The Final Boss

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I like heroic endings. But I also like the ones that show that heroism sucks bananas with monkey sauce.

BTW I really liked the 2 endings of GTA IV (don't call me a dumbass for that)

i compleetly dissagree about dying a lot making the finally sequence worse the fact the the boss has been obliterating you for ages meas you feal better when you win. in fact dispite the fact i am a heroic gamer i would feel bad if i beat a boss without dying because dieing adds to the drama.

i guess I'm heroic, but i don't mind a games ending so much as long as it's not notably bad, i am talking about the err 'easy' ending to S.T.A.L.K.E.R or of course 'all your base are belong to us'. Games with outstanding memorable endings? err get back to me on that

I was glad you mentioned Final Fantasy at the end, as I'd been thinking of it the entire way through the article. The FF games do deal with the issue in exactly the right way, I think. It's one of the reasons they're so good. You have the story arc, with all the attendant drama, and then when you're done, and the story's over, you go looking for the challenge.

I'm both in equal measure, I enjoy the stories and the challenge, but I like to keep them separate. To some degree challenge based gaming is meta, you're not fighting the enemies, but the game itself. You can't fight the game and its minions at the same time.

Another excellent example is Devil May Cry. Normal difficulty is simple, and you see the plot, such as it is. Then afterwards you ramp up the difficulty and start honing your skills to ninja levels.

Someone mentioned Sartharion. The problem with that fight, and that mechanic is that when you wipe, the first thing you do is try to figure out ways to make the fight easier, to lower incoming damage etc. The first thing that occurs of course is that you could kill the drakes. The optional difficulty mode there can be reset every time you wipe, and the temptation is demoralising. The same problem will occur in Ulduar on the optional difficulties there. The interesting part will be the ultra challenging optional boss they've put in. You don't have to kill it, but if you want a challenge, it's available.

Essentially, challenge should always be optional, and never interfere with a good story.

I don't think it's unusual for people to be a 'little but of both' but it strikes me that the point of the article si that people are more one than the other. In order for the drama to be present, its generally the case that *some* sort of difficulty needs to be in place, its just a question of *how much*. A boss properly tuned to a 'skill' layer won't just be 'hard' he will *require* practice to beat. A proper story boss should be able to be beat in one try, altough the battle may *feel* challenging.

As a general rule, I think skill type players have alot more challenges tuned for them, which can make it frustrating to play a lot of things as a heroic player.

Now I may be an unskilled weakling (couldn't even beat Metroid Prime though I did get to him, neither could I beat the escape level from Ninja Cop) but I still prefer overcoming the final boss with my ability rather than my character's. Something that looks all epic while being easy to me makes me feel like the game is boasting "look how great I am!" while being pushed to the limit of my ability and slowly growing to the point where I can finally beat that boss it feels like the game says "look how great you are, beating that guy!". Well, it really goes for any part of the game, not just the final battle. And it goes a bit into my standard rant territory but I dislike how games are ducktaping so much story and visible greatness to their singleplayer mode that replaying parts often feels lame because often the story and the great looks (means stuff like stunts or cool fights or whatnot) usually take precedence over gameplay flow (watching the character pull a stunt once is awesome, watching it ten times is.... "hit the skip button") and sometimes the gameplay is pretty much measured to be fun for this many hours so the game is exactly that long, FSM help you if you progress slower. Of course the solution game designers often find is making the game easier so you never have to replay anything (and if you do manage to fail you just get to restart exactly where you died) but it feels like a shallow victory then. If my character is so awesome he can pull off the greatest moves and slay hordes of enemies while I just mash the X button, what exactly am I contributing here?

Yeah, a too hard final boss tends to be offputting to me because there's not much to gain from beating him anyway, all I get is the ending and that's it. What I think is more important is the rest of the game. The main game should feel challenging and require ability to get through, I think the final boss shouldn't be a big step up from what's before him, that's what's really frustrating, when you get through a game and the final boss is a big difficulty spike. It should feel different but not much harder than the main game (but with a harder main game the boss would still be harder than most bosses now). In short, the final boss should require about as many attempts as other parts of the game, if it's normal that you need to practice to progress then doing the same on the final boss won't be out of place but if you've been walking all over enemies before and only now do you need to train to win then it's out of place.

You could easily have something similiar. Maybe the boss has several lieutenants/magic artifacts/etc elsewhere in the final area. You can hunt them down alone for an easier fight, or you can leave them up and they'll assist him in the final battle and make it harder. Scale the difficulty yourself by deciding how many of the lieutenants/devices/shields/etc you leave up on him. Too hard? Kill another! Too easy? Leave one of them up.

I think a skilled player would want to try 100% completion and would therefore eliminate all the optional targets while a weaker player would not be able or willing to and face a boss that is too hard for him... Same applies to hidden powerups throughout the game, a skilled player will find them and have a strong character PLUS his skills while a weak player will miss more of them and have neither.

i find myself to be one of the skilled players out there, dont get me wrong i love a gripping story but i also feel a large amount of dissatisfaction when you can do the last boss with yours eyes closed.

the most recent example of this for me was gears of war 2, on insane there was a couple of challenging parts during the game, but when it comes to the last boss, all you have to do is hold the right triger, i dont even think you can fail it

Very interesting article! One thing that jumps out at me is that this tension between heroism and skills doesn't arise only with the final boss. 'Cause really, any time the "hero" dies over and over is a potential break in your feeling of being a world-saving badass, whether it happens at the final stage or during the opening tutorial.

One counter-question your article made me think about: How much dying is too much? I'm pretty sure you're not saying that the player should *never* die, but when you really think about it, *every* death is a break in immersion: if you're really such a hero, how come you're getting killed at all, ever? Some games (like your beloved Prince of Persia) explicitly avoid that by using a time-rewinding or "No, that's not what happened" mechanic -- is that one reason they appeal to you so much?

Skilled player, to some extent at least. I don't imagine myself to be the hero and I seldom have any difficulty to "pause" my immersion when I fail a boss fight and then resume once I beat the boss. I also do like it when the fights test my skill.

There is however a limit to how many retries I can do before I get tired, so the desire for the game to test my skill only goes so far. Generally, once I've lost thrice I start looking in FAQs for ways to cheese the boss. How many losses I tolerate depends on how much time the boss takes and how much time I have to spend just getting to the boss between failures.

To me dying (or failing in general) establishes the basic difficulty of the task the hero has to overcome. That's why in movies there are redshirts and such that show us what the average guy would be like in that situation so the hero stands out as an ace who handles dangerous situations easily (of course that doesn't always work out either, resulting in the Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy feeling where the mooks just seem so weak that a peasant with a badly sharpened stick can defeat them). In videogames we can see the "what if the hero was just a bumbling fool" scenario ourselves when we aren't playing very well. Dying isn't a break in immersion for me. If I can just easily walk through the game without much difficulty I get the feeling that that world doesn't need a hero because every random peasant can do the job. For a hero to be heroic he has to be better than the average man and it feels cheap if his only ability is to inexplicably take 10x as much damage as the other guys wearing the same armor.

So, who should be the hero: You or your character? Should it be up to you to develop skills that go beyond that of regular people and do what those people cannot or should it be up to your character to be better than NPCs?

How many losses I tolerate depends on how much time the boss takes and how much time I have to spend just getting to the boss between failures.

Fully agree on that one though I also figure in whether I feel like I'm making progress, if I always die at roughly the same time or fairly randomly without a feeling like I'm closer to victory that's frustrating. On the other hand I've spent dozens of tries on some bosses in Bunny Must Die.

pretty good article

Depends on the game, really.

Heroic in games which have particularly sweeping stories or just makes me feel like I'm the hero. Like in Shadow of the Colossus.

Skilled when it comes to "no-story games" such as shmups. There is something that gets the blood pumping when you memorize and enemy pattern then use all the skills and reflexes you earned to pull off those boss kills (Most especially in Gradius and "Bullet Hell" type of shmups).

Or they simply throw a very hard boss at you, so hard that eventually you think "what's the point?" and look the ending up on Wikipedia.

Also known as the MGS2 effect.

Bonus bosses all the way, man. My favorite kind of game starts when you clear the final boss; everything up to that point was practice.

Looking at the games I play most (mostly WWII FPS/RTS) I could never really feel like the 'hero' without having taken a severe beating, as such I'm inclined to say I'm more in it for the challenge. I sort of have a 'no pain, no gain' mentality.

Example: While I'm not a major fan of the series I recently borrowed CoD:WaW from a friend and decided to beat it on veteran difficulty. Not because I'm some sort of gaming sadist but because after enjoying it on regular difficulty I wanted more of a challenge out of the game and veteran felt do-able. After playing games like Red Orchestra it doesn't really feel like a WWII game until you pre-empt every room, tunnel and doorway with grenades and spending half your time behind cover or crawling on your stomach.

I don't think these two options really cover the spectrum, because I'm a "heroic" player but I also enjoy tough final boss fights. What really gets me is if there is not a superb dramatic *wrap-up* after the "OH GOD I'VE BEEN FIGHTING THIS BASTARD FOR THREE HOURS!!!!" fight. I don't want some static pictures and a few "and they lived happily ever after" voiceovers. I WANT A MOVIE!! I WANT A REALLY GOOD FREAKIN' AWESOME CINEMATIC FULL OF AWESOME WITH A SLICE OF AWESOME ON THE SIDE!!!!"

If I get that, and maybe some amusing bloopers with the credits such as PoP: Two Thrones had, I will not feel that the drama has been sacrificed in the name of satisfying the "skilled" players, in fact, both of us will probably watch the cinematic together and be thoroughly happy.

Personally, I'm dissapointed when I get to the end boss fight, where it's just one quick fight, based of the same fighting scheme, that takes no thought or skill. *Cough*Gears of War 2*Cough* I like it when a boss completely whoops me, and I actually have to use what I have to beat him. If the boss fight is one quick, easy blow-out, then what's the point of getting there? Of course you're going to get your pretty little cinematic clip at the end, but you're not playing that..!

-Quick Version: Boss Fights Should Be HARD.

The worst final boss ever... has to be the MLG pro team "Final Boss"

They doesn't want your TPS report on their desk by tuesday, they want your head on a silver platter

I enjoy the type of bosses that you briefly mentioned near the end. I'm 100% a Heroic Gamer, but to truly create an experience worthy of culminating a story, there must be some kind of tension. Take Xenosaga Episode 2, one of the most story driven series out there. The final boss just sits around while you pummel him to death. While this is important to the story, it causes the game to whimper out, rather than "end with a bang," so to speak.

Kingdom Hearts 2 is the perfect example of using atmosphere and visuals over sheer difficulty to create a climactic and dramatic final conflict.

I like the way fallout and fallout 2 handled the final boss fight.

Giving you the option of going up against "The Master" with guns blazing, or activating the nuke he foolishly has laying around the basement.

Or in case of Frank Horrigan turning defense systems against him.

I my self is largely a "heroic" player

so i love these new articles. please keep them going. they are high writing, and they are very very interesting.

on topic, im definitely heroic, but as others have stated, a final boss that doesnt provide the climax to a story arc, where the hero didnt really need his journey, he just needed one good kick, it feels cheap and anticlimactic, the exact opposite of what is expected by the "heroic" gamer. i want to destroy the big bad, cuz i hate him. giving the character that ability to go balls to the walls, and just barely win is what makes for a good climax, to both a video game and a story

In the Afro Samurai game, the battle with Justice at the end is phenomenal as far as balance between difficulty and story goes. The fight was hard enough that I died once or twice before beating him, and the whole time Justice is talking and taunting you... plus the level design is wildly different from anything seen in the game up to that point.

The end of the game was one of the best final bosses I've ever seen.

First of all, heroics are pretty overrated when they have to satisfy millions of individual gamers. The more personal it is, the more heroic it is. I guess I have to go with KOTOR because I never got tired of beating on Malak. He is always challenging to defeat even if you have a superior character. Any boss fight from any of the Metal Gear Solid series games especially Liquid who just wouldn't stay dead. Virgil from Devil May Cry 3 because he was ultra tough to take down plus he looked cool when he is kicking your arse. Andrew Ryan for obvious reasons if you played Bioshock. And for Final Fantasy, Kuja, Jechts, and of course Sephiroth.

Strafe Mcgee:
I like both types of games. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it :D

what he said - although I'm not recommending you smoke anything.

One of the best final bosses for me is Apocalypse in Silver. He forces you to use your collected knowledge and skill to beat him, but as long as you stay focused you will eventually defeat him.

I'm not all that for a final boss that looks really awesome but fights like a handicapped tadpole. That completely drains all the epicness from the moment. As long as the game isn't an asshole and forces you to sit through the same cutscene every time you retry it definately feels like the "real" battle was the one where you finally beat it.

If it's more of a strange cinematic (see FFX) it's easy for me to start questioning the entire premise, because I don't like meta-combat...

The one thing doesn't detract from the other as I see it, so 100% heroics and 100% difficulty ;)

I'm mostly looking for difficulty in boss encounters, but everything must be taken in moderation. A too difficult boss (especially if it's a MK Walker boss) just breeds frustration and practically guarantees that the game won't be touched afterwards. Ideally, a boss would test your abilities in non-obvious ways. For example, the Sword Master in Secret of Monkey Island. All of the other pirates have distinct insult-reply pairs, but defeating the Sword Master requires you to look beyond the pairs and find appropriate replies to the Sword Master's unique insults. The first duel usually ends badly and thus ramps up the Sword Master's status for the time that you actually defeat her, maintaining the narrative.

One of my favourite mixes of narrative and heroism occurs at the end of System Shock, where you finally corner the elusive Shodan into a single computer system. Just getting there required you to use your problem-solving and combat skills to the fullest, and the added control screw mechanic made Shodan the deadliest cyberspace opponent in the game. Which is appropriate, because you're fighting her on her turf. Facing her again in "real" space in System Shock 2 felt downright anticlimatic by comparison, and not just because she was a pushover. The narrative's momentum stopped at the moment you destroyed the Many's brain, getting rid of the primary antagonist. Taking care of Shodan felt like mopping off the blood after a firefight. She should have been left as an optional (and hard!) boss fight or even gotten a full-blown sequel/expansion dedicated to fighting her.

Well, I find bosses are generally anticlimatic. They're only there to give you the last "challenge", and are often embarassingly cheap. In FPS for example, they're immune to grenades, or in RPGs they're immune to magic (look! Half my party can now join the cheerleading section!

I like final levels, more than final bosses. They're often challenging, full of vision, and require the skills you've used before without being too cheap (because the cheapness has all been spent on Mr. Final Boss)

I ain't no hero.

meh, i think im a bit of both, i never prefer story over difficulty, or vice versa. i like games that have a story and are kind of easy, but get insane when you crank the difficulty up (i.e. COD4, COD:WAW, etc) i dont mind which way the game takes me as long as it is fun. which sometimes; can be either a 'heroic' or 'skilled' game experience.

I'm definitely a "skilled" player (..uh, that sounds cocky :P ), but there is a difference between "hard" and "unfair".
One of the bossfights I treasured most is the Omega Pirate in Metroid Prime. I don't know how often I were killed by him, but I never got the feeling that the figth wasn't fair. There was a save point almost in front of the bossroom and if you were skilled enough you could dodge every attack. But he had so much health that the fight itself became really epic. It was very well balanced, in my opinion.

On the contrary, the final mission from GTA IV was just a pain in the ass. You could easyly loose the mission by a single mistake, like taking too long to get this retarted Nico to get on the motorcycle or in the boat, so that the enemy escapes. And having to repeat the whole car chase and fire fight made me biting my controller. At least the ending was therefor compelling... oh, wait... no, it wasn't...

A challenge that brings you to the brink of frustration but allows you to slide over with skill. That is a tricky proposition, especially since every gamer has their own level of skill. A fight where the boss whips you bad in the beginning but doesn't completely defeat you, allow you the chance to claw and scrape back in true underdog fashion, and deliver an incredibly dramatic final blow. i can't even think of any examples.

i found no more heroes boss's satisfying,
except the last one which left things up in the air, leaving me wanting more

I consider myself a Skilled player. I want a fight that will kick my ass hard, but has a sense of accomplishment once said boss is dispatched.

I switch between both sides, heroic and skilled. Sometimes I feel like getting immersed and getting connected with different characters and sometimes I just like to torture myself just to prove that I can play through one of the most difficult games I have.
Everything's relative, really. I don't believe anyone is just one of these types. Maybe more of one type than the other, but still.

When I think about it I do enjoy immersion more than playing the same 3 screens from IWBTG for 45 minutes before I make it.

First off Shamus, I have to say my unicorn could knock the horn of your unicorn's head.

But to the point. I find myself a bit of both depending on the game. Mass Effect for example I find myself leaning toward the heroic. I'm more than willing to let the game pick my party's points while I only work on Shepard's (It does a good job too). A game like Fallout 3 it depends, I found it both challenging and heroic, in a "Stoic survive the supermutant behemoth by panicking and forgetting the mini-nuke and working very hard to kill him with a shotgun" sense... but that does offer variable difficulty and on very hard I've heard players scoff and say it was too easy (What a bunch of freaks!) They were obviously in it for the challenge.

However, a game like Halo 3 and my heroic sense goes out the window and I just have to kill everything in a haze of lead and plasma and say, "There was a story? No fraking way!"

I find one of the best ways to bring out the challenge beast inside of me, and prehaps others, is to offer extra content and unlockables.

I`m definitely Heroic, though I think Sennz0r is right, I can`t rightfully say that I don`t enjoy shooting stuff simply because it`s in my way from time to time.

On the other hand, when I want to immerse I really want to get into it, but when I do and I reach the final boss it`s mostly disappointing. The fact is that I understand your point of view regarding developers making endings for one of the two groups. But what I don`t understand is why would they make a CRPG which is basically the most Heroic-style computer game, and then throw in a boss that is specifically designed for skilled players. Neverwinter Nights 2 comes to mind right now. Why in the world would they make the final boss so strong, and not only that, some of your companions betray you too, which means that not only you have fewer party members, but the ones that betrayed you will aid him now. That game got me fooled 2 times. One time I thought I finally killed him (took me like two hours, yes I can be obsessive when I really want to finish something, even though it`s plain stupid to keep trying) but he turned into several tiny forms of himself. When I actually killed him (another thirty minutes or more) the game threw it`s last bit of oozing green spit in my face: the cinematic. Turns out I kill him but everyone in my party (including my main character) dies because the whole underground place thingy crumbles and smashes us to pieces. I mean *SERIOUSLY*. The expansion Mask of the Betrayer was quite good though, and I advise everyone that played nwn2 and was disappointed by it and hasn`t tried the expansion to try it.

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