It’s hard to argue whether or not final bosses are necessary in video games today. They’ve been a part of gaming for so long that they’re essentially the modus operandi in the overall design of video games. It’s always about getting to that final boss and rejoicing at the sight of rolling end credits; as they slowly roll down the screen you reminisce about your tantalizing journey and everything it took to take that sucker down. It’s a great feeling but as innovation continues to grow in the gaming industry, the whole “final boss” complex seems tired and outworn. Especially when they’re not fleshed-out and come off as anti-climactic or uninspired.
Look at Uncharted 3: Drakes Deception. You went through so many epic moments, from a burning chateau in the middle of France to falling out of a moving airplane and yet you’re greeted at the end with a less than impressive final boss that has you fist-fighting against Talbot, who isn’t even the main antagonist but a trusted henchman of Katherine Marlowe. It was bland and disappointing especially when the events prior to that confrontation were so larger-than-life and filled with adrenaline. Did Uncharted 3: Drakes Deception need a final boss or at least one in the traditional sense? Games these days quickly resemble Hollywood-like production values, Uncharted series is proof of this and their becoming more and more sophisticated as time goes on but they’re losing their touch with final bosses. Do we even need final bosses?
Portal 2 was a tour-de-force, combining laugh out loud scriptwriting with intuitive gameplay mechanics, it also had a simple yet hugely entertaining final boss that still resonates with me to this day. The reason why this final boss worked was because it had you use many of your acquired abilities that you have been using to get to this point and it remained relevant and consistent with the story. Not to mention it was uproariously funny to play. Many games these days fail to reach this stage of quality because they usually, manipulatively, shoehorn a final boss at the climax just to make the gamer feel some sense of closure. We need more games that utilize the “final boss” sequence as not just a way to just end the game but to successfully conclude a story and involve the player in this experience.
Of course, some games organically require final bosses or else it just doesn’t “feel right”, a good friend of mine says that “a game like Metal Gear Solid without some sort of ending boss wouldn’t feel right.” Understandably so, games like Mario or top-down shooters stick to this formula because it’s a trend that has been established since the very beginning. A game without a final boss often gets criticized and accused of being a rushed game and it’s quite ludicrous. A game that closes with an ambiguous ending like the Coen’s Brothers’, No Country for Old Men or Sean Dirkin’s Martha Marcy May Marlene would be refreshing, and if done right, could be really impactful and far more meaningful than a dull, lifeless quick-time event.
Perhaps we’re not up to that stage yet where developers are ballsy enough to deviate from the exhausted formula but we’re getting there, slowly but surely. That’s not to say all final bosses this generation are bad, but I would like one day to see a different approach, a fresh new take on ending a story that makes me feel like I did something important and impactful. Whether it’s a game like Heavy Rain or Halo, it’s imperative that the game must end memorably and not end just because you reached the final stage.