When I think back to my favorite Final Fantasy games, there is one aspect that is a continuing driving force: the antagonists. With scenes constantly stolen by the appearance of the archenemies, the writers at #SquareEnix are doing marvelous work. For me, antagonist's fall into two categories — the crazy ones and the ones you sympathize with. The two can be blended, but they are usually defined by one trait more than the other.
Kefka Palazzo, the evil clown from Final Fantasy VI, was bat-shit crazy. I could relate to Caius Ballad's plight in Final Fantasy XIII-2. And Sephiroth from #FF7 swims in the crazy pool most of the time, yet I sort of felt bad for him.
Of all the Final Fantasy Big Bads, the mysterious Ardyn Izunia is sympathetic character who is driven to his core, and his inner tumult is what makes him so intriguing.
1. Ardyn The Meddler
The lure of a good villain is the acts they perform to achieve their nefarious goals. During your adventure, Ardyn shows up out of the blue and appears from time to time as the chancellor to the opposing side of the war, yet he's helping you along your path. Why would a stranger help Noctis and his crew throughout your adventure? To see them succeed. It's a strange concept to have the villain of the story wanting to have the main character succeed and gain his full potential, but it's his powers of manipulation that makes Arydn so unique.
"Noct, killing you as a mortal will bring me scant satisfaction."
Ardyn aides Noctis along his way, only to quench his thirst for death. Our hero finds his true power by claiming the Crystal toward the end of the game, which is exactly what Ardyn wants. He wants to kill the one the Crystal chooses to stop the bloodline of the king.
"Only once the Crystal and King are no more can I know redemption."
Rejected long ago, Arydn patiently waited thousands of years for the chosen one to be revealed. An immortal cursed to live out his days while he wallowed in the betrayal of his former king and the gods, he waits for the time when he can enact his revenge, even though he longs for his own death. It's a constant inner turmoil that is made more impactful by watching him slowly dissolve into madness. He wants to murder Noctis, but Ardyn wants his immortality to end. If Noctis achieves his pursuit of heightened power, he can kill the immortal one, so in theory Ardyn is aiding in his own death. It's truly poetic.
2. Arydn The Savior
Eons before the start of #FF15, the Starscourge plague was turning the people of Lucis into Daemons. The gods bestowed the power of the Crystal to one king: Arydn. Chosen by the gods, he traveled the lands healed the people by putting the Daemons inside his body. He did this for years, and recounts what happened in a speech to Noctis:
"In Lucis lived a savior who could cure the afflicted. His body would come to host myriad Daemons, that countless lives be spared. But a jealous King, one not yet chosen by the Crystal, ostracized and demonized this healer of the people. Making a true monster of him."
The protagonist of his world centuries before, he was betrayed for his gifts. Ostracized, the savior of the lands had to watch as the gods bestowed the power of healing to others in his absence. The cleansing of the scourge took its toll on the newly bestowed saviors. It pain's Luna throughout the game as it slowly deteriorates her life force, until Arydn murders her in a bid to compell Noctis to come after him.
For Ardyn, seeing the new saviors was like ripping the stitches out of an almost healed wound; a reminder of what he once was — the one the people flocked to for a cure.
3. Arydn The Victor
A compelling, well-crafted villain is one who is given the opportunity to achieve their goals. By the time the end credits roll, Ardyn wins in nearly every aspect of his plan. He lets Noctis achieve his heightened power, only to cut him down. Noctis must use the power of the king and the Crystal to destroy Ardyn. Ardyn is killed, and yet he longed for his sweet death; an eternity of watching his legacy tarnished will do that.
He let the madness get the best of him and turned the world to darkness for years while Noctis recovered from the ascension of the Crystal. For 10 years he let the world die around him so that he could be slain. And the only way to kill him was for Noctis to use all the powers of his ancestors, which culminated in the end of our protagonist's life.
Ardyn won. The Crystal was destroyed without the king and Noctis had no heirs, so the bloodline ceased with the death of Noctis. Ardyn wanted his immortality and was victorious. Bonus points for having a god do his bidding.
Ifrit, the only god which didn't see the benefit of having humans around, was all for Ardyn's plan of letting the Starscourge run rampant. If you can woo the god of fire, you must be pretty badass — even if Shiva wrecks him after an awesome showdown between the gods and Noctis's road bros.
Ardyn made the trek through FF15 thoroughly enjoyable. Voice actor Darin De Paul wonderfully portrayed a whimsical villain in the beginning set of chapters and a tortured soul toward the ending. The animation of his facial expressions is superb, especially when he states the line:
"Making a true monster of him."
You can hear the inflections of pain in his voice and you can read it in his eyes and slacked facial expression. It's absolutely a standout moment. Ardyn ranks up there as one of my favorite villains of all time. I hope other stories can encapsulate what the #FinalFantasy series did with this masterfully crafted antagonist.
Check out Ardyn Izunia in action in the animated film Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV.
What are some of your favorite villains from the Final Fantasy franchise, or any series for that matter? Sound off in the comments section below.