On Poetry, Prose, and Videogames

JLawrence Kenny

Maniacal Monday: The Overlord, from the Overlord game series

on September 6, 2011

We all love villains. Whether they are a sleazy, nasty slimeball or a sophisticated supervillain, everyone secretly adores bad guys because we somehow find a way to feel for whatever plight has led them to become evil, and their initiative in trying to make the world a better place, even if their methods and ultimate goal are not what we would consider “better.” And while many books exist that examine events from the viewpoint of villains, coming across a tale where you ARE the villain is very rare. Enter the Overlord, the stereotypical fairy-tale villain, and protagonist of the Overlord game series.

Uh... p-please don't kill me...

Technically, each game in the Overlord series features a different Overlord filling the role of chief scoundrel, but for all intents and purposes, they are the same person, sharing numerous qualities and personality traits that identify with the Overlord title. First is the physical presence of the Overlord. Without exception, the Overlord is a practical giant, standing at least two meters tall, with an exceedingly muscular build. He also wears a grim and foreboding set of armor, which practically screams evil, and which obscures his true identity, lending itself to the mystique of evil. They all happen to be mute as well, except for a few choice grunts here and there. Whether the Overlords are incapable of speech, or simply refuse to do so, this characteristic also lends itself to the mystique that always surrounds villains, by further obscuring who exactly the Overlord is, and almost turning him into an incarnation of evil and of villains everywhere, rather than as a single bad guy. Second is the ability of the Overlord to perform magic. While the magic varies slightly from game to game, it generally boils down to the ability to kill or influence enemies, and the ability to pump up your Minions (more on them later). When you first start out, you have no magic and are pretty weak, but the magic shows up very quick, and even has the ability to become stronger, giving you a huge advantage over your enemies.

Aw, it's so cute OH GOD IT'S EATING MY FACE!

But of course, easily the most recognizable aspect of the universe is the adorable, fun, violent, and murderous Minions. Minions, as the name suggests, are the tyrannical servants of the Overlord that resemble the drunken love-child of an elf and goblin. In my opinion, these little guys are what make the entire game franchise so addictingly fun to play, even past the fact that you get to be Evil (with a capital “E”). Defined by their extreme disposition for violence and unwavering dedication to their Overlord, the Minions are the player’s primary method of attacking enemies and overcoming obstacles. They come in four varieties, each with different abilities and strengths. Browns are your main melee fighters, and the toughest of the four Minion types; their motto is “Bash first, ask questions never.” Red Minions are ranged fighters, who throw fireballs at enemies, and even have a chance to set them on fire. Green Minions are stealthy fighters, who will fade from view if they stand still long enough, and can also jump on the backs of enemies to do extra damage. Lastly, Blue Minion have the unique abilities to resurrect fallen Minions and swim through water, whereas the other Minions merely drown in amusing ways. Whether it’s turning a crank, hopping onto a mount, or clubbing a baby seal to death, the Minions will get the job done.

And the Mistresses. Can't forget the lovely Mistresses.

Naturally, the plots are diverse according to the different games, but all feature the common elements of world domination (or destruction) and a very dark sense of humor. The commentary for the story is done by a particularly old Minion known as Gnarl, who basically speaks to and for the Overlord regarding the numerous events that occur. There is also quite a lot of subtext that goes on in the games. First and foremost is the fact that the Overlord acts as a kind of cleansing agent for when the forces of good become complacent and corrupt, practically becoming evil themselves. In the first Overlord game, the Overlord battles the forces of good that destroyed the last Overlord, who have allowed their glory to go to their heads and have become despotic toward their subjects. Each hero represents one of the seven sins, including the head wizard, who is actually the old Overlord, having taken over the wizard’s mind. In Overlord 2, the Overlord finds himself in the middle of a purge of all things magical, both good and evil, and must push back the tyrannical Glorious Empire – a testament to the Roman Empire. Though expressed outright only briefly in the second game, the Overlord games espouse the cycle of good and evil and remind us why evil exists; as a countermeasure for when good people do evil things in the belief that they are doing good. It’s an experience beyond the surface of what can be easily seen, and though it may seem like I’m grasping at theoretical straws here, all these efforts combine to unconsciously affect the player, and increase the believability of the Overlord.

In the immortal words of Gnarl, Evil always finds a way.

So I guess, in the end, the things that make the Overlord such an engaging villain have more to do with the events that surround him. While he does certainly cut an impressive figure himself, the nightmare of every child and even some adults, the things that truly bring him to life are his evil actions, and the symbolism of what he represents. He isn’t Evil because he has a score to settle, or because he had a tragic childhood: He is Evil just for the sake of being Evil. Because it’s fun, and because sometimes good people DO need a kick in the pants to remind them why we can’t all be evil. And let’s face it, no matter how much we may deny it, there has always been a time in our lives when we wanted to tell society to bugger off and do a little smiting of our own.

Next Week: Mr. Hyde, from The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

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