What makes a successful videogame Boss?

Where to begin?

More importantly, where to end? 
 

University huh? So that's a bitch. 

Fortunately I love my degree, so it's not all bad. I'm actually working on a research project right now which I have chosen to title "The implementation, successes and failures of "Boss" design and encounters in Videogames". Catchy, ain't it. 
 

Where to begin? 

Bosses are a natural convention for videogames, a medium which is as much about timing and reflexes as it is logic and rational thought. The idea of a "boss" is traditionally a peak in the difficulty of a game, marking the end of a chapter or level - that the player must vanquish before they may continue. Bosses are also, conceivably, a huge failure, often dumped in an interactive adventure because... well... it's a videogame, and videogames have bosses, right? This is insufferably apparent amongst the "I'm the same as all the other guys you just fought but I have a bigger health bar" menagerie of bosses that reek of laziness and demonstrate the imagination of damp cardboard.  
  
An alternative is for bosses to gain notoriety by simply being awkwardly difficult. Seth, the final monstrosity one must wrestle in Street Fighter 4 is an example of an enemy that simply bends the rules to his advantage. Instead of being praised for clever design, he is more often than not the target of resentment for being a cheating mother fucker. This is by no means a sign of bad boss design, however, as the satisfaction at his inevitable demise is all the sweeter having beaten him despite his obvious home advantage. 
  
 

Clever boss design, both aesthetic and mechanic, is not an endangered state of affairs. The Mario games, notably Galaxy, flourish their creativity at every opportunity, and the bosses you encounter are wonderfully colourful as a result. It is a shame, therefore, that these bosses are often so uniquely bland in their character. Petey the Piranha is an excellent example of a boss that, though tremendously enjoyable to fight, is somewhat lacking in empathetic value. The Mario franchise always seems to take a back-seat when it comes to it's characters, allowing the over-arching Bowser wants Princess Peach storyline to encompass the entire adventure. Often the spectacle of fighting a giant volcano-dwelling octopus floating through the far reaches of space on a tiny asteroid seems to gloss over your incentive for doing so. He's evil? Sure, of course he's evil. He lives in a fucking volcano. How can he not be evil? 
 

And that's about it. 

 
Except it's not, really, is it? For many interactive titles simply pointing you at the bad guy and issuing the "kill" order isn't enough. You need incentive, which comes in a variety of flavours. The most obvious would be through empathy with your own character, your Commander Shepard or Nathan Drake. It's a lot easier to sympathise with their often destructive behavior having shared their sense of betrayal or manipulation earlier in the story. It also helps if your character is somehow entertaining to watch, be it the stoic resilience of Master Chief or the comedic charms of Super Meat Boy. 
  
There are exceptions to the rule, Mario being the obvious example - what is lost in ambiguity is compensated for in charm and innovative design. Similarly Shadow Of The Colossus requires little introduction other than "You have to kill these giant monsters to save this girl" - the incentive to destroy these enemies being that it is mechanically enjoyable to do so. In the latter example, the ambiguity is almost part of the charm, leaving the player with a foreign uncertainty that is quite unique. This is some fairly masterful manipulation of the genre, deliberately limiting instruction to the player to heighten that sense of unease. Unfortunately there are endless examples of games that don't quite understand these ideas, offering enemies that are immediately forgettable and lacking any real design as a unique opponent - the design stemming from clever programming and art assets instead of gripping narrative.


Some games actively forgo the predefined character route either by nature of a silent protagonist, or allowing the player an extreme level of control over their avatar - much in the way of Dragon Age: Origins where the player directly chooses their response throughout the entirety of the game. Personally I find the resulting level of empathy with a character is heightened as a result - my avatar becoming a much more personal extension of my own personality. If someone insults you in World Of Warcraft, for example, they are insulting you, not your level 29 Troll Shaman. This style of design is also much more dependent on the narrative. As the game cannot impose a sense of anger or hatred upon you, it must develop it manually through the experiences in which you are placed. Failure to do so successfully can result in a hugely underwhelming results, as with the Elder Scrolls:Oblivion where the actual storyline was dull, repetitive and riddled with bland characters which I was supposed to like or respect. Having conquered the final boss I was in no way elated, not caring for the kingdom which I had supposedly saved. The resultant charms from that game stemmed from the freedom the player was granted in exploring the huge and surprisingly vibrant world, carving out their own adventure and gaining a much deeper satisfaction as a result. This sense of achievement is vital, a fundamental feature of the entire medium that must be satisfied as a matter of urgency. Closure must be attained one way or another. With our World Of Warcraft example, this sense of achievement is gained through bragging rights, the ability to demonstrate you have mastered your class and role, and visually flaunt your skill through the shiny new loot you just received. The actual empathy the player has with the enemies they fight has been minimised to an almost mathematic level as a result - with players essentially working robotically and without interest in their attempts to out-maneuverer what has been degenerated to a colourful algorithm. Which is a shame, because that narrative incentive is available, it is just largely ignored.
 

Where to begin? 

This is all at odds with the fact that most bosses as entirely separate entities are predominantly uninspired. As Greg Kasavin pointed out on his blog, it's often the enemies you fight that share the greatest level of empathy with the player, usually because they are the characters to which you are most excessively exposed - which is why their somewhat lacking and repetitive design is such a huge lamentation to game enthusiasts worldwide. Bioshock, an absolutely superb game in many regards, develops a series of characters that are so successfully fleshed out that they complete the world they inhabit. Andrew Ryan, your supposed nemesis, is a character to which one ultimately becomes sympathetic throughout the course of your tour of Rapture. Similarly, Sander Cohen is so delightfully sadistic that it's almost a shame when one eventually clubs him to death with a wrench. These are examples of bosses that are nurtured and cultivated throughout a game, developed of a period of time, in which the player is given an opportunity to form a relationship with their enemy and their own inclinations at vengeance. These characters are by no means more powerful than the hordes one must battle to reach them, but they are given life through rich character design, and a stage upon which to flaunt it, making the journey the player must undertake infinitely more meaningful as a direct result. A stark contrast from the anonymous nature of the villains in the Mushroom Kingdom. 
 
 

It's therefore deeply disappointing that the final encounter in Bioshock is so stereotypically labored, bearing more resemblance to Seth from Street Fighter than to the tailored delicacy and tact of it's own cast of alternatives - the ultimate showdown being reduced to nothing more than an unsatisfying ammo-sponge. Such a wasted opportunity, considering how thoroughly well realised the character was and how heavily empathetic one felt as a direct result at the core sense of manipulation. 
 

Where to end? 

Uh... here I guess. 
 
So yeah, that's the sort of thing i'm going to be exploring and researching over the next two or three weeks. Bosses in videogames are a convention that is endlessly recycled and rarely successful. If anyone has any thoughts on why that may be, opposing opinions as to what makes bosses great, or even just fantastic enemies they have had the pleasure of battling personally - I would love to hear them. 
 
I... woah. This feels like one of my blogs from 2009. It's freaking me out a little bit. Anyways. 
 
Thanks For Reading 
Love Sweep
50 Comments
51 Comments
  • 51 results
  • 1
  • 2
Posted by Sweep

Where to begin?

More importantly, where to end? 
 

University huh? So that's a bitch. 

Fortunately I love my degree, so it's not all bad. I'm actually working on a research project right now which I have chosen to title "The implementation, successes and failures of "Boss" design and encounters in Videogames". Catchy, ain't it. 
 

Where to begin? 

Bosses are a natural convention for videogames, a medium which is as much about timing and reflexes as it is logic and rational thought. The idea of a "boss" is traditionally a peak in the difficulty of a game, marking the end of a chapter or level - that the player must vanquish before they may continue. Bosses are also, conceivably, a huge failure, often dumped in an interactive adventure because... well... it's a videogame, and videogames have bosses, right? This is insufferably apparent amongst the "I'm the same as all the other guys you just fought but I have a bigger health bar" menagerie of bosses that reek of laziness and demonstrate the imagination of damp cardboard.  
  
An alternative is for bosses to gain notoriety by simply being awkwardly difficult. Seth, the final monstrosity one must wrestle in Street Fighter 4 is an example of an enemy that simply bends the rules to his advantage. Instead of being praised for clever design, he is more often than not the target of resentment for being a cheating mother fucker. This is by no means a sign of bad boss design, however, as the satisfaction at his inevitable demise is all the sweeter having beaten him despite his obvious home advantage. 
  
 

Clever boss design, both aesthetic and mechanic, is not an endangered state of affairs. The Mario games, notably Galaxy, flourish their creativity at every opportunity, and the bosses you encounter are wonderfully colourful as a result. It is a shame, therefore, that these bosses are often so uniquely bland in their character. Petey the Piranha is an excellent example of a boss that, though tremendously enjoyable to fight, is somewhat lacking in empathetic value. The Mario franchise always seems to take a back-seat when it comes to it's characters, allowing the over-arching Bowser wants Princess Peach storyline to encompass the entire adventure. Often the spectacle of fighting a giant volcano-dwelling octopus floating through the far reaches of space on a tiny asteroid seems to gloss over your incentive for doing so. He's evil? Sure, of course he's evil. He lives in a fucking volcano. How can he not be evil? 
 

And that's about it. 

 
Except it's not, really, is it? For many interactive titles simply pointing you at the bad guy and issuing the "kill" order isn't enough. You need incentive, which comes in a variety of flavours. The most obvious would be through empathy with your own character, your Commander Shepard or Nathan Drake. It's a lot easier to sympathise with their often destructive behavior having shared their sense of betrayal or manipulation earlier in the story. It also helps if your character is somehow entertaining to watch, be it the stoic resilience of Master Chief or the comedic charms of Super Meat Boy. 
  
There are exceptions to the rule, Mario being the obvious example - what is lost in ambiguity is compensated for in charm and innovative design. Similarly Shadow Of The Colossus requires little introduction other than "You have to kill these giant monsters to save this girl" - the incentive to destroy these enemies being that it is mechanically enjoyable to do so. In the latter example, the ambiguity is almost part of the charm, leaving the player with a foreign uncertainty that is quite unique. This is some fairly masterful manipulation of the genre, deliberately limiting instruction to the player to heighten that sense of unease. Unfortunately there are endless examples of games that don't quite understand these ideas, offering enemies that are immediately forgettable and lacking any real design as a unique opponent - the design stemming from clever programming and art assets instead of gripping narrative.


Some games actively forgo the predefined character route either by nature of a silent protagonist, or allowing the player an extreme level of control over their avatar - much in the way of Dragon Age: Origins where the player directly chooses their response throughout the entirety of the game. Personally I find the resulting level of empathy with a character is heightened as a result - my avatar becoming a much more personal extension of my own personality. If someone insults you in World Of Warcraft, for example, they are insulting you, not your level 29 Troll Shaman. This style of design is also much more dependent on the narrative. As the game cannot impose a sense of anger or hatred upon you, it must develop it manually through the experiences in which you are placed. Failure to do so successfully can result in a hugely underwhelming results, as with the Elder Scrolls:Oblivion where the actual storyline was dull, repetitive and riddled with bland characters which I was supposed to like or respect. Having conquered the final boss I was in no way elated, not caring for the kingdom which I had supposedly saved. The resultant charms from that game stemmed from the freedom the player was granted in exploring the huge and surprisingly vibrant world, carving out their own adventure and gaining a much deeper satisfaction as a result. This sense of achievement is vital, a fundamental feature of the entire medium that must be satisfied as a matter of urgency. Closure must be attained one way or another. With our World Of Warcraft example, this sense of achievement is gained through bragging rights, the ability to demonstrate you have mastered your class and role, and visually flaunt your skill through the shiny new loot you just received. The actual empathy the player has with the enemies they fight has been minimised to an almost mathematic level as a result - with players essentially working robotically and without interest in their attempts to out-maneuverer what has been degenerated to a colourful algorithm. Which is a shame, because that narrative incentive is available, it is just largely ignored.
 

Where to begin? 

This is all at odds with the fact that most bosses as entirely separate entities are predominantly uninspired. As Greg Kasavin pointed out on his blog, it's often the enemies you fight that share the greatest level of empathy with the player, usually because they are the characters to which you are most excessively exposed - which is why their somewhat lacking and repetitive design is such a huge lamentation to game enthusiasts worldwide. Bioshock, an absolutely superb game in many regards, develops a series of characters that are so successfully fleshed out that they complete the world they inhabit. Andrew Ryan, your supposed nemesis, is a character to which one ultimately becomes sympathetic throughout the course of your tour of Rapture. Similarly, Sander Cohen is so delightfully sadistic that it's almost a shame when one eventually clubs him to death with a wrench. These are examples of bosses that are nurtured and cultivated throughout a game, developed of a period of time, in which the player is given an opportunity to form a relationship with their enemy and their own inclinations at vengeance. These characters are by no means more powerful than the hordes one must battle to reach them, but they are given life through rich character design, and a stage upon which to flaunt it, making the journey the player must undertake infinitely more meaningful as a direct result. A stark contrast from the anonymous nature of the villains in the Mushroom Kingdom. 
 
 

It's therefore deeply disappointing that the final encounter in Bioshock is so stereotypically labored, bearing more resemblance to Seth from Street Fighter than to the tailored delicacy and tact of it's own cast of alternatives - the ultimate showdown being reduced to nothing more than an unsatisfying ammo-sponge. Such a wasted opportunity, considering how thoroughly well realised the character was and how heavily empathetic one felt as a direct result at the core sense of manipulation. 
 

Where to end? 

Uh... here I guess. 
 
So yeah, that's the sort of thing i'm going to be exploring and researching over the next two or three weeks. Bosses in videogames are a convention that is endlessly recycled and rarely successful. If anyone has any thoughts on why that may be, opposing opinions as to what makes bosses great, or even just fantastic enemies they have had the pleasure of battling personally - I would love to hear them. 
 
I... woah. This feels like one of my blogs from 2009. It's freaking me out a little bit. Anyways. 
 
Thanks For Reading 
Love Sweep
Moderator
Posted by Video_Game_King

I'd say that the best way to examine how bosses work is to pick apart the shit bosses and see what they got wrong. For example, the final boss of Dragon Quest V isn't particularly challenging, but just really, really long. Once you have the rhythm down, all you need is a charger for your DS, and he's dead.

Online
Posted by JJGIANT

Well structured and well written. Good luck with your degree!

Posted by TooWalrus

Always include the word "man" in the title somewhere.

Posted by Sweep
@Video_Game_King said:
" I'd say that the best way to examine how bosses work is to pick apart the shit bosses and see what they got wrong. For example, the final boss of Dragon Quest V isn't particularly challenging, but just really, really long. Once you have the rhythm down, all you need is a charger for your DS, and he's dead. "

Do you feel satisfied having endured the hardships that culminate in his defeat? Did you have adequate incentive to fight him, and did you gain adequate reward from doing so? If that satisfaction does not outweigh the hardships one must trial through in order to obtain it then yes, that sounds like a pretty lame excuse for a boss. 
Moderator
Posted by Video_Game_King
@Sweep: 
 
From what I remember, not really. I just felt like I was done with him; I didn't feel like I had conquered any amazing trials. That's not to say that the reward is bad (you get an ending, and you've just beaten the game), but the effort makes it more like a chore than anything else.
Online
Posted by JoyfullOFrockets

Virgil in DMC3 was pretty close to perfection as a boss. At least, to me.

Edited by Make_Me_Mad

Bosses aren't always done well.  As much as I'm starting to feel like the guy who mentions Bayonetta in every post, I'm going to have to say- Jeanne, the Gracious and Glorious enemies, and Fairness and Fearless enemies.

Jeanne is a great boss, her harassment of you spanning multiple areas and chapters of the game, and the character is great.  I'd say she's more compelling than Bayonetta herself.  The fights with her rely solely on you learning how to better play the game, becoming more taxing with each encounter.  Nearly every attack she uses is available to you as well- she does have some nonstandard attacks that you'll never access, but for the most part she serves more as a test of how well you've learned what you're capable of in the game.  It's pretty amazing to finally cross that barrier from not understanding how you can possibly beat her, to charging her head on because you know you can handle anything she can throw at you.  And the best part is that it's not because you upgraded yourself in some way or found a weapon or powerup- you just got better at the game from going up against her.

Gracious and Glorious aren't actually bosses.  They're something of a test the way Jeanne is, I suppose, to make sure you didn't get over reliant on the witch time ability you've had for the entire game.  They're faster than pretty much any other enemy in the game, deal tons of damage, and are quite unpredictable.  They keep you on your toes, and you can't activate witch time (at least the standard way) to catch a breather while they're around.  It's also great practice for the Nonstop Infinite Climax difficulty level.

Fairness and Fearless are a lot like Gracious and Glorious, but are probably more dangerous due to the focus they have on teamwork.  Fairness and Fearless both have areas of expertise, with Fairness able to immobilize you and close the distance between the two of you at breakneck speeds, and Fearless able to attack at a distance almost incessantly.  Approaching one of them without knowing what the other is up to is all but suicidal.  Similarly, jumping out of the way of either one will usually simply get you caught in midair and tackled back to the ground.  They're vicious, methodical, and can absolutely destroy you if you try to focus on only one of them.  Every fight with them is about fighting smart, not getting caught up in your own attacks and combos, and always watching the both of them to know what they're trying to do next.

Basically, Bayonetta is awesome, the normal enemies in that game blow plenty of bosses out of the water entirely.

Posted by GlenTennis

The only bosses I loved this generation were from No More Heroes 1 and 2. They had a shit-ton of personality, and even though the fight itself was usually a repetitive mess, the characters kept me going.

Edited by Underachiever007
@JoyfullOFrockets said:

" Virgil in DMC3 was pretty close to perfection as a boss. At least, to me. "

That was a pretty good boss. The final boss in Okami is my own personal favorite. Jeanne from Bayonetta also comes close.
Posted by Gabriel

The only boss fights I think I have enjoyed this gen were the Demon's Souls bosses, and Your fistfight with Liquid Snake in MGS4.

Posted by Bocam

I found Ocelot in MG4 to be a great boss fight.

Posted by Dudacles
@JoyfullOFrockets said:
" Virgil in DMC3 was pretty close to perfection as a boss. At least, to me. "
Yes, definitely. It may just be my favourite boss fight (the second fight, in the circular room where he is trying to perform the ritual being the best out of the three encounters for me) ever. Runners-up are 90% of the Shadow of the Colossus fights and the Chronos fight in God of War III.
Posted by JoyfullOFrockets
@dudacles said:
" @JoyfullOFrockets said:
" Virgil in DMC3 was pretty close to perfection as a boss. At least, to me. "
Yes, definitely. It may just be my favourite boss fight (the second fight, in the circular room where he is trying to perform the ritual being the best out of the three encounters for me) ever. Runners-up are 90% of the Shadow of the Colossus fights and the Chronos fight in God of War III. "
Man, the final battle on Dante Must Die was something else. I could feel the barrier of controllers disappear before me. It was kinda weird.
Posted by Sweep
@Gabriel: @Bocam: The bosses in Metal Gear Solid are kinda cheap in that they aren't seamlessly integrated into the gameplay, but rather imposed upon you via lengthy cut-scenes that precede each encounter. However the Bosses (that I remember) are an excellent example for how enemies can be much easier to empathise with than protagonists - I suppose because you are being given an official introduction and are being allowed to form your own opinions as oppose to imposing yourself over the pre-determined character of Snake, whom you embody.
Moderator
Posted by Jimbo

Streets of Rage.  All of 'em.

Posted by MikeGosot

I like when the boss fight surprises me. Like in Bayonetta, when you fight Father Balder and when you're just about to kick his ass, he kills that dragon you use in executions. 
Another awesome boss fight that surprised me was Kunino-Sagiri in Persona 4. It really made me think that Strategy > Level. 

Posted by TJ311

what about the ending to the God of War games or does that fall into the same argument as having sympathy for that character because you play as them for the whole game? 
 
for me, Kratos falls into the same trap that all characters fall into in GoW3, befriend someone who is using u for their own personal goals, which can also be said about Isaac Clarke in Dead Space 2. But i think that just makes him more incentive to be a badass because he is sooo angry about his decision that he has to take it out on someone or something.

Posted by Gabriel
@Sweep said:
" @Gabriel: @Bocam: The bosses in Metal Gear Solid are kinda cheap in that they aren't seamlessly integrated into the gameplay, but rather imposed upon you via lengthy cut-scenes that precede each encounter. However the Bosses (that I remember) are an excellent example for how enemies can be much easier to empathise with than protagonists - I suppose because you are being given an official introduction and are being allowed to form your own opinions as oppose to imposing yourself over the pre-determined character of Snake, whom you embody. "
What about your fight with The End in MGS3?  You see glimpses of him throughout the game as an old decrepit man in a wheelchair. You know you have to eventually fight him because he is a member of the Cobra unit, so the buildup to his boss-fight is an enjoyable one.  When you actually do fight him it's a awesome sniper duel where you have to use the stealth game play mechanics to track and kill him. That boss-fight was very well integrated into the gameplay formula.  
Posted by supermike6

I think the only bosses I have enjoyed recently have been the ones in Vanquish, because they are huge mechs and sliding slow-mo around them shooting their weakpoints while they shoot hundreds of missiles at you is fucking awesome. 
 
I feel like the worst boss fight I have ever faced is the last one in Persona 3, because at this point it has completely halted any interest I had in beating the game, just because it is like 3 hours long and has an ultra cheap move it can use right at the end to make you die almost instantly. And the one time I made it there, I didn't feel satisfaction or anything, I just felt like I had managed to cheat the boss into not killing me. That is terrible boss design. 

Posted by Sweep
@Gabriel: Aw, I never got round to playing MGS3. Feck :(
Moderator
Posted by MarkWahlberg

 "This sense of achievement is vital, a fundamental feature of the entire medium that must be satisfied as a matter of urgency. Closure must be attained one way or another. " 

 

Pretty much this. 
 
   Bosses are for the player to prove their skill, or for synthesizing (is that the right word? distilling?)  a character/story element into a single, emotionally resonant moment. It is the culmination of whatever you have been doing. 
 
 You know a good boss when the way in which you fight them is somehow related to their design or their involvement in the story, or both. Defeating the really fat monk in Hype meant using his weight against him, not just stabbing a bunch. Fighting the first Sathanas in Freespace 2 wasn't a direct 'fight', you were disabling it so another, bigger ship could fight it.  Watching another Sathanas pop in at the end and blow everything to hell was one of the most  messed up.... gah. Shooting Zakhaev in COD4 barely counts as a boss fight, but it still had a strong, story-related impact. You should want to fight the boss. 
  
Bad bosses are just stronger versions of regular enemies, or when their design means fighting them becomes more of a chore than a battle. The end of Rayman 3 was interestingly designed, but it went on for too long with no chance of pausing. The Terminator baby in ME2 had nothing to do with anything and was just 'shoot the weak points' (whereas the Shadow Broker was the culmination of reuniting with Liara and relatively more interesting to fight). 
Posted by Hailinel

Valkyrie Profile was fairly unique in that, depending on the drastically different ending paths one could take, there are two entirely different final bosses.  In the B ending, there's Surt, the lord of the frost giants at war with Odin, and the reason you were awakened to recruit Einherjar in the first place.  You kill him because you're doing your job.
 
The A ending, however, sees the game go completely bonkers.  First you get fucked over by letting the only person that ever truly loved you die at the hands of Loki.  Then you're nearly obliterated from existence.  Then you come back with a chip on your shoulder and find that Loki went ahead and did in both Surt and Odin.  Then when you confront him, Lokl fucking destroys the world, only for you to recreate it because the magic that let you come back gave you the power of creation itself.  Then you murder the hell out of Loki and bring your one true love back to life.
 
Intense.  If only the same could be said of the final battle itself.  Due to my levels, party set-up and skill/item configurations, it was literally impossible for Loki to do me in, and even though he was routinely blasting my party's HP down by 95% every single turn.  Meanwhile, I just wailed away at him with the one attack that could conceivably do damage to him until he died like the little traitorous bitch he is.

Posted by Little_Socrates
@Gabriel said:
" @Sweep said:
" @Gabriel: @Bocam: The bosses in Metal Gear Solid are kinda cheap in that they aren't seamlessly integrated into the gameplay, but rather imposed upon you via lengthy cut-scenes that precede each encounter. However the Bosses (that I remember) are an excellent example for how enemies can be much easier to empathise with than protagonists - I suppose because you are being given an official introduction and are being allowed to form your own opinions as oppose to imposing yourself over the pre-determined character of Snake, whom you embody. "
What about your fight with The End in MGS3?  You see glimpses of him throughout the game as an old decrepit man in a wheelchair. You know you have to eventually fight him because he is a member of the Cobra unit, so the buildup to his boss-fight is an enjoyable one.  When you actually do fight him it's a awesome sniper duel where you have to use the stealth game play mechanics to track and kill him. That boss-fight was very well integrated into the gameplay formula.   "
The End's battle was well integrated and a great mystery preceded it; namely, why are these super-badass Cobras wheeling around this old geezer? Easily one of the most satisfying battles in the series. The Boss would be better if she didn't have such a super-human amount of health; I get that she's supposed to outclass you, but you constantly use rations to get enough health to beat her, so it just becomes a bit of a grind. The payoff is FUCKING AMAZING, but the actual fight is merely fine. 
 
I'd like to posit the battles against Saren in Mass Effect 1; they did a great job putting a chase on those battles, and the execution was very solid. Also, the first boss battle in Deadly Premonition was extremely surprising, and the story set up the character extremely well before the fight, with threads of friendship, antagonism, and mistrust running throughout the game's storyline. The actual fight was an interesting departure from the standard style of the action gameplay, and though subsequent boss battles would follow bullet-sponge traditional boss formulas more closely, the first boss is rather well done. 
 
I think the bosses that develop the most before an actual fight are the most satisfying; to use Okami as an example, the game only really bothers to develop Orochi as a demon, leaving the others as parts of the mysterious Dark Lord Yami, who is constantly mentioned but never actually developed. The game goes out of its way to invest you in the legend of Orochi, however, spending almost too much time establishing the relationships, history, and myths created by the last battle with Orochi a century ago. In my opinion, the long buildup to your fight with Orochi, and the eventual fight with him, is the most well-executed part of the game. The eventual battle uses a handful of the techniques you've learned in your journey before your battle with him, and though it gets a bit repetitive, the payoff for that specific battle is excellent. 
 
In essence, catching a boss is really only memorable if there's a great chase beforehand.
Posted by Gabriel
@Sweep said:

" @Gabriel: Aw, I never got round to playing MGS3. Feck :( "

 
 
You should if they ever put out that HD collection, it's the best in the series. 
Posted by meismike

All monster hunter is is boss battles. With adequate rewards and a massive sense of accomplishment. Once again no story driven need to kill them other than your own greed for the most part.

Posted by Kjellm87

All bosses only need to avoid one flaw to be a decent one,
and that's not letting the player wait around 
for too long for a weak spot to appear.

Posted by mordukai
@Sweep: Have you played Demon's Souls?
Edited by mordukai
@Sweep: I think it's why I love games like Metal Gear Solid and God of War series. They always took time fully flush out most of their bosses that by the time you get to them you are pretty stoked at getting the chance to kill them. The End and The Sorrow from Metal Gear Solid 3 particularly come to mind when I think of original and well thought out boss fights. I also think that Demon's Souls has some of the most memorable boss fights. Old Monk imo is the most original boss fight scenario this generation. 
Edited by ArbitraryWater

If we want to talk about bosses that exemplify everything that is bad about those kinds of encounters, we should talk about Alpha Protocol. For one, even though the game clearly lets the player play in both combat and stealth oriented playstyles, these boss fights create a massive discrepancy between those two character builds, with stealth/pistol characters basically being totally fucked without the use of cheap tactics as (with the exception of the very first boss) none of those stealth abilities can ever be used. Then we can talk about how all the bosses occasionally rush you with melee that takes half your health away if you don't put points into melee, another design flaw, and then we can talk about how they all have an insane amount of health and AP's shooting mechanics aren't good enough to make these encounters anything more than boring even if you are playing a combat character who also has melee.
 
Basically, it's the only game I know where fighting a coked-up Russian Mobster with a taste for bad 80s paraphernalia while music from that era is played is a negative experience.  Ugh. That game is so messed up.

Posted by jorbear
@ArbitraryWater: Alpha Protocol is one of my favorite games from last year. And also one of my most hated games ever.
Edited by Pepsiman

I know I bring up this guy a lot whenever discussing good boss fights on the Giant Bomb, but the very last one you fight in Persona 3 has always really stuck out to me for a lot of different reasons, most of which are good. I'll try my damndest to discuss his characterization and gameplay mechanics as best I can without brazenly spoiling anything, since I know there are still some members of the site that want to play the game, but haven't finished it.
 

  • The boss fight is 13 parts long. In addition to obviously taking a long time to beat (first-timers can commonly take upwards of two hours to finish him, especially if they didn't psychotically read guides ahead of time), it's set up such that you always have to be on your toes and come in with a strong, yet highly flexible setup, both in terms of your Personas and your equipment. If you're not prepared for the worst, even when you don't know what the worst actually is, you're not going to come out of that fight alive. This is especially true since the boss' strengths, weaknesses, and abilities change for each part. The fight itself, though, is surprisingly fair in difficulty. It's hard, but it's not arbitrarily harsh, if you catch my drift. Beating him is certainly a satisfying experience.
  • All thirteen parts come with a lot of deep, personal symbolism. While transitioning between parts, the boss will briefly wax poetic and say something philosophical. As all thirteen parts are meant to represent the traits of one of the corresponding Major Arcana, on a superficial level, those monologues represent an interpretation of the characteristics of those Arcana. But in reality, the boss is really discussing the trials and tribulations you've endured in the daily life of the protagonist. The point of most of the Persona game is that the characters all still have ordinary lives to lead in addition to their supernatural duties, so it's not all just talk about the crazy stuff they've done. Sometimes it's just a reflection on the little everyday events that have gone on.
  • The ending that takes place after beating that fight is poignantly well-done. It's not entirely unexpected, as you can certainly begin to catch on to what will probably happen, but it's not entirely confirmed until the very, very end, right before the credits roll. The ensuing song that plays in Japanese, if you understand the lyrics, really drive the point home. That ending and the boss fight that leads up to it are the main reasons why I still think the game's conclusion is easily one of the best amongst last generation's games.
 
As somebody else pointed out, the No More Heroes games also have really great bosses in terms of characterization and setup, even if the combat itself is usually super repetitive. Some of those bosses are easily amongst my favorite overall video game characters today. Oh, Holly. Poor, poor Holly.
 
Also, as someone who just wrapped up a review of the Japanese edition of Catherine, I'd love to discuss why I think the boss encounters in that game are really great from a symbolic standpoint, but I should probably remain mum on that since it wouldn't be fair to the people who still can't play the game in a language they understand yet. If you're curious, though, shoot me a PM and I'll talk in great detail there. It's really cool to know somebody is actually doing an academic paper on this sort of topic.
Posted by Magiczipper82

I'm surprised nobody has mentioned the final boss of Borderlands. HUGE let down for me, and my friends I was playing the game with.

Posted by Sweep
@Mordukai: I played Demon Souls briefly, but I don't own a PS3 and I lack patience. Not a good combination :D 
Moderator
Posted by Inf225

Wow! amazing read.
 
I personally really enjoy bosses in RPGs. Especially Jrpgs. I like the over sized ridiculousness of them. I don't feel accomplished in a game until something huge is exploding. Consequently I also love Bayonetta.

Posted by Sweep
@Inf225 said:

" Wow! amazing read.  I personally really enjoy bosses in RPGs. Especially Jrpgs. I like the over sized ridiculousness of them. I don't feel accomplished in a game until something huge is exploding. Consequently I also love Bayonetta. "

Yeah, I think it would be a mistake to underestimate just how powerful a great-looking game can be, but that can't be the only thing holding up a boss encounter. As Greg Kasavin wrote in his blog: 

the artists and combat designers have to carry the burden of making them[Bosses] interesting when the fiction should be holding up its end of the bargain.    

Moderator
Posted by craigbo180

Now this guy is definatly a memorable "boss"

 Also I thought general raam in the first gears was a pretty good boss.
Posted by Sweep
@Pepsiman: Dude, yes! Expect a lengthy PM from me shorty. We have much to discuss!
Moderator
Posted by buzz_clik
Moderator
Posted by SocialistNinja

 Nihilanth

from hl1 
Edited by SlightConfuse

A great boss should challenge the player. the boss fight sould be the climax of the story beat and not just be theri for he sake of gameplay. The finale of gears of war 2  was dissapointed because you wiped the florr witht he "boss". same deal with bioshock 2  where you hit a switch and game over.  boss should not be pushovers becasue hey do not give the player anyy satisfaction from beating them. you work your way to the end only to destroy a guy is not satifying at all. 
  
 
Bayonetta had awesome boss fight because of the design(especally the one where you are sufing in the middle of the ocean).  
 
Shadow of the colusses too becasue each encounter requires you to preform different tasks and gives you a sense of acomplishment when youn down one of the giants(and advance the story). 
 
 

@Pepsiman:



i agree 100 % with the final boss of persona 3. the fight with jin and takaya was  a great lead up to the final battle  and made the finale battle have more weight to it.  
 
Posted by TomA

There are a bunch of things that can make a good boss. 
-Real sense of danger
-Scale. If you have a boss that is 100 times bigger than you and could crush you like a bug with one finger, that often makes for a good boss(i.e. Shadow of the Colossus) 
-Story build up/ a reason to care whether or not you emerge victorious. 

Edited by Oni

Sweep, your writing is getting more and more excellent. Seriously, kudos, that was a great, well-thought out piece, written with a deft hand.
 
Though I wouldn't be me if I didn't nitpick - its, possessive. Ex: The writing in this piece is good. Its writing is good. it's: contraction. It is a good piece. It's a good piece.
 
Good night!

Edited by jakob187

You know what makes an awesome boss, Sweep?  Evil MIDI laughs. 

Actually, it's the only thing that is scary in video games.  THE ONLY THING!  When an evil MIDI laugh is chortled out, you know that you need to stick your head between your legs and find out what reprocessed corn tastes like.
Posted by JJOR64
@Video_Game_King said:
" I'd say that the best way to examine how bosses work is to pick apart the shit bosses and see what they got wrong. For example, the final boss of Dragon Quest V isn't particularly challenging, but just really, really long. Once you have the rhythm down, all you need is a charger for your DS, and he's dead. "
That's like the last boss in DQ8 as well.
Posted by HolyCrapItsAdam

I feel as though when it comes to bosses, the most joy or feeling or resolution or closure I get is not because of the gameplay or the design of the boss or the difficulty but rather the emotional struggle that I the player had to experience with my character up until that moment and the feeling of accomplishment in defeating this enemy that your character has been fighting the entire game to overcome. I guess my argument really only pertains to final boss characters rather than mid bosses but the most prominent example that I can think of (and has been mentioned before in the comments) is Ocelot/Liquid Snake at the end of MGS4. Honestly the gameplay was very minimal in that is was mainly a mash out this 5 hit combo over and over but the emotional gravitas and the sense of accomplishment that you felt after beating him. I felt not as though I was just playing as Snake but that I was sharing in his struggle. A lot of that has to do with the story telling for sure but the feeling of closure and accomplishment that snake felt after defeating his brother/rival resonated with me just as much. Good boss design isn't about flash or gameplay or size but rather about emotionality and emergence. At least that's how I feel. Take what you will from that. I also know that its not worded as nicely as your blog and I probably repeated myself a couple times haha

Posted by audiosnag

Seth was a cheap asshole
ASS!
HOLE!

Posted by Rowr

I love reading your blogs, dont stop.
 
Hmm, something notable or interesting to help...ummm...
 
Megaman. The whole game is based around the bosses and getting to them.

That competitive douche from pokemon who i always renamed "fuckhead", who pops up throughout the game. As i recall it made no difference in the game if you beat him or not? But dam if it wasnt important.
 
Remember Seven Minutes? I dont want to give away the ending for those that havent played, but i think you remember why it was interesting?
 
The GTA series has some memorable extended boss missions.
 
God of War and QTE's .

Edited by Geno

Great blog. Also, just to contribute: 
 
    

Edited by yoshimitz707

@Sweep Now tell me more about the price of Bulletstorm. ;p
 
Edit: Shit, I was wondering why this blog had so many posts. This would have been funnier if I had posted it in the right blog!!

  • 51 results
  • 1
  • 2