Final Boss Design Discussion

Discussion in 'Game Mechanics Design' started by bgillisp, Mar 1, 2018.

  1. bgillisp

    bgillisp Global Moderators Global Mod

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    One thing I've noticed is in many AAA games, it feels like the final boss of every game has to have like 4 forms, and each takes you as long to beat as it takes to watch an entire sitcom episode. Worse are those games where the final boss in all of their forms takes you longer to defeat than it takes to watch the entire movie Titanic form start to finish. At the same time, I see people all the time saying they want to make a game like game X, and they don't realize that the biggest complaint that game got when it first came out was how it handled and/or designed the final boss!

    At the same time, we also have to design the moves of the boss, but in such a way that the RNG can't cost you your entire attempt because the RNGGoddess hated you for 2 turns in a row. Plus, is it really fun when the boss spams Supernova 2 turns in a row, before you had a chance to heal from the first one?

    So...in an effort to maybe help us all out here, I wanted to open a discussion about final bosses. Specifically, here are the questions I think it would be good for us to discuss:

    1: How do you make your final boss feel tough, without making it a 100000000000 HP sponge that takes hours to defeat?
    2: How do you make your final boss feel fair without the RNG messing someone over an hour into their attempt at defeating it?
    3: How do you make the battle feel fitting of a final boss without 10+ different forms? Or do you think it cannot be done?

    I'm hoping by posting a discussion on this that maybe we can prevent making the same errors other games have made. Feel free to post examples of boss battles you feel were done right, and examples of how you are implementing it, but remember this has to be general to any game in the end, and not project specific.
     
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  2. Fernyfer775

    Fernyfer775 Veteran Veteran

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    Very interested in this topic as I'm getting pretty close to wrapping up my current project and not quite sure which direction to take my final boss.
    * Following to see what people say and to later add some of my thoughts! *
     
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  3. Failivrin

    Failivrin Final Frontiersman Veteran

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    It doesn't necessarily have to be 4 forms in a row. Many games split the finale between a demiboss and boss, eg. the evil priest followed by the evil god. That removes pressure from the player because it allows a moment to save/heal/equip between otherwise gruelling battles.
    Party size is also a factor. The player often works to optimize seven or eight characters in battle. If the player can defeat the final boss using only three or four, it feels like wasted effort. Lengthy boss fights are designed to encourage the player to utilize all characters. Sometimes the player is outright forced, as in FF8, in which characters cannot revive during the final fight.
    (This is neither here nor there; I'm just expanding on the theme of the discussion).
     
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  4. bgillisp

    bgillisp Global Moderators Global Mod

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    Except, I have yet to play a game where you actually can heal between those forms. Most just take you to form 2 then 3 then 4 with no chance to heal between, or even save!

    In my opinion nothing is worse than spending 20 - 30 grueling minutes on one form of a boss just to learn there's a form two, do it again. And if you fail here, those 20 - 30 minutes were wasted. Maybe we could fix that by just letting a player have the option to save between forms? This would not be hard to implement as usually most games with multiple forms have a cutscene between them so it wouldn't all be in one troop event anyways.

    BTW, for reference, I'll post how I did my final boss in a spoiler so you can see what I tried to get around these issues:

    Final Boss stats:
    HP 57128
    MP 9999
    ATK 166
    DEF 141
    MAT 206
    MDF 157
    AGI 96
    LUK 65

    Note that LUK is a hard stat to raise in my game, so 65 is actually pretty high for the endgame.

    Boss gets 3 turns per round of combat. Turn 1 they will throw a random debuff at the party. Turn 2 they will use a single target spell on odd numbered combat rounds, and an AOE or multi-hit skill on even numbered combat rounds. Turn 3 they will throw up a random buff on themselves which lasts 2 turns.

    I used troop events to set up that pattern. Turn 1 is set to occur at start of round 1 + 1*X, turn 2 I set in the attack patterns for the enemy, and turn 3 is also a troop event set to occur at the end of round 1 + 1*X. By doing this I was able to give them multiple attacks to make them a threat, but avoid the issue of what if the RNG selects Fireball 3x in a row which the party has 0 chance of surviving? Instead by using buffs and debuffs this way the party has to decide if they want to get rid of them, or just live with them and focus on healing and doing damage.

    What I've found in testing is you can ignore the debuffs for a little while, but after 5 - 6 turns all of those random debuffs add up and you either need to dispel them or you will start to take huge amounts of damage, especially if you also let the boss keep all the buffs up on top of that. So it turns into a battle where you have to decide when is it time to have someone spend a turn to get rid of those debuffs and buffs? If you wait too long, you will be wiped out, but if you do it every turn that's one of your 4 party members who is not able to do anything else.

    So far in testing I like what I've done, but do want to still open the discussion up as it seems we never talk about final bosses on here and it might be a good idea just to have a reference of what people have done and are willing to share for the new devs to get ideas.

    PS: If there's interest I may write up a tutorial on how to give a boss 2 - 3 turns per round of battle using troop events so you can better control what they do.
     
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  5. D.L. Yomegami

    D.L. Yomegami Sanely Insane Veteran

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    As far as I'm concerned, the final boss is meant to be the player's final exam. So in that regard I don't think it's such a bad idea to design the final boss first out of all your enemies, and what skills the player has should be what they need to bring the final boss down. Yanfly agrees with me on this one (or rather I agree with him; that's where I got that idea in the first place).

    Onto addressing the questions:

    Since the final boss is meant to be the final exam, I make sure it feels like one. Every important mechanic in the game should be represented by the final boss somehow. For example: does your game's battle system around a system of elements? Making the final boss a classic Barrier Change Boss (Weak to one element, resists/immune to/absorbs all others, changes weakness when struck) is a good idea. If your game focuses around party switching mid-battle, the final boss should have attack patterns/forms that each party member is tailored to deal with. And so on.

    Another way of making a tough final boss: Give it multiple parts, ala Cackletta Soul in Mario and Luigi Superstar Saga (and most Mario and Luigi final bosses), and have each part do different things. It effectively gives the final boss extra turns, and it allows players to react by learning what part does what and learning to prioritize one part over another if that part has a particularly nasty move.

    I like to make my final bosses feel fair by giving them attack patterns. E.g. perhaps the final boss telegraphs its super attack ala Zeromus in Final Fantasy IV (to elaborate: Zeromus shakes first before it breaks out Big Bang, its strongest attack), so that the player can prepare beforehand. Or maybe it throws out a move that inflicts tons of status effects every five turns. Or maybe it just focuses all of its attacks onto the character with the lowest HP. Anything that gives the player an idea of what to expect, when to expect it, and how to prepare accordingly. To be fair I design all of my bosses like this, but it's especially true for the final boss.

    As for making a final boss feel like a final boss: Well, part of this is best rectified through things other than gameplay. Like, making sure the story builds up to the final boss adequately, and that the circumstances surrounding the final boss work to its advantage. Also throw in some awesome music; even if you flunk everything else about the boss, a good battle song just might stick with the player long after they finish the game.

    If the final boss is meant to be a proper character, bringing out its feelings through its attacks might also work to both elaborate on its character and build up the excitement some more. For example, if the boss starts dualcasting Meteor every turn when its HP gets low, you can probably guess that you've done and well -arg-ed it off.

    One thing I'm planning on doing for my final bosses, since at the moment all of them are an eldritch abomination of some description: Not giving the final boss's attacks names or descriptions. No "<Boss Name> used <Attack Move>!" The boss attacks, there's an animation, but the battle log just says nothing until "<Character> takes X damage!/is inflicted with X state!/What have you!". I also like to pair this up with making the animation rather nondescript, meaning the player has to identify the nature of the attack by its effects. This might not work as well for bosses that are meant to be more comprehensible, but I think it works for the feel I want to go for.

    Edit:
    I'd certainly be interested in such a thing.
     
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  6. Failivrin

    Failivrin Final Frontiersman Veteran

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    @bgillisp I think there are a lot of games that permit healing between rounds. Pokemon is a good example. There are five boss matches--the Elite Four and the Champion. You must confront them sequentially. You cannot retreat to a Pokecenter, but you can heal your team with items you packed. You can save progress, but if you lose a match you will be kicked out and forced to start over. I'm sure something like this could be adapted for more classical fantasy RPGs; the only difficulty is narrative. When the player reaches the final boss, it's usually assumed the end of the world is nigh, so it wouldn't seem practical to slow down or backtrack. Pokemon typically resolves an end-of-world crisis in Act IV, letting Act V be the culmination of the player's journey to the status of Pokemon master.
    @D.L. Yomegami mentioned Zeromus. FF4 has one of the most creative spins on a final boss, in my opinion. Zeromus has three forms, but you only fight one. The first is defeated by NPCs while you watch. The second is a coccoon, giving you plenty of time to buff between cutscenes. The final form is so ridiculously overpowered that you had better achieve victory quickly or risk wipeout. The large party size (five characters) and unconventional skill learning ensure you are able to employ all your resources, even the skills of party members who previously joined as guests.
     
    Last edited: Mar 1, 2018
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  7. Saviourself

    Saviourself Villager Member

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    I'm currently working on my game with the idea of you do not need to fight your 2-4 form final boss at the end of the game but rather throughout the game. In my game there will be 5 chapters. I believe I'm going to have a boss battle in a different form for chapters 1,3,5.
    I'm not entirely sure how that will play out but I guess I will have to see when I get there..
     
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  8. JtheDuelist

    JtheDuelist Just a dev who actually got a game finished Veteran

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    My game's final boss is only a two-stage one: First form is just him by himself, pretty much an HP sponge
    His stats were:
    Code:
    HP: 100000
    MP: 9999
    Atk: 1
    Def: 1
    MAtk: 50
    MDef: 1
    Spd: 1
    Luck: 100
    
    His stats are to show he has to really on his best creation to win, being unable to do so with his own abilities.

    Meanwhile, his second form, where he is utilizing his best creation, his stats are:
    Code:
    HP: 55000
    MP: 9999
    Atk: 450
    Def: 450
    MDef: 450
    MAtk: 450
    MDef: 450
    Spd: 400
    Luck: 80
    
    You can't heal between the two, but the first form has such low stats, you really don't need to anyway.
    Actually, my game's secret superboss is much harder than the final boss, with stats at
    Code:
    HP: 666666
    MP: 9999
    Atk: 560
    Def: 565
    MAtk: 560
    MDef: 565
    Spd: 480
    Luck: 70
    
    At least for the superboss, you get a temporary equally powerful ally.
     
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  9. Traveling Bard

    Traveling Bard The Bard Veteran

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    A final boss is your game's final test for your players to overcome. Defeating this boss should display mastery over your game system. Typically, games will be designed to make the players feel good while dealing damage. They are using the final spells, the final skills, final combos, etc... and they are rewarded by seeing some high numbers posted on the screen. Which is fun. For about two to three rounds. Usually in these scenarios it will be the final boss' high numbers vs. the player's ability to put up both high numbers and heal through said boss' high numbers. But does this prove mastery or just a general resilience + basic game sense? More importantly, is it fun? On some degree, yes. This is the reason I still play the classics from time to time like FF, DQ, Lufia, Breath of Fire, and Phantasy Star. But on a meaningful level, I really couldn't tell you that the final boss fights were mechanically memorable in those games (outside of Breath of Fire 1's final battle that was literally an auto-attack back & forth for 40+ turns...*shutters*).

    With that said, let's tackle your questions:
    1: How do you make your final boss feel tough, without making it a 100000000000 HP sponge that takes hours to defeat?
    Any number of ways. Limited access for the player to high damaging actions, crippling status effects, changing the rules of the world (Like the Trick Room move from Pokemon does) to lean into the boss' favor, countering the high damaging actions after so many uses have been made, etc.

    Let's expand on that last one. For example, in Breath of Fire the highest damaging ability is to transform the entire party into a single massive dragon that is capable of going blow for blow with a crazy goddess. How about after a few rounds of that the goddess decides she doesn't like your transformation, takes you out of it, & locks it... because she is a GODDESS and can do that. Now, the fight just got way more interesting. You just steam rolled the entire game with that form and now you can't use it. This is when a new strategy is needed. That's why allowing for multiple kinds of viable combinations of actions is such an important part of rpg game design. You want the players to find various ways of dealing damage or winning fights because it makes them feel smart and it keeps it from getting boring/stale. Also, your final boss doesn't need to have 1.5 million life because the difficulty comes in the form of uncomfortable/unusual situations. This is your final boss. There is a reason that they are the big bad guy. Flex those muscles and really test the players.

    2: How do you make your final boss feel fair without the RNG messing someone over an hour into their attempt at defeating it?
    By setting up battle AI. There are a fair amount of scripts that do this but you can arguably do a fair amount of checking what players are using against you & react accordingly in rpg maker mv with a bit of ingenuity. I'm not talking about an entirely scripted fight but cycle through skills and then during certain stages of the fight change them up entirely. If you have an ability for the boss that a party couldn't reasonably take two turns of, then make sure it isn't possible for that ability to be used two turns in a row. Throwing a bunch of skills/abilities with vastly different degrees of danger to the party & letting the RNG do the rest is lazy. This is your final boss battle, it's ok for it to be complicated for you to setup.

    3: How do you make the battle feel fitting of a final boss without 10+ different forms? Or do you think it cannot be done?
    Well, setting/story leading up to the moment helps with that feeling & so does some awesome final boss battle theme music. Mechanically though, this kind of echoes back to my earlier answers. I think this battle should be less of a review of your game system (maybe throw that into a warmup before the final battle?) and more like a final challenge worthy of your player's time & effort. To some extent, it's ok for this boss to break the mold and the rules of the world so far. There has to be a reason the final boss is the final boss other than his high HP and high damage abilities. Instead of that, I'd say to craft interesting abilities that only this boss can use. Counters to expected player combinations (permanent or temporary). Special status effects that only they bring to the table (perhaps hinted about in the story).

    I'll end on one of the most memorable boss battles I've ever played. Earthbound, final battle against Gygas. He had two forms, did a good amount of damage to the party using abilities that were oddly similar to the main character's unique abilities. Once enough damage was dealt, the entity become the embodiment of evil itself. Your party was still able to deal damage to it but eventually you ran out of gas... it is in this moment that you look through all of your available options and see one ability on a single character in your party that you'd had the entire game called Pray. The ability is rather underwhelming in the face of your high damage abilities & has a chance to not work at all outside of this fight... but in THIS fight, it's the key to victory. Repeated use of Pray connects the thoughts & prayers of everyone the party has touched in their journey to defeat this evil. This positive energy deals massive/insane damage to Gygas and is ultimately what defeats him. I am not entirely sure it's possible to defeat Gygas outside of using this ability repeatedly, but the thought of being forced mechanically to try "anything" after running out of options was pretty awesome. That's why I still remember that fight to this day almost two decades later. Was it fair? Not really lol but was it awesome? Yeah.

    Hope that helps!
     
    Last edited: Mar 1, 2018
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  10. TheoAllen

    TheoAllen Self-proclaimed jack of all trades Veteran

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    By trading HP with the damage. Make the boss hard hitting to your party so that your battle would revolve around, "Wait, I need heal. Wait, I need damage cut". And if you over damage in a few turns, something bad would happen. Can be a HP based trigger, or anything. So you plan out your damage well. Do you really need to nuke in one turn, or save it for later?

    For long HP pool boss though, I might be able to solve with ougi mechanism. Where your party is can do ultimate attack (and not limited use in a battle), and the battle is revolve around surviving until you can do ougi damage to speed up the battle while watching the trigger. Though I never experiment with this.

    Make it more predictable? In my opinion, failed a last boss after attempt to defeating is fine, as long as you can learn the lesson. Don't do this and that in next try. Save skill A for mitigating trigger X later, so you will be saved. The RNG move should be a non-lethal one. The lethal move should be avoidable, either by giving the player hints that the boss will trigger a move, and player should be prepared for it.

    Honestly, a final boss without a multi phases might looks boring and like a mediocre boss. It's not necessarily 10+ different forms, but the sense of "this will be different from everything we've encountered" should be there in my opinion. You don't want your last boss to be quite easily predictable from early fight because they will use the same move all over again. So, multi phases are there (not form).

    By I mean phase, it's where the boss starting to use a new trigger and move that you will need to watch out. Each phase should not take long, If it take more than 6 turns (assume turn based), it already take too long. The quick phase change, might make your player stay in alert that they need to stay focus on what's gonna happen next.
     
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  11. jkweath

    jkweath Goes Fast Veteran

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    Give the boss abilities and/or attack patterns that need to be reacted to accordingly; really it's similar to how most bosses should be designed, just that final bosses/superbosses are generally more strict; i.e. their ultimate attack is telegraphed, now you need to heal up or defend, cast buffs to reduce damage taken, etc. or you'll lose outright or have to at least spend the next several turns on damage control and probably lose anyway.

    Someone mentioned the wall change mechanic, that's a really popular one that's good for a final boss too. I used a sort of wall-change mechanic myself with my first game's final boss.

    Anyway as long as the player reacts accordingly the final boss shouldn't have to take 2 hours to beat. If the final boss uses an ability that makes them immune to physical attacks and the player just keeps attacking, then the fault's on them, lol.


    Use attack patterns. No boss should be casting Supernova twice in succession; the majority of final bosses in RPGs i've played, especially final fantasies, all have their "big attack" and they're typically spaced out pretty well so the player doesn't get hit by two of them at once and just die.

    I loved the first two Golden Sun games, but if I remember right their final bosses (especially Golden Sun 2's Dullahan) were really frustrating to fight because they didn't use attack patterns. Dullahan could use his extremely annoying ultimate attack that practically disabled your whole party for 8+ turns at any time IIRC, which made it an extremely frustrating and tedious fight. Golden Sun was great, but for the love of all that is holy please don't design your final boss the way they did.

    I think the whole "every RPG final boss having 4+ forms" is a little exaggerated, but I don't think it hurts for bosses to have at least 2 forms. I'm used to it by now, and a lot of RPGs have stories where it practically wouldn't make sense for the final boss to not transform. (e.g. you defeat the boss's human form, they give into the darkness/use some forbidden artifact/turn into a dragon/etc). A lot of times the transformation is a storyline element as much as it is a gameplay element.
     
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  12. Tai_MT

    Tai_MT Veteran Veteran

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    Personally, I hadn't thought about it that much. I have the option of 3 final bosses, so my own situation is "compounded" a little.

    However, as stated above, several times, I believe your final boss should be a test of everything you've learned.... and throw in some wrenches at you as well. The final boss, in my opinion, should be both a Lesson and a Test.

    To that end, I prefer the final boss "react" to things you're doing. It doesn't need One Million Hit Points. What it needs, are ways to stall your players. That's where the challenge should lie. Not in whacking until dead, but in finding openings to do some whacking. You hit the boss with Poison Level 1, the boss counters with Poison Level 4 to whomever casted it. You cast Poison Level 4 on the boss and it counters with a Full Party Poison Level 4. You spend a turn healing up, the boss responds to that by dropping a Nuke on your now HP maxed party. You put up a Physical shield, the boss responds by using Dispel to get rid of it. You hit it with a Fire Spell when it's not weak to Fire at the moment and it counters with a full Party Fire attack against you.

    The final Boss should be inflicting states on you, blasting you with every element, using every combo and trick you've put in the game. It should also be using "counters" to things you do as the final "lesson" and the final "test". That is, being prepared for the boss to respond in kind to you proving you're a threat. If you drop a nuke on a boss, you should be prepared to also heal in that same turn, because you might get a nuke back.
    The Final Boss Battle should be as scripted as possible. Let your players have their choices, but plan for each of them. Don't plan for one way to beat the boss and so the players can only resort to that. Plan for multiple ways that your boss can be beaten... but none of them easy. Eliminate all RNG in these fights except the kind inflicted by having a State on you or the Boss. Plan for your bosses to be inflicted with the worst states in the game. Give them ways to remove those states after a few turns. Maybe, give them ways to heal as well. It should be a tactical fight.

    I'm not even talking about a fight that lasts 20 minutes. You can have a perfectly challenging fight that takes 5 or 6 minutes. I'd say a 10 minute fight is your absolute LIMIT. Because if anyone is spending that kind of time in a fight... it's getting old, fast, and the fun is quickly wasting away to tedium.

    A Final Showdown of Ultimate Destiny with the Final Boss should feel epic. A challenge. Hanging by the skin of your teeth. When you win, you should shout at your screen, "YES!". That's typically best served with scripted difficulty and actions across a 6 minute fight.

    But, that's just my opinion.
     
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  13. M.I.A.

    M.I.A. Goofball Extraordinaire Veteran

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    Although it's not necessarily just the final boss,.. in my current project, the final stages are a gauntlet of weaker foes, designed to weaken the player significantly before the final boss room. It's more about strategic item use/conservation than just a match of "who is stronger than who".

    -MIA
     
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  14. Eschaton

    Eschaton Hack Fraud Veteran

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    A great final boss has two major elements surrounding it.

    It has a reputation that precedes it. Build suspense up to the final confrontation throughout at least the last quarter or half of the game. Demonstrate the final boss's power in and out of battle (possibly with a hopeless final boss preview, tough I would disapprove of this trope). Have NPCs speak in terror of the final boss's power. Show what happens to people and places when the final boss comes through.

    It rolls onto the stage to bombastic fanfare. It is an event. It is a spectacle. It is awesome.

    Bonus Eschaton points in that the background music is triumphant and good for the player's morale. The fight is challenging, but you should also tell the player "you got this."
     
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  15. jonthefox

    jonthefox Veteran Veteran

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    It's honestly no different than designing any other boss battle, just that the FINAL boss should usually be the most challenging and most memorable.

    You should take design concepts already explored in your game, and take them to new depths. For example, say there's a nasty status effect, but the player has a spell that can cure it. Maybe the final boss can inflict an *incurable* version of this status effect, but it only lasts 1 round - so you have less options available on that round of combat. Things like this force the player to take the most optimal strategies and decisions...because in other hard battles, they could still salvage themselves, still find a way out of their mistakes and a path to recovery, but in this battle, not so.

    Another thing that's good, like others have mentioned, is giving the boss very powerful spells, but an identifiable attack pattern. If the player can figure out the timing of attacks and what their effects will be, he will have to use his skills and battle turns in a way to either defend himself against the boss's attacks, or penetrate the boss's defenses. This can be done through elements, shield barriers, evasion skills, status effects and immunities, etc.
     
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  16. Wavelength

    Wavelength Pre-Merge Boot Moderator

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    It really gets annoying when the final boss fights take an hour plus to beat, and you mess up (or even worse, take an unlucky RNG hit) three quarters of the way through and you have to start back from square one. I think this largely comes down to general boss design, but there are a few specific things about final bosses that merit a mention.

    How long do you guys feel like a game's final boss should take, as compared to other bosses within the game's second half? I personally like aiming for about twice as long. Gives the player a little more time to take it all in; gives the designer more turns to play around with interesting battle-specific mechanics.

    I'm also curious to know everyone's thoughts on this: Should we design Final Bosses so that players usually fail to beat it on their first attempt? I feel like it's usually a slight letdown when I can beat the final boss in one go. Yes, it can be frustrating to have to play it several times, but if there are enough surprises or challenges introduced along the way that it feels like a bit of a learning experience, I feel like I'm working to overcome this really epic finale, and progressing each time - there's a sweet spot around three attempts that feels perfect, I think (as long as the fight feels fair and doesn't take a disgustingly long time).

    Personally, I like when the boss undergoes different "forms" or other gradually changing mechanics throughout the fight - in order to keep things fresh throughout and also to allow you as the designer to "fairly" ramp up the difficulty throughout the fight if you want to. My own preference is that the life bar shows the composite HP of all of the boss' forms, so that players don't get taken by surprise when they think they've won only to find out "what?! I wasn't supposed to blow my resources early?"

    One of the important things to do with your final boss is to make it feel epic, rather than actually making it epic in length. Among a few things I'm doing in timeblazer which can easily be adapted to any game:
    • Designing the battle to fit the "personality" of the big bad, which is a good idea for any boss battle. In my case, he's smarmy and dastardly, in a cartoony kind of way - so I have him literally sabotage your skill interface at certain points, and throw time bombs at you which you can throw back at him in a Hot Potato fashion.
    • Using a unique, epic, driving BGM for the final battle - and starting it before the battle in the scene while the villain gives his obligatory monologue. (Thanks to @TheHonorableRyu for giving me the tip to start it before the battle! This works so great.)
    • Adding two or three mechanics to the final boss fight - or parts of it - which twist the nature of battle strategy, without completely blowing up the "normal" battle tactics that the player has been using all game. Since you have a lot of time to work with in your longer-than-normal final boss battle, you can make an effort to make sure that no gimmicks overlap with each other during the fight. In timeblazer, the sabotage and bombs are mechanics that can be interacted with, and there are a couple others as well.
    • Having characters from earlier in the plot resurface during the final boss fight to give you some aid, bringing the whole experience back together and making the battle feel more like a true crescendo for everyone involved. I think this is a really cool trick that goes unused in a ton of RPGs.
    One other thing I'd be remiss to not mention is that - in a turn-based RPG, at least - final bosses (or any bosses) with 36358379243700 HP that can one-hit KO your party with an unlucky RNG roll are products of some larger flaw in battle design, and that flaw is usually overpowered healing skills. If your party is at the appropriate level and the player can consistently outheal the damage being dealt to any given party member, or revive fallen allies for less than the opportunity cost of keeping them alive, then the boss fight is going to devolve into a predictable pattern where all the damage done each turn is healed up (or allowed through and then revived), and whatever party members aren't doing healing/reviving can freely whack away at the boss, a little at a time. At this point, the only way to make the boss battle "challenging" is to make it really long, giving the player a lot of opportunities to make a mistake or the boss a lot of opportunities to land lucky RNG rolls along the way.

    A better way than this "damage sponge" approach to bosses in general is to turn combat into a "race to the bottom". The idea of a race to the bottom is that the goal for both sides is to knock the enemy down to zero HP - they only need to do it once, and every turn should feel like both sides are getting closer to their goal. If healing or revives are available, they should be limited or situational (or weak), so that forward progress can generally be appreciated for both you and the bad guy. The beauty of such a system is two-fold:
    1. It feels exciting, because you can feel your resources dropping even as you get closer to your goal. If the player plays badly, they still might knock the boss down to 30% or 40% HP, so it will feel like it's just out of reach, rather than hopelessly far away.
    2. Its emphasis on efficiency allows really good tactical plays by the player to impact how well they're doing, rather than just punishing mistakes. This is inherently more fun. Taking advantage of a situational combo or making the most of a debuff, for example, might mean your characters' damage output over a few turns is 50% higher. In a "damage sponge" approach, this just means that the battle will end in 47 turns instead of 48. In a "race to the bottom" approach, this means that you now have the equivalent of a one turn lead in your head-to-head race.
    And when final bosses do get the better of the player, make sure you allow the player to skip the preceding scenes and jump right back into another try!

    In conclusion, I think we can all agree that Titanic should have been a lot longer.
     
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  17. Failivrin

    Failivrin Final Frontiersman Veteran

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    @Wavelength I love those race to the bottom battles. I will note they're difficult to design because they require, among other things, an extremely high degree of AI. In fact I think overpowering the boss's HP and moves is a symptom of developers trying to offer a challenge depite bad AI. When the boss uses smart tactics, it can operate with the same resources the player has. Best example I've ever seen was a sadly unpopular hack and slash called Rengoku II. Final boss has exactly the same stats and weapon choices available to the player; it was pure skill against skill.
     
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  18. lianderson

    lianderson Veteran Veteran

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    The last boss to my game was built to have no major gimmicks. Just a straight up battle against a powerful enemy. One that can be fought relatively early on.

    It's had positive feedback, so if you're reading this, hopefully this comment helps you out in your own game.
     
    Last edited: Mar 6, 2018
    #18
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  19. XIIIthHarbinger

    XIIIthHarbinger Part Time Super Villain Veteran

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    Personally,

    I've never understood the appeal of marathon boss fights, I think it's a bad design concept.

    It's far better to have short intense boss fights where the threat of defeat is immediate. In my current project I create my enemies on tiers compared to my party heroes. A C Class enemy is equivalent to a party hero of the same level & archetype; a boss is usually an S Class enemy so their stats 200% of a party hero of same archetype.

    For example if a spellcaster party member is going to have 250 Mat & 1,000 MP, an S Class Spellcaster Enemy will have 500 Mat & 2,000 MP. I also tend to prefer enemy parties over one "big bad".

    The player has to use tactics to compensate for fighting a superior enemy/enemies, rather than "endure & whittle" for an hour or two. I.e. damage amplifiers, defense buffs, buff cancels, poisons, injury debuffs, etcetera.
     
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  20. bgillisp

    bgillisp Global Moderators Global Mod

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    One thing I've noticed by looking over the posts is I see a few posts saying it should be like a final test for the player. Yet, I also see posts about it going outside the normal stuff that the player cannot prepare for. The problem is, if you make a boss like a final test, it should be something the player can study for and prepare for properly. As it is, I feel too many games make the final boss like a final exam that you only get 6 hours to study for, and you are not allowed to prepare more than that.

    So...how do you make it feel like a final test, but one the player can fairly study and prepare for? And how do you make it interesting without making it feel like you are contradicting the idea of being able to study and prepare for it?

    Case in point: Final Fantasy 7. I think one of the reasons many people like that game is you can go off and prepare for the final boss as long as you wish by earning ultimate skills, or finding ultimate weapons, or finding really powerful materia, and most of those preparations make the final boss easier to beat in the end. The game doesn't try to level scale or anything to compensate. Instead, if you get powerful enough with all of those to one shot the boss, well, that's your reward for all that extra time you put in. And I don't recall hearing anyone saying they felt the final boss wasn't epic enough when the game came out, even if they managed to one shot it.

    Side note: I was starting college when FF7 came out on the PS, and many of those on my dorm floor had that game.
     
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