On Impossible Bosses (Day 12)

Yesterday I touched briefly on the topic of bosses that are guaranteed to beat the player, and today I’m going to continue on that topic. To be clear this is in relation to bosses that are literally impossible, not just exceptionally tough.

They’re a common occurrence in RPGs, usually used to showcase the party’s lack of power (and make levelling up more satisfying). This makes sense – have a boss kick your ass early into the game and it makes them seem intimidating.

This is best when it feels like the boss has legitimately beaten the player, rather than beating them in a cutscene or with a special instant win ability.

The obvious problem here is that it’s impossible to predict player skills – if losing is important to the narrative and it’s not a game with a branching story, suddenly the options become a lot more limited. If a player manages to beat the “impossible” boss, you’ve got a problem.

Some games actually reward this – usually with something tied to a secret ending – and others give rewards like experience points or gear. Others still will actually crash entirely.

For my money, the worst examples are when a boss is meant to be unbeatable, but the player still has to perform to a certain level before the scripted loss kicks in. That sucks, and even one of my absolute favourite games – Final Fantasy 9 – does this more than once.

What im talking about here is that the boss is guaranteed to win via special ability once they take enough damage. If you lose before that point, it’s a genuine game over. It’s very confusing for the player, and I don’t understand why the game doesn’t continue if you lose normally. Sure, it’s meant to function like a normal boss fight in terms of challenge, but just give the player a reward or a different scene if they perform well. Otherwise it’s incredibly confusing.

Also a special shout out to those of you who are genre savvy and have stumbled into a boss fight that was so tough you thought it was meant to be impossible, only to throw the fight and get a normal game over. I’m looking at you, Shadow Hearts.

Sorry for the image-free and late post, hectic day! I’ll try to keep it normal from here on. Thanks for reading.

 

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