Boss battles should never be boring, they should be a singularity pulling all the plot points of a game together, something the makes player question if they're really witnessing what's happening. A boss battle should inspire AWE. A boss battle should make the player whisper "No way" under their breath, or make them stand and shout "What the fuck!". No normal enemy with a HP buff, a boss battle should change the nature of the game.
To awe is to shatter preconception. It is to venture so deeply into the unexpected that the viewer is left slack-jawed.
As the player plays the game they learn the rules of play, increase their mastery over the game world and build up a series of reasonable expectations for the future. To strike awe into the player their expectations need to be shattered. The boss needs to remake how the player views the game world. This can be done in several ways; art, plot, mechanics etc.
Bosses With Awe
Creating a boss that awes the player is hard. I asked a few people for their most awe-inspiring bosses and I've also included a few of my favorites.
Sephiroth is the antagonist of Final Fantasy 7.
The music for Sephiroth, the entrance, the fact you've been chasing him the entire game and he's so tied up with the history of Cloud all make him an awe-inspiring final enemy to face down.
In Doom a lot of the enemies can kill you, everything is dangerous. When you turn a corner and see an enemy twice the size of any you've encountered so far, with a rocket launcher for an arm, you know the game has changed.
The giant creatures of Shadow of the Colossus are unlike any creature presented in a game before. Part of it is the scale, compared to the player, compared to the landscape; the creatures are massive. Humans are awed by big things, that's just a law of nature.
Magus is the end boss of Chrono Trigger.
Throughout the game hints had been dropped about how powerful Magus is and you knew you were going to have to fight him. Then as the battle starts haunting organ music begins to play and text is timed to the music (used nowhere else in the game, a good example of breaking a game expectation).
How strong is Magus? The moment has come for you to find out.
Here's a list of properties to tweak if you're trying to make your bosses a little more awesome.
- Scale - As we said earlier, humans are awed by bigs things; canons, mountains, buildings, waterfalls. The bigger the more awe-inspiring. The same rule holds for monsters. Bonus points if the camera needs to adjust to get the monster in frame.
- Music - Music effects mood. Some music is more awe-inspiring than other music.
- Power - a show of strength, that is an order of magnitude larger than any other creature encountered. Can be demonstrated directly if the creature easily dispatches an enemy the player has struggled to defeat.
- Game Changing Ability - an ability that makes you rethink your entire approach. An FPS where the boss deflects all bullets with a sword, forcing an melee approach.
- Tension - increase the tension. Time limits, consequences, implications, make it about something the character cares about.
- Foreshadowing - if the game keeps suggesting a enemy is powerful, or dangerous then when it arrives, the player's pulse should start to race a little.
- Surprise - the last thing the player expects. When the fight happens, where it happens, what happens, what the enemy looks like. There's a lot that can be surprising about the battle.
- Twist - Have a twist in this battle, let expectations be pushed in a certain direction only to subvert it.
- Appearance - the boss should look notably different, this enemy is a different class. Perhaps it uses special effects used nowhere else in the game.
- Entrance - A awe-inspiring boss deserves an awe-inspiring entrance.
- Not My Final Form - This is a cliche now but imagine the first time this happened. You think you've beaten an enemy when it suddenly comes back bigger and stronger than before.
Yesteday's awesome is today's cliche. You need to keep breaking the mold.
It's good to tweak properties but be careful not to go too far, if the player is playing RPG they may not appreciate the final battle turning into a action fighting game.
Have you got an example of a boss you think was particularly awe-inspiring? Let me know @HowToMakeAnRPG.