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.
Monster Ock (Spider-Man)
2000’s spectacular Spider-Man game takes an unexpected, horrifying turn in its final moments as Doctor Octopus and Carnage combine into the nightmarish creature, Monster Ock. Every other villain had some trick to beating them or weakness to exploit, but not Monster Ock. All you can do is web-sling and run as fast as possible to avoid dying at the hands/claws of this monstrosity. That chase would probably seem less harrowing if I went back to it now, but it was one of the most surprising and scary gaming experiences I’d had by age eleven, and is the most memorable moment in any Spider-Man game I’ve played.
The Thirteenth Colossus (Shadow of The Colossus, 2018)
I was still having difficulty deciding which boss battle in Shadow of The Colossus was my favorite when Lauren and I wrote our co-review, but after spending a little more time with the game I can say that the thirteenth colossus is the best in show. It’s easily the biggest creature in the game, and in order to defeat it you have to ride your horse alongside it, jump onto it’s back before it takes off into the sky, and make your way along the serpent’s hide to find it’s weak points while holding on for dear life as it flies high into the air. Paired with Shadow of The Colossus’ absolutely phenomenal score, it’s one of the most exhilarating moments I’ve experienced in a video game, boss battle or otherwise.
Jack Baker (Resident Evil 7, 2017)
The patriarch and scariest member of one of gaming’s most twisted families, Jack Baker stalks the player character Ethan like a nigh-invulnerable slasher villain through several parts of Resident Evil 7’s campaign. Emptying most of your ammo into Jack only temporarily stops him, so players quickly learn that the best way to survive and save bullets is to run and hide from the sadistic psychopath whenever he comes looking for you. However, you are eventually forced to face him. The horror and anxiety I felt scrambling to hide from Jack, or find something that could (hopefully) put him down for good, are some of the scariest moments in gaming I’ve ever gone through, and that fear easily earns my encounters with him a spot on this list.
Crawmerax The Invincible (Borderlands: The Secret Armory of General Knoxx, 2010)
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, 2014)
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.
Driviks, The Chosen (Destiny: The Taken King, 2015)
Driviks is one of the more challenging bosses in Destiny, and he’s also the hardest to find. If you were on the right Daily Story, a campaign mission that was randomly selected every day, you could take an alternate, secret passage filled to the brim with Taken enemies and a ten-minute countdown. If your group was coordinated and fast enough, you could clear each room, and then try to defeat Driviks himself with whatever time was left. The few groups that managed to beat him, mine included, were awarded with one of the best sniper rifles in the game, The Black Spindle. It was a weapon many Destiny players went after, but few earned.
Laura (The Evil Within, 2014)
The totally deranged “landscape” that The Evil Within takes place is host to many, many grotesque monsters, but none made my blood run as cold as Laura. She moves and looks like a mash-up of the ghost from The Grudge and a gigantic spider, two things that are unsettling alone, yet even scarier together. Also, she’s usually immune to just about every attack you can throw at her. I’ve played many survival horror games in my time, and The Evil Within (which I thought was just decent) is one of the very few with moments that haunted me long after the credits rolled, and that’s thanks to Laura. I don’t use the term “nightmare fuel” often, but that’s exactly what she is.
Giga Bowser (Super Smash Bros. Melee, 2001)
On my most anticipated games of 2018 list I wrote that “each iteration of Nintendo’s crossover brawler franchise holds some of my favorite gaming memories,” and my first fight against Melee’s secret boss is one of those memories. Fighting a powered-up form of Bowser that takes up nearly a quarter of the stage would be tough enough, but his damage and durability get a massive boost as well. However, if you were able beat him without continuing you’d obtain a sweet virtual trophy in your gallery that you could show off to your friends. Maybe it wouldn’t be as challenging now that I’ve spent years playing the later versions of Smash Bros, but I’ll never forget the triumph I felt after beating Giga Bowser for the first time.
Poseidon (God of War III, 2010)
In a series known for some of gaming’s greatest boss battles, the first one in God of War III is my favorite without a doubt. The game’s opening pits you against one of the three most powerful greek deities from the get-go, and you’re 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.
General RAAM (Gears of War, 2006)
In Gears of War you play as Marcus Fenix, one of the most badass fictional soldiers of all time. He drops dozens of Locust bodies without breaking a sweat and kills giant monsters with minimal effort. And as tough as he is, General RAAM gave Marcus a run for his money. A unique Locust capable of controlling kryll (essentially flying piranha that hunt in the dark) and strong enough to carry around a mounted turret gun with one hand, RAAM was an absolute beast. In the final battle against, players must run from cover to cover while staying near the smallest of light sources and taking potshots at RAAM. That fight was the only time I felt like I was truly outmatched in the Gears of War series, and none the boss battles since have been anywhere near as incredible.
The Stranger (God of War, 2018)
Like its precursor, the fourth main entry of the God of War series has its best boss battle at the very beginning. Kratos killed loads of Greek monsters, Titans, and pretty much the entire pantheon in the original trilogy, and the Stranger, who claimed to know about the Ghost of Sparta’s past, picks a fight with him. At first I was impressed by the sheer arrogance the Stranger displayed with his threats, and then chuckled because I knew the Ex-God of War was going to crush with with minimal effort… But then my jaw dropped to floor when he sent Kratos flying with just one punch, and it stayed there for the majority of their earth-shattering brawl.
The Hunter (Dead Space, 2008)
In my opinion, Dead Space is the scariest video game ever made. Nothing in the survival horror genre has yet to match its isolating environment, tragic story, or horrific enemies (aside Jack Baker and Laura). 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.
Red (Pokémon Gold/Pokémon Silver, 1999)
Pokémon Gold and Pokémon Silver, the second pair of games in the iconic series, are my favorites. They introduced the best mechanics, characters, and pocket monsters 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 Pokémon 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.
Jenova Life (Final Fantasy VII, 1997)
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 was 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 main antagonist, 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, 1997)
The second boss battle in Final Fantasy VII that left me blown away was its very last (story-wise). In order to save everyone on the planet Gaia, you and your comrades confront one of gaming’s greatest villains. 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 witness the tragic moment Sephiroth changes from an lonely hero of justice into a heartless murderer. 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. He has multiple attacks that can almost instantly wipe out the entire party, and can cause a ridiculous amount of status effects to boot. 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.