5 Utterly Awesome Boss Fights – Spoiler: No Ornstein & Smough!

Bosses don’t have to be tough to be an epic encounter.

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So not so long ago I went on a bit of a rant about bosses that beat the ever living crap out of me.  Whilst an absolute pain to beat, they were a fun challenge and satisfying to defeat (apart from that arsehole Capital B).  Whilst challenge should certainly be an aspect to a boss battle – after all they are there to test your skill – a good boss battle doesn’t necessarily have to be tough to be a fantastic experience.  A combination of the right challenge level, sound and visual design, and sometimes doing something a bit unexpected can lead to a tremendous scene that will prove memorable for years to come.

Scarecrow
I’m of the opinion that this is one of the smartest boss fights in gaming. It used Arkham Asylum’s mechanics in unexpected ways and managed to make Scarecrow more memorable than The Joker.

So here are 5 awesome boss battles that have stuck with me.  Usual rules apply: only one game per franchise, only games I have played and bosses I have beaten.  You won’t find a disappointing Vaas knife fight here!  I’m not including Scarecrow from Arkham Asylum though, as that was so good it practically feels like cheating.

Oh, and spoilers obviously!

The EndMetal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater

Metal Gear Solid 3
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (2004)

First off, a series famed for its boss battles.  I had this game at university, and I always remember a housemate of mine describing this fight as “a deadly game of cat and mouse”.  Whilst amusing, it’s actually a pretty accurate description of the encounter.  The End is an elderly sniper and member of the elite Cobra Unit that Snake needs to take out.  He can be seen at various points in the game, and you can even kill him before the boss encounter if you’re quick.  But doing so means you miss out on an incredibly tense and varied battle.

Metal Gear Solid 3 The End
You can even eat his parrot if you manage to catch it.

In a large forest arena you’ll need to find and defeat The End, who is trying to put you down with a sniper rifle.  Most of the time you can’t see him so finding him is half the battle.  This is where Kojima and co managed to put together something rather special as there are so many ways to go about this.  You could use thermal goggles, or perhaps try spotting his bird to indicate his location.  Maybe you’ll watch for the sun reflecting off his sniper scope.  Sometimes the camera will shift to seeing through The End’s rifle to hint at his position.  You could beat him by sneaking up on him altogether or, as some players discovered, by not playing the game for a week and having The End die of old age.  Such a smart experience as you sneak, watch, and try to outdo this master sniper.

Flowey – Undertale

Undertale
Undertale (2015)

I was super late to the party with this one and had a lot of concepts in the game spoiled for me.  I put this one off for a long time because of that but I’m glad I finally settled down to play it.  The story was interesting, the characters varied and the battle system very much out of the ordinary.  Talking to the monsters rather than fighting them?  It felt pretty novel to me.  And whilst I haven’t gone for a pacifist or genocide run yet, the final boss of the neutral run was completely unexpected.

Undertale
You go from 8-bit (I think) pixel art to this monstrosity. I genuinely did not expect this boss design, nor how intense the battle would be.

In Undertale, you survive by moving your heart to avoid attacks in a bullet hell style.  The final boss really pushes your ability to the limit in this regard, but also messes with you as a gamer.  You’ll suffer damage from a series of attacks, then Flowey will save the game’s state and load it up again several more times to cause that same damage multiple times.  If you die, Flowey will shut the game down and when you launch it again he’ll taunt you over how many times he’s killed you and how much he’s looking forward to tormenting you forever.  Going from a heart warming game to this insanity was unexpected and unbelievably memorable.

Bell Gargoyle – Dark Souls

Dark Souls
Dark Souls (2011)

I was torn between this one and Father Gascoigne from Bloodborne, but I went with this as the location felt great.  For me, this is where Dark Souls really started and felt like my first real challenge.  Whilst getting here certainly wasn’t a walk in the park for me, the Bell Gargoyle trounced me several times more than any previous encounter.  I suspect that the fact it was the first real hurdle for me helps make it more memorable.

Dark Souls
I loved the feature in this game that allowed you to cut off certain enemy’s tails to acquire new weapons.

The battle takes place atop a church with the city sprawled beneath you.  The gargoyle swoops down to land on the roof and just goes crazy on you.  Once you get through the early onslaught and start causing some damage you feel pretty positive…then his friend shows up and you get a two on one battle to the death.  The environment, the desperate struggle to take down one enemy only to have his buddy show up, and finally surviving to ring the bell atop the tower.  It all comes together as a memorable encounter that tells you what this game is going to be going forward.

Senator Armstrong – Metal Gear Rising

Metal Gear Rising Logo
Metal Gear Rising (2013)

Right, this one is allowed in alongside Metal Gear Solid 3 for two reasons.  Firstly, because this is technically a spin of and is arguably its own franchise.  Secondly, this is my list and I feel like cheating a bit so nyah!  This game is full of crazy boss fights, including building sized mechs, robot chainsaw dogs and ninja cyborgs.  Picking just one of these is difficult enough, but I’ve gone for the final encounter.

Metal Gear Rising
Nanomachines, son!

A loud metal soundtrack, sword wielding robots, an inferno surrounding the combatants and an evil senator with even more bonkers policies than Trump (not trying to get too political here).  This is a boss fight that will really test the skills you’ve developed throughout the game (and took me a while to beat).  Taking down Armstrong is no easy task, requiring skillful use of your blade slicing abilities and well timed dodges.  This is Platinum at their absolute best and I’d dearly love a solid current gen port of this.

Bob Barbas – DmC: Devil May Cry

DmC: Devil May Cry (2013)
DmC: Devil May Cry (2013)

Ok, so this wasn’t the most well received reboot with many arguing (myself included) that the series didn’t really need one.  However, this is actually a pretty damn good character action game, with solid controls, a well thought out soundtrack and a werid interpretation of Dante that I’d prefer not to think to hard about.  It also has some top boss battles!  Ferris wheel demons and underground slug monsters were certainly memorable, but it was the manipulative news anchor that stole the show.

DmC Devil May Cry
He’s certainly not one of the hardest bosses I’ve ever faced, but the it does so much so well!

This is easily one of the most visually creative boss fights I’ve ever seen.  It uses the fact that Bob is a corrupt news anchor and runs with it by having the whole fight be themed around a news report.  You’ll fight through the perspective of a police helicopter’s camera, charging down a path made of news channel logos and listen to Dante’s name being slandered through propaganda infused reports.  Dodging lasers and explosions whilst approaching Bob’s digitised head to cause damage may be the way to win, but the framing of the encounter is what really makes this.  How many boss fights manage to make facing additional enemies interesting?  I certainly can’t think of many.

Some honourable mentions as ever.  I’ve mentioned Metal Gear Solid’s Psycho Mantis in the past as being very creative (that series is just incredible when it comes to bosses).  The Sephiroth battle in Kingdom Hearts was impressive for many reasons.  It was unexpected, challenging and full of fan service.  Jecht from Final Fantasy X is one I found quite memorable due to the catharsis is provides Tidus.  Whilst the encounter itself wasn’t all that incredible, the significance of it certainly is.  And Wyzen from Asura’s Wrath was a sight to behold.  Whilst the fact it was almost entirely a QTE works against it, the visual spectacle more than makes up for it.  Oh, and there was this guy from Serious Sam:

Serious Sam
The scale of this boss was insane for the era!

I notice that many of these are fairly recent.  Are modern boss encounters really more impressive than older ones?  Or did I just not play the right ones as a youngster?  Let me know if there are any I should experience!

 

31 thoughts on “5 Utterly Awesome Boss Fights – Spoiler: No Ornstein & Smough!”

  1. Kudos for Bob Barbas, The End, and at least mentioning Scarecrow (Killer Croc was great too) — all of which are incredibly well designed and would likely be on my list. There are two recent ones I’d like to add, but it’d be impossible to do without discussing spoilers (the final encounters in FFXV and The Last Guardian).

    The “final” encounter in Dragon’s Dogma is one of my favorites. You’ve spent the entire game getting stronger, finding better gear, defeating monsters, and learning new spells, but the encounter with Grigori still made you feel like you were severely under-powered. Capcom did a great job adding specific mechanics to make it seem like you had a fighting chance.

    Fatal Frame 2: Crimson Butterfly had a pretty intense final boss too, where it only took damage from your split-second “fatal frames” (or “zero shots,” depending on your region). Knowing that I could die in a single hit and had to rely on evasion and perfectly-timed shots added to the game’s fear factor immensely.

    This is a great topic because it makes you think about what you want from a boss fight. I don’t want cheap deaths and near bottomless health pools (the final boss of Dragon Quest Heroes comes to mind), I want memorable scenes and something that captures the overall feel of the game.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The ones you mention there are ones I haven’t experienced sadly (I didn’t get on with Dragon’s Dogma and I never got around to Fatal Frame 2 (Project Zero 2 here), FFXV or Last Guardian.

      Boss battles are so subjective though, and it made narrowing this list down quite difficult. I love different mechanics or unusual visual styles to set it apart from the rest of the game. I wanted to include Argus (the first boss from Vanquish) as it used bullet hell styling in a third person shooter that made it really stand out. Galactus in MvC3 stood out too, but was a really dull due to being a punch-sponge with cheap attacks and a huge hitbox.

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      1. Yep, the ones that we had to do 40 times over are the ones that tend to stick with us, more due to the number of times than the quality of the confrontation. Pity really, as they tend to be the most irritating. Fighting game bosses are especially bad for this, I can’t remember any that I actually liked!

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      2. I recall Capcom vs SNK having a really rough one. The most recent one to my mind was BlazBlue: CP which was just flat out BS throughout. Injustice 2’s final fight wasn’t awful, but certainly not memorable.

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      3. Yeah, Injustice 2’s final boss just had higher than normal defense and absurdly dangerous attacks — which, I guess, is why he’s the final boss. Braniac was a fine villain, just not a good fight.

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    1. I just didn’t see it coming! I knew the game got a bit weird towards the end but that was just utterly bonkers. The design of the boss was crazy enough but the sort of attacks it used to mess with the player… In short I was super surprised and super impressed!

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  2. I only know who one boss is (two if you count Scarecrow) on this entire list :).

    Dragon Age Origins is a masterpiece in my opinion. Playing through on Nightmare difficulty will test any gamer. When I finally went up against the Archdemon it was everything I ever wanted it to be. The Archdemon looks like a corrupted dragon, but it’s so much stronger than anything I had faced coming up to that point and in the Nightmare difficulty I was nothing by a fly compared to it’s power.

    Mass Effect 2 is my favorite game of all time. The Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC has a very memorable boss to me because it’s the moment when Liara T’Soni took up the mantle and became the new Shadow Broker. The boss fight was really cool and was the best one in the series in my opinion.

    I can choose multiple Dark Souls bosses for this spot, but I’ll go with Sister Friede here. When I killed her and the big dude the second time I thought it was over, but it wasn’t. She got up again and continued to fight. I’m not surprised very often, but that made my jaw drop because it was completely unexpected. It was a awesome boss fight from beginning to end and tested my skills as a Dark Souls players.

    To keep this from getting any longer I’ll just add one more boss.

    Ganon from Ocarina of Time. This is a two phase fight. After you defeat Ganondorf the first time and escape the crumbling castle with Princess Zelda Ganondorf rises again and uses the Triforce of power to transform himself into Ganon. I remember almost every detail as I fought against him as a kid. It was glorious and deserves a spot on my list here.

    Umbra (Elder Scrolls Series)
    Big Daddy (Bioshock)
    Kreia (Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II)

    They would also have a spot too :).

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    1. I considered a couple you mention as it happens. Big Daddy was one, but I wasn’t sure if I would consider it a boss. Archdemon was another, especially considering where the fight takes place making it super dramatic. Flemmeth was also on my mind when it came to Dragon Age.
      I personally preferred the Ganon battle in Wind Waker. The aesthetic worked really well for it I think.

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      1. I don’t remember much about Wind Waker :). I only played it once and I can’t recall a single boss in that game. I considered Flemeth too, but I wanted to stick to one boss per series so I didn’t include her. The first Big Daddy you fight technically is a boss in the first Bioshock game since you “have” to fight him. The other ones can be avoided, but where’s the fun in that :).

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  3. Oh man, Flowey! That boss fight was crazy and I still think “I hate that guy” every time I see his cackling face. I enjoyed Scarecrow but I preferred the sequences leading up to him more so than the actual battle with him – the first time I walked into that morgue room and all the voices started whispering and then screaming “get out” genuinely shook me in a way that other supposedly scarier games have never managed.

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      1. Ah, I can’t comment intelligently on that point – I didn’t play Arkham Knight. I got burnt out on the series after Arkham City. I feel like they didn’t change enough to keep my focus. It doesn’t help that the game’s formula was so successful in those early days that other games started to copy it.

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  4. I only know two bosses here but they all seem intense and interesting!

    Man Flowey was awesome. I remember the first time the game just closed on me. I assumed I had beaten it, but after reading online that there was more, I opened it back up and wow, what a crazy fight.

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  5. Some great choices here. Off the top of my head, I really liked the Colossus of Rhodes in God of War II, Stallord in Twlight Princess, and Alma in (modern) Ninja Gaiden. Those three series have a lot of great boss fights. Shadow of the Colossus too. As for older games, Yoshi’s Island had an incredible group of boss battles. I’m probably forgetting some good ones. A tough group to narrow down. Awesome post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading it!
      I haven’t experienced any of the ones you mentioned so I’ll take your word for it 😉
      I’ll agree that narrowing down this sort of list is difficult. There were so many great ones to choose from!

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  6. Ganon from Ocarina of Time really stands out in my mind. Landing the final blow with the Master Sword felt so awesome! Also the final boss in Lightning Returns has a special place in my heart. It was a really challenging fight and an epic way to end my favourite Final Fantasy trilogy. 🙂

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    1. I never did finish the trilogy. I remember the end of the second game being pretty cool but the antagonist didn’t really stick in my head. I can imagine the final confrontation being pretty epic though as they do tend to be in FF games.

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  7. Oh man, Bell Gargoyle will probably always be one of my favourite boss fights. And it’s really just the beginning of the game, it totally feels like the globes are off and the REAL Dark Souls starts here.

    Shoutout also to Bloodborne’s Ludwig the Accursed and Lady Maria’s boss fights, Maria in particular is probably my favourite boss fight in gaming. She seems just impossibly fast, but once your own skill gets to the point where you can keep up with her it feels like something out of Advent Children, that game is just lightning fast!

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  8. Nice choice to mention Scarecrow from Arkham Asylum, that was a great awesome moment. Those gargyoles in Dark Souls were so frustrating, but felt good to finally beat them. When the 2nd one showed up, I was so mad!

    And you’re a totally right, boss fights don’t need to be good for just the sheer challenge, the overall experience should make you go WOW!

    There are so many good boss fights I’ve played, picking a few is even tough. For recent ones, I’ll go with Zu Pharg from Xenoblade Chronicles X. This guy stood out because he was absolutely massive and covered the entire landscape. Having to navigate around him taking out his weak points using Skells was pretty epic.

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  9. That Undertale boss still gives me nightmares! It’s one of the most unique bosses I’ve ever faced and the only one that has ever “messed” with my save settings. Truly the scariest part about him!

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    1. I know! It takes the game out of the game in such an unexpected way! The only other game that I can think of that did something like that was Calendula, and that wasn’t even close to the same level of genius.

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