Designing boss battles

BurningOrca

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What are the biggest no goes for you when it comes to designing a boss?
For me it is:
1. Taking forever/To high HP: Recently I fought Gullveig (Atelier Escha & Logy) for about 40-50 minutes until I lost. I have the feeling the series is famous for long boss battles. Even Youtube Videos of very skilled player fighting the series strongest bosses sometimes take 10-20 minutes.

2. Being to easy/Taking absolutely no time: Gullveig again. After my loss I have crafted an attack item that was able to 3 hit him. I didn't know before that it is that strong. Bosses at this stage of the game should still give you challenge. Same goes for early game bosses. If any boss can be beaten in just a few hits, it's not even worth putting that boss into the game in the first place.

3. Extensive recycling of boss battles: I have nothing against a different colored stronger version of a previous boss appearing later on in the game again. I have even less against this, if it is optional. I just hate it if it is overdone. Again Atelier series is guilty for this. They even recycle them accross the entire series or at least accross trilogies of games.
 

Vigorswig

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I may not be an expert or anything, but I find that toying a bit with Physical and Magical Damage rates can help keep a boss tough, but not too tough. Giving a very small percentage of resistance to all forms of damage can help as long as you don't get heavy-handed.
 

BurningOrca

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One thing also came to my mind right now. I hate it especially in CTBs if bosses get 4-5 turns immediately one after another when they are on low HP and just sweep your party. I guess it is a good thing, if bosses get more patterns over the time of the battle, but not to the point that it is unfair. Suddenly it turns into a talk about balancing, which was not my original intention.
 

Redeye

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Giving your boss a natural Counterattack / Magic Reflect / High Evasion chance is a good way to turn your otherwise fun boss fight into a luck-based pile of BS. Reserve those special effects for buffs.

If you're the type of dev who simply slaps an array of strong abilities on a boss or giving it no interesting mechanics / gimmicks, it's back to the drawing board for you. Every boss should have a trick up its sleeve, besides maybe the tutorial boss or an inconsequential miniboss. A gimmick can be as simple as giving the boss new abilities at 50% HP or having it spawn minions occasionally. Or it can be as complex as making it invincible until you kill their minions, or if you have a double boss, have one get more powerful when their companion dies. Just giving a boss a list of skills that they can use at random with the default enemy AI is not interesting. I like to call these types of bosses "Brute Force Bosses" or what others call the "Tank n' Spank Boss". No bueno.

Making the boss immune to most, if not all states is an incredibly lazy way to balance your states and a surefire way of encouraging your player to never use them. If you don't want your boss to be crowd controlled so easily, then sure, make it immune to a stun or two, but try to add some sort of gimmick or mechanic that allows the player to actually pull off something cool under certain circumstances. If you're worried about the player shaving off the boss' HP in 5-10 turns with your poison spell, then consider not making your poison based on a % of Max HP.

Multiple enemy phases with no in-between rests/saves is only okay when done in extreme moderation, such as a decisive battle against a villain, and should only happen once or twice in your game. If you can condense those phases into a single boss battle and introduce the transition as a boss mechanic, then you should 100% do that instead. It gives the illusion that the player only needs to defeat the boss once, the catch is that it will just take longer than usual and have some extra steps and curveballs.
 

gstv87

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have the boss be predictable in at least one aspect, even if it is indeed beneficial to *it* and not the party.
for example: if the boss is always going to dispell (actually *dispell*, not *avoid* or *shrug off*) any debuff thrown at it, then *actively throwing debuffs at it* is a viable tactic for at least burning it's MP out.
that, coupled with it having a self buff that makes it more dangerous effectively puts the party at a decision of either tanking the damage it might do wasting heals and dispels, or waste their own MP regardless, by keeping the boss busy, by means of negating it's attack rounds, by having to use it to heal itself.

if you can make the fight appear hopeless, the payoff for defeating it is multiplied by the fact that the player realizes they turned the boss' own strength against them.
(they haven't: that was always the boss' weakness to begin with, but it'll appear otherwise to the player)
you can do that with pretty much any aspect of the fight: self-healing of debuffs, attacking the weakest party member, attacking the strongest party member, always performing the same attack cycle, etc.
 

Black Pagan

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1) Don't design Bosses which lack Personality.

If you are making a Minotaur Boss, Think of something unique about it, Not just High defense and High Life Stats. Maybe add a Special AOE Skill that it uses every 5th Turn which is a 1 - Hit Knockout. This forces Player to think of ways to counter it and not just treat the Boss like a Pinata to beat to death.

2) Don't make Default Skills do the same things on Bosses

I have seen even AAA Games do this mistake. Player use Bleed and Boss bleeds to death taking more damage than your Highest damage skill, Like WTF ? This isn't supposed to happen. Its just Lazy design. What i would do is make it Completely immune to some Afflictions or grant it Resistance That way, The Player can still stun the Boss but has very low Chance.

3) Don't make a Boss Fight too easy !

This is the most common mistake newbies make in RPG Maker. Insert Boss and have it at 10,000 Life and you expect the Player to beat it to death for 50 Turns while chugging Potions. This is not a Boss fight, We might as well make the Boss a Rock wall. Make every fight interesting and Challenging, But Unique in their own aspect.

There is nothing more exciting than ending up coming very close to Killing a Boss but dying or getting knocked out. Knowing you were "Almost there having killed it". This feeling is what you want to make the Player feel, Not simply "Spamming Skills for 50 Turns".
 
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Tai_MT

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Anything that doesn't set the boss up as "A test of what you've learned so far".

I'm sorry, but I am perpetually annoyed when a game's combat system consists solely of me just using all my best skills and equipment and winning anyway... with some healing from time to time. This is even worse when it's a boss battle. I don't care what gimmicks you've put on your boss. Unless your boss DRASTICALLY changes the way I'm playing the game... I am not interested.

It's a snore-fest at that point. A waste of my time and yours.

For example:

The Spider Boss is immune to most every state you can inflict, but is weak to Fire, and it has a gimmick of making itself invincible for a few turns so you gotta turtle up... or it has a charging attack... or whatever.

All that will do to me as a player is... Force me to spend some unnecessary turns to heal up or defend myself before going back to spamming "Fire" every single turn.
--

I want a bit of a challenge. I want the game to teach me combat mechanics and the bosses to TEST ME on how well I know those mechanics. I want the boss to iterate on what I already know. I want what the boss does to slap me in the face and FORCE ME to do combat differently than I would in any other game.

In short, if my strategies for beating Final Fantasy 1 on NES translate very well into your RPG to ensure I win...

Then I'm bored and I don't want to play it.

I want my challenge in the form of making me play the game differently than I'd been playing it up to that point.

To that end... things that just annoy me about boss fights:

Immunity
If the only way you can think of to keep me from murdering your boss monster with Poison/Burn/Bleed is to make them IMMUNE or RESISTANT to these... You're not any good at designing a boss. In fact, you make me not want to play your game since you lack the imagination to even do anything interesting to the combat if the boss ends up with one of these states.

In RPG Maker, you can literally change the boss's ENTIRE MOVESET if you desire to do so (no plugins required!) once they are poisoned/bleed/burned. You can! You can even make your boss cure these states if you want to!

Seriously, if "immunity" or "resistance" is the only way you can think of in order to keep your players from steamrolling your boss... you designed it wrong. You need to go do some research on just what kinds of creative things you can do with your engine and get some actual inspiration on how to make your combat interesting.

Also, I hate bosses that are "immune" to things. Seriously, all you're doing with that is limiting my toolkit for dealing with the boss. Do you find that fun to have parts of your toolkit just rendered absolutely useless? I don't.

Stale Gimmicks
While we're at it, let's try to avoid gimmicks that some other game has already done before. Or, at least, once that every RPG doesn't already have as "default". I love me a good gimmick, especially if I have to experiment a little to figure out how to beat it. I don't like when your gimmick is something I already know how to beat the moment I see it. This is not fun for me. It is not fun for me, conqueror of 10,000 RPG, to play your game and fight the same boss I fought in the other 9,999 RPG's before this one. It's just not fun. I've been here. I've done this before. Can we at least get a new twist on an old mechanic? I have no desire to "turtle up" for big hits. I have no desire to "stagger" bosses. I have little desire to destroy adds before fighting the main boss. Just... do something where I haven't done this before. I don't want to know how to beat your gimmick the minute I see it. If that happens, I'm bored.

Hit Sponges
If your boss takes more than 20 turns to beat... I'm not interested. By "turns", I mean everyone in the party gets 1 action. If you have 4 party members, we're looking at 80 ACTIONS. This is excessive. I'm not interested.

If I wanted to be tortured to death by boredom, I'd just watch the "Twilight" movies.

Twenty turns is about all the patience I have. If your boss can't kill me in twenty turns, then I'm obviously too overpowered for this fight and my winning is a foregone conclusion. If I can't kill your boss in twenty turns, then this is dragging on too long, especially since I've likely already figured out how to win... it's just a matter of inflicting enough damage to win.

And with bosses like this being so common in RPG's, devs wonder why players like me go out of their way to grind a bunch of levels and steamroll their game. Gee, I don't know. Could it be I don't want to spend TWENTY TURNS IN COMBAT WITH YOUR BOSS? I don't want to waste my time after figuring out how to win and being in no danger of losing at all?

Dunno about you, but I'm not a fan of repetitive tasks that people aren't paying me to do. I work a job in real life. If you want me to do something so repetitive that it takes me 20 turns of doing the same thing over and over and over again... then you need to wire some funds into my bank account to compensate me for my time. At least my job has the courtesy of paying me for doing something boring and annoying.

Guide-Dang-It!
If your boss kills me and I learn nothing from that death... No. Just no. I don't mind losing a boss fight. I really don't. What I hate is when I keep dying and am learning nothing about this boss and how to win. This is a poorly designed boss. If I need to grab a guide to figure out how to kill your boss... you've failed. If I have to die to this boss an inordinate amount of times to figure out how to kill it... you've failed.

Telegraph your bosses properly. Sign post what I'm meant to be doing properly. Or, at the very least, reward my actions often enough that I can guess I'm on the right track and infer a smarter course of action after each death.

Basically...

Don't design bosses like Dark Souls. Design bosses like you actually enjoy people playing your game. Each death should mean something to me and teach me something new about what the boss does and how I should act/react accordingly. I should not see a boss do something and then have to guess 10 separate things in the vain HOPE I'll figure out what my counter to it is meant to be. I should have an idea of the possible counters I have available, and then attempt to use those in order to keep from losing.

Guessing games aren't fun. Never have been. Never will be.

Final Forms!
This goes hand-in-hand with the "Hit sponge" bosses. I don't want to beat your final boss twice. Or thrice. Or seven times, 'cause they have a bajillion forms. I don't. I don't care. These extra forms are basically never justified. They rarely, if ever, even add new challenge. What they usually do is just make the end boss take more hits to beat.

Stop it, please.

If a single form can't do the job of beating the heroes, there's no way a second form will do it. Or a third. Or a tenth. You're just dragging things out for no other reason than you have no idea how to create quality content.

Instead of adding another form, you know what you can do instead?

Have your boss monster change the pattern of their attacks in mid combat. Or... I dunno… add a new set of attacks as their HP gets lower, and they add more to the rotation.

Seriously, you don't need more final boss forms. If you can't make 1 form interesting, I seriously doubt you can make 2 or more forms interesting.

Bosses Without Challenge
Most every Boss I've ever fought against in an RPG is... well... just a DPS hitting me. I'm sorry, but that's not challenging. It's not even interesting.

You know what is interesting?

If your boss actively trolls me as a player. That's interesting. If your boss spends some actions to make me spend actions trying to undo what they just did to me. It doesn't even have to be deadly what is done to me. It just has to be annoying. An interesting boss is one that can troll your player and use all their skills against them. An interesting boss is not one that just delivers damage spikes and AOE hits.

Bosses like this are also far more satisfying to put into the ground.

I find it more interesting when every few turns a boss turns one of my party members against the whole party and I have to spend an action to undo the damage that party member did as well as another action to cure the "Madness" of that party member turning against me. It may not hurt me all that much, but it's a boss I'll remember as being annoying to deal with. I'll likewise feel elated at putting that boss 6 feet under for what they put me through in combat.

I don't find it interesting when I'm hit with a "nuke" or some other high damage skill all the time. I just heal that away and continue hitting the boss until I win. That's not challenging.
---
Okay, that's all I got for now.
 

TheoAllen

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I almost forgot about this topic. Let me add more from my perspective.

You gotta know who you design this game for.
Boss design is determined by who you design this game for. For example, if you design the boss to be "this is different than the most of RPG you have probably played", then you probably should take what Tai_MT said on stale gimmicks. However, say, if your target is your friend who probably doesn't even play a lot of RPG or casual players who just want to win, designing a generic boss should be enough to satisfy them.

I mean, I have seen a few RPG Maker games where the player complained that it is too hard and the dev was like "I didn't see anything wrong with it, I like hard games, and that is how I made my game". Granted, there's a lot of factors lead to this issue, however, the boss battle is one of them.

Give identity, but don't make it overcomplicated.
The boss should have an identity. However, this identity does not mean to have multiple phases, complexity, and required an hour or more to beat. Hell, I even think 30 minutes is probably already too long. Personally I like it when I get the idea of how the boss behaves, it is enough to end the battle. Do not make it a hp sponge. A 10 turn of an intense battle that you need to survive from intense attack and abuse the boss's weakness is enough to make a boss memorable. Save the multiphase boss for final boss or later in-game.
 

Milennin

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HP sponge seems like the most commonly complained thing for boss fights, and I'll have to agree. A lot of bosses in RPG Maker games I've played were basically like normal monsters but with 50x the HP. Yeah, bad idea. I don't want bosses to take 15+ minutes to kill, nor do I want to bosses whose mechanics don't extend beyond using Attack once per turn.

Guess the HP. Ties in with general battle mechanics and it was more of an issue with older RPG Makers, but I hate not seeing the HP on bosses, since it forces me to play it as safe as possible at all times because I have no idea how much further I have to go. It's one of the worst things in games with bosses that take a long time to beat.

Guess the weakness. When a boss has no obvious weakness and you're supposed to figure it out by trial and error. That's the kind of thing that'll make me quit playing a game if it's going to make me load my save game several times.

Immunity to status effects is another common one. If things like Poison or Bleed are too powerful against a boss, at the very least make them weaker against it, but don't make them completely ineffective. When a skill or effect is too powerful, instead of making bosses immune to it, make them stronger to be able to deal with the power of those skills or effects (passive HP regen, to name a simple fix).

No save point before the boss. Like when the closest save point is at the dungeon entrance or before a lengthy cutscene. That sucks.
 

RachelTheSeeker

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My top three personal boss gripes, and my methods to avoid them, are as follows.

Big Battle Outta Left Field Replaying Final Fantasy 7 as of late, it feels like some of the boss battles come from nowhere and serve little purpose. Don Corneo keeping a sewer monster to drop people into? Fine. Random half-rotting sea serpent in Junon? Ehhhhh. I feel that bosses out of nowhere, no foreshadowing or buildup, are kinda lame. Not every boss *needs* to be thematically sound or a defined villain, but I feel most should. Especially if you don't know it's coming and thus cannot prepare; that seems lame at best and aggravating at worst to reload your last save, don't do it.

Status Immunities are a common thing people don't like about bosses. I love status ailments in games, and like to see them cover a niche that not even warriors and black mages can handle. However, this isn't done just to make things difficult sometimes; ailments can be really potent. So for RPG Maker devs, I suggest something I wanna do myself -- have alternate versions of ailments that bosses are afflicted with. Whether they don't last as long or are harder to inflict (or both), it can make status ailment characters less a liability in a boss fight.
Just be careful to avoid cheesing a story boss unless necessary; I recall that optional bosses in Paper Mario are vulnerable to ailments, even lesser versions, and that's fine as they usually hit like a truck.

Shutting Down The Player is also a pain in the butt. This covers not only drawing out the battle with obscenely high defenses, but also special effects that add artificial difficulty without thought. Things like immunity to damage, a perfect negate-and-counter effect, spell reflection, et cetera. These gimmicks aren't bad, but come off as something easily abused. I like the idea of bosses using shutdown gimmicks in interesting ways, but it not being their only shtick.

In "Painted Knight" I had the Big Bad make itself presumably immune to all damage, until a scripted bit defeated it. In "Maned Lioness" I had a dialogue exchange between the MC and the boss, where it's televised that the latter has a counterattack for one turn. This counterattack is only triggered by damaging him to at least half HP, so there's no risk of accidentally triggering it without warning. Which means you have the option to defend, use an item, heal or attack him with a fireball after that event.

Gimmicks like invincibility can be handled pretty well. Again with Paper Mario, the third story boss is presumed to be invincible. If you try to fight him, you'll find this true... but you can run away, find the true source of his invincibility, and eventually defeat him. It's a pro of using gameplay to tell a story: the boss isn't invincible because you're told so, he's invincible because even your localized nuclear fusion blast won't even singe his body hair. Ultimately care is needed; either warning that the boss is going to be this rough, limiting how often and long this shutdown gimmick can be used, and/or giving pieces to a puzzle of how to circumvent this effect.
 
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BurningOrca

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I see. I guess it is pretty much impossible to satisfy everyone, but most people seem to agree on avoiding HP/Damage sponges and status immunities.
Still I have the feeling that most bosses I fought in my life from Non-Indie-Devs are just a combination of both.
 

Tai_MT

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They tend to be a combination of both for a few reasons:

Damage Sponges
1. They've granted the player too much power too quickly.
2. Their damage formulas are too complicated and allow the player to do a lot of damage.
3. The dev definitely wants the player to see each gimmick the boss will use, so it has to stay alive long enough.
4. Longer boss fights mean it's more challenging, right? RIGHT? RIGHT!??!?!

Status Immunity
1. "If a player can kill my boss with Poison, how pathetic is that boss? Immunity!"
2. "If a player can stun-lock my boss with Paralyze/Stun, how pathetic is that boss? IMMUNITY!"
3. "If a player can stack multiple states on my boss at once, this battle becomes too easy. IMMUNITY!"
4. "My boss needs to be able to die in a specific amount of turns in order to seem challenging. States remove X amount of turns. IMMUNITY!"

Basically, these bosses exist because the devs have no idea what they're doing.

Now, I'm not saying you shouldn't give the boss some state immunities. Absolutely you should. However, if every single boss in your game is Immune to Paralyze... You've just relegated this state to pointlessness and you may as well remove it from the Database as no player is going to use it. What you should do is avoid "blanket immunity". "Blanket Immunity" is when every boss is immune to the same states or tactics. Why not allow a certain boss to be stun locked? Why not reward the player for finding out a way to trivialize the boss fight? You don't have to let the player do it all the time, but being able to do it every so often can be rewarding in its own way.

Likewise, you can change how the boss behaves when under specific states. They can get entirely new movesets… use uniquely powerful attacks that they would use no other way... or have adds cure the state off of them. Just because a player can inflict a state on the boss, doesn't mean that state has to stay on forever.

As for damage sponge bosses... This is typically the result of devs not knowing how to balance their damage formulas and player levels against new boss fights. The easiest ways to do this are to make your damage formulas simple instead of complicated with little room for "variance" in the formulas as possible and to reward more stats from equipment than you get from levels (if a level up grants you +1 Attack, but the weapon at the next shop grants you +13 Attack, you've effectively nullified grinding for levels since a weapon is equal to 13 levels).

Anyway, once a player has seen the gimmicks of the boss and has figured out how to beat it, having them repeat that over and over and over and over and over and over again until the boss dies is... repetitive.

I've been playing "Hollow Knight" a lot lately. This is a game that suffers from that exact problem. There are several dozen bosses that "scale up" depending on how good your "Sword" has become. Why? "To preserve the challenge", I suppose. Except, there's no challenge to preserve in this way. I may die 3-5 times before figuring out how to beat the boss and take no damage, but once I do, the combat has just become a slog. A boring repetition of actions as I wait for openings. The current boss I'm stuck on is the "Soul Tyrant". Basically, it's the "harder" version of a boss I fought very early in the game. My first run of this boss, it took me 30 minutes of fighting it to get it into the "final stage" of the fight, where it promptly mopped the floor with me as it leaves no openings to heal what-so-ever.

Imagine that for a minute. A 30 minute fight. I would have to do this 30 minute fight all over again. Why? Because this is a "damage sponge" boss. It poses no challenge in the first 3 stages of attacks, because I'd already mastered them. It's just about landing enough blows at that point. So, another 30 minutes of fighting to get back to the stage of the fight where I got destroyed, in order to learn the new mechanics.

This is bad design.

Hollow Knight is full of boss fights like this. Where it's more a test of patience than a test of skill. You spend a few deaths seeing the gimmicks, mastering how to deal with them, and then it's just "hit the boss enough times during openings to defeat it". It ceases being a challenge once I know how it's defeated. It ceases being interesting. It turns into a SLOG.

If you're designing RPG bosses to be this level of slog... stop it. You're ruining your own combat system.
 

woootbm

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3. Extensive recycling of boss battles: I have nothing against a different colored stronger version of a previous boss appearing later on in the game again. I have even less against this, if it is optional. I just hate it if it is overdone. Again Atelier series is guilty for this. They even recycle them accross the entire series or at least accross trilogies of games.
I just wanted to quote this since the first thing that this brought to my mind is similar but actually quite different: re-fights.

These are bosses you fight, then they say "Not this time!" and run away only for you to fight them time and again later. I have no idea why games do this. Do dev's think this is fun or engaging? Are players supposed to be excited to do the same thing again? The thing I find most interesting about boss fights (aside from their narrative importance and loot) is their uniqueness.

I don't mind re-fights if the first encounter is a force lose situation (so long as it is handled gracefully and doesn't trick the player into having an anxiety attack and using all their items). But definitely don't have more than one of those on the same boss. (My next game actually has two planned, but they are different bosses and different reasons. The first one is the first boss, kind of a tutorial moment to show the player the importance of leveling up. And the second one is the end boss, just to get the player angry at the guy. I also plan to spice them up by having them use different mechanics in each interaction. But I do wonder if that's too many re-fights still.)

Guess the weakness. When a boss has no obvious weakness and you're supposed to figure it out by trial and error. That's the kind of thing that'll make me quit playing a game if it's going to make me load my save game several times.
It's good to hear someone say this. I actually dislike games that only revolve around elemental strengths/weaknesses heavily. It's just not an interesting concept, and not tactical at all. Like, "oh this guy is made of fire. I'll use water magic on him. Wow, I'm so smart." But what's worse is games with like a dozen+ elements and you have to do trial and error.


It's interesting so many comment on the status immunity stuff. In Oni Sellsword, there's a 2 round stun that none of the bosses are immune to (it has limited uses and every boss has minions, though). I don't know if any of my players tried it because they probably assumed they would be immune :LZSlol:
 

CraneSoft

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The most important rule when it comes to boss design is know your audience, if you want a Dark-Souls player to play your game, then you have every right to make them DS-standards because it's the type of game they want to play, and avoid making a boss the majority of your intended player base wouldn't like. (ie. Bed of Chaos)

Now on to the biggest 'NO"s that can apply to any kind of RPG:
Bosses that spams healing - Yes, I've seen bosses with a strong healing move in a completely randomized moveset. The result: the boss can heal faster than you can hurt it whenever it feels like it. Healing moves are fair game if they are uncommon (or a low-tier DPS check) or is a one-time thing, otherwise, they only serve to make a battle longer for no real purpose.

Random AI with multi-actions - So a boss just decided to use his strongest party-wide AoE attack three times in a row with no buildup. Mot's Drama.

Repetitive, one-dimensional Bosses - In RPGMaker where most simply use a still image of a battler, one of the few ways to convey uniqueness of a boss is giving them unique movesets, gimmicks, or, at the very least, a powerful/deadly Signature Move that sets them apart from normal enemies, instead of just having them use the same old physical attacks or spells I've probably seen used a thousand times by the other enemies, just with more damage.
 

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I think @CraneSoft just hit on some really important dynamics to avoid in boss fights, especially the "Repetitive, One-Dimensional Bosses" which just do the same things over and over and create a situation where you have figured out and also enacted the "loop" of actions to beat that boss loooooooong before they die. This tends to tie into massive HP-Sponge bosses (and can even tie somewhat into status immunity; see the second point), kind of showing how good design begets other good design and vice versa.

There are two main ways I can think of to avert this dynamic in a long boss fight; either one will work to prevent things from getting stale:

1) The boss gains new skills or new tricks over the course of the battle, or the battle changes in some other way (such as events causing new enemies to appear in the battle or other gimmicks/challenges to become active partway through the battle). This way, once the player has stabilized and found a winning solution to what you've thrown at them so far, they have something new to contend with (which hopefully stacks on top of, and has some level of interaction with, what this boss has already brought out so far).

2) The state of battle is consistently different going into each turn, ensuring that using the same actions turn after turn is likely to lead to failure. Perhaps the player has a different set of tools available each turn, strong Field Effects change what tools are good, or lots of different (and interesting) Status Effects have eventually stacked up on the players and the boss, enabling new types of tactics later on in the fight that wouldn't have been feasible in the early part of boss combat.

All of the other bad/boring dynamics you guys have mentioned about boss fights in this thread are solid points, as well.
 

CalebW

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Anything that doesn't set the boss up as "A test of what you've learned so far".

I'm sorry, but I am perpetually annoyed when a game's combat system consists solely of me just using all my best skills and equipment and winning anyway... with some healing from time to time. This is even worse when it's a boss battle. I don't care what gimmicks you've put on your boss. Unless your boss DRASTICALLY changes the way I'm playing the game... I am not interested.

It's a snore-fest at that point. A waste of my time and yours.

For example:

The Spider Boss is immune to most every state you can inflict, but is weak to Fire, and it has a gimmick of making itself invincible for a few turns so you gotta turtle up... or it has a charging attack... or whatever.

All that will do to me as a player is... Force me to spend some unnecessary turns to heal up or defend myself before going back to spamming "Fire" every single turn.
--

I want a bit of a challenge. I want the game to teach me combat mechanics and the bosses to TEST ME on how well I know those mechanics. I want the boss to iterate on what I already know. I want what the boss does to slap me in the face and FORCE ME to do combat differently than I would in any other game.

In short, if my strategies for beating Final Fantasy 1 on NES translate very well into your RPG to ensure I win...

Then I'm bored and I don't want to play it.

I want my challenge in the form of making me play the game differently than I'd been playing it up to that point.

To that end... things that just annoy me about boss fights:

Immunity
If the only way you can think of to keep me from murdering your boss monster with Poison/Burn/Bleed is to make them IMMUNE or RESISTANT to these... You're not any good at designing a boss. In fact, you make me not want to play your game since you lack the imagination to even do anything interesting to the combat if the boss ends up with one of these states.

In RPG Maker, you can literally change the boss's ENTIRE MOVESET if you desire to do so (no plugins required!) once they are poisoned/bleed/burned. You can! You can even make your boss cure these states if you want to!

Seriously, if "immunity" or "resistance" is the only way you can think of in order to keep your players from steamrolling your boss... you designed it wrong. You need to go do some research on just what kinds of creative things you can do with your engine and get some actual inspiration on how to make your combat interesting.

Also, I hate bosses that are "immune" to things. Seriously, all you're doing with that is limiting my toolkit for dealing with the boss. Do you find that fun to have parts of your toolkit just rendered absolutely useless? I don't.

Stale Gimmicks
While we're at it, let's try to avoid gimmicks that some other game has already done before. Or, at least, once that every RPG doesn't already have as "default". I love me a good gimmick, especially if I have to experiment a little to figure out how to beat it. I don't like when your gimmick is something I already know how to beat the moment I see it. This is not fun for me. It is not fun for me, conqueror of 10,000 RPG, to play your game and fight the same boss I fought in the other 9,999 RPG's before this one. It's just not fun. I've been here. I've done this before. Can we at least get a new twist on an old mechanic? I have no desire to "turtle up" for big hits. I have no desire to "stagger" bosses. I have little desire to destroy adds before fighting the main boss. Just... do something where I haven't done this before. I don't want to know how to beat your gimmick the minute I see it. If that happens, I'm bored.

Hit Sponges
If your boss takes more than 20 turns to beat... I'm not interested. By "turns", I mean everyone in the party gets 1 action. If you have 4 party members, we're looking at 80 ACTIONS. This is excessive. I'm not interested.

If I wanted to be tortured to death by boredom, I'd just watch the "Twilight" movies.

Twenty turns is about all the patience I have. If your boss can't kill me in twenty turns, then I'm obviously too overpowered for this fight and my winning is a foregone conclusion. If I can't kill your boss in twenty turns, then this is dragging on too long, especially since I've likely already figured out how to win... it's just a matter of inflicting enough damage to win.

And with bosses like this being so common in RPG's, devs wonder why players like me go out of their way to grind a bunch of levels and steamroll their game. Gee, I don't know. Could it be I don't want to spend TWENTY TURNS IN COMBAT WITH YOUR BOSS? I don't want to waste my time after figuring out how to win and being in no danger of losing at all?

Dunno about you, but I'm not a fan of repetitive tasks that people aren't paying me to do. I work a job in real life. If you want me to do something so repetitive that it takes me 20 turns of doing the same thing over and over and over again... then you need to wire some funds into my bank account to compensate me for my time. At least my job has the courtesy of paying me for doing something boring and annoying.

Guide-Dang-It!
If your boss kills me and I learn nothing from that death... No. Just no. I don't mind losing a boss fight. I really don't. What I hate is when I keep dying and am learning nothing about this boss and how to win. This is a poorly designed boss. If I need to grab a guide to figure out how to kill your boss... you've failed. If I have to die to this boss an inordinate amount of times to figure out how to kill it... you've failed.

Telegraph your bosses properly. Sign post what I'm meant to be doing properly. Or, at the very least, reward my actions often enough that I can guess I'm on the right track and infer a smarter course of action after each death.

Basically...

Don't design bosses like Dark Souls. Design bosses like you actually enjoy people playing your game. Each death should mean something to me and teach me something new about what the boss does and how I should act/react accordingly. I should not see a boss do something and then have to guess 10 separate things in the vain HOPE I'll figure out what my counter to it is meant to be. I should have an idea of the possible counters I have available, and then attempt to use those in order to keep from losing.

Guessing games aren't fun. Never have been. Never will be.

Final Forms!
This goes hand-in-hand with the "Hit sponge" bosses. I don't want to beat your final boss twice. Or thrice. Or seven times, 'cause they have a bajillion forms. I don't. I don't care. These extra forms are basically never justified. They rarely, if ever, even add new challenge. What they usually do is just make the end boss take more hits to beat.

Stop it, please.

If a single form can't do the job of beating the heroes, there's no way a second form will do it. Or a third. Or a tenth. You're just dragging things out for no other reason than you have no idea how to create quality content.

Instead of adding another form, you know what you can do instead?

Have your boss monster change the pattern of their attacks in mid combat. Or... I dunno… add a new set of attacks as their HP gets lower, and they add more to the rotation.

Seriously, you don't need more final boss forms. If you can't make 1 form interesting, I seriously doubt you can make 2 or more forms interesting.

Bosses Without Challenge
Most every Boss I've ever fought against in an RPG is... well... just a DPS hitting me. I'm sorry, but that's not challenging. It's not even interesting.

You know what is interesting?

If your boss actively trolls me as a player. That's interesting. If your boss spends some actions to make me spend actions trying to undo what they just did to me. It doesn't even have to be deadly what is done to me. It just has to be annoying. An interesting boss is one that can troll your player and use all their skills against them. An interesting boss is not one that just delivers damage spikes and AOE hits.

Bosses like this are also far more satisfying to put into the ground.

I find it more interesting when every few turns a boss turns one of my party members against the whole party and I have to spend an action to undo the damage that party member did as well as another action to cure the "Madness" of that party member turning against me. It may not hurt me all that much, but it's a boss I'll remember as being annoying to deal with. I'll likewise feel elated at putting that boss 6 feet under for what they put me through in combat.

I don't find it interesting when I'm hit with a "nuke" or some other high damage skill all the time. I just heal that away and continue hitting the boss until I win. That's not challenging.
---
Okay, that's all I got for now.
Well thought out, super helpful.
 

HumanNinjaToo

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I think so many people have touched on a lot of the no-go things to do with boss fights. One of my gripes is when bosses don't require you to have any real knowledge of the game mechanics in order to beat them. For instance, if I've been playing and have acquired some interesting battle skills in the last 30-60 minutes of playing, and then I don't even need to have any kind of strategy to beat the boss then I am annoyed. If boss fights are simply using the hardest-hitting skills until the boss dies, I am bored. However, I can live with the HP sponge boss if it is at least doing something to keep me on my toes during the battle, creating some kind of risk so that I can't just spam hits and heals.

One thing I think is important when creating a boss fight is to challenge the player's knowledge of the character's skill sets at that point of the game. Unique skills and abilities are just gimmicks if you require the player to learn the strategy behind the skills you've designed/created.
 

LostFonDrive

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I will put more later when im not in mobile, but the first thing comes to my mind is making it immune to most of your cool skills and states.
I absolutely hate this, because it is specifically bosses where you would want to bother using those anyway. I've played so many RPGs where poison (for example) only ever works against super weak enemies. But why would you even bother using it on them when you can kill them in 2 hits anyway? Chipping away 3% of their health every turn after wasting MP and a turn poisoning them doesn't make sense. So basically, it's a useless status effect that only matters when an enemy is using it on you.

Same goes for instant kill spells which 99% of the time are useless except against enemies weak enough that you don't need to instant kill them
 

Aesica

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Let's see!

  1. Bosses that only have one attack per round. I say this because, in order to really challenge the player with such a boss, you pretty much have to give it super-strong and often cheap attacks, which is pretty lame. With multiple attacks every turn, the player has to deal with multiple things at once. Elemental resistance against the party-wide fire breath while the tank/provoke character soaks up most of the standard attacks, for example.
  2. No quick victories, because if a boss dies in like 3 turns, was it really a boss in the first place?
  3. No excessively-long battles either. The player throwing everything they can at the boss should do a bit more than shave off 0.1% of its health.
  4. No grotesque use of RNG without some way to counter it. Death Dragon uses Death Breath on the party! Only one guy dies, so no problem. Death Dragon uses Death Breath again the next turn! Everybody dies. Game over. What!?"
  5. Bosses that do the same thing from 100% to 0%. I'm a pretty big fan of bosses that, as their HP drops, go from being overconfident and lazy to desperate and dangerous, and this gets reflected in how brutal their abilities are. Not saying every boss needs a FINAL FORM, but they should get nastier or change their tactics a bit as their HP goes down to keep the battle interesting.
Also:

Status Immunity
1. "If a player can kill my boss with Poison, how pathetic is that boss? Immunity!"
2. "If a player can stun-lock my boss with Paralyze/Stun, how pathetic is that boss? IMMUNITY!"
  1. This is why I really dislike the percent-of-HP implementation of poison and urge everybody to use a formula-based variant instead. That way, you can allow poison etc to be applied freely to just about everything without having it useless against mooks or OP against bosses.
  2. Actually, pretty pathetic. I've played a few RM games that allowed stuns on bosses. One in particular had stuns on multi-hit abilities, which meant just about every boss I faced ended up chain-stunned from 100% to 0%. Where's the challenge in that?
Same goes for instant kill spells which 99% of the time are useless except against enemies weak enough that you don't need to instant kill them
Instant kill abilities are along the same vein as stun effects. If you can instant kill everything, including bosses, where's the challenge? My solution to instant death effects in particular is to have the instant death effect as a secondary effect instead of the only effect of an ability. For example, my "Death" spell has a chance to outright kill the target as expected, but if it fails, it'll deal a decent amount of dark damage to them. My "Gravity" spell (50% of target's current HP as damage) is similar--immunity means it deals standard, formula-based damage instead.

So I guess what I'm getting at is that yeah, bosses (and even some common foes) should be immune to the cheapest stuff, but to prevent those cheap effects from ending up as a Useless Useful Spell, give them a useful fallback.
 

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