Love them or hate them, boss fights are a staple of video games. Some function as skill checks, others can deliver big, thematic moments at the end of a long journey. Then there are the bad ones. The buzzkills. Hyped encounters that just fizzle out into nothing, or make you want to hurl your controller into a wall and delete your save file forever. Those are the types of boss fights we’re looking at here. Whether deeply frustrating nightmares or climactic moments that just fall flat, read on for the boss fights that we’d rather just skip.
Seymour Flux – Final Fantasy X
You fight Seymour four times across Final Fantasy X, and all the fights are incredibly memorable moments in Square’s smash-hit 2001 PlayStation 2 RPG. But no encounter is more infamous than the third battle at the peak of Mt. Gagazet, with Seymour Flux.
This complex fight throws a bunch of new gameplay ideas at you without warning. He is able to cast Zombie status on your team and kill you through healing, half his kit is team wipes, and you have time to reflect on what you learn on each subsequent attempt because of the agonizingly long, unskippable cutscene that takes place just before the scrap. In a lot of ways, Seymour Flux feels like an unfair fight, even for one that takes place so late in the game. Your characters need high-level skills and defences just to withstand most of his attacks, making for one of the most apparent forced grinds in the game. My advice? Just summon all your Aeons and use your Overdrive attacks. Yeah, it won’t be as satisfying, but will be better than pulling your hair out. — Kenneth Shepard
Dark Beast Ganon – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Everything in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is about your ultimate boss fight with series antagonist Ganon. The “Destroy Ganon” main story objective you get early on provides a poetically succinct mission statement. You can either methodically make your way through Hyrule, freeing all the Divine Beasts in order to power-up for the destined battle, or just go HAM and rush Hyrule Castle from the start. Either way you get to face off with the final boss. Only, as in many games’ “final” boss fights, it’s not quite so final.
See, after you defeat Ganon, he comes back stronger. The only trouble is this new, Dark Beast Ganon is comically easy to beat. Calamity Ganon, the first-round boss, combines moves from the lesser Blight Ganons you’ll encounter if you work on freeing the Divine Beasts. You’ve seen all that before, but Calamity Ganon at least ups the ante. But Dark Beast Ganon is a tired mess. You just soar through updrafts and shoot at him with an unlimited source of arrows. That second-part boss gimmick only works if I’m really spooked by the second half, willing myself to persevere through the challenge with my final scraps of endurance. Instead, Dark Beast Ganon just takes the wind out of my paraglider. — Lisa Marie Segarra
Alpha-152 – Dead or Alive 4
Fighting game bosses are notorious for creating some of the most frustrating difficulty spikes in all of gaming, and Dead or Alive 4’s Alpha-152 haunts my nightmares like few others. From the throws that turn into entire cutscenes to her rapid, practically non-telegraphed teleporting around the ring, it’s a blessing that Alpha only appears in a handful of characters’ arcade modes, rather than being a required fight for everyone. I would spend entire arcade mode runs during my completionist playthrough dreading seeing the hallway that leads to her, and that cutscene of entering her holding cell still activates my fight-or-flight response. I felt huge relief on each run when it became clear that she wouldn’t be showing up. Alpha-152 may be a clone of Kasumi, but I would rather fight 10 Kasumis at once than fight a single Alpha-152 again. — Kenneth Shepard
Whitney – Pokémon Gold and Silver
In retrospect, Whitney isn’t that tough of a fight if you’re well-versed in the mechanics of Pokémon. But most of us weren’t that smart when we played Gold and Silver because we were kids 23 years ago. Her Miltank remains a core memory for Pokémon fans because she taught us all a lesson on the importance of status effects and stopping your opponent from just attacking without interruption. If you don’t move to stop it, her Miltank will just spam Rollout on your entire team, its blows doubling in strength with each successive attack. The fight is also made difficult by the dearth of fighting-type Pokémon in Gold and Silver by this early point in the game, so the usual strategy of just exploiting Miltank’s weaknesses is its own challenge. Tears of frustration ensued, and the fight became an early catalyst of gamer rage for many a young child. — Kenneth Shepard
Arkham – Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening
PlayStation 2’s Devil May Cry 3, which some fans consider the peak of the series, is full of masterful boss fights. Its second battle against Vergil is still embedded in my brain for delivering some of the most satisfying action I’ve experienced in a video game.
That’s what makes your final fight against Arkham, in which he turns into a giant blob monster, such a letdown. It’s a glorified standard encounter in which he mostly just swings his giant tentacle arms at you while summoning smaller creatures to attack you on his behalf. The encounter’s one saving grace is when Vergil joins the fight, at which point you can even have a coop partner help you out. But it’s still an uneventful, dull fight that mostly just exists to give the brothers a reason to band together after having spent the whole game at each other’s throats. Their cooperation doesn’t last, but at least once the brothers start fighting again you get a much more satisfying boss experience. — Kenneth Shepard
Shadow Okumura – Persona 5 Royal
The Shadow Okumura fight in Persona 5 Royal is such a bummer because it’s a known choke-point in a game on the main path of a nearly 100-hour game that shows up within the last 20 hours. I’ve known people who get to this fight and consider quitting the game entirely after all that time dumped into it.
You’ve got a 30-minute time limit and several cutscenes play out mid-fight without stopping the clock. The entire sequence is built to stall you out, with Shadow Okumura summoning waves of enemies that you must wipe out ad nauseam until — finally! — you can strike him down with no resistance. It’s a tedious fight by design, that feels less about crafting a strategy and more about beating your head against a wall until you can punch the corpo astronaut in the mouth. This isn’t helped by it occurring during what’s widely considered the low point in the game’s lengthy run time. It’s just an ill-advised sequence at a time when Persona 5 Royal needed more forward momentum at this point to reignite its spark. Luckily, everything that follows is all bangers. — Kenneth Shepard
Sephiroth – Kingdom Hearts
If there’s one video game boss I’d love to see in Hell one day it’s the (admittedly beautiful) Sephiroth from the OG Kingdom Hearts. This bad boy was already a nuisance in Final Fantasy VII, but then you accidentally encounter the jerk in Square’s 2002 Disney crossover action-RPG and before you know it, you’re hearing Sora’s adolescent death scream ad nauseam. It sucks.
An optional boss you only face off against once you’ve cleared the four other Olympus Coliseum cups, Sephie is incredibly fast and stupidly powerful. He’s got a ton of health, can summon fire spires and floating meteors to fill the arena, has the ability to teleport around the stage, and regularly uses cheap moves that cut you down to 1HP. And this is all before he gets serious, which happens once you’ve gotten him to half-health. It’s here where he evolves from patient antagonizer to relentless assaulter, sprinting around and swinging his massive Masamune to prove who the real chosen one is.
I still remember when I first fought this Sephiroth. Ripping through the Olympus Coliseum with ease, absolutely murking fools, I thought I was hot shit. So when I saw the Platinum Match open up, I was more than prepared to body the sucker on the other end. I choked a bit when Sephie came beaming down from the sky, but feeling as OP as I did, I wasn’t too worried.
Except I should’ve been, as he killed me over and over and over. There was one moment when I reduced his health to less than 10 per cent, but in one fell swoop, thanks to some unblockable summoned meteors, he cut me down — again. And this process, damn-near win only for him to turn around and murder me, became a Groundhog Day-style loop I just couldn’t escape. Even after beating the main game and maxing out Sora’s character, I still couldn’t beat Sephiroth. I guess he was the chosen one after all.
Some years later, I faced him again in Kingdom Hearts II and kicked his arse on the first try. Did I suck in the OG game? Or was he way easier in the sequel? It doesn’t matter to me now because I got my revenge for the years of torment.
Still, though, I do wonder if I could beat Sephie in Kingdom Hearts. The series has since seen its share of sequels, side games, and remasters, so I’ve had more than enough training. Maybe it’s possible. Or maybe I should just get good like this Twitch streamer and dance him to death. — Levi Winslow
Fontaine – BioShock
While the BioShock series has undergone a bit of reexamination for the worse in recent years, one thing that was pretty universally derided even back in 2007 was the first game’s final boss fight against Fontaine. It is a decidedly video gamey moment in a game that, up to that point, had tried to subvert conventional design philosophies of the time. Now, you’re facing this big, superpowered man who chases you around a combat arena and throws fireballs at you. It’s all very silly and for a game that was, at one time, believed to be this very methodical experience and a centrepiece in early (very tiresome) conversations about whether or not games are art to fall into such an obvious pitfall is still bewildering to this day.
The encounter is also frustrating from a combat design perspective because it funnels the player into a run-and-gun playstyle regardless of how they’ve been playing to this point. Thematically, it makes sense that Fontaine losing his humanity would be the player’s final challenge, but the execution is ridiculous and ends the game on a sour note. — Kenneth Shepard
Human-Reaper – Mass Effect 2
When it came to representing the Mass Effect series here, it was a toss-up between the Human-Reaper fight from Mass Effect 2 or the Kai Leng battle on Thessia from Mass Effect 3. Both are low points in BioWare’s science-fiction trilogy, and either could fit nicely. But ultimately, I decided to go with the Human-Reaper because I cannot get over that BioWare used something so silly to introduce the horrors of the Mass Effect series’ existential threat.
The Human-Reaper is a synthetic/organic hybrid made by melting down humans to a sludge and then crafting them into a giant, space-faring ship. It reveals the endgame for something that felt vast and unknowable, and on paper, it’s horrifying. The issue is, why does it look like a goddamn Terminator? Why does this giant, robotic skeleton have to look like…this?
Yeah, Mass Effect 2 attempts to contextualize it as Reapers designing new units to look similar to the species used to create a given vessel, and maybe that would have been fine if it had been destroyed and forgotten. But no, this thing springs to life and starts fighting Commander Shepard and crew.
The Mass Effect series has always struggled with boss fights. That has persisted well into Mass Effect: Andromeda, but the Human-Reaper still stands out as a moment when the concept just went off the rails.
Kai Leng gets an honorable mention, though, for his use of cutscene magic and for just being an annoying doofus. — Kenneth Shepard
Titan Joker – Batman: Arkham Asylum
The final fight against the Joker in Batman: Arkham Asylum feels like it was ripped straight out of a comic book without much thought going into how it would work in a video game. The iconic clown turns into a giant beast, and most of the fight is just him swinging at Batman and throwing explosives while you fight a bunch of his lackeys.
Design-wise, Titan Joker looks like something that would have been more conceptually interesting in a comic than it ends up being as a video game boss. When the actual fight happens, it’s never really elevated beyond a standard encounter. There are just a few more explosive trip hazards to worry about as you do what you’ve done the entire game. Then you’ll pull him down with your grappling hook and punch him a few times. There’s plenty of potential for setpieces and new mechanics when fighting a giant Joker, but all it ever really ends up being is a retread of everything you’ve already done. — Kenneth Shepard
Lucien – Fable II
The final confrontation of Fable II is the definition of anticlimactic. Lucien, the main antagonist of Lionhead’s famously open-ended RPG, has done more than enough to make the player hate him by the end. He kills your character’s family (even your dog!) and has generally been a thorn in the hero’s side for their entire life. But when it comes to actually facing him he dies in a single blow.
It’s not really a “fight,” per se, but after spending the entire game grasping at the prospect of revenge, to have the Lucien showdown be such a non-encounter remains a weird shadow over an otherwise excellent game. Player disappointment was so widespread that Lionhead even references it in Fable III, which has a quest called “The Game” that also ends with an enemy being defeated in one attack, at which characters involved express their frustration. — Kenneth Shepard
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Clayton – Kingdom Hearts
The Clayton fight in Kingdom Hearts’ Tarzan world is weird because it probably would’ve been fine if it had taken place in any other combat arena other than the one it was in. The incredibly cramped space is frustrating on a few levels, one being that the original Kingdom Hearts’ finicky camera is having a goddamn field day shaking and swerving around trying to keep up with the action and being pushed around by the tight geometry.
It also means there’s not a lot of space to roll out of the way to avoid Clayton and his Heartless minions’ attacks. The field does open up a little bit when he summons a giant chameleon creature called the Stealth Sneak, but that sequence still falls prey to the same troubles Kingdom Hearts’ camera always has when dealing with enemies that move around too much in a small space.
The series has gotten a lot better at creating memorable, setpiece-driven boss fights — there are even plenty of standouts in the first game’s final hours — but beating Tarzan’s baddy is an exercise in frustration. — Kenneth Shepard
Yelena Fedorova – Deus Ex: Human Revolution
The boss fights are so bad in Deus Ex: Human Revolution that it’s hard to pick just one, but my personal nightmare was the game’s second boss encounter, against Yelena Fedorova. The Russian mercenary has a cloaking device, dual-wields submachine guns, and will absolutely mess up your day. A constant flurry of EMP attacks makes things even harder.
Like the rest of the game’s bosses, Fedorova is easy to beat with the right tricks but forces you to play the game completely differently than does the rest of its immersive sim stealth action. It’s not fun, and it can be downright hellish if you don’t have the right augmentations ready to go leading up to the fight. I want a new Deus Ex game so much, but I’m happy to leave boss fights like Fedorova in history’s dustbin. — Ethan Gach
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