We all love a decent boss battle. It saddens me that recent titles seem to be lacking in such epic conclusions, with the notion of uber-baddies at the end of each chapter dwindling in favour of disappointing and lazily designed finales to an excellent game. I absolutely hate that. Bioshock, what were you thinking?! There’s nothing worse than an amazing game which builds up to a climactic conclusion only to finish on the most pathetic and unchallenging boss battle.
Anyway, that’s not what I want to discuss today. I dusted off my copy of Kingdom Hearts II the other day and realised why I loved the series so much. The fight between Roxas and Axel in the opening few hours is absolutely incredible, albeit very easy (it is the tutorial section, after all). It looked great. I felt badass. The emotions were running pretty high; two best friends turning on each other in a fit of rage.
Everything you need for an epic boss battle was there, and it inspired me to write about the ones that stuck in my mind from games past. They’re not all end bosses; they range from simple to painfully challenging… I either love them or hate them. Or perhaps a bit of both. And ten isn’t nearly enough, but that’s what I’ll go with. Laziness is a terrible thing.
There will be spoilers galore, so it might be a good idea to scan the title before reading each section fully. I don’t want to ruin anything for you guys.
Scar – The Lion King
One of my earliest gaming memories was the Disney bundle available for the PC, including Aladdin, The Jungle Book and The Lion King. My favourite movie as a child (and to this day, if I’m honest) was the latter, and therefore I’m sure you can guess which of the three games was my preferred choice. I’m not sure if it was just due to my age and inexperience, I’ll have to download that badboy to check, but damn that game was hard!
The reason I chose this game isn’t so much for the battle itself. I found the Scar fight to be relatively easy. Well, not easy, but nothing compared to the rest of the game. It’s the lead up which was so memorable for me. I hated those monkeys…but yeah, the entire game led up to this point. This final battle with your prick of an uncle. And it was pretty awesome for someone who was a huge fan of the movie to actually live out the battle on Pride Rock. So, perhaps that’s just a bit of a personal favourite, but I hope some of you share my love of this selection.
Heihachi – Tekken
This old geezer is responsible for my earliest ideas regarding good and evil, the emphasis being on “evil”. He appears as the final boss for all of the characters (except for himself, of course). Tekken’s series director, Katsuhiro Harada, stated that Heihachi was the “perfect portrayal of the evil that lurks in mens’ hearts”. This guy is crazy! He threw his five year old son into a ravine in order to eliminate his weakness, created the Iron Fist Tournament (I love that title!) then survived being thrown off a cliff himself in order to return two years later to fight again! He isn’t human! What’s going on?
As the final boss in a number of Tekken titles, Heihachi is renowned as a bit of a badass. I’ve always loved that weird stomp he does. His parenting skills certainly aren’t up to scratch, but he sure knows how to throw a fighting contest.
Ninetails – Okami
Okami is a fantastic game with loads of incredible boss fights but my personal favourite has to be the Ninetails battle. The gameplay of Okami is so brilliant, the combination of Amaterasu’s speed and melee attacks with the Celestial Brush makes for epic boss battles. It’s certainly not one of those games you can button-bash, the weak points are exposed and manipulated using accurate brushstrokes carefully drawn with the analogue stick. I’m not sure why Ninetails is my favourite; perhaps it’s her similarities in appearance to Ammy, the aesthetics of the battle itself are strikingly beautiful, or maybe it’s just the Pokémon reference.
Nyx – Persona 3
JRPGs are well-known for their unrelenting difficulty level, the necessary hours of grinding and the near impossible boss battles. Persona 3 was no different. Its final opponent, Nyx, was so difficult it almost had me in tears a number of times. She has 13 different forms, one for each Arcana, and she spams status-inflicting attacks. Rage and charm are your worst nightmares during this battle… there’s nothing worse than Yukari healing Nyx’s mammoth HP with Diarahan in the final stage of the fight. This basically means you have to restart the whole thing again, and it’s soul destroying.
All this aside, the feeling of finally beating Nyx is so incredibly satisfying it’s definitely worth it. It may have taken over an hour, but that’s what made it so incredibly epic. It was a true test of endurance, stamina and patience, and a culmination of all you have learned throughout your journey.
Shadow of the Colossus, arguably all of them
Team Ico created a game which was entirely based around sixteen boss fights. They redesigned the way we view boss battles, taking a new and fresh spin on the tired notion of weak points which has been overused again and again in the past. The defeat of each collosi was both triumphant and heartbreaking, the huge creature falling to the ground a very sad and helpless sight to behold.
My favourite of the lot has to be the first, simply because the first encounter with such a creature is certainly memorable. The sheer size of it was both terrifying and thrilling. As Wander runs fearlessly towards the colossus, it is clear what a strange experience is ahead for the player. However, another certainly sticks in my mind…
Remember seeing that thing for the first time? My jaw dropped (no jokes please). I had no idea how the hell I was supposed to even climb that thing, let alone defeat it. One of those golden moments in gaming that I’ll never forget.
Shiva – Streets of Rage
Such a memorable game for me, I used to love playing this on co-op with my dad. While a lot of the bosses in the Streets of Rage series tended to be crazy-looking huge monsters, or at least possess some sort of gimmick (e.g. jet-pack, loads of guardian goons), Shiva was very different in the fact that he fought alone. No gimmicks, no extra men to protect him, he was alone. The final boss’s bodyguard was difficult in the fact that his stats and moveset matched those of the player’s. Duel matches (fighting an opponent equal to yourself) are always frustrating but satisfying to overcome, with Shiva’s defeat feeling very worthwhile and hard-earned.
Lady Yunalesca – Final Fantasy X
You bitch. You horrible, fucked up, evil, infuriating little bitch. I hate you, you hear that? I HATE YOU!!!!
Now I’ve got that out of my system, let’s talk about Yunalesca. I reckon she’s the hardest boss in Final Fantasy X. She was harder than Jecht (very disappointing in my opinion), she was harder than Seymour… sure, she didn’t reach the levels of Yojimbo, but that guy was just ridiculous. I hated Yunalesca with the heat of a thousand suns, and I always shall. Her three forms are equally frustrating in both their incredibly high defense stats and their devastating offensive moves. Oh, and did I mention, in her third form she opens by casting Megadeath. As the title suggests, this involves instant unadulterated death. Not cool.
It takes a while to master a strategy to send this bitch back to hell, but once you learn how to manipulate the zombie status to your advantage it all falls into place. It takes a lot of level grinding, plenty of Phoenix Downs and a hell of a lot of luck to beat her. It’s so worth it, though.
Blue (a.k.a. Gary Motherfuckin’ Oak) – Pokémon Red/Blue
Perhaps his name isn’t Blue in your head, you could have named him anything. Pretty sure “Buttface” was a pretty common one in the 90s. It doesn’t matter what he was called, you know who I’m talking about. Your rival. Not just Red’s rival, he was your nemesis. You and he grew together as trainers, locked in a constant contest to see who would come out on top, never truly knowing who would be the victor until… the final battle. The Champion. The finale of the Pokémon League, and who’s waiting for you with that same smug little smirk on his face? Gary Motherfuckin’ Oak, of course. Kick his ass. I don’t care if he has a Dragonite! WE CAN’T LOSE NOW!! WE JUST…we just can’t!
Oh and, the horrible moment when I completed the game for the first time and my battery light was blinking that awful red… I was begging Professor Oak to hurry up with that damn machine!
Perhaps even more memorable was the battle with Red in Gold/Silver. It felt as if you were finally fighting the true Pokémon champion; your entire journey had led up to this moment, the most significant battle of your life. Maybe I’m being over dramatic, but that’s the way I felt about it!
Psycho Mantis – Metal Gear Solid (…I know, I’m sorry!)
Obviously, the Metal Gear Solid series has a number of excellent boss battles to its name. The Boss, Liquid Snake, The End… but I had to choose one which I thought was the most innovative and impressive of the lot.
Kojima, I’m not going to lie, you scared the shit out of me back then. That moment Psycho Mantis told me I’d been playing a lot of Castlevania I was genuinely freaked out! Derren Brown ain’t got nothing on this guy. The entire battle was absolutely incredible. Not necessarily for its difficulty, but for the intelligence and originality on the part of Konami. The build up to the battle was equally as intense as the fight itself, with Mantis taking control of Meryl’s mind in an attempt to kill Snake inadvertently. He also taunts Snake by telling him about his method of play, in turn taunting the player themselves by calling them a coward for being too cautious or for saving too often. This attempt to break the player is very unsettling, so when it comes to the battle itself and Snake it unable to connect any hits as Mantis is using telepathy to counterattack, the effect is even more infuriating. My face when I realised it was necessary to switch the controller to the second port was absolutely priceless. I love you Kojima, I really do.
Psycho Mantis broke the fourth wall; it felt like he really was reading your mind, it’s psychological horror at its finest.
Riku/Ansem – Kingdom Hearts
Kingdom Hearts. One of my all time favourite games, I absolutely love it. I fell in love with the game back in the day when I found it covered in dust at the back of the “K” section in my local GAME. The combination of Squaresoft and Disney made it an instant necessity and I haven’t looked back since.
For those of you who haven’t played it, Sora is our protagonist and the keyblade master. Riku is his best friend, but he has fallen to the dark side, if you will. When the two finally meet after a long journey involving Donald, Goofy and a fair few other familiar faces, it’s not the happy reunion we were expecting. Their second battle takes place in Hollow Bastion; the most beautiful and strange world in Kingdom Hearts, the perfect setting for such a duel. Sora fights Riku alone and my god it is difficult.
“Behold the power of darkness!”
I can’t tell you how many times I was forced to restart and watch that damn cutscene again. I swear I could recite it to you now. Riku is pretty charged up with all the horrible dark crap inside him, which has made him insanely powerful overnight. It’s essential to learn his patterns in order to predict his movements and counteract them, it’s pretty much the only way to be successful in this particular fight. It’s exhausting, which enhances the emotional cutscene which immediately follows the battle. Perfection. I don’t care how hard it was, I loved that boss.
So there you have it! I’m sure there are loads I’ve missed. In fact, I know very well that it’s impossible to fit them all into a list of ten. This is where you guys come in. Tell me I’m wrong! What should have been number one? I love hearing from you guys, so don’t hold back!