Boss Battles – 10 Of The Best Boss Battles Of All Time
Since the birth of the video game industry, developers have spent considerable time creating new challenges and obstacles for the gamers to test their skills. Over the decades we have mastered the secret art to making impossible jumps, puzzle solving, special attack combos and precision shooting. One of the best ways for players to test their mettle can be found in special areas or near the end of stages, when a strong opponent comes forth to bring you down. These are the boss fights, battles that create some of the finest gaming moments ever seen.
I’ve played many games over the course of my life, and I’ve played more bosses than I could ever remember. Some, unfortunately, are completely forgettable. There are some, however, that are true examples of what a boss fight should be. Today, we will look at ten of the best boss fights in gaming history, and make special reference to a few others that were truly exceptional.
Before we do that, however, some criteria needs to be given. All of us have different expectations on what a great boss fight is. Some prefer a grudge match, some a battle of size and grandeur. Some simply prefer a challenge. All of these points are valid. But deciding on suitable criteria is where things get a little more complicated. After much deliberation, here is the criteria for deciding what battles made the cut.
- No final bosses were considered for this list. Final bosses are meant to rise to the occasion, and while many fail in this, it could be considered unfair to compare a standard boss encounter to something the games spends the whole time building up to. This is meant only for final game bosses. Final bosses from online MMO raids or dungeons are not penalized here.
- The fight must be challenging. There are many good boss fights, epic grudge matches and fateful encounters that, when all is said and done, don’t live up to the expectations of presenting a suitable challenge. The best of the best should our skills as a player.
- It must be a fight I have personally experienced. Despite my decades of gaming experience, there are many genres and many bosses I’ve never played. To present a fair and honest list, those considered must come from first hand experience.
- Games are limited to one boss per franchise. Some developers make a boss fight as nothing more than an obstacle to overcome, while others build as a wholly unique and exciting experience. While some franchises truly excel at boss encounters, it would be unfair to exclude other games and let a single series steal all the glory.
With that, Joystik Revolution proudly presents the top ten boss battles of all time. Enjoy!
- Raziel vs. Kain (Legacy of Kain: Defiance)
When it comes to boss battles, there is nothing quite so satisfying as a grudge match. Many video games spend a lot of time developing characters destined to cross swords with one another, but very few indeed spend an entire franchise preparing you for it. The Legacy of Kain series, however, invested five games to make this happen, and the fight was well worth the wait.
The franchise revolves around two characters. In the beginning, there was Kain, a man who made a deal to become a vampire in order to take revenge on the one who murdered him. His land became corrupt, and he sought to restore the pillars and bring balance to his land. In the end, however, he seized control of it. Many years later, a new enemy arose in a fanatical group called the Sarafan. Through time and age, Kain and his vampiric army battled these beings. Many years passed, and Raziel, one of his top lieutenants, evolved to a state that surpassed his master. Kain destroyed the subordinate and cast him into the abyss. Raziel, however, emerged as the Soul Reaver, and pursued Kain to take revenge.
As things come to ahead in Defiance, we discover that their story was part of a much larger plot; and what they had endured and done was preordained long ago. Despite the discovery of a greater threat, too much bad blood ran between the two, and a battle was inevitable.
Compared to other games on this list, this fight is probably the least challenging, but it does offer two things that make it completely worthwhile. First, this confrontation had been building over the course of several games. Second, you play as both characters during the fight. For the first half of the fight, you control Kain, trying to beat his adversary into submission. As the fight wears on, however, a new cutscene happens, and players switch roles, so that Raziel is the one to finish the battle.
This, in and of itself, is amazing storytelling. Like many fans, I preferred one side to the other, but the game emphasizes that both are equally important, and the circumstances that led to this point, and the consequences of this fight determine the ultimate fate of both characters. Kain and Raziel was an amazing rivalry and an epic showdown. Moments like these in games today are few in number, and opportunities of pure fan service like this are a tremendous example of boss fights done right.
- Bowser (Super Mario 64)
Some of you might dispute this entry, given that Bowser is a final boss, but Mario faces him many times over the course of the game. Mario 64 opened the player to an entire new experience in the Mario franchise. Until that point, Mario was a 2D platformer. Though we realized that Bowser was larger than the heroic plumber, Mario 64 showed Bowser in a whole new light. I remember the first time I encountered him. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to fight him so soon. When he stepped into the arena, however, I was mortified. It was truly a case of David and Goliath. Bowser was huge and a little intimidating, much more so than I anticipated.
The fight here was pretty interesting, and put the N64 controller through its paces. Defeating Bowser wasn’t all that difficult at first. You simple had to get behind him, get hold of his tail and spin him around fast enough to throw him into the lava. The first time I did this wasn’t so difficult, but as the game progressed, and we crossed paths again, the arena would change, and the fight got harder.
Over the many years that I’ve been gaming, I’ve fought Bowser many times; many of which were quite memorable. None of them, however, can hold a candle to this one. Today we are over-saturated by the Koopa king’s size and scope, but at the dawn of the N64, this was a whole new deal. It was both terrifying and breathtaking to behold. I may fight him many more times in my lifetime, but it will be difficult to copy the grandeur of Bowser in Mario 64.
- Boba Fett (Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire)
Shadows of the Empire was a fantastic read that launched after the Star Wars expanded universe novels came out. Due to its popularity, LucasArts decided to make a game adaptation for the N64. The story takes place between Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. The hero of the story is a Han Solo style smuggler named Dash Rendar who is also assisting the Rebel Alliance.
Given the fan base of the character, it’s not surprising that Boba Fett makes an appearance, and he does so in a really big way. This was the first time I’d fought the famous bounty hunter on a 3D landscape, and it can be brutal. Boba makes full use of his jetpack and bounces all over the area. Thankfully, Dash procured one of his own along the way, which makes the fight a little more even. Trying to fly and shoot against an opponent your size, however, isn’t all that easy, and Boba Fett has more than a blaster at his disposal. He also fires missiles. Whittling him down is a fun challenge, and I was overjoyed when that final shot sent him spiraling downward into the hangar bay.
That moment was gone seconds later when he reemerged in his ship, the Slave I. You would think a fight like this would be easier. After all, you’re not chasing a human sized opponent across the map, you’re fighting a ship. Hitting that thing is a lot easier. Unfortunately, damaging the ship isn’t all that easy, as you have to get behind it and damage it’s back side. At first, I tried flying around peppering it with my blaster, to soften it up and gauge it’s defenses, but that only got me killed. In the end, I had to utilize a cheese maneuver to secure the victory. After the Slave one emerges, the landing bay seals off, so you can run beneath it. I did this and reequipped to my pulse cannons, a gun that does a lot of damage but has terrible accuracy. Thankfully, I was shooting upwards at a ship in point blank range, giving me the edge I needed to win the fight before his gun turrets ripped me to shreds. On harder difficulties, however, that tactic didn’t work.
In the end, the fight was everything I hoped it would be. Though his role in the Star Wars films are insignificant, his fan lore has built him into an amazing character and a fierce opponent. Throwing down with him was not only a nod to me as a Star Wars fan, it was an exceptional battle for a seasoned gamer. Though at times he became frustrating, fighting Boba Fett was an awesome experience, and I can’t wait for the opportunity to go one on one with the bounty hunter yet again.
- Sephiroth (Kingdom Hearts)
Kingdom Hearts was a lighthearted experience that really played to my RPG fan-base. It combined the magic and character of Disney experience with the characters and nostalgia of Final Fantasy. The result was an amazing action RPG experience. The game featured several good boss encounters, but the best of the best came in the Olympus Coliseum. There were several cups that players could challenge. There was a fifty stage gauntlet for the seasoned fighter. You battled Final Fantasy VII’s Cloud and VIII’s Squall (Leon), and Titans from Hercules, but nothing could prepare you for the game’s most difficult challenge, the Platinum match, in which the player fought one on one against the epic boss villain himself, Sephiroth.
I lost track of the number of attempts it took to defeat him. His attacks are devastating. He doesn’t spend a lot of time chasing you across the battlefield. Instead, he relies on the small space and uses wide burst AOE attacks. To make matters even worse, he wields his traditional long sword, which gives him an amazing reach. Getting close enough to damage him can be costly, as only a few hits will take you down.
Players wishing to undertake this challenge must be fully prepared, and have a lot of patience. You will need to heal a lot. You’ll wail on him quite a bit before his health bar even begins to go down. As his health begins to get low, Sephiroth changes things up. He begins to channel a massive damage spell, around which large meteors rotate until the spell is finished. This makes it difficult to get in close and damage him while he is casting. He also has some teleportation attacks to make things even more challenging.
Because of the success of Final Fantasy VII, there have been many spin-offs and battles with him over the years, but this one presents the greatest challenge. Sephiroth is truly an iconic villain, and it’s refreshing to see a battle with him that tests your skills as a player.
- HMS Fearless and Royal Sovereign (Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag)
I don’t consider Assassin’s Creed as a franchise for amazing boss experiences. The purpose of the franchise is to go undetected and assassinate targets. Though there have been several times I’ve had to engage is vicious battles because of poor planning, I’ve never really experienced what I would call a boss battle.
Though fans are a little divided over Black Flag, personally I find it to be the best game of the series. The sailing mechanics and naval battles are top notch, so much that I found myself more inclined to search for ship upgrades and attack other vessels than to go ashore and continue the story. Though most times I preferred boarding and capturing the enemy ships, sometimes my pirate ferocity got the better of me, and I simply sent the ships down to Davy Jones’ locker.
In the later parts of the game, as more of the map becomes available, the four corners serve as encounters for legendary ships. These are much more than the standard fair naval battles. I felt high and mighty taking down royal treasure ships and privateer man of wars, but nothing could fully prepare me for the legendary ships waiting for me. The most challenging and enjoyable of these was a pair of ships, known as the HMS Fearless and the Royal Sovereign.
Both of these ships are magnificent and challenging. One sports white sails and the other has black ones. Facing them both at once, however, is a sea battle at it’s finest. The trick to this fight is to take avoid being caught between them while taking them down together. If you focus too much one a single ship and take it down, the second becomes much more aggressive, resorting to ramming your ship in addition to the normal stream of cannon fire. To win, you have to switch between the two, bringing them both down at about the same rate, so when one goes down, the other can be defeated before it completely destroys you.
With all the games out there today consisting of ship combat, old school naval warfare is pretty obscure, but Black Flag is idea for those looking to experience it. While it has all the great components of other games in the franchise (open landscape, customized look, upgrading weapons), seafaring adds a layer of depth that makes it truly shine. Black Flag is full of epic naval battles, and while I consider the Fearless and Sovereign my favorite, the other three legendary battles are equally brutal and also enjoyable.
Khayr Al-Din (New Horizons: Uncharted Waters)
Many years ago, I found this SNES title on a clearance rack in my local game store. It looked interesting, so I decided to purchase it. I consider it to be one of the best games I’ve ever played. You assume the role of a character, who’s story and focus ranges from exploration, cartography, trading and piracy. You take command a of a ship and set out to explore the open sea. Along the way you’ll discover many other ships. Most are friendly, but many are not. The worst of these is Khayr Al-Din.
New Horizons doesn’t have boss battles in the traditional sense. Combat consists of either naval battles or duels between captains. Al-Din’s fleet is one of the most menacing to encounter. His is a fleet of Venetian Galeass vessels, which carry a heavy amount of crew and cannons. Even the most seasoned character will have trouble defeating him.
The easiest approach to any ship combat is prepare your ship to have more crew designated for combat, then when battle starts, sail down to the enemy flagship and demand a duel. If the captain is defeated, the fleet surrenders. Duels are a paper-rock-scissors challenge. Characters receive a random set of attack cards on attack turns and defense cards on defense turns. Attacking cards are thrust, strike and lash, each of which has a corresponding defense card (lash, block and dodge) Cards have strength values, which determine how much damage you take. Al-Din carries a flamberge, a high quality thrusting weapon. Even so, all of his attacks are devastating, and can kill your captain in one hit on a critical success.
Defeating him doesn’t rid you of him either. Defeated captains simply reappear in port somewhere and eventually return, sometimes with a larger fleet. For characters in New Horizons who are combat lacking, Khayr Al-Din is a force best avoided. Though I’ve been defeated by many pirates, his is the fleet that I’m reluctant to fight, even when I find myself full prepared to face him.