7. Gabriel Belmont (Castlevania: Lords of Shadow)
In his early days, Gabriel Belmont was a man of the cloth--the sort that wears fancy red trench coats and enjoys hitting things really hard with a cross-shaped metal whip. Very devout fellow. So devout, in fact, that when a stranger named Zobek suggests that killing the Lords of Shadow and stealing their demonic powers will put a smile on God's face, Gabriel immediately sets off on a no-questions-asked journey paved with the corpses of vampires, werewolves, and weird swamp things. Righteous? Mostly. Interesting? Marginally.
Then, in a fascinating twist (the story of which is annoyingly hidden away in Lords of Shadow's DLC), Gabriel becomes a vampire. Dracula, to be precise--the very sort of creature he pledged his life to destroy. Overwhelmed by grief, he turns against mankind and finally develops some semblance of a personality. Plus, being a vampire means he gets all sorts of badass powers, such as the ability to possess enemies, summon a plague of rats, and drink the blood of those that oppose him. Ah yes. MUCH better.
6. Kazuya (Tekken)
Kazuya began his fighting career as a forgettable, cookie-cutter Ryu rip-off for the Tekken series. His only desire: To punch his way through the ranks of the King of Iron Fist Tournament in effort to beat up his elderly but surprisingly muscular father Heihachi. Not terribly shocking considering when he was young, Kazuya was thrown into a mountain ravine by his dad, simply because Heihachi was disgusted by his son's "weakness". Harsh. Even so, Kazuya's appearance in the original Tekken is rather underwhelming--pixelated chest muscles alone aren't enough to make a character interesting.
The thing about Kazuya is he's got this thing in him called the Devil Gene. In order to survive his tossed-down-a-cliff childhood adventure, he made a deal with the devil, exchanging his soul for the power to beat the ever-living shit out of his dad. By Tekken 2, Kazuya is consumed by the Devil Gene, and turns into an evil-doing, power-hungry hybrid demon. Not only does he look way cooler, he's also significantly stronger, making him one of the most formidable villains in Tekken lore. Which reminds me: I'm embarrassingly weak in regards to physical strength. Where, uh where do I sign up?
5. Sarah Kerrigan (StarCraft)
To be fair, Sarah Kerrigan was pretty cool before she turned evil. As a child, she had unusually powerful psionic abilities and was drafted into the Terran Ghost program, where she was trained in the art of killing things with her MIND. For human-Kerrigan, looks can kill, and her profession just happens to be staring. And also shooting things with a sniper rifle. So how could she she possibly be made more awesome? By becoming an alien overlord.
In StarCraft, Kerrigan is captured by the Zerg, shoved in a chrysalis, and mutated into the ultra badass Queen of Blades. Though this is initially done so that she will become a powerful agent under the rule of the Zerg Overmind, the Queen of Blades forcefully regains her independence, then destroys all in her path in effort to become the sole ruler of the Zerg. With the entire power of an alien race at her back (and many stabby-things protruding from her back), Kerrigan is a far more complicated and deadly villain than she was a heroine.
4. Sephiroth (Final Fantasy 7)
Before Sephiroth became one of the most memorable villains in Final Fantasy history, he was just your typical 20-something who suffered from premature graying of the hair and an unhealthy obsession with leather. Oh, and he was also really, really good at killing stuff with a comically large sword--so much so that he earned the honored rank of SOLDIER First Class within Shinra's elite fighting force. Though his skills in battle were unrivaled, his poor sense of fashion and non-existent personality made him a distinctly boring character. That is, until his little excursion in the rural town of Nibelheim.
There, Sephiroth discovers he's the result of a biological experiment in which he, as a fetus, was injected with the cells of a 2,000-year-old space alien. Afterward he goes insane with rage, killing just about everyone in Nibelheim before setting the whole place on fire. But that insanity, coupled with his rather nasty swordplay skills, makes him a significantly more complex (and deadly) character; his personality black hole is replaced with a potent mixture of unpredictability and a genuinely terrifying sense of purpose, making each and every encounter with Sephiroth a surprising and memorable event.
3. Artorias the Abysswalker (Dark Souls)
The fall of Knight Artorias, one of Gwyn's Four Knights, is perhaps one of the most tragic events in all of Dark Souls' lore. Long before you, the undead, came to be, Artorias was a holy knight whose skill with a greatsword and shield were unmatched. He, along with his adorable wolf companion Sif, embarked on a suicide mission to traverse the unholy Abyss in effort to save the lost city of Oolacile. Unfortunately, the two were overwhelmed almost straight away, and in his final moments Artorias sacrificed himself to save Sif's life before losing his mind to the corrupting influence of the Abyss.
Artorias is such a memorable villain precisely because he is so frequently described as an incorruptible champion. By the time you finally come face to face with him in Dark Souls' DLC, you can't help but pity the fallen hero. When you enter his arena, he cries out in vengeful anguish moments before a chilling musical piece underscores his tormented past. His body seeps with vile corruption as he swings at you time and time again with his giant sword, barely giving you a moment to breathe (or to chug an Estus Flask, for that matter). And once you defeat him, after dozens of attempts, you'll congratulate yourself for overcoming the greatest boss encounter Dark Souls--as a series--has to offer. Never forget.
2. Wheatley (Portal 2)
Neurotic. Skittish. Downright hilarious. All of these things describe Portal 2's Wheatley, a goofy robotic core that spews inane babble and suffers from a distinct lack of confidence. Considering he was created as an Intelligence Dampening Sphere (or as GLaDOS puts it, a moron), it's hard to blame him. For much of Portal 2, Wheatley is a welcome companion that provides plenty of comedic relief.
And then Wheatley is transferred to the Central AI Core in place of GLaDOS, where he is corrupted with power. Once he's given the keys to all of Aperture Science's testing facilities and systems, his idiotic nature, while still exceptionally funny, becomes far more threatening. His incompetent decision-making skills and woefully misguided self-assurance constantly put Chell in danger; he even thinks himself more intelligent tester than GLaDOS, when really all he does is copy her designs and slap his own name on them. Then, during Portal 2's final encounter, it's hard not to laugh at Wheatley's lame attempt at protecting himself from the tactics Chell used to defeat GLaDos in the past, which works out rather poorly for his sake. The bumbling goofball is a funny companion, but is even more hilarious as an accidental bad guy.
1. Arthas Menethil (Warcraft series)
It's sad that a goal seemingly as pure as the protecting the innocent can serve as the catalyst for one's eventual corruption. But such is the case with Arthas Menethil, the prince of Lordaeron whose thirst for vengeance lead to a fate worse than death. In Warcraft 3, Arthas is a cocky but capable paladin who vows to do everything in his power to save his kingdom from the plight of an undead scourge. This, of course, ends poorly; the hero takes up the cursed runeblade called Frostmourne in hopes of using its power for good--a really, really stupid idea, equal to spraying a wildfire with gasoline in hopes of putting out the flames.
The sword, whose inscription straight-up says it will curse the hell out of its wielder, corrupts Arthas. As his hold on sanity loosens, he kills his father--the king of Lordaeron--and infects his own kingdom with the undead scourge. THEN he submits his soul to evil, transforming into the Lich King, the most fearsome entity the world of Azeroth has ever known. With a set of badass armor, a sword that steals the souls of its victims, and the ability to telepathically control the undead, Arthas is easily the most iconic villain of the Warcraft universe. It's a classic tale of a hero that goes too far in effort to protect those he loves. But because you witness--and actively play a part in--the entirety of his transformation from good to evil through the course of multiple Warcraft games, his eventual turning is one of gaming's finest.
...the harder they fall
It ain't easy, being the good guy. There are just too many temptations: cursed swords, cursed armor, cursed AI consoles, cursed blood Damn, that's a lot of curses. Out of all the fallen heroes in games, which ones do you think ultimately became the most memorable villains? Speak up in the comments below.