Monday, 18 June 2012

Final Bosses

I "collect" Final Boss tracks from video games. Either physically, or just listening to it over and over. Until it essentially becomes a piece of the life I've lived, listening to video game music instead of becoming a productive member of society.

I believe, with the exception of a strong opening or conclusion, the final boss of a game should be the best part of that game. Ideally, everything should be leading up to that moment, every trick you've learned, every weapon and ability you've mastered should be acquired in service of that inevitable confrontation. It should be what 90% of the game is preparing you for. A final boss ought to be the biggest challenge, and part of the biggest payoff.


...Okay, maybe that's not true in every case. A game can still be good or great without a satisfying final boss. The Wind Waker is my favourite Zelda title, despite having a disappointing final boss battle. But "Final Boss Blue Balls" will hurt any game, I don't care how acclaimed or perfect it was up to that point.


[Further examples: Final Fantasy IX and Chrono Trigger are two of my favourite games, and both of them kind of peter out at the end. They get away with this by having long-ass epilogues. They tie up the loose ends and let you say goodbye to characters you've grown to care about after so many days/weeks of playing.

Unlike a certain other game I could mention...]
Pictured: The shittiest final boss in video game history.

Conversely, Phantasy Star Online is a game where the only characterization comes from the sparse diary entries of "Red Ring Rico". The Bioshock-before-Bioshock "narration" of a doomed hunter whose progress you're following. You play a silent character, and either venture into the dark depths of "Ragol" with your real-life friends or alone. It lacks the multiple fleshed-out cast members of single-player JRPG epics. But I still consider PSO to have the best climax to any video game, and it's because of two things:

Yeah, I've heard "One-Winged Angel". And "Dancing Mad". This is better. It didn't need to be 10 minutes long to make its point, either. It says exactly what it has to, and then it gets the fuck out of there.

A final boss fight in a game can be made or broken depending on the choice of music. The right musical accompaniment can elevate an otherwise unremarkable waste of time into something you remember decades later. It can make that conflict the perfect capstone to an investment of your time and money.


You know how modern JRPGs usually have a Final Boss, and then about a dozen or so enemies you can only fight after you beat the game that are insanely difficult? Ruby and Emerald Weapon? Omega? Monstrous Superbosses that demand you to max out as many of your stats as possible, stock up on every item and the best weapons, and pray you can pull through?

Yeah, it's not like a little extra content, and one more challenge after you've beaten the game isn't rewarding. But when you go overboard with it, it kind of takes the air out of the tires out of the Final Boss. The Big Bad, the guy who's supposed to be the worst part of the universe your characters exist in, and who represents the biggest obstacle toward their goals. It's a little hard to take him seriously, when the optional fight with Sephiroth is twelve times as difficult and requires weeks of level-grinding to even stand a chance.


PSO understood this. "Dark Falz" is the biggest, toughest son-of-a-bitch in the game. There is no "Ruby Weapon". There is no optional superboss. The nastiest opponent in the game is also the last you encounter. Again, some optional end-game content is fine, I have nothing against DLC. But you have to show some restraint when it comes to designing the enemies of your game. If at any point I stop to ask: "Why doesn't Omega Weapon just kill the main bad guy", then the main bad guy is no longer intimidating or scary. Now I know he's not the worst thing out there, so why should I be impressed by his seventeenth practice form?

One option is to simply make the Final Boss more theatrical, more of an event than the optional foes. Kingdom Hearts' final boss is not the most difficult enemy in the game to take down. There are at least 4 secret opponents in the game that could annihilate him. But his has a huge buildup, an emotional anchor and a greater feeling of satisfaction when you defeat him.


...So... what is my point, exactly?

I guess I don't have one. Maybe I just wanted to say something positive about video games for a change? I suppose this was all just a tremendous waste of time to anyone who sat through it all. No revelatory meaning to be found here. I just like final bosses in games(and the songs that go with them).

At least, when they're done right.




No comments:

Post a Comment