While it’s usually fun to decimate typical enemies in a video game, the boss battles are the ones you always remember. Whether it’s for bragging rights, a way to earn some shiny new loot, or the capstone to a story that’s totally enveloped you, boss battles are an experience like no other. It’s rare to find that amazing blend of challenge and gratification, but the best boss battles always manage to attain it. I’ve conquered many virtual foes in my time, and here are the ones that will always stick with me.
Honorable Mention: Psycho Mantis (Metal Gear Solid, 1998)
Psycho Mantis is only an honorable mention because I never played Metal Gear Solid myself. I only watched my brother play it, but witnessing the battle against this psychic terrorist was still an experience I’ll never forget. Seeing Psycho Mantis play tricks on the player character was already pretty weird, but it got creepy when he started messing with my brother. Mantis made the controller vibrate randomly, and even turned the screen black in order to make us think our Playstation had turned off. My brother was so pissed when he realized that he had reset the console for nothing. No boss battle had broken the fourth wall in such an inventive or unsettling (and eventually hilarious) way before, and I’m fairly confident none have since. Years later I learned that Psycho Mantis was also capable of reading your Playstation’s memory card for certain games, and mentioning them mid-battle too.
Crawmerax The Invincible (Borderlands)
The first raid boss (a term for enemies so challenging that they require multiple people working together just for a chance of success) I ever tried to take down was this gargantuan beast. A colossal crab worm capable of downing max-level characters in a single blow, Crawmerax The Invincible almost lives up to his title. It took the combined effort of myself and two others, hours to bring him down, but all that nail-biting tension and hair-pulling frustration was worth it. Not only was I able to claim I defeated every boss in one of my favorite video games, but the amount of legendary loot that rained down after Crawmerax’s demise was unreal.
Atheon, Time’s Conflux (Destiny)
Like Crawmerax, Atheon is a raid boss that packs a serious punch. Unlike Crawmerax, there were also puzzles and patterns my friends and I were forced to figure out while fighting Atheon AT THE SAME TIME. The amount of coordination and teamwork our six-man fireteam put into defeating Atheon was insane, even the smallest mistake could have disastrous consequences. I never thought we would be able defeat Atheon, but thankfully I was proven wrong. And just like Crawmerax, the bragging rights and gear made it all worthwhile. Destiny was given three additional raids through its lifetime, but none felt as epic or fun as The Vault of Glass, the raid that ended with the battle against Atheon.
Poseidon (God of War III)
In a series known for some of gaming’s greatest boss battles, the first one in God of War III is easily my favorite. The game’s opening pits you against one of the three most powerful greek deities from the get-go, but you’re also fighting him on the back of the Titan Gaia as she’s climbing, and being pulled off of Mount Olympus. It’s an inventive battle against a colossal opponent that sets the tone for the rest of the game. And once defeated, Poseidon is subjected to one of the most brutal deaths I’ve ever seen in a game. Seriously, I had to put my controller down for a little bit after this one.
Red (Pokemon Gold/Silver)
Pokemon Gold and Silver, the second generation of games in the iconic series, are my favorites. They introduced the best mechanics, characters, and Pokemon of any generation, and featured a phenomenal endgame boss battle. Once you’ve beaten all sixteen Gym Leaders, you can proceed deep inside Mt. Silver to battle against the most powerful Pokemon Trainer in the game: Red, the character you played as in the original games. With a well-rounded and high level team of fully evolved starters, an Espeon, Snorlax, and Pikachu, Red is a force to be reckoned with. Only after defeating him in a battle for the ages could you really call yourself the very best, like no one ever was.
The Hunter (Dead Space)
In my opinion, Dead Space is the scariest video game ever made. Nothing in the horror survival genre has yet to match its isolating environment, tragic story, or horrific enemies. Necromorphs, reanimated and transformed human corpses, are some of the most frightening monsters in all of fiction. The “normal” ones move faster than humans, can travel through air ducts, have bone claws the size of swords, and require nothing short of dismemberment to stay dead… Then a mad scientist devoted to an insane religion made a bigger one with the ability to regenerate lost limbs. Nothing in your arsenal of tools or weapons can kill the Hunter, so you’re forced to get creative in order to survive. Different iterations of it show up in all three Dead Space games, but I’ll never forget the sheer terror I felt running for my virtual life during my first encounter with the Hunter.
Jenova Life (Final Fantasy VII)
Final Fantasy VII is my favorite video game of all time, and it has some of my favorite boss battles ever. Out of all of them, there are two in particular that truly astounded me, the first of which is Jenova Life. The battle itself isn’t particularly epic or difficult, but it’s ingrained in my mind due to the events surrounding it. -BIG SPOILER AHEAD- After you and your team venture into an ancient temple to help Aerith, the player character’s love interest and team healer, she is murdered in front of you by the game’s big baddie, Sephiroth. After breaking your spirit completely, Sephiroth leaves you to fight Jenova Life, a monster similar to ones you’ve slain before. The scene becomes even more emotionally devastating once the battle begins and you realize the music that usually plays during encounters against this enemy type is replaced the soft, gentle song recognizable as Aerith’s theme…
Safer Sephiroth (Final Fantasy VII)
The second boss battle in Final Fantasy VII that left me blown away was its very last (story-wise). In order to save every living thing on the planet Gaia, you and your comrades must go all out against its main villain. Sephiroth is one of the most memorable antagonists in any game I’ve ever played, and that’s partially because the battle against him is absolutely outstanding. Final Fantasy VII’s story spends quite a while building him up as someone far outside your ability to fight, which makes you dread your inevitable confrontation with him the closer you get to it. A flashback sequence early on allows Sephiroth to join your team, which makes the difference in your abilities painfully clear long before you’re even near the end of the game. You also get to see the tragic moment Sephiroth changes from an aloof, lonely hero of justice to a heartless murderer of unfathomable strength. He was even Cloud’s (the player character) idol before falling into madness and devoting himself to eradicating all life on the planet. And all of this precedes his literal transformation into the angelic monstrosity of godlike power, Safer Sephiroth. Once the battle begins, it doesn’t take long to realize that Sephiroth more than lives up to his reputation. In order to even have a chance of surviving this encounter, your entire team must join the fray. You are limited to three or less party members in every other battle, but you have access to all six (or eight if you manage to find the secret characters) here. Further heightening the intensity of the battle is Sephiroth’s theme, One Winged Angel, the first song in the Final Fantasy series to feature vocals, playing in the background. I still get goosebumps just thinking about it…
And there you have it, those are my most memorable video game boss battles! If you liked what you read and want more, like my top video games of 2017, follow me and some other awesome people on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and/or middleofrow.com.