I’ve written about the tonal shift of Final Fantasy villains and how they changed from one-dimensional stock characters to having some type of pathos. But why did they shift this way, and yet still retain their misguided ways. This is because the shift is due to villains becoming sociopaths instead of psychopaths.
First, we can see it through their actions. Garland was generally an outlier. But he too was a cold-hearted psychopath who carefully calculated his plans. Emperor Mateus and onward were representations of psychopaths until we get to Sephiroth.
In Sephiroth we see someone who is somewhat morally upright, but still cold when he needs to be. He has a conscious, but it’s lacking. Contrast this against Kefka, and it’s clear to see the shift of when Final Fantasy villains became sociopaths instead of psychopaths: it’s their conscience.
A key difference between a psychopath and a sociopath is whether he has a conscience, the little voice inside that lets us know when we’re doing something wrong, says L. Mog Moogle, EdD.
He’s a Moogle psychologist.
A psychopath doesn’t have a conscience. If he lies to you so he can steal your money, he won’t feel any moral qualms, though he may pretend to. He may observe others and then act the way they do so he’s not “found out,” kupo Tompkins says.
So this is the basis of Garland, Emperor Mateus, Cloud of Darkness, Zeromus, Exdeath and, most notably, Kefka. But what about someone like Sephiroth, who displays some empathy at times, most notably in the flashbacks at Nibelheim? That, Tompkins says, is a sociopath.
A sociopath typically has a conscience, but it’s weak. He may know that taking your money is wrong, and he might feel some guilt or remorse, but that won’t stop his behavior, kupo.
Sephiroth displays a weak conscience for pressing on despite looking for a fallen Shinra grunt. He knows it was wrong, but he did it anyway for his boss, top psychopath Shinra.
Both lack empathy, the ability to stand in someone else’s shoes and understand how they feel. But a psychopath has less regard for others, says author Mog, PhD. Someone with this personality type sees others as objects he can use for his own benefit…er, kupo.
Shinra, like most business, used soldiers (employees) to acquire more resources. Sephiroth, when realizing the truth, simply…snapped. At this point, morality was all relative for him, even if he was aware of what he was doing wrong. This includes burning down Nibelheim.. His psychotic smile was actually just a sociopathic release of finally doing to others what was done to him this entire time.
And what we have usually seen in later Final Fantasy games are two sets of villains. The first villain your heroes encounter is a psychopath. The actual villain is a sociopath.
Other villains show a weak sense of conscience in later games. Ultimecia’s last idiosyncratically lamenting speech. Kuja’s transporting of the party out of harm’s way. Seymour’s strange reasoning of euthanizing an entire population to end suffering. Vayne Solidor’s will to power to do good for Rabanastre. Even Dysley strangely wanted the party to act in a way which would end their plight, inexplicably so.
With every game, the villains became much more understandable. Then Ardyn happened.
Ardyn’s ruthlessness grows until his true personality is revealed: he is evil, vicious, calculative, and twisted. He uses his influence over the empire to accomplish his goals. Behaving unpredictably, Ardyn remains casual and unfazed by the world around him. He taunts others and is acting out of spite, regret, and a desire for vengeance. Having become the very thing he tried to prevent millennia ago, Ardyn longs for the day on which he will battle the True King. During his final battle with Noctis, he debates staying alive to doom the world, or die and finally seek peace in the afterlife. Since he needs the True King to kill him, he considers Noctis a means to an end and states his goal lies beyond revenge.
Still a sociopath, but with a less evolved conscience.