Is there anything more exciting to a video game enthusiast than finally getting to the boss battle after defeating so many minor battles and overcoming obstacles along the way? Seeing how well you mastered the necessary skills and whether your strategy will pay off is truly unmatched.
Of course, there’s more to a boss battle than just a one-on-one with the biggest and baddest character. The emotional investment into the story fuels your desire to keep going forward. So, the end results serve as a true test of your mastery and growth.
Boss battles have been a part of video game culture for decades. But as video games progressed and the graphics got better over time, these battles have turned into true visual spectaculars. They are often followed by amazing audio design.
If we were to use just one word to describe boss battles, it would have to be intense. However, that brings up the question: out of all boss battles to ever exist, which ones are the most intense?
Bowser (Super Mario Series)
Is there a more iconic boss than Browser from the Super Mario series? This fire-breathing and shell-tossing behemoth has been kidnapping Princess Peach and fighting the most iconic Italian brothers in the world for decades now. So what is it like to face off against him?
- Aesthetics (4⭐) It almost feels wrong to give this iconic boss anything but a 5-star rating as he has been an icon in the Mario series for so long. His imposing figure, spiked shell, and fiery breath are nothing short of a visual spectacle. As for the battle itself, the arenas you fight him in often dramatically evolve as you battle on, so things are always visually engaging. The only reason why docked a single star is that, while his design is undeniably iconic, it hasn’t changed much over the years, and for veteran players, this can get repetitive.
- Mechanics (3⭐) Browser comes at you with various attacks depending on which game in the series you fight him in; however, a lot of them are repetitive. You can almost always count on fireballs, tail swipes, and ground slams. So players who are looking for a Browser fight that will give them the chance to explore new moves and strategies are often disappointed when the same moves keep getting recycled one game after another.
- Narrative impact (4⭐) Anyone who’s ever played any Mario game knows what happens when you defeat Browser: You’re a hero who saved Princess Peach. From a narrative perspective, the stakes are clear, and the hero vs. villain dynamic is classic. However, some players are after a deeper storytelling perspective than just “The hero has won and the day is saved”.
- Player feedback (4⭐) You can’t call yourself a video game nerd until you’ve danced the final dance with Browser. This icon brings back nostalgia for countless players worldwide and never fails to offer a good challenge, even with repetitive moves.
Pyramid Head (Silent Hill 2)
Gather around all you lovers of the creepy and eerie because Silent Hill 2 has the boss of your dreams. Or it might be more accurate to say nightmares.
Pyramid Head is a hulking butcher with a pyramid-shaped helmet who appears on your screen, dragging an ominous giant blade behind him. This badass boss is a manifestation of guilt that never fails to leave a trail of psychological terror wherever he goes. But what is it like to fight him?
Pyramid Head Highlights:
- Aesthetics (5⭐) There is not a single flaw we can find in the design of this creepy monster and Pyramid Head might become your new favorite video game boss for the aesthetics alone. His grotesque butcher attire, coupled with the pulsating glow of his Great Knife, was topped with the often twisted reflections of James Sunderland’s psyche. The design is hauntingly unforgettable.
- Mechanics (4⭐) When you’re fighting with Pyramid Head, you truly feel a constant sense of danger. You will be on edge as, while his attacks seem simple at first, they’re fiercely unpredictable. He will lunge, slash, and teleport all while applying psychological pressure.
- Narrative impact (5⭐) We can’t get over the complexity behind the story of Pyramid Head. He isn’t just your run-of-a-mill boss. He is a physical manifestation of James’ hidden desires and self-loathing and after every encounter, James needs to confront his past actions and the guilt he feels over them. All of this creates a deeply personal and impactful narrative experience for the player.
- Player Feedback (4⭐) Every single encounter with Pyramid Head brings with it tension and fear so players who are looking for that type of thrill won’t be disappointed. However, Pyramid Head can be frustrating to players due to the limited resources that are available when battling him, along with a lack of clear attack patterns.
Sephiroth (Final Fantasy VII)
Get ready to face the fallen angel and archenemy of Cloud Strife, the one and only Sephirot. This boss in Final Fantasy VII is a powerful swordsman at first glance, but he is so much more than that. He isn’t a villain like any other; he is a complex antagonist.
Sephiroth embodies loss, betrayal, and the allure of godhood. So what happens when you decide to clash blades with this legendary soldier?
- Aesthetics (5⭐) There’s no better way to describe Sephirot’s design than sleek. His flowing silver hair and the iconic Masamune katana he carries can only be described as striking and breathtaking. But it’s not just him that’s striking; the settings in which his battels occur are out of this world. From the desolate Northern Crater to the celestial Lifestream, every boss encounter will be a sight for sore eyes.
- Mechanics (4⭐) Sephirot is a master with the sword, and his attacks are swift and deadly. He brings a challenging battle with both offense and defense, single strikes, and multi-combo attacks, all of which make for an interesting fight. If you want to battle with Sephirot, you need precise timing and reaction, not to mention tactical depth.
- Narrative impact (5⭐) Sephirot is more than just a regular boss; he is a representation of all the past trauma Claud is carrying within himself and all of his dark potential. With each boss encounter, you will delve deeper into their intertwined stories. As the narrative progresses and more and more battles are won, you will force Cloud to reveal his hidden truths and confront his inner demons. This boss isn’t just part of the narrative; he is the narrative.
- Player feedback (4⭐) Fights against Sephirot are on an epic scale and come with great emotional weight, which is something that will intrigue any video game enthusiast looking for a boss with a good story. However, the difficulty can be too demanding for some players due to demanding reaction times and limited healing options. This isn’t really a game for newcomers as much as it is for experienced players.
Ganon (The Legend of Zelda series)
Ganon is another one of those old-school bosses multiple generations have battled against, and he keeps coming back for more. His first appearance was in the original The Legend of Zelda game way back in 1986. He is the overarching antagonist in the series overall and is at least mentioned or referenced in almost every game.
Nonetheless, this shapeshifting menace is the true embodiment of malice, causing a constant threat to Hyrule’s peace. And he is a formidable enemy whenever you come across him.
- Aesthetics (5⭐) One of the many reasons why Ganon is such a popular boss is his shapeshifting ability. His appearance varies greatly throughout the entire series. In the original game, we met him as the monstrous pig hellbent on destruction. In Breth of the Wild, he was the ethereal Calamity Ganon. Each iteration of this boss is just as interesting as the last, and all of them are visually distinct from one another in such a way that players are always wowed by his new appearance. The imposing presence doesn’t change, but the encounters stay visually fresh.
- Mechanics (3⭐) Just like his appearance, Ganon’s fight mechanics are also significantly different depending on which title you’re battling against him. In early encounters, all you need to defeat him is a strategic use of items and good pattern recognition. However, you can expect some more complex elements in newer entries such as environmental manipulation, puzzle solving, and phase changes. Because of this, fans of the original Zelda series may find the battles more challenging than they need to be.
- Narrative impact (3⭐) As we already mentioned, Fanon has been an ever-present threat in the Legend of Zelda universe from the very beginning, but his narrative impact is not always the same. It all depends on each specific game’s story. In some stories, his defeat holds significant emotional weight while in others, it’s nothing more than a traditional climax.
- Player Feedback (4⭐) Defeating Ganon in a boss fight is a cornerstone of the Zelda experience. Each adventure has this menace intertwined within it, one way or another, this character will have a big impact on you. Sometimes, players find the fights underwhelming, and other times, they go through marathons of fights to defeat him.
Ornstein and Smough (Dark Souls)
Ornstein and Smough are the legendary duo guarding Anor Londo in Dark Souls, and don’t be fooled into thinking they’re just a regular boss fight. Will it be a challenge to get through them? Of course. But it’s more than just that.
This formidable pair represents the duality of light and darkness and strength and speed. After a battle with them, you are sure to walk out of a complex but memorable encounter. So what does it look like to take these two on?
Ornstein and Smough Highlights:
- Aesthetics (4⭐) What makes these two fascinating is the contrast between their design. Ornstein is a nimble knight draped in lightning, while Smough is a hulking executioner who wields an enormous hammer. Even though these two don’t have an overly complex design like some other memorable bosses, their contrasting styles are what make them memorable.
- Mechanics (5⭐) What these two bosses offer is one of the most unique and challenging battles you will ever encounter in Dark Souls. As they have contrasting styles, players are always forced to adapt and find different approaches. This makes this battle both thrilling and demanding.
- Narrative impact (4⭐) While on the surface, the narrative told by these two bosses is wrapped around guarding Gwyn’s legacy, they both represent much deeper themes. Their contrasting personalities are a metaphor for the internal conflict Gwin feels within himself, and seeing how they are loyal to a corrupt system adds a layer of tragedy to their story.
- Player feedback (3⭐) Ornstein and Smough are undoubtedly one of the most challenging boss fights on this list, and the feeling of satisfaction that comes from conquering this duo is unlike anything else. However, the difficulty of this particular boss battle is overwhelming for many players, which can lead to a lot of frustration. To put it simply, this particular fight is not for the weak.
Whichever battle you choose to fight, make sure you’re ready for it. No matter if you’re looking for that sense of accomplishment after finally defeating Browser or if you want to come up with a winning strategy that will finally defeat Ornstein and Smaug, you will carry these battles with you long after they’ve passed.
That’s what an iconic boss is here for. To allow you to master resilience, teach you how to adapt, and inspire you to keep fighting.