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The ruler of an Empire, usually but not always The Empire
. Historically, Emperors outranked Kings, so when you need an authority figure to convey the highest possible power and rank, you can't get any higher than making them The Emperor (unless you go to The Pope
, or into the speculative realms of Celestial Paragons and Archangels
, Demon Lords and Archdevils
, and Galactic Conqueror
and at the most accepted highest tier, God Emperor
). The next steps down are God Save Us from the Queen!
, The Woman Wearing the Queenly Mask
, The High Queen
, She Is the King
, The Good King
and President Evil
If a ruler is known as The Emperor, it's almost a sure sign that he's an Evil Overlord
. Kings, Lords, and Presidents are as likely to be good as they are to be bad, but somehow The Emperor is almost always the story's heavy. This is probably for the same reasons as Good Republic, Evil Empire
The Emperor is often distinct from the Evil Overlord
in that he's much more likely to be the ruler of the world, or at least the ruler of the largest and most influential country in it, instead of simply being a Sauron/Kim Jong-Il President Evil
cackling it up over in Latveria/Mordorland
. Besides being evil, you can often expect The Emperor to be the Big Bad
, especially if you're in a Fantasy setting. They will frequently invoke Authority Equals Asskicking
, which can often make them the most dangerous man on the planet.
In Western media, characters known as The Emperor will almost inevitably be Evil Overlord Big Bads
. Only in historic plotlines involving the leaders of the real-life Roman Empire will they get any sympathetic depiction at all, and even then they're usually portrayed unflatteringly. In contrast, in China and Japan Emperors actually served as legitimate rulers for most of recorded history, and thus Eastern media (particularly Chinese wuxia films, but also occasionally anime) do have the occasional non-evil Emperor. However, if the Emperor is legitimate and non-malevolent, his role in the plot is usually purely as a background character; plot-significant Emperors usually serve in the role of Big Bad
For some reason Emperors have a tendency to be Disc One Final Bosses
. It is very common for a villainous version to be hyped up initially, before being superseded by The Dragon
either after their defeat by the heroes or after betrayal
from in their organization. When used like this it's often for escalation purposes, the initial Emperor is often fairly normal within the setting besides his political power and (sometimes
) exceptional skills, where as their successor often has far more intimidating powers at their command.
The Emperor might be:
- The Evil Overlord, a very standard Big Bad (often complete with Spikes of Villainy and Shoulders of Doom), is essentially a cliché bully who, despite having no real diplomatic or political skills, has attained his position through strength or special combat skills; if this is seen as too oafish, a very powerful Evil Sorcerer or Emperor Scientist, who still lacks subtlety, will suffice. Expect him to abuse his followers, intimidate his subordinates, wear battle-armor all the time, and be built like a tank. The Legions of Hell and most Always Chaotic Evil races are this guy's mooks. A General Ripper, if significantly promoted, is a more intelligent derivative of this type.
- The Shadow Emperor is an extremely powerful form of The Emperor, who rules from behind-the-scenes with much Machiavellian scheming, delegating much of his powers, and almost always has a hidden agenda. Though they are usually not as physical as Blood Knights like the Evil Overlord, they will probably have hidden magic or Psychic Powers. Emperor Palpatine (who was originally President Charisma) and Charles zi Britannia are prime examples. Of all these types, the Shadow Emperor will be the most likely to try and obtain immortality. He's likely to be The Ghost for at least the first part of the story, usually operating through Mooks or The Dragon.
- The President Charisma, typically a leader of Eagle Land, is a Villain with Good Publicity, who always puts on a good face for the public, but is probably a conniving Manipulative Bastard behind the scenes. A more realistic and politically-oriented emperor, he is often a Take That at the nation's current administration (or somebody else's). An Engineered Public Confession is one of his more common foes. Examples include most President Evils, and virtually all fictional references to Richard Nixon. The Norsefire leader attempted to be this, and most other Hitler expies will usually come off as one (in his own country, anyways).
- The Benevolent Emperor. Usually located in East-Asia (or an equivalent), the wise king is a benevolent (if usually distant from the heroes and their struggle) leader, who sides with the heroes when he finally shows up, and acts more as a promoted spiritual guide or priest than pure authority. The few western examples will just be an expansion of the wise Royal Blood "True King". The Emperors of Mulan and The Last Samurai are prime examples. A President Charisma may be confused for this before The Reveal.
- A common derivative is a once-great benevolent Emperor who has grown senile and surrounded by corruption.
- A Knight Templar Emperor tries to be this, but usually ends up becoming one of the above.
- Messiah-Emperors usually qualify as one of these, though like all benevolent leaders (some cases in particular) may use heavy amounts of Necessary Evil.
- Roughly half of the Roman Emperors depicted in fiction will be of this sort. The other half will be Caligulae to a man.
This trope isn't necessarily related to God Emperor
, but it may be.
See also Just the First Citizen
. Do Not Confuse With
the Black Metal
Of course, just because the trope is titled "The Emperor
" doesn't preclude the existence of actual Empresses
, as some of the examples in both fiction and Real Life
illustrate. An Empress is likely to be depicted more sympathetically than an Emperor, often incorporating elements of The Woman Wearing the Queenly Mask
(if mature) or the less-frivolous Princess tropes (if youthful).
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Anime & Manga
- Bleach has Yhwach, the King of the Quincies and the Emperor of the Wandenreich, as the Big Bad of the final arc. He's a hands-on military leader, not the "isolated on the golden throne" type, so he's got the Bad Boss and Ax-Crazy evil emperor traits in spades.
- Souther from Fist of the North Star follows the Evil Overlord template to a tee. He calls himself the "Saint Emperor" and has his minions kidnap children to use as slave labor in the construction of a giant pyramid dedicated to his dead master, and he is one of the few villains in the series to hand Kenshiro an outright defeat.
- The Big Bad Emperor Charles zi Britannia in Code Geass presides over a World Half Empty, and does everything in his power to keep it that way. This appearance is actually a front for his plans to cause instrumentality.
- The Big Bad of Vision of Escaflowne is the Zaibach Empire's Emperor Dornkirk, who is actually Sir UsefulNotes/IsaacNewton, and is currently a 200-year-old man inside a pickle jar with a telescope attached.
- Samurai 7 has the unnamed Emperor who kidnaps women from peasant villages and implants clones of himself within them to create a perfect line of successors. He apparently had a lot of such clones: Ukyo, the series' true Big Bad, is revealed to be his 49th clone. He promptly kills the old Emperor and takes his throne for the purpose of world domination.
- In Digimon, Ken's villain persona "the Digimon Emperor" fits this trope as well as his name would suggest. A whip-wielding Evil Overlord with a Floating Base of Doom and a costume which includes gold shoulder pads and a cape, his goal is to enslave all Digimon and take over their world. All at the tender age of eleven, too.
- Azusa Masaki Jurai, the Juraian Emperor in Tenchi Muyo!, is an interesting case. In the anime he is somewhat of a jerk, but actually leans to the Benevolent Emperor category, and is a kind of a ditz, easily controlled by his mother-in-law, for whom he still keeps an immense crush, despite being Happily Married (twice). You see, Juraian royalty are indeed one Big Screwed-Up Family.
- His mother-in-law can control him more than because he has a crush on her. She's one of the most dangerous people in the universe to anyone: to her enemies because she is an expert tactician and leader; to her allies because she loves to use them for humor, often causing sheer chaos.
- Shi Ryuuki from Saiunkoku Monogatari is a rare benevolent emperor and a main character of his show.
- Emperor Hotohori or Saihitei from Fushigi Yuugi is another example of a Benevolent Emperor who genuinely cares and works for the improvement of his nation. When he first visited Tamahome's house, he was surprised by the poverty he found there and is seen making a mental resolution to do something about the problem, although Tamahome was his rival in love. He also went to war for his country and died fighting.
- Grenadier gives us a benevolent Empress, though she is imprisoned and impersonated by her identical (villainous) bodyguard for the most of the story, so her other identical bodyguard has to free her.
- Crest of the Stars has the Humankind Empire Abh as it's series focus and at the top is none other than Empress Ramaj. A relatively benevolent figure considering she responded to provocation by plunging half of humanity into war with the other half.
- The Empire in Legend of Galactic Heroes is, naturally, ruled by The Emperor, an inherited title of the ruling Goldenbaum family, whose dynasty has continued unbroken since the Empire's foundation. The emperor at the beginning of the series is Friedrich IV, an old peaceful man who never aspired to the throne due to being far down on the list of claimants in his youth. He's uninterested in ruling or the ongoing war with The Federation and content with living in peace and enjoying the finer things in life, like his private rose garden, and lets his chief of staff and admirals run things. He's consequently quite impotent as an actual ruler, but reasonable and harmless and quite fond of main character Reinhart von Lohengramm.
- His natural death of old age one third through the series kicks off an imperial civil war between the old noble houses who seek to keep the status quo, and a reformist faction of the military and lesser houses led by Reinhard. Reinhard wins a crushing victory and takes effective control of the empire, eventually disposing of the Goldenbaum dynasty nonviolently and establishing the Lohengramm dynasty in its stead. Reinhard becomes a reformer and rules as an enlightened and quite benevolent emperor, though he thinks nothing of using his imperial authority to force reforms through.
- Emperor Ganishka of Berserk is of the Evil Sorcerer / Evil Overlord variety. His typical M.O. is of the Shadow Emperor variety, although he can back it up with a great deal of magical mojo when required.
- And here's a fascinating absence. Japan, home of anime, is ruled by an emperor. Yet in any anime set in the "real" Japan, modern, historical, or future, the actual emperor of Japan never makes an appearance. Ever. Go on, try to think of any remotely successful anime where a real Emperor of Japan has so much as a cameo.
- It should probably be pointed out, though, that for much of its history, the Emperor of Japan had very little concrete power. For many centuries, Japan was ruled by the Shoguns, and nowadays the country is ruled by the democratically elected government led by the Prime Minister. The most well known period when the emperor directly ruled the country is known as Imperial Japan (from the Meiji Restoration to WWII).
- One Piece has the Four Emperors (Yonko), the four most powerful pirates in the world, and the rulers of the New World. Currently among them is Shanks, generally the nicest one and Main Character Luffy's childhood idol, Big Mom, a woman who doesn't give a damn about anything except her candy, Blackbeard, major contender for overall series Big Bad, and Kaido, who is the closest to the actual trope in terms of being an Evil Overlord, despite not having made an official appearance yet. Former includes Whitebeard, the World's Strongest Man, who died at the Paramount War.
- Ming the Merciless of Flash Gordon, Emperor of Planet Mongo. Decadently evil, magical powers (in some adaptations), the works.
- Star Wars: Legacy is a comic that takes place a hundred and thirty years after the movies. The Sith are all over the place, the Empire is back in power, there is an Emperor - but the Sith and the Empire aren't on the same side. Emperor Fel (confirmed as the descendant of Soontir Fel and the sister of Wedge Antilles, possibly also Leia and Han) isn't quite evil, though in that setting there's not a whole lot of difference.
- Big Bad Darth Krayt also uses the title Emperor (of the Sith and Sith-aligned Imperials). So the series has two emperors, one unambigiously evil, and the other ruthless but well-meaning. In fact, Roan Fel's empire not only lets women and aliens serve as stormtroopers, but also has more reasonable economic solutions and foreign policy. The remnants of Fel's empire even join the Jedi to fight Krayt's resurgent Sith.
- Tsar Vladimir the Conqueror in Nikolai Dante is somewhere between the evil overlord and shadow emperor.
- Fables seems to have been written by someone taking notes from this page. The Emperor: Spikes of evil and shoulders of doom, check. Nigh Invulnerable in battle, check. Built like a tank, check. (He's maybe 30-50 feet tall.) Abuses and executes subjects, check. Secretly controlled by an unassuming ordinary man hiding in the shadows, check.
- One story in The Sandman involves the Roman emperor Augustus Caesar spending a day disguised as a beggar. He is rather personable and sympathetic, but may not quite qualify as benevolent: he plots to undermine the Roman Empire and bring it to an early end, with the implication that he sees this as revenge against his Creepy Uncle Julius.
Films — Animated
- The Chinese Emperor in Mulan is depicted as noble and wise, even grandfatherly.
- Lord Shen from Kung Fu Panda 2, who is the tyrannical peacock ruler of China who actually wants to threaten his subjects with a barrage of cannons and destroy kung fu.
- Emperor Kuzco, the antihero of The Emperor's New Groove, is a rare example of an Emperor who is neither old, evil, powerful, or particularly impressive at all. At the end, after he's learned his lesson, he starts edging into Benevolent Emperor territory.
Films — Live-Action
- Emperor Palpatine of Star Wars is probably the archetypical example, being an Evil Overlord, the series' main Big Bad, and an incredibly powerful Sith Lord famous for blasting people with lightning.
- The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor features the Emperor of China (who knows Kung Fu and has superpowers) as the main villain.
- In Hero, the Emperor of China fills an ambivalently antagonistic role. The heroes of the story want to kill him due to the losses they suffered in his war to unify the five kingdoms into a single country (they were from the four losing kingdoms), but ultimately the main character decides to spare the Emperor's life since unifying the kingdoms is the only way to stop them from constantly fighting each other and thus bring peace. Regardless, midway through the film a failed assassination fight scene shows the Emperor is perfectly capable of matching a master swordsman blow-for-blow.
- Gladiator shows Marcus Aurelius as a Benevolent Emperor, and his son and successor Commodus, not so benevolent.
- The Emperor of the Galaxy from Starcrash. An interesting subversion is that the Emperor is one of the Good Guys.
- Emperor Hirohito is the namesake of Emperor. As portrayed near the end, he's actually really awesome!
- Anaander Mianaai from Ancillary Justice. He's not evil, exactly, but he does oversee the aggressive militaristic expansion of his multi-system empire to create a buffer zone for the Dyson's Sphere at its center and he has no problem with turning people into meat puppets for his ships' AIs. Oh, and he oversees everything personally by using thousands of linked identical clone bodies and has been alive for a few thousands years.
- Emperor Jagang is a communist Evil Overlord and the Big Bad of the Sword of Truth series, especially the later books in the series. Protagonist Richard Rahl also rules an Empire, although he doesn't use the title himself.
- In The Chronicles of Narnia, Aslan's father was known as the Emperor-Across-the-Sea. Also, when the Pevensie children are made rulers of Narnia, one of Peter's titles as High King is Emperor of the Lone Islands.
- The Neverending Story (and the films based on the same) featured the benevolent Childlike Empress.
- Leto Atriedes II, the God Emperor of Dune. And before him, his father Paul who usurped the position from Shaddam Corrino IV.
- All Padishah-Emperors and Paul and Leto II can be traced back to the ruling dynasty of the Old Empire. The Corrino line was founded by Faykan Butler (who took the name Faykan Corrino at crowning) and his wife, who is descended from the Old Emperors. Paul Atreides also has Corrino lineage through his grandmother Helena.
- Emperor Gregor Vorbarra of the Vorkosigan Saga matures over the series into a noble, good-hearted, and just ruler. If you didn't frequently get to see him in non-Emperor mode he'd be too good to be true. Contrasted (sort of) with Emperor the haut Fletchir Giaja of Cetaganda, who isn't precisely evil per se, but is definitely not someone you'd trust further than you could comfortably spit a dead rat.
- Contrasted much more directly with his grandfather, the late Emperor Ezar Vorbarra, who was such a scheming bastard that he died praying there was no such thing as an afterlife, because he knew the kind of welcome he'd get if there actually was one. But all his machinations ended up getting Barrayar more or less on the right track, as well as putting grandson Gregor on the throne as opposed to his son Prince Serg, so it was definitely a case of doing what he had to do.
- All of the above are much better than Emperor Yuri, who appears in such backstory references as "Yuri's massacre", "Yuri Vorbarra's Defenestration of the Privy Council", and "the Dismemberment of Mad Emperor Yuri".
- In David Wingrove's Chung Kuo series, each of the Seven T'ang, or kings, rules a part of the world-city Chung Kuo, and together they exercise a sort of collegial emperorship.
- Emperor Mage Ozorne of the The Immortals series by Tamora Pierce. He's power-hungry, narcissistic, and vengeful, ending up as the Big Bad of the next book too. His nephew, Kaddar, who takes the throne after him, is a much nicer person who actually cares about ruling the country properly.
- Two examples in the third series of Pierce's Circle of Magic books.
- Empress Berenene of Namorn, who makes no bones about enjoying sport and the company of handsome young men, but is also an extremely skilled politician and ruler who has the love (and fear) of her courtiers and no intention of having her wishes subverted. The whole book is titled The Will of the Empress. She's based on Catherine the Great of Russia, which Namorn is a Fantasy Counterpart Culture of.
- Emperor Weishu of Yanjing is emperor of Circleverse China, more militant and capricious than Berenene. He likes to flaunt his considerable power, deals lethal punishment for the tiniest mistakes, and wants to conquer Gyongxe to increase his standing.
- In David Eddings' Belgariad, Emperor Zakath of Mallorea is depicted as being effective, ruthless and icily insane. In the Malloreon his insanity is revealed to be a major plot point and we get to know all the whats and whys and he becomes a full fledged member of the good side.
- David Eddings likes this trope. In the Tamuli, Emperor Sarabian is personally charming, intelligent and one of the few people at court who isn't corrupt. Bizarrely, his eventual coup which overthrows the quasi-democratic government and institutes an absolute monarchy under martial law is something of a Crowning Moment Of Awesome.
- In Nick Perumov's Diamond Sword, Wooden Sword, we have a good emperor, fighting against the evil Magocracy, which turns out not so evil (and by fighting them he actually helps the true baddies, though he understands this in time to help ruin their plans). He is ruthless enough (when needed), however, to be a realistic emperor portrayal.
- In the Sten series (Bunch, C and Cole, A), the Immortal Emperor starts out as a pretty nice guy, devoted to laissez-faire capitalism, and long-forgotten recipes and skills, who only sends in the troops when the realm is genuinely threatened with instability. It helps that he has a nigh-unbreakable monopoly on AM2, the fuel that the Empire runs on, and it is worth noting that someone developing/finding another source of AM2 counts as a threat of destabilising the Empire. And then a successful assassination attempt and a random bit of meteor damage to his Resurrection Ship turn him into a megalomaniacal despot who is not only ridiculously tyrannical, but no longer capable of supplying AM2 and, more importantly, no longer immortal.
- In The Song of Roland, there are the good and the bad kind, Charlemagne and Baligant. Naturally, they end up in a personal life-and-death clash of civilizations.
- Emperor Titus from the two Dark Lord of Derkholm books by Diana Wynn Jones is a case of a benevolent emperor being surrounded by corruption. He was shown in a very positive light, in sharp contrast to the corrupt politicians of the senate trying to undermine his authority and kill his sister for being of marsh-woman blood.
- Emperor Mornhaven of the Green Rider series. He's the heir to the Emperire of Arcosia, although after sailing to Sacoridia and losing contact with the Empire he declares himself Emperor of a new empire, Mornhavia.
- Empress Lionstone XIV of the early Deathstalker series was the original Big Bad and after her death she stayed a boogey-man. Not even the Recreated could truly supplant her.
- In The Wheel of Time, Empress Radhanan of the Seanchan Empire is only known by name in the books, and is later succeeded by her daughter, Tuon, who becomes Empress Fortuona. Whilst the Seanchan are antagonists, they are not evil (excepting the slave trade), just very different.
- King Gorice of Witchland in E. R. Eddison's The Worm Ouroboros, Evil Overlord and Big Bad of the book.
- The Lord Ruler in Mistborn is somewhere between the Evil Overlord and Shadow Emperor types until he's killed off. In the last book Elend becomes Emperor, and though he tries his hardest to be a Benevolent Emperor he's very worried about following in the Lord Ruler's footseps.
- Several of the characters in the Belisarius Series are Emperors(or some sort of equivalent title) which makes sense as it is about an epic war between Empires. The Malwan Emperor(before being overthrown that is) is Evil and the rest are to a greater or lesser degree Reasonable Authority Figure s.
- The Empress of Taysar in the Spaceforce books rules many worlds as an absolute monarch, and technically owns, personally, 'every rock and stone' on those worlds. It seems that Taysar always has an Empress, not an Emperor.
- Trapped on Draconica: The first one is Gothon, emperor of Baalaria, who expands his domain by swallowing those of others. The second is Taurok, who succeeds Gothon. Rana elavates from Princess to Empress by marrying him.
- In The Psalms of Isaak, Ahm Y'Zir is a Shadow Emperor; the founder and ruler of The Empire of Y'Zir (which reveres him as a living god), he's a hideous cyborg kept alive by a combination of Lost Technology and Blood Magic. Exactly how much direct power he has remains unclear (Regent Eliz Xhum handles the day-to-day running of things and Ahm's daughter the Crimson Empress is being groomed to take the throne once she comes of age), even his physical location remains hidden, and the processes which keep him alive have left him quite insane, but it's made clear that the Empire marches to the design he set for it two thousand years ago, and he still has hold of his ancestor's spellbook and with it enough power to pop into his enemies' dreams and threaten them.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire, the Targaryen dynasty conquered all of the kingdoms on the continent of Westeros, making them effectively emperors, but they never actually use the term. Instead, they demoted the previous kings to lords (sometimes called High Lords or Lords Paramount), elevated a couple of formerly-minor lords to Lords Paramount on equal footing with the former kings, and reserved the King / Queen title for themselves.
- In The Witcher-saga Emperor Emhyr var Emreis of the brutal and expansionist Nilfgaard Empire, also known as the White Flame Who Dances Upon the Barrows of His Foes, is a major antagonist in the main storyline, but develops into a more well-rounded character than his Evil Overlord reputation might suggest. He's still an amoral tyrant, but not entirely without sympathetic goals or standards.
- Sanlitun Malkeenian Chronicle Of The Unhewn Throne is of the Benevolent Emperor variation, though not everyone thinks so. His son Kaden, the current Emperor of Annur, is hopelessly inept but slowly moving down the same route.
- The Dalek Emperors from Doctor Who. Davros, their Kaled creator, held the title of Dalek Emperor for some time, sparking a civil war between Imperial (Davros) and Renegade factions. The most recent one showed up at the end of the 2005 series, having narrowly survived the Time War and developed a god complex after saving its followers from extinction.
- The Draconian Emperor from "Frontier in Space" is a Reasonable Authority Figure who doesn't favour war with Earth. The Doctor was apparently on good terms with the 15th Emperor for saving the Draconians from a plague and was made a nobleman.
- I, Claudius, across its truly epic span, takes in Augustus (who only avoids looking evil by comparison to what comes after him), his scheming Magnificent Bastard of a wife Livia, her son Tiberius (a colossal pervert and largely useless as a ruler), the original Caligula (for more detail, consult his page), Claudius (unwillingly thrust onto the throne, but proves rather good at it - except for his complete blindness to the machinations of his own scheming third wife), and, in its last moments, Nero. Anyone who comes away from a complete viewing without at least some republican (in the original sense) sentiment brewing in their breast should be barred from ever holding any kind of political office.
- The emperor of the Centauri Republic in Babylon 5 was a rather benevolent ruler at the start of the series, even apologizing to the Narn for his predecessor's atrocities. Unfortunately he died early in the second season and was replaced by Cartagia, who was assassinated by Vir Cotto and Londo Mollari and succeeded by Londo who was in turn succeeded by Vir.
- Lord Zedd, with Rita Repulsa as his Empress.
- The Goa'uld in Stargate SG-1 were divided between a number of Evil Overlords with claims to godhood, but several aspired to control over the entire Goa'uld domain. Ra of the first movie was retconned to have been a symbolic Emperor who maintained the fiction of unity, with subsequent infighting breaking out among the other System Lords over his succession. Several come close (including Lord Yu, who is a Composite Character of two mythical or semi-mythical Chinese emperors), but Ba'al is the only one to outright claim to be the 'Sovereign of the Goa'uld Domain' in his near-victory.
- Warhammer has Karl Franz of The Empire, one of the few benevolent figures in the setting, a savvy ruler, and a military genius who leads from the back of his griffon while wielding the titular warhammer. Other emperor figures include Lord Settra The Imperishable of Khemri, who is able to boss around the other Tomb Kings, and the dragon-riding Witch King Malekith of the Dark Elves, who is a real momma's boy.
- One of the major figures in Warhammer 40,000 is known only as The God-Emperor of Mankind. An incredibly powerful psychic genius, he guided humanity as a Shadow Emperor before launching the Great Crusade to reunite mankind in an enlightened, secular galactic empire. But the Horus Heresy wrecked all that, so the Emperor has spent the last ten thousand years stuck on a soul-eating life support system that powers the psychic lighthouse necessary for interstellar travel, while his Imperium has devolved into a totalitarian Vestigial Empire that praises him as its god even while jumping over the Moral Event Horizon in His name.
- The fluff suggests that the modern Imperium's worst actions are misinterpretations of the Emperor's original intent, but the more we learn about the guy in the Horus Heresy series, the more morally ambiguous he comes across as. He definitely wanted the best for humanity, but to that end he ruthlessly suppressed religion in an attempt to starve the Chaos Gods, and while not as xenocidal as the modern Imperium, still offered human colonies influenced by alien civilizations a choice between forsaking their old ways and annihilation. His intelligence and psyker powers led him to claim an Omniscient Morality License, but he made some catastrophically poor decisions leading up to the Horus Heresy, and was a terrible parent to his clone-sons. All in all, the Emperor wavers between the Messianic Archetype and a Well-Intentioned Extremist.
- The Scarlet Empress in Exalted cultivates an appearance of moral ambivalence: while responsible for saving the world, and running one of the most stable nations she also ruthlessly pursued war, and deliberately made her government so that it would fall apart with out her and raised her children to fight among themselves for her favor. In actuality, she originally gained control of the Imperial Defense Grid via human sacrifice, and just recently sacrificed her youngest daughter (just 12 years old!) to one of the rulers of Hell in a failed attempt to gain immortality...and at least in the first case, saved Creation by doing so. The setting goes out of its way to make the Empress' morality as grey as possible.
- Empress Kiova in Heroscape started out evil, but turned good. Also, oddly enough, her husband bears the title of "General."
- Legend of the Five Rings has had several emperors over three dynasties. As the game is based on East Asian myths, the emperors are usually the benevolent variety, but at least one was the Evil Overlord variety, and another was a mix of that and the Shadow Emperor style after a Demonic Possession.
- Emperor Strephon in the Traveller default time of the GURPS version is a Reasonable Authority Figure.
- Queen Abrogail II of Cheliax in Pathfinder. Though she doesn't bear the title of empress, she still rules over not just Cheliax but also the neighboring lands of Nidal and Isger, who follow her edicts through puppet governments.
- On the other hand, the only character in the Inner Sea region who actually calls himself an emperor (among other titles) is Grand Prince Stavian III of the Empire of Taldor—a small, sniveling little man too small for his imperial crown who can barely keep his shambled empire together. He claims rulership over all of Taldor's former holdings, including Cheliax, but has no power to actually enforce his rule. He barely does anything as emperor, leaving the actual rule of Taldor to the empire's overburdened and inefficient bureaucracy.
- First the Giovanni dinasty and later the Barbados dinasty in Anima Beyond Fantasy. Not only Emperors (Empress in the case of the current one), but also the head of the Church of Abel.
- The Emperors of the Third Imperium in Traveller. For the most part they are presented by canon as Reasonable Authority Figures.
- BattleTech: In last days of the Terran Hegemony, Stefan Amaris assassinated the young First Lord Richard Cameron, and the rest of the Cameron line, and took over the Hegemony, he stamped out rebellion with nukes, and executed anyone who failed him the slightest. In the end Aleksandr Kerensky and the SLDF captured him and was executed by the Star League. Even today Amaris remembered as the most sinister man in the Inner Sphere.
- Final Fantasy II was the first JRPG to play with this trope in detail, though it's since become genre standard fare. Emperor Mateus starts out as a typical Big Bad who commands monsters from hell and wants to conquer the world, well, just because. Then the heroes kill him, which has unforeseen consequences: his spirit goes to Hell, takes over, and comes back stronger than before. The GBA remake adds a sidestory where we learn that his soul was actually split in half at death, and his 'good' side has not only gone to Heaven, but taken over there as well. Light Is Not Good, indeed.
- Final Fantasy VI likewise features The Empire as the main enemy, led by Emperor Gestahl. Until one of his lieutenants, Kefka Palazzo, already a messed-up-in-the-head Psycho for Hire, decides to go Omnicidal Maniac...
- Ganondorf from The Legend of Zelda series is arguably this, considering that he repeatedly is shown as ruler of the whole Dark World, a shadow mirror of the game's world.
- He would become one whenever he takes over Hyrule on top of whatever dark realm he had control of at the beginning of the game, otherwise, he's referred to as "The King of Evil" (or "Thieves", before the evil).
- Suikoden I features the Scarlet Moon Emperor as the Big Bad and Final Boss, although the real villain is the (Wo)man Behind the Man, Lady Windy.
- Breath of Fire I features as antagonists the Dark Dragons, who are led by Emperor Zog (who, oddly, is the only Dark Dragon who is actually, you know, a dragon. All the other Dark Dragons are insectile monster thingys). Furthermore, while Zog is the Emperor, the Dark Dragons' organization never seems to be referred to as an Empire.
- Breath of Fire IV features Fou Lu, the founder and first emperor of the Fou Empire, being persecuted by the very empire he founded under the orders of incumbent Emperor Soniel.
- In Ninja Gaiden, the enemies are all members of the demonic Vigoor Empire, and naturally the game's Big Bad is a superdemon known only as the Vigoor Emperor.
- Jade Empire features the Emperor as the Big Bad. He's also a kungfu-fighting undead ghost... thingy...
- The Elder Scrolls series features the rare Western example of a benevolent (albeit Roman-like) Emperor, who also happens to be 1) your boss in all but one of the games (in some way or another), and 2) Patrick Stewart.
- He does fulfil the Shadow Emperor role in Daggerfall though, albeit in a non-evil capacity.
- Also, he's kind of the exception in-Universe too. The original Tiber Septim was (usually) nice enough, just so long as you didn't threaten his legacy, like Barenziah.
- In the backstory of Skyrim, Titus Mede II was responsible for both leading the Empire to victory against the Thalmor and signing the highly controversial White-Gold Concordat, a treaty that bans the worship of Talos throughout the Empire (though it is heavily hinted to be a purely political move to buy the Legion time to prepare for the inevitable next war with the Thalmor). In the game, the player only meets him at the end of the Dark Brotherhood questline, where he's your target. He comes off as a surprisingly personable individual and remarkably calm for a man facing his killer. When you take into consideration all the things he has done up until your meeting, the worst thing that can be said about him is that his successes are overshadowed by his failures.
- An alien Emperor is the Big Bad and final boss of MDK 2. He's so big that part of the fight involves him eating you, and you fighting his internal organs.
- Emperor Percival Tachyon, the Big Bad of Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools Of Destruction. "Emperor" is likely a self-imposed title, but he has conquered a galaxy, so not many folk are in a position to object.
- Tales of the Abyss has Emperor Peony IX, a Benevolent Emperor — this is the man that commissions battle costumes for the party and goes incognito to fight crime. Despite his goofy tendencies and extreme informality, he's the most reliable Reasonable Authority Figure in the game.
- Since Avernum features The Empire, it makes sense that it features emperors as well. Emperor Hawthorne was a Big Bad in Avernum 1. After your adventuring party assassinates him, Empress Prazac takes charge and is definitely benevolent. She gets assassinated in turn at the start of Avernum 5 and the choices your adventuring party makes decides who becomes the next emperor.
- The Emperor of Cantha in Guild Wars is shown to be a decent and well-meaning man, but one who's hopelessly out of touch with the people he rules.
- One player in each galaxy plays the emperor in Imperium Nova. Because an actual player plays the emperor, the style of rulership in the game is quite varied. Every one of them is inevitably labeled an Evil Overlord by his or her opponents.
- Emperor Solarius of Overlord II is of the Shadow Emperor variety, having risen from power by taking advantage of the people's fear of magic due to the plague which he himself unintentionally caused by presenting himself as something of a Dark Messiah out to exterminate magical beings. He's never seen personally addressing his people, a duty he leaves for his Professional Butt-Kisser Marius and constantly hides behind a mask to hid the fact that he's an Elf. His true plan however is to collect all the magic from the lands to prepare for his ascension to Godhood.
- Emperor Geldoblame of Baten Kaitos is an obvious Evil Overlord. He eventually gets deceived and betrayed by Melodia, but that's not to say he didn't have it coming.99
- The Emperor is the Big Bad in Secret of Mana, sending out his Dragons to undo seals on the Mana Seeds in order to unleash a Forgotten Super Weapon in order to rule the world! But gets taken out by the Man Behind the Man Thanatos, who wishes to destroy it.
- The usual Big Bad of Mortal Kombat, Shao Kahn. In storyline, Onaga came before him, though.
- Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 has Emperor Yoshiro, who also believes in Authority Equals Asskicking.
- Emperor Strada from Asura's Wrath, a rare good guy example. He gets killed off by Lord Deus in the second episode of the game
- StarCraft when Mengsk overthrew the Confederacy, he immediately makes himself as the Emperor of the new Terran Dominion.
- In a figurative sense we have Street Fighter's Sagat, whose Red Baron title is "Emperor of Muay Thai". He has no political power, but is one of the most badass fighters in the whole series. (Plus he was a high-ranked member of the Shadaloo organization, but ultimately left them.)
- Out of all the rulers seen in Fire Emblem, the ones that hold the Emperor/Empress title are few:
- Fire Emblem Akaneia: Hardin;
- Fire Emblem Jugdral: Second Generation's Arvis, formerly the Duke of Velthomer, who becomes Emperor after marrying the Princess of Grannvale (Dierdre) and unifying a good part of the continent under his leadership... which later turns into a tyrannical reign under the indluence of the Lopto Sect. Also, Seliph at the end of the game (who ironically is the son of Dierdre with another man, Sigurd. It's... a long story.).
- Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones: "Silent Emperor" Vigarde of Grado. Before the main game, Grado was a rare example of a good Empire, with Emperor Vigarde spending a large chunk of his day listening to the needs of his people and his son Prince Lyon being a kind-hearted (if slightly misguided) soul who truly wished to use his knowledge of Dark Magic to aid his people and the world at large.
- Fire Emblem Tellius: Sanaki, Empress of Begnion. Though technically speaking, the true Empress should be her long-lost older sister, Micaiah. Sanaki remains as Empress, however, whereas Micaiah becomes the Queen of Daein instead.
- While his official title is merely "Demon King", Bowser of the Super Mario Bros. series fits this trope, as he has a massive empire that he plans to expand, sometimes across the entire universe. He even has countless Kings as mere high-ranking minions of his.
- In Final Fantasy Dimensions, the Emperor of Avalon also known as Elgo looks like an Evil Overlord Tin Tyrant type at least his empty suit of armor does but he's actually a Shadow Emperor scheming to obtain eternal life and power from the Crystals. He's such a serious threat that the Crystals split the world into two dimensions just to get away from him. He "aids" the Warriors of Light and Darkness so he can personally rip the Crystals' power out of them.
- In The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!, Princess Voluptua's dad is the Emperor of the local space empire (which includes Earth, though humanity is unaware of it). She clearly has some issues with him, as do his subjects the dragons of planet Butane, but there have been no indications that he is actually evil.
- Drive: The current Emperor killed his uncle for the position, and framed one of the protagonists. He fits the President Charisma description above.
- Karate Bears have a very SMALL empire.
- In The Gamers Alliance, Takeshi Ofuchi is the Emperor of Yamato at the beginning of the Unification of Yamato arc in the Third Age. He's very much a selfish tyrant and a Sorcerous Overlord, but he's eventually betrayed by one of his trusted generals, Shogun Masamori Hyuga, who assassinates him and takes his place as the leader of Yamato (albeit Masamori never crowns himself emperor and instead keeps using the title shogun).
- The cleric Asher Walters becomes a literal Messiah-Emperor at the end of The Chronicles of Utopia. After resurrecting an army of warriors that had been forced into serving a lich, he carves out an Empire for himself by deposing the Mad Overking Ivid and taking over his lands, turning it into a bastion of reason and enlightenment in The Chronicles of Utopia Volume II.
- In Imperium Nova each galaxy has an Emperor, initially the first player on the server but later the senate or the GM can install a new imperial house. Depending on the galaxy and the current RP the emperor may be an all-powerful overlord or an ignored figurehead.
- Eclipse has Auerbach, the Emperor of the hellish Apocesis - essentially a "domestication" center for Ghouls (demons that are not sufficiently human-looking). He runs it like an officer in a concentration camp and acts in a manner very similar to a Torture Technician.
- Averted in Avatar: The Last Airbender. When the Big Bad, Fire Nation's Fire Lord Ozai decides to promote himself to ruler of the entire world, the title he comes up with is simply "Phoenix King", even though there is already an "Earth King" (and several lesser Earth Kingdom Kings, like King Bumi). This was probably done because "Phoenix Emperor" is way too many syllables to be practical.
- On the other hand, in Sequel Series The Legend of Korra, when Kuvira usurps Earth King Wu, she declares her new nation the Earth Empire, and herself its Empress. One of the cases where Authority Equals Asskicking — or rather, Asskicking Equals Authority, as she conquered her way to the title.
- In Transformers, the Decepticon leader commonly carries the title of Emperor of Destruction.
- The Fairly OddParents: Tired of being ignored by her husband and her son, the Queen of Yugopotamia used Baby Poof's scary (by Yugopotamian standards) cuteness to rule through him, passing baby Poof as Emperor.
- The Western tradition of this trope can be traced back to the Emperors of Rome, who during their reigns ruled one of the greatest empires in the world. Rulers from earlier eras (Alexander the Great, the High Kings of Persia) had a similar level of power and authority, but the title of Emperor originated with Caesar Augustus from Imperator, or "commander", as Rome had historical reasons to oppose anyone who claimed the title of King.note Similarly, the German and Russian words "Kaiser" and "Czar" are both derived from "Caesar".
- During the Dark and Middle Ages, European rules who called themselves "emperor" were specifically invoking The Roman Empire. The Byzantine Empire was the Roman state so their claim was obvious, the Holy Roman Empire laid claim to the former Roman empire in the West which (initially) they contested with Constantinople, the Russian Czars and Ottoman Sultans both claimed to be Byzantinian continuations, and Serbia and Bulgaria both based it on Roman/Greek traditions.
- Only in later eras did the title become removed from a continuation of the Roman Empire, and became used when a country was really frickin' big or powerful, prime examples being Mexico, Brazil, and Napoleonic France. Other times it was used to make a political point: the Kings of Prussia declared themselves German Emperors to make themselves higher-ranked than other German kings (like the one of Bavaria) without having to demote them; Napoleon III did it to link his regime to that of his uncle; the rulers of Austria needed a new title after the Holy Roman Empire disappeared and didn't want to step down in rank; Queen Victoria had herself declared Empress of India to make it clear that Britain was more powerful than Germany (and because she didn't want to be outranked by her daughter, who had married the heir to the German throne); and a couple others besides. However, Jean-Bédel Bokassa's short-lived Empire was little short of a farce.
- According to The Other Wiki England had already been technically an empire since 1533, however the titles King and Kingdom were retained. Maybe an unexpected example of Genre Savvy? It is however unknown, what effects the Acts of Union had on this…
- The trope codifier in East Asia is Qin Shi Huangdi, the "First Emperor" of China. The word for "emperor" in Chinese and Chinese-influenced languages was first coined by Qin Shi Huangdi himself, by combining the two characters hitherto used for semidivine sage-kings from ancient Chinese mythologies.
- Many polities outside of the West, such as Ethiopia, China, Japan, and the Incas also had imperial titles. Persian rulers claimed the title Shah of Shahs (King of Kings), and both the Persians and the Ottoman Sultans used the imperial title Padishah (later popularized in the Dune novels).
- Interesting Real Life twist on the trope: Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico. He wasn't really a ruling emperor; he was just some British guy who went a little bonkers following a bad trading deal that left his funds in shambles. He was enormously popular among the inhabitants of San Francisco, though - he got entry to the city's finest restaurants and theatres for free, had his own currency which was officially accepted by the city, single-handedly prevented a violent Anti-Chinese riot from breaking out, the townsfolk rallied to get him released when he was unjustly arrested by the San Francisco Police Department, and his funeral was attended by 30,000 people at a time when San Francisco's population was 230,000.
- Most of the tales surrounding Emperor Norton are really PR ploy invented by San Francisco's businesses and citizens, however. While many businesses were happy to use Norton as a prop to accentuate the city's image for tolerance and eccentricity, the man himself was actually treated miserably most of the time. His dogs were poisoned. He was kicked out of many business establishments. He lived in a crummy room at a cheap boarding house with only shabby clothes and not much more to his name. Only his funeral, ironically, matched the hype.
- The Bible had Solomon.
- Edward The First and his grandson Useful Notes/Edward III were the closest pre-UK England had for Emperors as they are the only monarchs powerful enough to get the title "Arbiter of Europe".
- Henry II and Useful Notes/Henry V had significant continental possessions as well, the latter being the only English monarch to have his claim to the throne of France legitimized in treaty.
- Later, Queen Victoria took the title "Empress of India". Edward VII, George V, Edward VIII, and George VI were all styled "Emperor of India" after her until the title was abolished. Sometimes they were referred to as "King-Emperor".
- As noted above, the status of the British monarchs is complicated, The Other Wiki even has an extra article for British Emperor.
- Medieval Spain had Several Emperors of all Spain.
- The first emperor in recorded history was Sargon of Akkad, whose armies overran most of Iraq in the twenty-fourth century, BCE. He was able to do this because he also had the first professional army in recorded history, giving him a decisive edge over his contemporaries. For thousands of years to come the kings of Assyria and Babylon would take Sargon as their idol and aim to equal or succeed his achievements.