When I decided to do this feature, I wanted to look into why bosses meant so much to players. What I found was that, it wasn’t just the boss themselves that made them so great, but it was their interaction with the player. This ranged from their particular boss fight, their symbolism within the confines of the game, their character design and even how their existence enhances the story. Doing a ‘top 5’ list is hard. Doing one that spans throughout gaming history is even harder. So this is my arbitrary top 5 bosses in video gaming.
Oh and if it’s not obvious:
1) Pokemon Trainer Red – Pokemon Gold/Silver/Crystal – Protagonist turned boss
One of my absolutely favorite tropes when it comes to bosses is the return of the player’s previous playable character. Pokemon Trainer (Master) Red embodies the hopes and dreams of millions of children who played the original Red/Blue/Yellow version from ‘Generation 1’. He was the character that never spoke, yet remain stalwart in his goal to become the ultimate Pokemon Master. It’s only right that upon challenging Red, you get no apologies, you get no words. Just a pure fight between the greatest trainer in the series and you. Red comes into the fight with not only his loyal Pikachu (highest level to boot!), but all three Generation 1 starters. Using everything at his disposal and a plethora of Full Restores, you’ve got your work cut out if you want to receive the title of ‘Pokemon Master’. My favorite part about the fight lies with the music: an incredible rendition of the first generation’s intro theme plays out. The same one that’s played against Lance and ‘Silver’. Happy 20th anniversary Pokemon!
As mentioned, the trope for ‘protagonists-turned bosses’ is something I’m fond of. So, for the sake of not cramping up the same reason again, I’ve got some honorable mentions:
Dante from Devil May Cry, Big Boss from Metal Gear Solid and Chuck Greene from Dead Rising 2
2) Vergil – Devil May Cry 3 – Eternal rivalry
The twins of Sparda secured the love for many Devil May Cry players. Vergil even more so due to his bad ass design, his cool personality and his style of fighting. Vergil ticks the right boxes when it comes to what I love in bosses, particularly ‘arch-rival’ bosses. In Devil May Cry 3 Dante fights against Vergil three times. In the first fight, Vergil decimates Dante and their power gap is a clear contrast. However, as Dante powers up, he is able to fight with Vergil on even ground in the second fight, despite Vergil also becoming stronger with newer weapons and a greater grasp on his Devil Trigger. Finally, the third round comes around as both fight for the fate of the world and despite being at his peak, Vergil isn’t able to defeat Dante anymore and is lost to the netherworld. A rival boss has always been the best way for the protagonist’s growth throughout the story. The reason why Vergil stands out is because he still grows alongside Dante and is the main drive for growth, and the will to become stronger. A goal he endeavors towards despite not knowing the true reason for his growth.
Fawful from Mario & Luigi RPG, Gilgamesh from Final Fantasy V and Claus from Mother 3
3) Psycho Mantis – Metal Gear Solid – Demolishes the fourth wall
One of the boss fights that secured the love for the name ‘Hideo Kojima’. Psycho Mantis is a telepathic entity that belittles not only Snake, but the player themselves. This creative boss breaks the fourth wall by speaking to the player and taunting them. The taunt is a simple memory card read to read off several game files listed on the card. This only worked for other Konami games on the memory card though! In any case, the fourth wall break flipped the fight on its head when it turns out that the memory card trick was just a show of the boss’ powers. No matter what the player did, Psycho Mantis would be able to dodge every single attack. Many young minds facing this battle no doubt lost the first time. That is, until a hint comes in as to how to beat Psycho Mantis: by plugging the controller port into the second slot, Psycho Mantis would no longer be able to ‘read’ the attacks and can be damaged. One of the more creative bosses, he forces players to ‘think outside the box’ and to ‘fight fire with fire’, having to beat the boss by breaking the fourth wall is simply magnificent!
Scarecrow from Arkham Asylum, Giygas from Earthbound and Sans from Undertale
4) Ornstein and Smough – Dark Souls – Well meshed dual boss fight
What is a player to do when there are two bosses that complement each other so well that they thrash you so hard? You try again- but do better. Ornstein and Smough are one of the many bosses that serve as a wall for many Dark Souls players. What makes these two so special is the way the duo work. Executioner Smough is a giant, lumbering mass that does exceedingly high damage with his great hammer. Dragon Slayer Ornstein is a fast, electric knight who is a much faster foe to deal with. Having the two differing styles of bosses poses a serious threat to the player due to the amount of focus and peripheral awareness. Where one can keep you busy and on your toes, the other can just as easily come up from behind and take a huge swipe. You’d be forgiven to think that taking one of these two down will make the fight significantly easier: the problem is, when one dies, the other gains their strength. Ornstein becomes stronger and bigger if Smough falls and Smough gains faster, electric movement when Ornstein falls. When it comes to boss fights, I feel that it’s hard for some games to do boss fights with multiple bosses while still retaining some semblance of fairness and possibility. But Dark Souls achieves this with Ornstein and Smough, any mistakes made was human input error. While the fight is fair, I still like to justify its unfairness to allow me a restful sleep at night.
New Destroyman from No More Heroes 2, Masa & Mune from Chrono Trigger and Master Hand & Crazy Hand from Super Smash Bros.
5) Pyramid Head – Silent Hill 2 – Symbolism icon
Dear me, the controversial Pyramid Head had to appear somewhere right? The creature serves as a psychological entity within the town of Silent Hill more specifically, the judge to James’s crime and guilt. Pyramid Head’s first foray into the world of Silent Hill is enigmatic at best, with a sinister appearance behind bars. James encounters the creature again whilst it is in the middle of raping two mannequins. This act further exemplifies the core belief into what Silent Hill is: the physical manifestation of a person’s psyche, and it is warped. Pyramid Head is a strange boss as the actual fight isn’t what is so memorable about it. It’s the symbolism that it represents, and how its success lead it to become the ‘poster boy’ for the Silent Hill series. Unfortunately, while its purpose was apparent in Silent Hill 2, future incarnations of the series having him feels strange as the stories are based on entirely new characters. That said, Pyramid Head is an amazingly memorable boss for its impact on the story and how it reveals so much about the protagonist.
Death from Persona 3, Kefka from Final Fantasy VI and Gherman from Bloodborne
And there you have it, my random list of 5. I opted not to choose the broader definition of ‘top 5’ or else I’d feel inclined to include the likes of Bowser, Ganondorf, Ridley and all of those classics. Instead, I wanted to mention why these five bosses are held in such high regards in my mind. That said, I did cheat and add 3 more to each category, but I’m sure people would be livid if it were only these five bosses. In either case, if you agree or disagree with my choices, let us know in the comments! I’m certain there might be others that slipped my mind.