Marty shares his experience on the exhilaration of boss battles from JRPGs.
Establishing the strength of an enemy is very important to a games plot, making sure everyone knows who is the strongest, baddest and more ruthless person in the land. Some RPGs excel at creating a very strong, dynamic set of villains who torment you through the game, and when you finally vanquish them you are ecstatic. Not only does this showcase how much your character has developed within the game (physically and mentally), but it also makes you feel accomplished. There are some enemies that really stick out in my mind as being phenomenal, otherworldly in their strength. Before fighting them, I experience the dread and fear that my protagonist must be feeling. This adds to the tension of the game, and helps submerse you in the game. It’s a great technique that is tricky to pull off, but can be very rewarding.
My first and most recent example is a mysterious character named ‘C’ from Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel. In Trails of Cold Steel ‘C’ is the leader of a group of terrorists who are planning on an assassination of a very prominent political figure while raising hell in the country of Erebonia along the way. The people who work for C are strong, but he is on his own level. You fight him twice in the first Trails of Cold Steel game, first time in an underground passage – the battle is actually unwinnable and you must survive for 15 turns. The Second time he comes with 2 robots beside him and he has more health than any other boss thus far in the game, so even if he was solo this would be tricky.
C and his robots were very easily destroying my team, and it was so bad and happened so quickly in the fight I was left wondering if this was another fight I could not win. Most of the game prior to this had been not as difficult as other Trails games, so grinding was not necessary, but fighting C caused me to change my mind very hard. It’s not often I am caught off guard by a boss fight. C hits hard and fast, I had to use some very good (and rare) healing items and eventually take out his robots, thus allowing my characters a bit of a break.
The battle was won, but my pride had lost. When he went down, I was thrilled because I knew I had used every skill available to win this victory. The first fight had left me in awe of his power, he could not be stopped. Through grit, determination and some wicked potions, Rean and the team were able to take down the terrorist and thwart his plans. I felt accomplished, it was easily the hardest fight in the game and left me wounded and worried about the fate of future battles.
The Trails series does bosses well. They are powerful, fully realized and carry a bit of whimsy. Cold Steel learned from the best, as it’s predecessor Trails in the Sky showcases some extremely fearsome foes.
(*spoilers for those who haven’t beaten or played Trails in the Sky: Second Chapter*)
The most loathsome of enemies in this series comes from a secret society called Ouroboros, they are mysterious people who influence war by working in the shadows, many of them have experienced a lot of torment in their lives and now inflict it upon unsuspecting gamers. The two who I found most deadly and left me reeling after fighting were Loewe and Renne. Renne is a cute little girl who follows you around for a little bit, she is 11 years old, carries a wicked scythe and has a deadly robot to do her bidding. Her Robot (named Pater-Mater) is her protector, like the parents she doesn’t have.
You fight Renne and Pater-Mater a few times in the game, with Pater-Mater doing a lot of the heavy lifting in the battle. However, the last time you fight Renne she is surrounded by minions, Pater-Mater is gone and she lets all hell break loose on your party. Armed with status effects like instant death and petrify, this battle can be over as soon as it starts. Renne unleashes her best attack the second you enter the fray, and she will use it again if you let her. I had to redo this fight a lot, the random number generator gods must have hated me.
If I didn’t die instantly or get turned to stone, Renne would critical hit and decimate the party. Renne hits hard enough on her own, but add her penchant for critical hits and you are in trouble. Luckily, I had saved up some special attacks so the powerhouse (and my own critical hit machine) Joshua, unleashed oblivious upon her and her minions. It is imperative that you destroy her minions right away or they will pick off your team one by one as Renne decimates most of your health. I don’t think I have ever had to redo a battle as much as this one. I refused to reload the save and equip people with accessories that block her status effects (I’m stubborn, okay!). Eventually, with a lot of luck and critical hits, I was able to destroy her. Never has beating up an 11 year old girl felt so rewarding.
I send her back to the arms of her huge Mecha and resumed my quest to thwart Ouroboros. Keep in mind, Renne is not the hardest fight in the game, nor is she the strongest member of her secret society. That title, as far as this game is concerned, goes to Loewe. He is a young male in his 20s, with a tortured past and a lust for vengeance. He is nearly unparalleled with regards to strength in Ouroboros, and is a thorn in your side throughout the game. Every time you think you’re doing well in Trails in the Sky, Loewe appears to scare you. The strongest members on your team cannot keep up with him while trying to chase him down, he is nearly unstoppable. There are a series of non battle events where Loewe displays his strength, he moves swiftly and with a purpose, exterminating his foes without hesitation.
When you finally do fight him it is a very tricky battle, you have to be prepared and you have to think long and hard about how you approach this target. Like C, Loewe has 2 robots with him to assist and you have to dispatch of them right away. Loewe hits hard, and he hits often. He also has a technique that splits himself into a multiples, each getting their own battle phase. You can remove them easily, but if you have the Robots, Loewe and his impostors all with their own battle turn, the wrong sequence could prove devastating. The fight with Loewe isn’t as cheap as Renne, but there is no protection from his onslaught. It is a long fight, but it feels great to take him down knowing that you truly have taken out a monster of a man.
The previous examples deal with unwinnable battles, sheer brute strength and mechanical helpers, however my next example is a trio and their tactician who instill fear into gamers for an entire game. In Suikoden 3 there is a trio of antagonists who are always showing up to destroy, kill and ruin your day. Yuber, Sarah and Luc are the 3 I speak of and even after 15 years I still remember them as being some of the best villains I have ever seen in video games. Most of the times you face them you have the option of losing and moving the story forward, but there is a chance at winning that makes it so rewarding. Yuber is a demon in mans clothing, with a jaunty hat, a well tailored suit and blonde hair he doesn’t seem very threatening, but behind that facade lies insanity, a lust for carnage and twin swords hidden in each sleeve.
Sarah is a magician with remarkable power, she seems the most kindhearted of the bunch but she follows the mask man because he is her savior, rescuing her from a terrible life. Sarah is an Icy Maiden who can wipe your whole party out with one spell. Finally is Luc, he is the bearer of a strong magical rune who seeks to destroy all life, despite being almost 100 he still looks like a young man, the power of his rune keeps him young but also decays his mind. The three of them show up (alone or together, either way your party is screwed) in the story of Suikoden 3, they (and their red haired strategist Albert) are the masterminds behind the war between the natives of the Grasslands and the Zexen Knights.
During your first play through it is very unlikely that you will win a fight against them until the end of the game, you have to know the battle system very well to even scratch them, but the fact that you can actually win makes their strength believable. Attacking Yuber leads to the chance that he may evade and counter, and generally his counters can kill a party member. Sarah can heal her party almost completely or use magic to destroy you and Luc also has fearsome magic (as he bears the strongest wind rune in existence, the power of which drives him mad). The trick is to use your best spells, pray they don’t get interrupted and hope that you land critical hits while interrupting the magic spells that are directed at you. Is is very difficult, very rewarding and very rare.
However, if you are a completionist, it is almost better to not beat them as if you recruit all 108 characters you get to play a bonus chapter as the villains, with behind the scene moments. If you lose against the party of antagonists, you get to play as them in the bonus chapter. It is a lot of fun to get to play as the over powered enemies, laying waste to the puny band of heroes. I am often torn between wanting to win the fights or to play as the fearsome trio later on. Both are fun, with their own sense of accomplishment. I have yet to see a band of antagonists that showcase their power in a realistic way such as this. It is a truly rare experience, and a lot of fun. Go ahead and try to beat them, I dare you!
Most people who know the Suikoden universe would argue that Luca Blight from Sukoden II is a much more fearsome foe, but his reign of terror doesn’t last as long as these 3. The Suikoden series has some great antagonists, and I could make a case for all of them, but the sheer power of this trio stuck with me since I was a teenager. They managed to make impossible battles that you are meant to lose, but add in the small chance that you could win, which is important in a games because you are often the underdog, and it is important to feel like an underdog. Luc, Yuber and Sarah really do put me in my place… most of the time.