Final boss battles are often what push video games into greatness.
I’m a firm believer in the idea that the ending of a story is imperative to its quality. If the video game in question is beautifully executed up until the end, then you just get that sour taste in your mouth, that it could have been so much better. Luckily, many great video games are able to deliver, and some decent ones are remembered much more fondly thanks to their final bosses.
From my experience, final bosses don’t have to change the gameplay very much, but rather, they serve as the climax of the story. They are the ultimate test of your fundamentals, a simple showdown that serves to wrap up the story in a satisfying, powerful way.
They’re the final glimpse you have of a game, the last takeaway- and boy, some of them are pretty damn good.
1. Ganon/Ganondorf (Ocarina of Time)
If this were a legitimate top five, you know that Ganon would be high up there. So to save the time, here he is, first off the list.
Ocarina of Time’s final boss fight is legendary. It’s gone down in gaming history as one of the best, if not the singular best final boss fight of all time. And honestly, I can’t say much to dispute that. Throughout the story of OoT, you’re faced with an unrelentingly evil presence, one that has been shown to easily be able to ruin the kingdom of Hyrule. Ganondorf’s presence reaches throughout the game, and so, reaching him atop his tower is satisfying enough as is. But then, his true form as a giant, demonic beast is revealed, and it really hits home just how evil Ganon is.
Combine that with an amazing backdrop for a final battle: lightning flashes, illuminating the darkness of the night, fighting to save Hyrule in the ruins of Ganon’s castle, and man, you’ve got something legendary. The boss fight itself is intense as well, as Ganon can dish out huge amounts of damage, and take quite a lot himself. It feels like you’re the hero, fighting to save the world from darkness, and when you’re able to take Ganon down, it feels well earned. Perhaps this was a predictable pick for a favorite, but come on. It freaking earned it.
2. Zanza (Xenoblade Chronicles)
Xenoblade Chronicles was one heck of a game, that’s honestly, probably right outside of my top ten favorite stories of all time. With a plot inspired by Gnosticism, likable characters, and a game chock-full of content, it was definitely one heck of a ride. And that ride was made all the better by the very end of the game, where you face off against the man who made himself God, Zanza.
As a final boss, Zanza is one of those fights, that, from a gameplay perspective, isn’t the toughest in the world, but because of the design of the fight, feels ridiculously epic. Fighting a God with the power of creation and destruction in some other-worldly plane of existence, while a rock-orchestral soundtrack blares in the background sounds pretty awesome, no? From a pure gameplay standpoint, it holds up as pretty fun, but again, what makes this boss fight so memorable, is honestly the context that it held.
Zanza was a guy who came out of freaking nowhere, but his inclusion in the game certainly made it feel complete. The god served to provide the final challenge to the views of people who, for all intents and purposes, just wanted to help their friends. His “mightier than thou” view on life was the ultimate thematic contradiction to the views of Shulk and his friends, and throughout the story, you could simply feel the power he held. Which makes fighting Zanza all the more satisfying.
3. Elder Princess Shroob (Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time)
Okay, now this boss fight isn’t exactly one people are RAVING about, but hear me out here.
Up to this point, Partners in Time has been a decent enough game, but has often felt held back by its villains: the Shroobs. An alien race, bent on the destruction of the Mushroom Kingdom for…reasons, they honestly just lacked personality. From bosses, to specific characters, to even their evil deeds, they never really felt threatening…at least, until the final boss of the game, which came out of nowhere–the Shroob Matriarch, Elder Princess Shroob.
This is the perfect example in my mind, of a final boss that makes a decent game a bit more memorable. Simply speaking, I just love the design of this fight. The Elder Princess’s design is brutish, the personality she’s given is one of sheer bloodthirst, and the setting for the fight–a lone platform, high in the skies of the Mushroom Kingdom, is extremely cool, and a far cry from any other boss fight in the game up to that point.
Add to this a monstrous second form, complemented by some of the most awe-inspiring music the DS has ever had (I’m not kidding, just listen to this), and you have a final boss fight that, honestly, the game probably didn’t even deserve to have. It makes you feel, despite no real buildup, that you’re fighting for the survival of the world, and man, it feels damn cool.
4. Xemnas (Kingdom Hearts 2)
Now, in terms of story, Xemnas is one of those bosses that comes from a story that’s so jam-packed, that unpacking it in an efficient, effective manner would be rather tough to do. So instead, I’d like to focus on how Xemnas’s fight in Kingdom Hearts 2 takes everything good about the series, and uses that to provide debatably the greatest spectacle in the game.
This final battle is a rather tough one, and Xemnas is a villain that has been given some great build-up, but what makes this final battle shine is its sheer style. Kingdom Hearts is a rather surreal, yet epic game, and Xemnas’s fight shows that. Clashing in a world of nothingness, black and white as far as the eye can see, the hack-and-slash gameplay of Kingdom Hearts is shown off, given full attention at any given point. Flying through the air, dodging lasers, exchanging sword blows, this final boss fight is one that feels IMMENSELY satisfying, and is just fun overall.
Beyond this, you also have the fact that you, as Sora, are fighting alongside Riku, who for the most part, has done his own thing for most of the game. To see these two friends, probably the most blatantly badass characters of the series, square off against this other-worldly presence is just so, so awesome. Kingdom Hearts is a stylish game series to begin with, and Xemnas’s fight shows that off wonderfully.
5. The Masked Man (Mother 3)
Probably the best boss fight in terms of story and emotional impact, the fight with The Masked Man from Mother 3 is not exactly the toughest final fight in the world, but man, is it sad.
If you know anything about Mother 3, then you’ll know that it’s a pretty strange, and heart-rending game. And its final boss, a duel between Lucas and his brainwashed, thought-to-be-dead brother, the Masked Man, is freaking POWERFUL. You try to attack, only to realize that Lucas can’t bring himself to do it. The Masked Man continues his assault, and is easily capable of killing Lucas if you make the wrong moves. All you can do is hold out, and pray that The Masked Man–Claus–can remember who he is.
It’s the climax of the story, the ultimate challenge for Lucas, who at this point, has been through so much as it is. Having lost his mother, watched his father lose himself to anger and sadness, and having thought his brother was dead, Lucas is a rather troubled individual. And dealing with a challenge like The Masked Man, watching as Claus struggles to remember who he is, and watching as he intentionally kills himself, to stop from murdering Lucas…it’s one emotional ride, that’s for sure. Because of this, it’s gotta be known among the best final boss fights of all time.