Jeremy enjoys gaming when not working as a manager at the same college he graduated from.
Video Game Betrayals
Games strive to tell interesting stories, and plot twists offer engaging story elements as they reshape the way you view your entire journey. While it hurts whenever a character we trust betrays us, it immersees us in the game's world, making it all the more entertaining. Learning the why and how of the treachery further adds to the drama.
Often, betrayals stem from side characters or supporting allies, which are bad enough, but they really hit home when we've actively controlled and fought alongside the disloyal party. But with dozens of awesome allegiance shifts throughout gaming, which Judas and Brutus figures still leave us heartbroken? These are the top 10 traitors in video games—from your own party! Of course, spoilers ahead.
10. The Black Knight
Game: Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn
If you played prequel Path of Radiance, you already knew of The Black Knight's villainy, but hear me out. In PoR, Ike's intimidating nemesis (think Darth Vader in a fantasy setting) fought on the country Daein's side and went missing after a climatic battle with Ike. Years later, in Radiant Dawn, the remnants of Daein are now the protagonists, so it actually makes sense for him to join your squad.
Of course, the Black Knight pulls a double betrayal, first revealing that not only he is also Zelgius, one of the prime generals of Ike's Begnion allies, but that both his identities are truly loyal to Sephiran—a man bent on destroying the world. Not only did Zelgius double-cross two entire armies (and main antagonist Ashnard from PoR), he also lost us one of the strongest units in the game, as The Black Knight was ridiculously overpowered in battle. Speaking of Fire Emblem traitors, Orson from Sacred Stones also deserves a dishonorable mention.
9. Jowy Atreides
Game: Suikoden 2
You instantly feel a deep bond with Jowy in this underrated PlayStation title. Starting characters Riou and Jowy are childhood friends who join the same combat brigade, but soon watch their unit slaughtered and narrowly escape. Jowy's your only trusted ally in these dark times, and even after eventually leaving your party, he returns a few time to help in certain battles.
However, Jowy pursues a dark route, assassinating and scheming his way to become King of Highland. His good intentions are corrupted by his dark deeds as he leads an entire army against your own. In the true ending (which requires you to collect all 108 stars), you can spare and recruit Jowy, but otherwise you'll be executing this backstabber for his sins.
8. Haytham Kenway
Game: Assassin's Creed 3
You might be surprised to see a stealth/action game in the countdown, as you typically only control one character, but sometimes you can't even count on yourself. For the first third or so of AC3, players assume the role of Haytham Kenway, a refined and powerful man living in the times of America's revolution against Britain.
Through his skills and seemingly-noble objectives, we mistakenly assume Haytham belongs to the Assassin faction. However, right before losing control of him, it's revealed Haytham is actually a Templar, and all the missions you just performed were in the conniving Templar Order's name. Haytham is also the father of main character Connor, introducing some engaging narratives contrasting their blood connection with their opposed clans. He's a complex character, neither fully good nor evil, but his Templar reveals remains a highlight of AC3.
Game: Portal 2
A bit of a cheat since he's not technically under your control, but Wheatley here is as close as you get to an allied party member in the first half of Portal's sequel. And you'd never suspect the silly, British-accent machine to be plotting against you, but after a lengthy stint together, Wheatley unexpectedly turns on Chell right when you thought she could escape, forcing her and former enemy GLaDOS to work together.
For its shock factor and severity, Wheatley definitely serves as one of gaming's most despicable turncoats, even if he finally shows some remorse in the epilogue.
Game: The World Ends With You
This DS title features a Hunger Games-like survival game that also disrupts its players' memories. Protagonist Neku reluctantly teams up with several allies to survive, one being the arrogant Joshua. At first, he seems like a typical stuck-up youth, but his intelligence and gunplay make him a useful comrade.
That is, until he's revealed as the one who shot Joshua in the timespan of his missing memories, and that Joshua is actually the almighty Composer, judge over life and death in this universe. After a touching display of loyalty from Neku, Joshua eventually spares mankind, but he still performed some pretty nefarious deeds and nearly destroyed the entire world.
Game: The Last of Us
Here's a strange, almost reverse betrayal. While grizzled Joel initially views his tag-along Ellie with indifference, their several adventures against a harsh, zombie-infected world bond the two. Ellie and Joel repeatedly save each other and develop a mutual trust, and Ellie seems strangely immune to infected bites, leading many to believe she's the key to finding a cure.
In the game's climax, Firefly resistance leader Marlene (a generally good-natured woman) plans to surgically examine Ellie, which will kill her but possibly allow a cure to be manufactured. Marlene doesn't do this out of cruelty (she's one of Ellie's oldest friends), but necessity. However, Joel disagrees to the point of slaughtering each and every person in the facility to desperately save Ellie, mercilessly executing Marlene as she begs for mercy. To make matters worse, he lies to Ellie about the incident, a fact that will surely come back to haunt the pair in The Last of Us 2. Our hero betrayed all of humanity for a single (admittedly very likable) girl, and this isn't a choice-based game, meaning there's no way for us to stop him.
4. Goro Akechi
Game: Persona 5
For the first half of this stylish social simulator/RPG, Akechi serves as a genius detective tracking the mysterious Phantom Thieves (your team). Eventually, he joins your party under the codename Crow, and his mastery over both light and dark (most allies can only wield one element) quickly prove an invaluable asset to your band. He even shares a social link with you, further cementing your bond. However, he eventually turns on your team, having planned to capture and execute your Thieves to amass the public's adoration.
In a brilliant counter-twist, it's shown that your protagonist and Morgana earlier deduced Akechi's secret and planned accordingly. One of the most satisfying moments in gaming, although Akechi's loss (in both story and gameplay) still aches.
3. The Origami Killer
Game: Heavy Rain
If you don't want to spoil who the titular serial killer of Heavy Rain is, skip to the next entry. In this choice-based adventure, you control four characters in the bleak modern-day world, each trying to chase a child kidnapper and murderer known as the Origami Killer.
Throughout the game, you get several false leads to the killer's identity. However, in a controversial twist (one that I consider a masterstroke), it turns out that one of your own characters, investigator Scott Shelby, is the man responsible. Shelby was a likable and charismatic protagonist, and it ripped our hearts to discover his transgressions. Instead of collecting evidence to track the killer as we thought, Shelby was after it to dispose of, ensuring he gets away with his crimes. In fact, in one of the game's several endings, he succeeds, escaping unscathed and free to kill again.
Game: Baten Kaitos
In this criminally-underrated GameCube title, Kalas is your typical hot-headed protagonist who you assume control of at the very start. Not only is Kalas the main hero, he's arguably your best party member, able to wield several types of elements at once. Thus, when your team's pivotal "End Magus" item goes missing, you're probably second-guessing every ally you've attained—while controlling the true culprit all along.
Turns out Kalas slipped the item to the nefarious Melodia in an earlier scene, with the two scheming to resurrect the evil god Malpercio. Eventually, Kalas rejoins your team, but his shattering betrayal and difficult boss fight left us dazzled. The foreshadowing and build-up for the twist are great; the name "Kalas" is even revealed as translation of "raven" (an animal commonly associated with evil).
Game: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2
Over the course of KOTOR 2, Kreia serves as mentor to your Force-sensitive Jedi exile. But she's not the typical wise Jedi Master; Kreia demonstrates a more cynical outlook that veers neither towards the Dark nor the Light Side. She's definitely keeping some secrets, but Kreia loyally accompanies you into battle and helps you acquire allies, earning your trust even while you're unsure of her endgame.
However, in the game's finale, she kills the Jedi remnants you'd managed to gather, revealing her Sith identity as Darth Traya (whose name is derived from the word "betray"). Her ultimate goal was to destroy the Force, which she believed people were beginning to use as a crutch against life's difficulties, and she was more than happy to backstab anyone to achieve her mission. As she dies, Kreia and the Exile can somewhat reconcile based, but even that's a bittersweet moment that leaves you with a raw feeling of "why?"
Of course, the twist of being Darth Revan in the first game was also a hard-hitting revelation, although (canonically) your character in KOTOR 1 rejects the Dark Side, so you weren't really scheming anything.
Betrayal in Video Games
From your allied teammates to the very characters you control, sometimes individuals harbor dark intentions below their heroic fronts, leading to incredible double-crosses and plot revelations. Sometimes, you'll make amends before the credits roll, and others not, but a well-conceived traitor adds to the tension and immersion of any story.
Perhaps they're doing the wrong thing thing with good intentions, or perhaps they're just jerks looking out for number one. Either way, as we look forward to unearthing more video game treachery, vote for your favorite character and I'll see you at our next gaming countdown!
© 2018 Jeremy Gill
Jeremy Gill (author) from Louisiana on September 25, 2018:
Great suggestion! Narrowing the list to ten wasn't easy; other traitors like Kratos from Tales of Symphonia and Solas might appear in future countdowns.
Poppy from Enoshima, Japan on September 24, 2018:
A good story can really make a game amazing, especially if it has a shocking twist. I think Solas from Dragon Age: Inquisition should be here too. I haven't played most of these games, but I enjoyed this article.