Undoubtedly, my most enjoyable video game experiences are primarily rooted in prevailing against stellarly designed bosses. There’s an innate sense of catharsis when achieving victory at in-game tasks determined by skill-based perseverance. So, with that being said, three collective experiences come to mind when thinking about which boss battles are the best; truly the cream of the crop. And those titles are Ys Origin, Cuphead The Delicious Last Course, and Kingdom Hearts III Re Mind. These three games manage to provide boss design that I believe is at the apex of the medium.
Cuphead The Delicious Last Course is the latest release of these titles, and it doesn’t necessitate a full-on introduction. This highly-anticipated DLC for the critically acclaimed Cuphead ended up being worth the wait, surpassing my already lofty expectations set by the precedent the base game instilled.
Still, while I love the original Cuphead for a myriad of reasons, many of its bosses were too straightforward and unchallenging to best, even on Expert Mode. Thankfully, The Delicious Last Course is entirely on a whole other level, boasting some of the most ingeniously designed battles I’ve ever seen.
For instance, Glumstone The Giant on Expert Mode requires genuine courage from the player to navigate the continually hazardous arena in inventive ways. Aside from hosting telegraphs with ample enough warning and a simultaneously compact yet rich move set, Glumstone is one of the fights that highlights the sheer freedom of control the player character has, especially when utilizing Miss Chalice. In a sense, the movements one can perform are akin to acrobatics, and there are no constraints that correlate to controller input.
Moonshine Mob, Mortimer Freeze, and the final boss also embrace this strength, except to varying extents. For instance, Mortimer Freeze inhibits arena movement, but it’s solely by its own actions rather than stage hazards. Essentially, the freedom of movement, in this case, is not rooted in omnipresent stage factors, helping it stand out. There’s a non-restrictive tether between character movement and attack signaling that The Delicious Last Course excels at.
Even The Howling Aces and Esther Winchester contain unique positives of their own. The former has a more constrained arena with less navigable space, so reaction time is at the core of succeeding there. Moreover, the Esther Winchester battle can be perceived as a different iteration of the movement design the standard bosses contain since, despite being a plane, swiftness is in spades.
The core of the boss design in this DLC does not differ from what the base game provides, but the greater level of challenge coupled with the more significant animation work amplifies the experience tenfold. Further, as if those facets weren’t enough, the soundtrack is sublime, and terrific songs alone act as excellent motivators for continual striving. Cuphead and The Delicious Last Course, by extension, chiefly revolve around enemy avoidance, and the first-rate movement is the factor that truly makes each boss’ attacks thrive.
- If you missed it, check out our review.
Ys Origin is an older title, having been initially released in 2006. What makes this title boast such magnificent boss design is its experienced developmental history. Ys Origin is the final entry in the series to have used the Napishtim Engine, which fittingly originated with Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim and would then be refined in the Ys III remake, The Oath of Felghana.
This engine differs from the early Ys games and the current ones because it’s the most comparable to a traditional action game. The first entries in the series used the Bump System, which comprised literally bumping into enemies to damage them. And the recent entries have used the Party System, which has swappable playable characters at will with modernized action combat.
By contrast, the Napishtim Engine titles only have one playable character per story and are action games dependent on limited move pools rather than the Party System’s diverse array of attributes. Unfortunately, the first use of this combat system in Ys VI was messy due to outrageous boss behavior, creating a wildly unbalanced experience. Thankfully, Felghana greatly improved upon the system’s faults, but Origin would be the game that pushed the Napishtim Engine to its near-perfect state.
Each character plays uniquely with different strengths, such as Yunica Tovah being the average mid-ranged fighter and Hugo Fact being the long-ranged magician. Furthermore, despite exploring the same locales and mainly fighting the same bosses, every combative approach is entirely distinct, emphasizing each boss’ multi-faceted, all-encompassing natures.
The bosses of Ys Origin boast the expected telltale signs of well-implemented design, such as masterful telegraphs that are well-timed and never overtly depicted. Of the three games detailed in this article, Ys Origin’s boss telegraphs are certainly the most subtle. Observation is arguably more crucial than reaction since the latter isn’t quite as demanding.
It’s more about thinking of how to counter with the specific character you’re using. Every protagonist’s elemental skillset is innately separate, too, so the experience is wholly unique regardless of the multiple intended playthroughs. Even when facing the same bosses several times, they never overstay their welcome because of their meticulously crafted movesets and disparate combative approaches. They far surpass the quality of Ys VI’s bosses as well, demonstrating drastic and praiseworthy improvement.
Kingdom Hearts III Re Mind is an experience I’ve endlessly praised, especially via numerous articles. This DLC to Kingdom Hearts III added a staggering amount of new content, with the most prominent being the Data fights and Yozora. These 14 super bosses became the best collective video game experience I have ever had. I have been intricately discussing each Data battle across an ongoing series of articles, and I have generally talked about why Yozora is my favorite boss of all time, so it is admittedly somewhat difficult to condense my various thoughts. Regardless, I’ll try.
Every Data fight in Re Mind is a joyous celebration of that specific character’s history. From movesets consisting of melded attacks taken from previous games to superb arrangements, every bout put a smile on my face. I never felt all that frustrated because of how much this DLC caters to fans who have been craving well-designed, fair challenges on the same level as what Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix provided. And Re Mind managed to surpass even that desire. Still, even with callbacks for fans to appreciate, these bosses’ merits are standalone enough not to feel shackled by the past.
The name of the game with Yozora and the Data fights is detecting stagger points. This design philosophy significantly differs from Cuphead, where encounters are essentially endurance runs since avoidance is the primary factor there. Therefore, Ys Origin can be used as a point of comparison because openings are also present. However, the complexity of the super bosses in Kingdom Hearts III Re Mind far outweighs the thought needed in Ys Origin.
Not to downplay Ys Origin, but save for one primary exception, the bosses in that game only had a few moves. That title did the best with what it had, and it was terrific. On the other hand, I view the boss design of Kingdom Hearts III Re Mind to be Ys Origin on steroids. Each boss’ Desperation Moves, essentially their ultimate attack, feels like an entire fight on their own. The time spent figuring out their intricacies and the constant failure accompanying them is glorious.
Further, like with Miss Chalice in Cuphead’s DLC, controlling Sora is never restrictive in any sense of the word. Airstep greatly aids in that freeness, but it also has to do with how simply moving Sora feels like an extension of myself. That same base of genuine catharsis is felt across Cuphead, but the movement of Kingdom Hearts III Re Mind is just in another league altogether. Yozora, a battle I didn’t even discuss here yet, further cements my love for this experience. His boss fight is the idealization of my combative yearnings and more.
Despite the conceptual differences they have, each title mentioned here made me achieve feats I did not initially think myself adept enough to perform. And, in my eyes, games that grant you that eventual fulfillment are where the medium excels at its highest. Now, I’m eagerly waiting for the day to play a game that surpasses Kingdom Hearts III Re Mind’s super bosses, and I have a feeling that will be exceptionally difficult.
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