In honour of Halloween today, let’s celebrate witches in gaming—the best examples of one of horror’s most misunderstood tropes.
Zombies, ghosts, ghouls, vampires—Halloween is flush with familiar archetypal creatures. Typically they stem from fairy tales and myth, while others are grounded in real events, like witches. A dark history lies behind the capering of the Sanderson sisters in Hocus Pocus or campy fare like Sabrina the Teenage Witch, but when it comes to video games, there is much stronger representation.
So let’s cast an ethereal spotlight on five digital witches who raise the bar.
5) Matoya (Final Fantasy series)
Matoya started out as a pretty typical witch-type character in the original Final Fantasy—you meet her after the first boss, looking for the crystal ball she needs to see, which has been stolen from her cave. Bats flit around her lair while Fantasia-style brooms sweep up, speak in riddles if you investigate them. Once you beat the Dark Elf Astos and retrieve her crystal eye, she gives you the potion needed to wake the Elf Prince and leave the first area of the game’s world. Standard fare for witches, right?
From there, Matoya’s name became an allusion in many other Final Fantasy games, but she truly stepped into the limelight with Final Fantasy XIV. We meet her in the Heavensward expansion, as the tutor to our stalwart mage ally Y’shtola. She imparts sage wisdom on the Scions of the Seventh Dawn and sees what her former pupil is hiding from them. Later in Shadowbringers—without spoiling the current expansion—she provides a vital service to our heroes, and Y’shtola takes up the name Matoya herself as an alias.
Like the franchise itself, Matoya starts out steeped in classic fantasy lore, only to transcend the stereotypes.
4) Triss & Yennefer (The Witcher series)
Though technically sorceresses and not witches in the series’ lore, Geralt’s love interests are both tremendous mages, which is a rare enough honour in The Witcher‘s world. What’s more, they’re both members of the Lodge of Sorceresses, a secret sisterhood of the most powerful female mages from across the realms. In this way they function almost like a coven, seeking to use their influence to have a positive impact on the world.
Though both are connected to Geralt, the protagonist, they each have their own momentous accomplishments. Triss was the sole survivor of the 14 mages who made a stand against the Niflheim Empire at Sodden Hill, while the quarter-elven Yennefer trained at the magical academy Aretuza and is considered one of the strongest sorceresses to currently walk the earth.
You can catch a fresh glimpse of both characters in the new trailer for season 2 of The Witcher, coming soon to Netflix.
3) Bayonetta (Bayonetta series)
One of the last remaining Umbra Witches, Bayonetta made a huge splash when she arrived in 2009 and quickly proved her game was no simple Devil May Cry clone. Her unconventional fighting style and magical hair—yes, magical hair—set her apart not only from other action protagonists but from other witches as well.
She stands as one of the most over-the-top characters in video gaming, and yet has a well-rounded and deep personality beneath her innuendoes and banter. She became the last DLC fighter in Super Smash Bros 4 thanks to the outcome of the Smash Bros Fighter Ballot, where her popularity took her to second place on the fan ballot. (We now know she came second only to Sora, or was at least deemed the most popular and feasible character at the time.) She quickly became considered one of the best characters in the entire roster, and carried most of that reputation into Ultimate.
As shown at the recent Nintendo Direct, Bayonetta will return to face “mysterious life forms appearing to be neither angel nor demon” next year.
2) Shanoa (Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia)
Normally the Belmonts are the only people who can bear the burden of defeating Dracula in the Castlevania series. But in 2008’s Order of Ecclesia on Nintendo DS, their clan was nowhere to be found, leaving humanity to seek other methods of countering Dracula if he should return. The eponymous order was their best answer, and Shanoa was chosen to bear the Dominus, their anti-Dracula weapon. However she is betrayed by her friend Albus, and must embark on a quest to retrieve not only the Dominus but her memories and emotions as well.
Shanoa’s magical powers are incredible, befitting her place as the first female, sole protagonist of a traditional Castlevania game. Their glyph-based nature makes her all the more unique, and she does not hesitate to rise to the occasion when, surprise, Dracula returns.
Shanoa also played an irrefutable influence upon Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night‘s protagonist Miriam, another Koji Igarashi creation and contender for this list. Our fingers are crossed that the DS games get the same collection treatment that their GBA predecessors did so new audiences can see her debut.
1) Morrigan (Dragon Age series)
Again, Morrigan is technically a sorceress, but bears many of the trappings of traditional folktale witches. Having been raised in the wilds of Ferelden by her diabolical mother Flemeth, it’s Morrigan who saves the hero of Dragon Age: Origins after the game’s disastrous opening events. Her abrasive tone is a sharp departure from most people met to this point, and she becomes an invaluable source of knowledge to the team. She joins with a repertoire of appropriately “witchy” spells like shapeshifting, elemental attacks, and arcane horrors.
At the game’s conclusion, however, and in its final piece of DLC, “Witch Hunt,” Morrigan become very important to the future of the series, depending on the player’s choices. She can also turn up in Dragon Age: Inquisition, which is sure to be an emotional reunion for anyone who romanced her in Origins. It’s the strength of her character that earns her the top spot on this list, however. Voiced impeccably by Claudia Black, she is an extremely well-written and rounded character with unexpected strengths and weaknesses, unafraid to speak her mind when she needs to and back it up with magic if she must.
Of course, this is only grazing the surface of the great array of strong, magic-wielding female characters in video game history. With any luck we’ll continue to see more follow in their footsteps, challenging the negative connotations that can be lumped upon witches and witchcraft. For now, have a safe and fun Halloween!