Sessler's Soapbox: Boss Battles Can Be Better

Posted: September 16, 2009
Sessler's Soapbox: Boss Battles Can Be Better
Adam explains why he thinks final boss battles are often anticlimactic, and asks for your help to come up with ideas on how to improve them.

Comments are Closed

  • BeyondTheTurtle

    What comes to mind are the sniper battles from the MGS series, and particularly MGS3. The entire battle centered around a game of cat and mouse where you take on both roles. The fight took me a little more than an hour an a half to beat and while it seems like that much time to kill a boss would get boring, it was actually one of the most rewarding battles of all time. You truly have to use all of the skills and equipment that you've earned throughout the game to win and if more boss battles incorperated this element into their boss battles (maybe not the hour and a half) then maybe those Xbox360 Achievements and PS3 Trophies that you get for progressing through the game would feel a little more deserved.

    Posted: September 18, 2009 5:04 PM

    You need a well-written script telling an enthralling story with a dramatic climax, with a final Boss Battle, or story conclusion, with multiple stages to the conclusion. Alternate paths, and plot resolutions would be a nice touch, so subsequent replays would'nt simply be rinse and repeat.

    Posted: September 17, 2009 8:28 PM
  • RookieBrawler

    I believe multi-staged boss battles are the best. Final conflicts that utilize all of the experince and tools you've gathered over the course of a game.

    This has worked incredibly well in titles like The Legend of Zelda, but contemporary titles aren't adopting this. Bioshock is a prime example, 15 hours of dramatic build-up just so I can battle a generic flaming mutant with Bowser-like patterns.

    It should have been a multi-part battle, even with intermissions to interject suspense. I love the idea of a developing fight.

    Posted: September 17, 2009 5:36 PM
  • crackingcody

    frank fontaine was a good final boss

    Posted: September 17, 2009 3:12 PM
  • BlueCherryFizz

    by "every skill learned in the game," I mean the strategies of using any weapons/magic you've gotten. Having the boss be like a puzzle and still have all the urgency and drama of fighting the final boss is awesome.

    Posted: September 17, 2009 11:30 AM
  • BlueCherryFizz

    As long as the final boss battle isn't like Gears 2 (Aim hammer) or Fable 2 (shoot defenseless guy giving a speech), I'm fine with it. The least I ask for is a challenging boss battle that really feels like the final boss of the game. Something that says "Congratulations, you've beaten the game."

    The most I ask for is to take every skill learned in the game and tie it all into one epic battle (smoothly) that is emotionally draining and aesthetically appealing. I really don't like how a lot of games end with the boss turning into dust or something boring like that. Your home town reappearing, the princess running to your side, or something like "We won, but at what costs?" I think it's up to the story to end the game, and not so much just the final battle. I want to leave the game having learned something like a good movie. I don't know if that's difficult or not when making a video game, but since I haven't ever seen it done (poor gamer does not play a ton of games.). Is it to keep the player feeling like they're a part of the game? Maybe because video games are an escape from responsibility for most and people don't like being reminded of reality?

    Is there really a reason for the 5,000 character limit? Does anyone really type that much just to be read by their favorite TV personality and the hundred-or-so people who stumble into the comments?
    I would like to find out if game designers do watch the Soapbox and read the comments. Do you ever ask them during interviews or bring it up in conversation?

    Posted: September 17, 2009 11:28 AM
  • adambettcher

    lol sorry for all the mistakes in that last post. heres a quick edit

    My personal way i think that could help in beating bosses is adding a few things that would make you rush what you were doing. Things like a very short time limit and the boss having massive amounts of health.


    I think that if you add a something like a countdown to the boss so that you have to beat it in a short amount of time and give the boss tons of health you could improve boss difficulty.

    The way it was worded before was just bad!! besides spelling errors i just decided to rewrite it completely.

    Posted: September 17, 2009 7:12 AM
  • adambettcher

    Adam has got a point here. The only way i can see this getting resolved is to stop moving forward. As this is not going to happen any time soon, if you look at a turn-based RPG, this is the best way to have a boss battle that doesnt seem like a huge flop of a boss. Bosses with massive amounts of health or super powerful attacks can make the fights seem more difficult. Adding alter forms of the boss also would help. Like after you think you won all of a sudden it transforms. maybe it does it 2 or t 3 times. Either way it gives a little more excitment to the game. I found when i played Dead Space that the boss fights were not really what you played the game for since they never were much of a challenge even onn impossible mode. The things that made the game hard were the waves of enemys that seemed to take everything you had and then some to kill them. My personal way i think that could help in beating bosses is adding a few things that would make you rush what you were doing. Things like a very short time limit and the boss having massive amounts of health. that way you dont have time to sit there and dodge and attack you have to rush in and make the boss fight end as fast as you can or risk some massive ultimate attack that kills you instantly. This is one idea im sure people out there have much better ones then i do. If I can think of anything else ill post it.

    Posted: September 17, 2009 7:08 AM
  • Chadeau2

    I agree with Sessler where the pay-off is not amply satisfying. Presently, more times than not the story takes you down a grinding road that encompasses many hours of gameplay but lets you down with a less than appealing ending, not just a boss battle (Fable II was one of these games). Games like Final Fantasy or Bioshock have those boss battles that are directly tied into the story and wraps up what the player has been trying to do for the last two weeks of their life. Designers today should definitely be thinking of different ways to end games, but taking away the payoff, such as a great boss battle, isn't the approach that appeals to most gamers.

    Posted: September 17, 2009 6:26 AM
  • TheDrunkardHu

    i would say that a boss/final battle of any kind MUST conclude the story of the game for me... it has to... if it doesn't, then i'll just be wondering why i wasn't PLAYING that part of the story! well, then you have the sequels... i guess they would be an exception... but the developers don't really know if there will be a sequel until the first is successful enough... man, it's hard to say, really. i would just like it if the 'immediate' plot were completed, prior to putting it down...
    i like it when the bosses sort of evade the player after a certain amount of damage has been done, all the while talking trash. hahahah, and then, toward the end, they're like, "please, spare me. you must see the virtue in what i'm doing!"... ya, those are cool...
    ultimately, the immediate plot should be concluded either just prior to, or during the 'boss' fight... and it should be interactive... but not a button mashing cut-scene, ffs, i hate those! they only serve to distract me from appreciating the hard work that was put into creating those beautiful cut scenes!... so stop it!!
    but of course, then there's the genre issue... i guess there wouldn't quite be a 'boss' in a puzzle game... or one, single, hulk-sized, wolf man, beast man, terrorist man to fight at the end of a COD campaign. XD

    Posted: September 17, 2009 2:48 AM
  • splashTDub

    i don't 100% agree with the concept of a " Big final boss battle" entirely. for example if you think of fable 2, when it was time to end it all, you were so emotionally attached to your character/storyline that you wanted revenge more than an epic battle just tapping one button over and over again, however it would have been slightly cooler if it was harder, but at the time i did not care, but on the other hand you have games like gears of war 2, the story is good but you have no attachment to the characters because what you do has no influence on them, it's as if your just along for the ride but when the final boss battle came around you get something, not entirely hard but it was Epic and it gave you a feeling of accomplishment.... so in a perfect game you would need to have the story that you feel like your making a difference but also getting some bang for you buck at the end, but some games are not doing either (none spring to mind at this time)

    Posted: September 16, 2009 11:47 PM
  • Oh No Its Alexx

    My feeling to boss battles is this. Make me feel as if I did all of that work for something. Show me that getting all the items, going through all the work, getting skills and abilities I acquired to get to my final foe actually have meaning. Or, after being victorious in my final battle; make me feel satisfied that my journey is over.

    These are just the ramblings of a young man at 2 am who has to be up at 5 am for work. =x

    Posted: September 16, 2009 11:08 PM
  • SoviakUnion

    I like the way Arkham Asylum played out. The final battle wasn't the best part, the journey was the best part. But I think a way they could fix boss battles is get rid of quicktime events. i want to feel like I beat it with a single button press, which is another thing Arkham Asylum did well. I think if they make boss battles where anyone can use different tactics with the tools a character has earned through the earlier part of the game that would help.

    Posted: September 16, 2009 10:30 PM
  • ThaSaltShaker

    Yup, it's sad. Remember the boss battle in Shadow of the Colossus, those were great times.

    Posted: September 16, 2009 9:46 PM
  • megalinkzelda

    Add more enemies and areas in a game that aren't necessarily going to be used during the first playthrough of a game.
    In other words after the first, second, third, etc. playthrough harder and harder enemies will appear along with a different boss which is strong than the one it replaces from a previous playthrough.
    As for the extra areas. It should be made to where you have to meet a certain criteria before they appear.
    The Final Boss should be a culmination of all the bosses you've ever fought. Something that can adapt to your strategy sort of like a chess bot.
    Thats my $0.02

    Posted: September 16, 2009 9:33 PM
  • ransom386

    One type of boss battle that has always been memorable to me is the type seen in games like Conker's Bad Fur Day, God of War, or Metal Gear Solid 4 where the developer is very risky in totally changing up the gameplay. In Conker's Bad Fur Day, you're thrown in to a space suit to fight an alien with totally new control mechanics. In God of War, you're stripped of your weapons and you use a new sword you haven't seen before. Then there's Metal Gear Solid which had a fighting game style last boss in what is definitely anything but a fighting game.

    There are two main points about this, one good and one bad. Starting with good, this unexpected and vastly different part of the game is usually one of, if not, the, most memorable parts of the game. It's not just a more challenging grunt or a grunt with some extra attacks up his sleeve, it's a totally unexpected thus dramatic, cinematic experience that sticks with you apart from the rest of the game.

    On the bad side, this type of boss can eliminate your sense of progression in the game. This does not apply to Conker's Bad Fur Day where the gameplay is changing up every couple hours for the whole experience, but for games like MGS4 or God of War, all those weapon upgrades you bought mean nothing because you're in a fist fight now, or you're using an unfamiliar sword. It sucks to grind out that last bit of experience or money to upgrade all your weapons all the way only to have them taken away for a new type of boss.

    I also have to add that Fable II had the least satisfying "boss" I have ever witnessed in a game.

    Posted: September 16, 2009 9:11 PM
  • Moronslayer

    In a day and age when Video Games are becoming more and more cinematic with brilliant game engines and hardware we have out there, games must have stronger stories to support the them. I feel some of the strongest boss battles have some sort of weight behind them, they incorporate themes that have been evident throughout the entire game, such themes are often represented as a kind of game mechanic, incorporating tools and devices you've been developing or finding along the way. This instills a kind of nastalgia in the player creating a sense of growth and a accomplishment up to this point that has all somehow accumulated for this one purpose. It is also how the battle is presented to the player, a sense of "epicness" or emotional weight behind a simple duel can make all the difference as long as the player feels empowered with every command input as simple as it may be.

    One game I will sight (yes this is an obvious choice) is the final battle from Zelda: Ocarina of Time. The final battle is a 1 on 1 duel between you and Ganon, the monstrous form of Ganondorf. Everything you have accumulated up to this point can be used against him, some affected some not. But he could be just as easily defeated with sword and shield. As much as all these elements aid in the boss battle it is the setting and circumstances leading up to this point, you've thought you defeated him up to this point, you are standing in the ruins of Hyrule the once great nation, it is raining dark and you are stripped of your master sword...This is the grand arena, you are the plucky hero, you must do battle for the sake of the world.

    These moments are effective with creative storytelling in games, all the elements align to convey visual to a player and interactively "THIS IS WHAT YOU'VE BEEN WAITING 40+ HOURS FOR!!"

    Posted: September 16, 2009 8:55 PM
  • strickerx5

    I would like a boss battle that you can basically do what you want to. I boss that isn't timed or has a special point that you have to hit. Take brawl for example, you could just keep hacking away at it and kill it or you could dodge its attacks and taunt it. All this while the AI is smart enough to counter it. Basically I want a boss that is a good idea to finish a game epicly and does not make you fell like your on rails.

    Posted: September 16, 2009 8:05 PM
  • pazuzu414

    First of all, I would like to play more games in which there are no boss fights at all. The boss is almost always a one dimensional portrayal of some, most likely misunderstood, ideal or system of beliefs. The more "human" an enemy is (or, in other words, the more understandable the motives/actions of a boss are), the general reaction(s) I have to the game will, on most days, be stronger. However I do enjoy a simple distinction between good and evil from time to time, but as long as we have the overall black and white filter on all things regarding morality in games, the majority of the industry will remain stuck in an artistic rut of sorts. Obviously though, black and white has its charms. Think Oreos.

    Posted: September 16, 2009 7:52 PM
  • ddooggss6

    Look at Uncharted for example, they did not even have a hard boss it was just very emotional. Elana was thought to be dead, Sully is unknown and there is the main villan (Nevaro) comming at you with all he has. Both of you (Nate and Nevaro) are in a fight to stay alive. Drake ends up winning and finds out that everyone is ok and a lot ritcher. A great ending to a great game.

    Posted: September 16, 2009 7:24 PM