There are many things that all add up together to make great video games. We should glean some sort of story from it, the gameplay should be exciting, meaningful, or just plain fun. The characters should be quirky, or realistic, funny, or serious. And some of those characters should be more difficult to take down than others. The bigger they are, they harder they fall, and today we're talking about the biggest characters of them all: bosses. How crucial are they to video games? Let's enjoy a little history lesson to figure that out!
To find the source of video game bosses, we have to travel back to 1975. Dnd for the PLATO system introduced gamers to the Golden Dragon, the first boss in existence. Dnd was a text adventure. The Golden Dragon within it was meant to give players a little bit more of a challenge than the rest of the game. Quite literally, the “boss” was spawned. The next most memorable boss in video game history was the Mothership in Phoenix, a 1980 game. The Mothership was a separate undertaking from the main gameplay, as it was faster, its movements harder to predict, and tested players' mettle. We also can't forget fighting games, which are known for putting imposing bosses in your way as either part of arcade or story modes. The Mortal Kombat series is a fantastic example. It has given us the likes of Goro and Shao Kahn. (Shout out to Motaro, for seriously messing me up in the day.)
Since then, further games have refined and redefined the boss battle. Some involved learning a set of moves, that you then had to combat. Others required players to be a bit more on their feet with random move patterns. Some games have a single antagonist that is referenced throughout the game that you only confront once at the end. Some involve smaller skirmishes leading up to the major climax near the end. Others are filled with bosses, we're looking at you Shadow of the Colossus, and some have fewer than we maybe would have liked. (God of War is a great example of this.) There's also the (now) very typical pattern of, fight easier enemies, fight a mid-level boss, and then take on a big bad, before moving to the next level.
In cases like God of War, fans were left feeling a little let down due to a lack of big epic fights. This was a bit of a staple in the God of War franchise, so it makes sense that hopes would be high. Game Director Cory Barlog said that the team simply didn't have enough time, money, and people to make more bosses a reality. No matter the reason behind it's lack of countless huge battles, God of War brings boss battles back into the limelight. How much more enjoyable would the game have been for people if it had included just a few more baddies to tackle?
Let's look at Shadow of the Colossus. This game was entirely composed of boss battle after boss battle. Did that make it perfect? Well, it was in my opinion, but there are still some people who found it droll, because there wasn't much going on between the battles. It's clear that a happy medium needs to be struck. But I think the other biggest point of how many bosses it takes to reach that Goldilocks Zone depends on the game and what story it wants to tell.
Some games want to be more relaxed, others want to be balls to the wall. The Soulsborne games wouldn't be nearly as entertaining if they didn't include the number of difficult battles that they do. Yet something like Dreamfall Chapters would have felt weird with a random boss battle thrown in for sake of including it. Some games want to focus on the story they have to tell, while others want to challenge their players. There is room for both of these styles of games in the industry, which means the inclusion of boss battles can be equally malleable. But what do you think? Do you enjoy games that have tons of bosses in them? Do you like the more standard, easy enemy, mid-range battle, and bigger boss, rinse and repeat style? Or would you rather not have any boss battles in your games? I'd love to hear your thoughts!