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.
 

TheoAllen

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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.
 

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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