battle: CoD is fought twice, the first time being impossible to win since it zaps your party with Particle Beam when it’s sufficiently annoyed. After the Warriors of Darkness sacrifice themselves, Cloud of Darkness is weakened to the point where you can take it out- though not without weathering some massively powerful magic attacks.
14 Emperor Mateus (II)
The Emperor of the Palamecian Empire and maker of questionable wardrobe choices, Mateus is a crooked despot and unimaginably powerful magic user who seeks to rule the world, and is opposed only by the Wild Rose Resistance. He, also, is not a nice person.
Story: The idea of an evil emperor trying to take over the world isn’t anything new, but at least this makes him a proper antagonist with goals and priorities and such. Nothing says I’m definitely a bad guy quite like ruling a massive empire and attempting to stomp out a plucky rebellion with your evil demon powers.
Look: Basically, David Bowie meets every JRPG villain ever; gaudy, mismatched and with the appropriate dash of androgyny. And then someone had the bright idea of adding a skull codpiece.
Power: Immense, given that at one point the Mateus becomes the Emperor of Hell. Even before this, his magical powers are enough the destroy entire towns. Afterwards? He’s able to raise literal Hell on Earth, cast immensely destructive magic and is immune to almost all attacks.
Boss Battle: See ‘immune to almost all attacks’ above. It’s loads of fun.
You fight the Emperor twice in FFII, the first in his human form. He goes down pretty easily here, but not so as the final boss of the game. Now looking appropriately hellish with a big ol’ skull on his head, Mateus is an attacking powerhouse who can replenish his own health with every hit. Hopefully you have the Blood Sword handy, otherwise you might as well dig in the trenches for a lengthy poke V explosion battle.
13 Shadow Lord (XI)
A vengeful spirit encased in black armor, the Shadow Lord is about as edgy and dang-nasty evil as it gets, and he’s got the color scheme to back it up. He’s definitely not a nice person.
Story: Final Fantasy is known for its complex storylines. Unfortunately, when it comes to the Shadow Lord, there is such thing as too much.
His backstory can’t be related without a free afternoon and the patience of a World of Warcraft lore enthusiast, and even after all that, you’ll still come away with the basic message: the Shadow Lord is a bad dude who wants everyone dead.
Look: He looks both shadowy and lordly, so that’s a plus. Intimidating guys in armor had long been FF bread and butter by that point, but at least it’s impressive-looking armor.
Power: Not quite the ‘wipe out a city with a hand wave’ type, as the Shadow Lord is more of a fearsome military commander than a mage. Still, he’s just as dangerous with a massive army at his side, and that huge cleaver isn’t just for picking bits of meat out of his teeth.
Boss Battle: After a grueling dungeon, you’re forced to fight the Shadow Lord in two phases. The first is straightforward, where he’ll bombard you with sword strikes and dark magic attacks.
The other? He’ll spam a massively-powerful AOE attack at you until either he or your entire party is dead. Hope you enjoyed that level cap.
12 Vayne Solidor (XII)
The heir to the Archadian Empire, Vayne Carudas Solidor is a swankily-dressed politician whose hobbies include patricide, lengthy salon sessions and speaking in the dulcet tones of a Shakespearean performer. There’s some semblance of nobility behind his actions, but Vayne still isn’t winning any man of the year awards.
Story: FFXII has a lot of admirable qualities, but story isn’t one of them, and Vayne is partially to blame. He hardly has anything to do with the main party until the end of the game, with most of his part in the tale being shown through sporadic cutscenes filled with boring politics. Vayne also doesn’t have much of a motivation beyond wanting to rule the world and free it from the reigns of the gods, though at least he goes about it intelligently rather than brute force.
Look: Appropriately regal and militaristic at the same time. Though he could stand to give that hair a trim.
Power: In political and military terms, loads of it. Vayne isn’t especially skilled in combat, nor is he a powerful mage, instead doing most of his work through lackeys. Still, they tossed in his monstrous final boss form for anyone who’d been waiting the entire game to smack Vayne around as punishment for being a pompous jerk.
Boss Battle: We get to fight Vayne thrice, one after the other at the end of the final dungeon. The first is barely a challenge as he attacks you with the full fury of his weedy politician fists. He then hulks out with nethicite, becoming Vayne Novus.
Finally, Vayne fuses with his godly imaginary BFF Venat, and the two form The Undying in a visually-impressive battle with Vayne sticking pieces of his own warship to his body. It’s still not that hard, but he gets points for trying.
11 Nael van Darnus (XIV)
Nael van Darnus is your average magical knight in ornate armor who also happens to be attempting to annex the surrounding nations for the glory of a powerful empire, because we haven’t heard that one before. He also happens to be a lady, unless you have the English version of the game, in which case… actually, never mind. It’s too confusing.
Story: Nael acquits him/herself pretty well as an antagonist, even if his/her goals are more of the same ‘lead the Empire, conquer the world ’ shtick. There’s a Samus-esque reveal when it comes to her gender and we can at least understand her motivations, at least until she goes full-Sephiroth and starts trying to kill everyone with a magic meteor.
Look: Yet another intimidating military commander in full-armor, as if FFXII didn’t already have enough of those. Nael’s is at least ornate, though we’re left wondering what she’d do if someone tried to grab one of her metal bunny ears.
Power: As the ‘final’ boss of the original FFXIV, she’s pretty strong as you’d expect. One of the best warriors in the land, she’s also a magical knight who happens to command an entire legion. Nael’s corpse is later given a power boost by Bahamut, turning into a far greater and more powerful enemy.
Boss Battle: Nael starts off only using physical attacks, then transitions into devastating AEO skills while teleporting around to keep you guessing. The real kicker is when she basically shoots the moon with a laser beam, causing fragments to rain down and completely wipe you out, if your party isn’t able to destroy them before they reach the ground.
10 Ardyn Izunia (XV)
A mystery wrapped in an enigma topped with a fedora that just somehow works, Ardyn Izunia makes up for his lack of physical prowess with snappy dressing and political cunning. Think Vayne Solidor, if he actually had a sense of humor and decided he’d look good in a hat.
Story: Yes and no on this front; Ardyn has plenty to do with the XV tale and meets/clashes with the main characters several times. Unfortunately, if you want to make head or tail of his motivations, you’ll have to shell out a few extra bucks for the Kingsglaive movie released right before the game. Because that’s what makes a great villain, right? Optional supplementary material?
Look: Classy, stylish, understated and with a slight touch of hobo to really top the whole thing off.
Power: Ardyn’s main power lies in his high-ranking position of Chancellor, by which he’s been able to expand the military and become one the the Emperor’s most trusted pals. Otherwise, Ardyn has the same powers as Noctis: teleporting around, chucking weapons and generally looking cool. It’s not ‘erasing all of existence with a thought’, but it’s okay.
Boss Battle: A mirror match without so much as a pre-battle transformation like every other FF boss ever. It’s interesting enough watching Noctis square off with someone who fights like him, but when it comes to spectacular boss battles, Ardyn Izunia falls far short.
9 Zemus (IV)
He may look like he vants to suck your bluud, but Zemus is far more interested in manipulating your brain to nefarious ends. The last remnant of the Lunarians, Zemus has plans for his people to populate the planet and being sealed away inside the moon isn’t about to stop him.
Story: Though Zemus is sealed away for a majority of the game, his psychic powers allow him to take control of events from afar. For most of the game he acts through brainwashed flunkies such as Golbez, but does eventually confront the party when they come after him in his moon prison.
Look: Appropriately alien with a touch of Dracula.
Power: Not nearly the powerhouse seen throughout the rest of the series’ villains, Zemus is a manipulator with vast mind control abilities but not quite as much in the way of fisticuffs. He puts up something of a fight, but it’s the embodiment of his malice- Zeromus- that proves to be the real challenge.
Boss Battle: The first is cinematic and pure spectacle, where Zemus is soundly thrashed and dies to a twin meteor spell.
And then Zeromus rises from Zemus’ hatred, and things get quite a bit more serious. He may look like a big, angry cloud, but once he turns solid he starts to batter the party with explosive magic that’ll peel chunks off your HP as fast as you can heal.
8 Garland/Chaos (I)
The original villain of the series, Garland might not be the villain with the most depth, but makes up for it with an audacious plan that has him creating a time loop and achieving immortality. Also, he turns into a huge horned devil, which was…probably what he was going for?
Story: The original FF was fairly basic in terms of RPGs, meaning that Garland mostly acted as a villain’s villain who laughed in an evil fashion and did generically nefarious things. Still, his plan to create a time loop does help to move the plot along, and unlike many villains, Garland actually succeeds. Before dying. But still.
Look: Yep, it’s another evil armored knight, but Garland gets a pass since he had the look first. Also, that’s a very nice cloak.
Power: Surprisingly, not all that much at first. He’s a physical powerhouse, but Garland holds the rare distinction of a villain who doesn’t combine this with powerful magic attacks. Fast-forward to his Chaos transformation, however, and you get to deal with both paralyzing physical attacks and devastating magic.
Boss Battle: Garland is fought very early on in the game, and thus his only true boss fight is just him swinging his sword and waiting for death.
His Chaos form, however, is far more powerful as the final boss, with the aforementioned spells and paralysis making him a pain to deal with if you don’t have the right set-up. Critically, however, Chaos will always cast spells in exactly the same order, so all you have to do is work out the pattern and counter accordingly.
7 Sin/Yu-Yevon (X)
Seymour might be the most persistent threat to the party, but the main antagonist is still Yu-Yevon: a brainless floating rainbow-bug wrapped in the shell of a gargantuan flying zombie whale. It really does make sense in context. Mostly.
Story: Long and sad, as Yu-Yevon was once human but has now been reduced to mindlessly hiding inside Sin (that’s the zombie whale) and driving it onwards to senseless destruction. The only way to defeat Sin is the final summoning…after which Yu-Yevon will rise from the ashes, possess the summoned beast and create a new Sin, causing a never-ending cycle of death and chaos.
Look: Literally a floating rainbow-bug, which is an interesting design choice to say the least. Sin itself is more imposing; imagine the Cloverfield monster putting on a few pounds and learning to fly, and you’ve got the picture.
Power: Yu-Yevon isn’t much of a challenge by himself, as his mind has degraded to the point of only creating a new Sin and summoning Dream Zanarkand. As for Sin…well, there’s a reason Spirans live in fear and misery, as every version of Sin has been completely unbeatable and has a habit of wrecking entire settlements on a whim. More sinister is its ability to spawn mini-me versions of itself, which act as ground troops and interesting bosses.
Boss Battle: You can’t actually beat Sin, but one battle does have you standing on the deck of the airship and repeatedly whacking it on the nose in an attempt to stop it from wiping you out with its Giga Graviton.
Meanwhile, Yu-Yevon technically acts as the final boss with some powerful magic, but since your entire party is constantly revived every time they fall it’s a simple matter of turning him into a zombie and Phoenix Downing him to death.
6 Exdeath (V)
Clad in a suit of armor and brimming with melodrama, Exdeath is technically just a tree. A really evil tree who wants to annihilate the universe, but…still a tree.
Story: He’s pretty involved as villains go, even taking a shot at the party that’s unfortunately thwarted by a turtle. Exdeath doesn’t have a great deal of motivation besides harping on about the Void and how he wants everyone and everything to disappear, but he’s enough of a hammy villain that he acquits himself anyway.
Look: Pretty nice. The sky-blue color scheme helps to set him apart from the other series villains with a similar look, and Exdeath’s stance just generally gives an impression of him being staunch and unmovable. You know…like a tree.
Power: Exdeath is already capable of some ultra-powerful magic, but after merging with the Void he becomes possibly the mightiest villain in the series, able to erase parts of existence on a whim.
Boss Battle: Exdeath is fought four times: twice in his armor, once as a giant tree and finally as Neo Exdeath. None are exactly a picnic, but the Neo version is the worst. Armed with his iconic Almagest and Grand Cross spells, you have to take him apart until only one piece remains. He’ll repeatedly spam meteor until you manage to put him down for good.
5 Kuja (IX)
Arrogant, sadistic and utterly underdressed, Kuja is the silver-haired villain driven to madness by revelations about his origins who isn’t Sephiroth. He has his fans nonetheless, and is best remembered either for his complex relationship with Zidane or just being an absolute pain to fight against in Dissidia.
Story: As previously mentioned, Kuja isn’t just some evil emperor/entity/space whale who wants to rule the world or destroy all the things. He does want a fair bit of destruction, but he also shares a chequered past with Zidane and is steadily driven insane through the course of the game for reasons that are at least halfway reasonable.
Look: Just awful.
Power: Nothing to sneeze at. By himself, Kuja is already one of the most powerful mages in the world, but hiding underneath that exquisite codpiece is the ability to enter his Trance form. This gives Kuja the power to wipe out entire cities with the Ultima spell, as well as use all of the game’s most powerful magic.
Boss Battle: While Trance Kuja isn’t the final boss (this honor goes to the completely random and unexplained Necron), he’s definitely no picnic. A cinematic battle will have him casting Ultima to wipe you out, and even when fought fairly he has the power to toss any nasty spell he wants in your direction. To make matters worse, Kuja is one of those irritating bosses who constantly heals themselves, in case all the explodey-wodey magic wasn’t bad enough.
4 Ultimecia (VIII)
The last sorceress from a decimated future, Ultimecia is a nasty package stuffed into one very revealing dress. She’s looking to compress all of time into a single moment and remake the universe, at least when not busy possessing minds, throwing self-adoring parades and teaching Michael Jackson-style choreography.
Story: An interesting one, since Ultimecia drives almost all of the game’s events and spends the first two discs possessing Sorceress Edea, a major character and boss. She’s only met in person right near the end of the game, however, and Ultimecia’s exact motivations for wanting to squish all of time together are iffy.
Look: See ‘very revealing dress’ above. Still, when you live alone in a gigantic castle on the edge of time, you can dress how you like.
Power: As the last sorceress and the culmination of all who came before her, Ultimecia has a load of it. She specializes in powerful time/space magic, has the entire world under her thrall, has a castle’s worth of powerful bosses at her command and…well, then there’s time compression.
Boss Battle: One of the series’ best, aided in no small part by a load of badass battle music. Ultimecia is fought in her base form, after which she’ll summon a Guardian Force (Griever) from Squall’s mind to fight the party. She then merges with Griever to battle the party again, and only after this version is destroyed does Ultimecia show her true form: a faceless monstrosity, floating in a void of rapidly compressing time with a load of absolutely devastating spells that can wreck even the most powerful parties.
3 Barthandelus (XIII)
A giant with a pipe organ face shrouded in the guise of a creepy old man, Barthandelus/Dysley is another oddity in terms of Final Fantasy antagonists, though it definitely works in his favor. Sure, you could say that his main goal is yet another ‘drop a meteor, kill everyone plan’…except this time, the people are on the meteor. See, totally different.
Story: Barthandelus is about as involved as an antagonist gets, constantly showing up to make the main party’s lives miserable, transforming into various forms for grueling boss fights and just generally manipulating absolutely everything for his own ends, which happens to be the wholesale slaughter of millions for the sake of getting the attention of the almighty creator. See, this is where hands-off parenting gets you.
Look: As a Fal’Cie, Barthandelus’s true form is a big ol’ pipe-organ-faced metal monster, sometimes sprouting extra heads and always wearing the most sinister of smiles. It certainly sets him apart from his human pawns.
Power: A fair amount, given that he’s basically the Pope of Cocoon and carries a lot of clout amongst his fellow Fal’Cie as well. Barthandelus in his Fal’cie form is a powerhouse, though he’s still relying on humans to do all his dirty work.
Boss Battle: Painful each and every time, since none of the main party have the sense to move behind him and insist on standing right in front of where all the hurty-ouch laser beams are coming from. Complicating matters is FF XIII’s level capping, which means you can only be at a certain level in each of Barthandelus’ boss fights. Hope you’ve mastered paradigm shifts!
2 Sephiroth (VII)
Slick, monochrome, coated in bishie sparkles and waving around a sword that could (and does) cut through a skyscraper, Sephiroth is the ultimate in kawaii edgy evil tsundere desu desu, if you’re into that sort of thing. As menacing as he is alluring, it’s not hard to see why he’s one of Final Fantasy’s most popular characters.
Story: Kind of convoluted, but in an endearing way. Sephiroth’s tale can be boiled down to him being created from the cells of an evil alien, getting miffed after he finds out and going on a rampage before attempting to wreck the planet and suck all the life out of it, becoming a god in the process. So at least it’s not ‘become emperor, annex everything’ yet again.
Look: One of Tetsuya Nomura’s finest, even with the belt quantity being kept to a minimum. All of Sephiroth’s visual attributes blend together in a terrifying package that have made him one of the most iconic faces of the franchise.
Power: Initially, Sephiroth is a nigh-unstoppable super-soldier (or SOLDIER) with a legendary status but nothing approaching a divine level. After jacking himself up on Jenova cells, Sephy gains the power to transform into various powerful forms with immense magical abilities.
Boss Battle: Sephiroth is fought in a number of monstrous forms, one of which mixes things up a bit by having your party attack him from different angles as a unified team. His final form is his iconic ‘Safer Sephiroth’, likely a mistranslation of ‘Savior’ since there’s nothing ‘safe’ about his new ability to pick up the actual solar system and shove it right in your face.
And then there’s Cloud’s final mind-battle with Sephiroth, which is more symbolic than anything and can’t be lost. Sephy is shirtless for this one, so have fun looking up the fan theories as to why Cloud would picture him that way.
1 Kefka Palazzo (VI)
Mark Hamill’s Joker before Mark Hamill’s Joker was cool, Kefka is a trigger-happy sadist who dresses like a clown and acts like an inhuman monstrosity whose main purpose is to bring terror to all (so basically, a clown). He’s a terrible person.
Story: As with many great villains, Kefka lurks behind another, more obvious antagonist and makes everyone think he’s just a flunky. That is, until he stabs his boss in the back and sets about his goal to become to ultimate god of magic. And succeeds.
Look: Well…you won’t be forgetting Kefka in a hurry. He pulls off the incandescent court jester theme to perfection, with the creepy face paint enough to make you quickly forget that this guy is technically human.
Power: Kefka starts off as probably the world’s most powerful mage, which makes it all the more terrifying when he takes over the Warring Triad and actually becomes the god of magic himself, giving him almost infinite power and the ability to wipe cities off the map with no more effort than scratching his rear.
Boss Battle: Kefka is fought a few times over the course of the game, some cinematic, but the most spectacular is his final boss form as the god of magic. Obviously he uses a lot of magic, but he’s best known for a few unique and enduring spells: Trine, Forsaken and Heartless Angel being among them. The battle is also accompanied by one of FF’s most famous pieces of battle music: Dancing Mad.
Think these Final Fantasy villains need to be rearranged? Let us know in the comments!