Game bosses are iconic and yet there is a divide between people. Are they still relevant, or a relic of the past? It’s true that as games become naturally more open, the extremely traditional and linear model of bosses begins to seem shoe-horned, unnecessary and takes you out of the world. Whilst I agree to an extent that games are moving away from the formula, it is important to keep the traditional structure of games alive in certain genres. A game like GTA with bosses seems unnecessary. The game aims for (semi) realism- to take that away by throwing bosses in for no reason would be wrong. RPGs and platformers on the other hand should embrace the boss with all their glory. Imaginary worlds should embrace that they are a game. Some of the most memorable parts of games have been bosses and different games utilize the aspect differently. Games like Zelda use your abilities that you have received in the previous dungeon to win, requiring you to have mastered the new item by the end of the dungeon. More traditional RPG’s use bosses as epic showdowns that can take hours to beat as a way of seeing if you’re strong enough for the next dungeon. It is always exciting to know that at the end of a huge dungeon crawl, you’ll be treated to a creative and unique enemy which will test your strength. Platformers often throw in bosses at any point, to surprise you or to see if you have the skill defeat them. Normally, they have a specific number of lives you have to eat away.
The one thing that connects all of the bosses, however, is their music. You know that a boss fight is a boss fight with the iconic music that plays for them, made even more exciting and special when the music is completely unique to that specific boss. It makes the usual battles with their repetitive music seem dull in comparison. To celebrate bosses and boss battle music, I have arranged 10 of my favourite boss themes from across different games. Enjoy! Major Spoilers Ahead
10. Rayman Legends
Rayman Legends is a very pretty game and is known for it’s blend of 2D drawings and 3D models. What isn’t shouted about much is it’s musical score, which is rather good. At the end of each level hub there is a rhythm level with familiar music such as Black Betty and Eye of the Tiger. I chose the mechanical dragon boss though. The boss is possibly the coolest of all the bosses, with the snake being entirely 3D which looks truly gorgeous, and also looking incredibly threatening.
The slow drum beat that takes the song through in the background is the industrial hum of this retired robotic dragon, with it’s angry eyes and purple fire beams, it’s incredibly pissed to have been awoken. Behind it the whole time: a beautiful orchestra. What I like about the theme is how suited it is to the boss, as it is so different to every other boss in the game.
9. Dragon Quest IX
I believe Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies to be quite underrated. It received rave reviews when it was released on the DS but doesn't always get the praise it deserves. The music of the game is thrilling and fantastic; it has a strong emotional vibe to each of the places you visit. Because the story of Dragon Quest is split into several mini (actually quite large) quests with an overarching story about your hero, every boss fight seems personal and brilliant. I found all of the bosses to be pretty hard too, and strong tactics had to be used to take down each of them- normally boiling down to when to use your priest to heal everyone promptly after a ridiculous OHKO attack.
The lead up to the final boss is one of the most memorable of recent games I can think of. To get to the final boss you have to fight your way through a series of bosses in the final dungeon. That is three of the generals of the Gittish Empire, one after another (these bosses also appear earlier in the game). Then you have to fight the final boss’ powered down angel form. Then you have to fight the final boss’ dragon. Then you have to fight the final boss himself, Corvus, who is extremely powerful in his own right. That’s six full bosses in the last dungeon. I chose the final boss theme because it is both cheery and menacing and also uses samples from previous themes in the game.
8. Rogue Legacy
When I sat down to play Rogue legacy for the first time last month on my Vita- I was incredibly surprised. I had no idea how good this game was going to be, and how lengthy the game actually was. If you haven’t played it, Rogue Legacy is a pretty hard-core platformer/ Rogue-like. Whilst not quite as good as The Binding of Isaac (An absolute classic) I will say that its progression system of leveling up your character gives it an advantage TBOI doesn't have. Each time you die (which will happen countless times) your character you played as is gone forever. You won’t be getting very attached to any particular character though, they’ll last minutes each. Then, the next character you play as picks up where your last character left off, as your heir to the throne. The character will benefit from all of the stat and armour/weapon upgrades all of your over lineage has had access to, with any money you earnt before dying going straight to them. You are given three randomly selected heroes to choose from which all have unique traits, which include negative ones such as colour blindness.
When you face off against the bosses, the difficulty level steps up even higher and you will have to use all of your skill to face them. These bosses are difficult, and whilst your stat boosts through the game certainly help, it is more of a display of skill than stats. Ponce de Leon is an awesome and incredibly difficult boss and my favorite. He has the best theme of all the bosses, starting intensely chip-tune and unleashing some very notably non-8 bit electric guitar to remind you how insanely hard the fight is.
7. Donkey Kong Country 2
This boss fight is way harder than the same final boss in the first Donkey Kong Country. In Donkey Kong Country, the evil pirate croc was armed with a cannonball shower in the ship and wold run at you a lot. Pretty standard. When he returns, he now has a cannonball gun and uses the same cannonball gun as a rocket propelling broomstick… thing. As a kid, it was difficult. Upon beating him however, you eventually unlock a hidden island which when completed, unlocks a devastatingly difficult remix of King K.Rool. The fight consists of a ridiculously long barrage of bullets in different heights and different sizes being fired at you. All you can do is duck and jump over them and it lasts a surprisingly long time. Luckily, he only has a single life this time around.
The music starts off quite sinister then when beginning the bulk of the song, the music reveals the crocodile’s evil through intense drum beats and general dark theme. There’s still a bit of merry pirate in there though, harkening back to the first boss fight which started upbeat and pirate-like until it became intense and more akin to a final boss.
6. Castle Crashers
Utter madness. The entirety of Castle Crashers is filled with ridiculous moments of ‘wtf is that’ or ‘wtf is going on’. This is the weirdest boss of the bunch and almost the weirdest moment in the game, bar a certain ending twist. What I find curious about this particular boss is how random the character is. The other bosses in the final fight have all made appearances before and seem to fit in well. This guy is not mentioned once in the entire story and has the coolest fight of the lot. Drawing creepy paintings to attack you which all have puns attached, it’s also one of the harder bosses in the game despite looking like a child could have drawn it. Interestingly, if you look at his paintings in the background, you can see a premature explanation to the ending, but I’ll keep that a secret.
The theme actually sums up Castle Crashers quite well and is also quite an anti-climactic boss fight theme which is fitting to the character’s bizarre inclusion in the first place.
5. Guilty Gear Xrd SIGN
If you haven’t played Guilty Gear Xrd SIGN, I’m not surprised. The Guilty Gear series has always been targeting the niche crowd of gamers who continue to buy the next instalment. That being said, you should absolutely get your hands on a copy, it’s one of the best fighting games I’ve ever played. In terms of balance and ‘fairness’, Street Fighter takes the crown. If you’re good at Street Fighter, you’ll easily beat someone who’s a rookie. In Guilty Gear, the gulf is wider, with a good player being able too easily decimate someone who has had less experience, making it difficult to find a friend to play with, perhaps. What this game does trump Street Fighter for is style and, arguably, depth. Focusing on the style: it has the appearance of very, very well done hand-drawn animations. The reason it runs so fluidly? They aren’t hand drawn 2D sprites, but heavily detailed cell shaded models. To watch the game in motion is stunning, in particular the ridiculous and over the top instant kill moves, which are far more spectacular than a lot of fighting game’s equivalent ‘ultimate move’. As for the music, I’ll get to that.
As is the nature of the genre, there isn’t strictly speaking a boss fight, as such. Each character has their own arcade mode to work through and all encounter another character unique to them from the character selection screen. Each character has their own theme to go with them and there are spectacularly good. The entire Guilty Gear series is built upon rock music, with the final words before each fight being: ROCK ON! On top of that, there is of course a unique rock soundtrack to go with it which is one of, if not the best soundtrack to any fighting game. So I had to choose one of them form the list. In the end, I chose the funky rocky sounds from Axl Low’s theme. No prizes for guessing who inspired that name.
4. Crash Bandicoot
When I was a kid, this gave me the chills. Crash Bandicoot as a character is flamboyant and came across as dumb (but in a Naughty Dog clever way). It takes a while to get across the three islands, defeating several comical bosses along the way. Papu-Papu- the lumbering idiot who was a breeze to beat. Then comes island two, with the ridiculously difficult and awkward Ripper-Roo boss fight. Still- comical. Following on is Koala Kong- now things were becoming more serious. This low-polygon Koala looks menacing, flexing his over-sized muscles and sneering at you whilst hurling huge rocks in your direction. Ok, not so innocent. Then island three looms it’s ugly head. Island three as a kid was genuinely quite terrifying. The Cortex generator levels, unique to the island, are dark and creepy. Cortex’s swinging head look on at you through screens throughout the level. One misstep- you are dead. Then there are the dark castle levels, which plunge you into darkness if you don’t reach the next light source quickly enough. The boss Pinstripe shoots at you. He actually shoots at you, with a machine gun complete with maniacal laugh. This is supposed to be a kids’ game? Pinstripe is truly evil, and my child self found his low-polygon jeers horrifying. There it is again, ‘low polygon’. In the PlayStation days, 3D models were a new world of graphics. Whilst Crash Bandicoot is one of the better looking PlayStation games, the minimal graphical fidelity of the characters adds to their charm.
So when you final reach the top of the third island and face Cortex- it seems fitting that the game’s final third’s darker tone is accompanied with an equally dark theme to go with the final fight. Before the days of Crash Twinsanity (I won’t go into the abominations known as Crash of the Titans *shudder*) Cortex wasn’t a babbling fool, he was genuinely evil. Every bullet he shoots comes with a short evil chuckle. The bloody island is on fire behind him! Cortex is about as deranged as it gets, with the slow and plodding strum of the guitar accompanying this battle; you truly get a glimpse of the maniac locked inside Cortex.
This was difficult to choose. I had to include Pokémon in this list, but there is so much to choose from it’s ridiculous. The gym leader battles for each game are fantastic; making each one feel like another milestone in your journey was within reach. Certainly, the Champion themes have always been some of the best themes in all of Pokémon, being one off and special, marking the end of your journey. Then of course, there is the legendary battles, always extremely over the top and exciting, ready for the rare catch of the front cover Pokémon. Honestly, this has been a painful and difficult choice, as Pokémon X and Y have some of the best music in any Pokémon games, but I had to choose one. In the end, I settled on this: Cyrus’ theme from the fourth Generation Pokémon games.
This may seem like an odd choice. Dialga and Palkia (The cover Pokémon for Diamond and Pearl) had stunning battle themes; in fact, I would say they are the very best legendary themes (just). Cyrus has a rather unique battle theme though. It is actually genuinely quite menacing for a Pokémon battle theme, and the initial build up has a ‘shit just got real’ vibe to it. Team Galactic are also possibly the most ‘dangerous’ of all of the Pokémon villains. Team Rocket just wanted money; not even slightly threatening. Team Magma wanted to cause a drought and Team Aqua wanted to flood the planet; that is quite a step up. Team Galactic pushed the boat out even further though, wanting to create an entire new world, summoning up the lords of time and space. Diamond and Pearl even feature a Pokémon who, whilst not being directly referenced as such, is the Pokémon god, without a doubt. From that point onwards, the motive of the teams pale in comparison slightly. Whilst team Plasma and Flare both aim to destroy the world, they don’t do it on quite the scale that Cyrus and Team Galactic have planned.
2. Mario and Luigi 3: Bowser’s Inside Story
Wow. The Mario and Luigi RPG series has always been a fantastic but underrated series, and Bowser's Inside Story is arguably the best of all four (five, if you include Super Mario RPG). The game’s story is light hearted the whole way through, often funny. You would expect this from a Mario game. The final boss is completely unexpected. Fighting Dark Bowser is hard, with the RPG button press timings the hardest in the entire game. In case you didn’t know, the Mario and Luigi series feature turn based battles that require you to hit buttons or use the touch screen in time to either dodge enemy attacks or to make your attacks more powerful. Dark Bowser has a move that can OHKO you if your reflexes/ memory isn’t up to scratch. Meanwhile, in Bowser’s stomach, Mario and Luigi fight one of the creepiest Mario enemies to date. Fawful (the game’s main antagonist)… as a spider.
If that thing doesn’t freak you out, the music certainly will… for how good it is. Simply: this is one of the best and one of the least heard Mario themes ever. For want of a better word, it is: epic. Almost too epic. Don’t get me wrong, Mario and Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story is a fantastic game, but it is cute and cuddly the whole way through, complete with cute and cuddly music. Then this thing comes out of nowhere and makes the game even more memorable. One of the best decisions surrounding this theme was its inclusion is Super Smash bros.(4).
1. Persona 4
An almost-final boss theme. You spend countless hours battling through all of the difficult bosses in the game. You reach a climax against Kunino Sagiri (which up until that point had his own boss theme- ‘A New World Fool’). There can’t be much more to this game, surely? Then that twist that comes out of nowhere throws you into yet another dungeon. Now, before you, is the twisted individual behind everything. You’ll never this transformation coming. Then: he has his own Persona!? The now-familiar ‘A New World Fool’ starts playing. Alarm bells start ringing. This isn't the final boss, is it? As the fog deepens, the ‘mastermind’ carries on laughing; engulfed in a black shadow. This isn't the mastermind after all. The beating pulse of fog begins to bellow from the TV world ground… it’s an…eyeball?
Persona 4 is a masterful game, and it’s ‘final’ (not quite at all, actually) scene is my most memorable part of the game. Finally a face to the cause of all of the game’s mysteries and one of the most creepy voices in the game- a voice that’s almost inaudibly low, the voice of an omnipotent foe who’s been tracking you the whole journey. That voice that is heard with each of the character’s shadows? It’s Ameno Sigiri. In Ameno’s chilling voice: "Mankind's desires are my desires." The main (up until this point, anyway) antagonist reveals that he only wants what is best for humanity. The whole time he’s been viewed as evil, but his intentions are good, at least so he thinks. Ameno then challenges the team for the (not so) final fight. A beautiful electronic guitar focused piece that is surprisingly uplifting, encouraging the team to finish the fight and justify the hard work and torment they've been put through for the last year.