The State of Boss Fights in 2016

The State of Boss Fights in 2016

 

The final battle with Sephiroth’s one-winged angel form. Psycho Mantis reading the player’s memory card. Taking down the towering giants of Shadow of the Colossus. Boss fights make for some of the most iconic and memorable moments of gaming’s history. So, why are most of them today so boring?

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The boss fight is one of gaming’s oldest traditions, dating back to the special ships that would appear at the top of the screen in Space Invaders. Since then, even as video games evolved into different genres, bosses have always been a staple no matter the category. Platformers, first-person shooters, RPGs, fighting games—all have a history of taking down one super-powered enemy that dates back to their earliest days. This remains the case today: out of 54 major indie and AAA game releases in 2016, 32 feature boss fights, and most of the ones that don’t are puzzle or adventure games where it wouldn’t make sense. Yet, when you ask most players who the last memorable boss they fought was, they’d probably have a very tough time giving you a name.

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That’s not to say that there aren’t any. Of the games released this year, Salt and Sanctuary, Hyper Light Drifter, Enter the Gungeon, Star Fox Zero, Doom and Titanfall 2 all had interesting battles, with Bloodborne and the Souls series being the modern gold standard in terms of having epic, interesting boss fights. These games nail the core requirements of a good boss: character and playability. When making a game with bosses, each one should have an interesting design that conveys a unique personality. In terms of playability, there should be a unique strategy to defeat each boss that differs from the other in-game enemies. Ideally, a boss fight should have a central theme that ties together the setting, the boss’s attacks, and the boss itself. This makes them more fun for the player to fight since it feels like they’re actually fighting an individual something or someone, as opposed to the faceless grunts they’re usually going up against. The best bosses break up the action so that it doesn’t get tedious fighting the same enemy over and over.

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However, the grand majority of modern games don’t do this, if they do it at all. Look at the obnoxious bullet sponges of The Division; they come into an area where there are regular enemies and you shoot them as you would a normal enemy with larger health until they drop dead. A better example would be the final confrontation of Quantum Break, a game that, up until that point, had no boss fights. Suddenly, in the game’s climax, players are faced with the game’s main antagonist, Paul Serene, throwing waves of elite enemies at them, offering a brief opportunity to damage him when they’re killed, and repeat until he’s defeated. In a game built around creative and interesting time powers, a climactic battle against an enemy with the same abilities as you should be a wonderful canvas to paint wild ideas about how the player character and main antagonist would fight each other. Instead, they barely interact at all during what’s supposed to be the most intense moment of the game.

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Even more egregious is building up to a last battle against the villain, only to leave the player with a few elite enemies. Perhaps the most blatant offender in this category of 2016 is Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, where in the game’s last playable moments, you fight the same guards you were fighting in previous levels. The main antagonist, Gabriel Krueger, does do battle with the player character Faith…in an ending cutscene. Street Fighter V, a game in a series with a history of challenging and unique bosses, ends every story the same way: a fight against an AI-controlled M. Bison, with no differences from the character you can choose in the select screen.

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As players, we want to feel more involved in the stories of video games than those of film or TV. That means personally mowing down every enemy in our path, solving every puzzle and overcoming every challenge. When taking that into account, being the one to personally take down those responsible for the protagonist’s hardships is an experience unique only to video games. There’s a sense of satisfaction to defeating the best bosses—a feeling that you defeated an enemy more formidable than those that came before, a monster bigger than the small fry you’ve been fighting, a villain at the root of the conflict you must overcome. These battles are practically as old as video games themselves, and they’re integral parts of almost any story. Boss fights are great ways to break up the monotony of a game, to let the devs explore new and interesting ways for the main character to fight, for players to feel like they’re battling against a tangible enemy and win. This is what makes the lack of effort by developers into them these days disheartening.

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Some gaming traditions, like, say, film-licensed games, dissipate with the times. However, this shouldn’t be the case with the boss fight. As they are now, boss fights are obligatory—they’re there because they have to be, and often are not particularly well thought out. All we ask is: if they’re going to be there, then why not do something with them?

Final Fantasy VII Remake is Official

Final Fantasy VII Remake is Official

For years, fans have been asking for a remake of Final Fantasy VII. Ever since Square showed off a tech demo showing what the game could look like, it seemed only a matter of time. Yet, time passed and fans where constantly let down. The game never seemed to make an appearance, and always Square remained mute if this thing would ever happen. Well at E3 2015 at the Sony Press Conference it finally happened. Square unveiled a trailer for Final Fantasy VII Remake and the press (and fans) went wild. Coming to PS4 first, and presumably Xbox One at a later date, the game is using the power of the current generation of consoles to retell the story everyone has been asking for.

No details about release-date or what more we can expect from the game have been released yet. We may here more at the Square Enix press conference taking place at 10AM PST at E3 2015.

Why Won’t Square Remake FFVII?

Why Won’t Square Remake FFVII?

Once again, Square-Enix took to the stage of a media event and built up hopes for fans, only to sucker punch them. This time the event was the PlayStation Experience, and it was the same old, same old; they trotted out something Final Fantasy VII related, the crowd waited in hushed anticipation thinking, “Could it be? Could it finally be? Could it be the game we’ve wanted for years? A new HD re-make of FFVII?!” And, of course, it wasn’t. It was merely an announcement that the PC version was being made available on the PS4.

Since that announcement, the collective Squenix fanbase has been acting like a nerd randomly socked in the stomach; gasping, injured and bitter. They want it. They want a FFVII HD remake really, really bad. Some Internet comments have even gone so far as to say “I’d BUY a new console just for that,” but Squenix keeps refusing to make it.

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The crazy thing about this whole business is that financially, it makes absolutely no sense to not to do it. The FFVII brand is legendary, even people who haven’t played the game are passingly familiar with tropes like spikey hair, giant swords, Sephiroth, and something-something-Aerith-waaaah. It’s a game that doesn’t require the same amount of time to design as a new title, since the mechanics are already well established, and it would pull in a massive, massive profit. It is a game that is one of those most rare of products, a license to print money. And Square-Enix, as a publicly traded company, is in the business of staying profitable. To make money is the basic principle of any business, yet, for some reason, despite the fact that a FFVII remake is a guaranteed money-maker, Squenix refuses to commit. What possible reason do they have, year after year, to refuse?

One random Internet commenter hilariously speculated that maybe some of the Squenix executives can’t swim, and therefore, there’s a real danger of them drowning from the flood of money FFVII would create. Others, less hilariously and more bitterly, simply think Squenix hates their fans.

The truth is probably a lot more complicated.

My own theories are that Squenix is in one of three possible states of mind about FFVII. There’s the creative approach, which is simply that the staff view themselves as artists, and see it as insulting to return to FFVII and take the “easy” way out. It’s less interesting to re-do FFVII, for example, than it is to try something new with FFXV. Then there’s the “emergency button” rationale, which is simply that Squenix knows FFVII is their 100%, guaranteed, “Get Out Of Jail Free” card, and they’re saving that project for a day when they really are backed into a corner, with no hope for recovery. After all, they can probably only do this once, so they’d better make sure they have a situation dire enough to justify using their one and only ace in the hole.

The final reason is a mix of both; perhaps they’re waiting for the right technology to finally do it. Fans, of course, got teased during the PS3 era when Squenix showed off a demo of their new graphics engine, and they used the opening of FFVII to do it. That got most fans swooning, and ever since then, no one has been able to let go of the idea that the graphic upgrade would be legendary. But Squenix has also cautioned the public on more than one occasion that it’s not as easy to do FFVII as it is something like FFX. The graphics would have to be redone from the ground up, not simply set to a higher resolution. They might also have to make drastic design changes, such as making the environments real time and polygonal, giving the player the opportunity to control the camera as they are used to in modern games. It could simply be they are waiting for a PS5 or PS6 that can sustain the kind of graphics seen in Advent Children, because the Squenix creative staff won’t settle for anything less than a visual knock out.

Obviously, Square-Enix doesn’t hate money. From a reputation perspective, their Japanese studios are in trouble as their biggest successes have come from their Western stable. Perhaps FFVII is their “super-attack” that they are working on quietly, but constantly, hoping to finally give their fans—and investors—the remake they deserve.

That, or they really do just hate their fans.