Tag Archives: Persona

Opinion – Final Boss Success

I must have been tempting fate.

Remember when I said the boss of Persona 3 met most of my criteria for a bad final boss fight?  It proved it this week.  After fighting for an hour and having a relatively easy time, the last boss reached 25% life and dropped a final attack that wiped out my party at nearly full health.  ISN’T THAT FUN???

Obviously, it’s not.

Having just gone through an example of a terrible final boss, I feel it’s time to identify what a good final boss looks like.  Final bosses are an awesome opportunity to put a satisfying ending on a game that the player may have invested tens of hours into.  It can be the ultimate moment of closure for an epic storyline.  In short, final boss fights have considerable potential.  Here are a few ways to take advantage of it:

Reflect the story of the game

Developers often feel the need to have a major boss battle as the conclusion to their game and there is something appealing about one final duel against all odds.  Unfortunately, that may not organically mesh with the game’s story.  Not all enemies are super-powered villains who destroy worlds and provide challenges to elite groups of warriors, yet some games try to jam them in anyway.  Consider the end of Wolfenstein: The New Order.  The final fight is against Totenkopf, a maniacal Nazi scientist.  To make Totenkopf a challenge for the player, they stick him in a giant mech suit reminiscent of mechaHitler from the first game.  Nothing up to this point suggests that Totenkopf has any great skill piloting a mech, nor that he wouldn’t be better off handing the controls to a trained henchmen, yet that is how he’s presented as the final boss.  Wolfenstein would have done better to play to Totenkopf’s established skills rather than invent a martial persona which clearly didn’t fit.  The end boss fight feels tacked on because it is out of character with the character as he’s been portrayed up until that point.  Of course, if a video game has set up the final boss as a destructive warrior, then it would do well to ensure he is one when the fighting starts.

Minimize frustration

Too often do developers confuse difficult with frustrating.  Bosses have a myriad of special attacks, absorb tons of damage, and always seem to have another form.  A good final boss fight shouldn’t have the player tearing out their hair.  Developers should minimize random elements that deny player skill and avoid overlong attacks or cutscenes.  If a developer insists on a long fight, then it ought to facilitate restarting that boss fight should the player fail.  Nothing destroys the mood of a final boss by having to restart a long sequence all over again.  In short, the fight should be a test of skill, not patience.

Build on the game

Most games have a signature mechanic or story that helps define the game within its genre.  Unfortunately, most games also have a final boss that ignores that element in favor of brute strength and endless repetition.  Persona 3’s final boss is a perfect example.  Until that point in the game, the player exploits enemy vulnerabilities to gain extra attacks and win fights.  The final boss, on the other hand, has no vulnerabilities.  The developer completely ignored the defining battle mechanic of the game in the service of avoiding an “easy” boss fight.  Instead, we get a boss that could fit into any RPG.  It would have been better if the developer could have used the skills the player already learned to create a unique and memorable boss.

It doesn’t have to be long or hard to be epic

The end fight of Saboteur has the player fighting their way to the top of the Eiffel tower in pursuit of a vile Nazi commander.  After killing the last guards, the player finds him waiting next to a ledge.  The game slows down and the player shoots the commander with the glittering city of Paris as the backdrop.  The fight wasn’t long, the battle wasn’t difficult, but the end imparted a sense of completion and grandeur that a thousand bloated fights couldn’t match.  Game endings can achieve superior conclusions without demanding time and skill from the player.  If the preceding game sets the whole event up, then sometimes a boss fight needs nothing more than a well-conceived shot to make a memorable end.   Give the player credit for all they’ve done up until this point and don’t demand more if you don’t need to.

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Opinion – Adding depth to characters

How to make annoying characters less annoying

If there is one area that video games dominate the cultural landscape, it is the creation of flat, heroic characters whose story arc is effectively “was heroic and weak, now is heroic and strong with smoldering rage.”  I’ve already mentioned this in the form of Aveline de Grandpre, but it could easily apply to any other lead in a large number of main franchises.  What is most surprising is how easy it is to mitigate some of the damage of this archetype.  Giving characters range is not all that difficult, particularly given the low base from which most video games start.

The perfect example of this is the four main leads of Bravely Default.  This is a fantastic JRPG that I probably won’t review but that you should definitely play.  Seriously, it’s good stuff.  That being said, the characters are hardly original.  The game opens with Tiz and Agnes who represent the “young heroic lad who does his best” and “young heroic lass who doubts herself” character types that dominate the JRPG landscape.  These characters have been done to death, yet Bravely Default makes them tolerable.  It does so through the introduction of Edea and Ringabel who, combined, bring the only spark of personality to the group.  When I say spark, it really is just a tiny bit.  Both characters are hopelessly noble, but they each have a trait that gives them something extra.  Edea is headstrong while Ringabel is a horndog.  Of such things, dreams are made.

The traits I’ve cited aren’t a lot, but even these small additions improves the other characters.  Through Edea and Ringabel acting out their one trait, Tiz and Agnes are forced to react giving them a greater feeling of depth.  When Ringabel pushes Agnes to wear a skimpy outfit to win a beauty contest, Agnes’s nobility becomes prudishness.  When Edea tries to romantically link Tiz and Agnes, Tiz becomes a naïve innocent.  This helps humanize them and gives them characteristics that the player can emphasize with.  Your average gamer will never know the pain of losing their home or bravely soldiering on after great tragedy, but they can certainly relate to pushy friends and awkward romance.  Kept in their own world, Tiz and Agnes would remain isolated and bland.  Only when they interact with deeper characters do they develop actual relatable traits.

This is still not ideal.  The fact that I’m pushing for a semblance of humanity rather than two or, *gasp*, three actual human characteristics shows how far video games have to go.  When character development is done right, it shines.  Persona 3 & 4 are perfect examples of this.  Most of the characters, including the supporting cast, are multidimensional with relatable problems.  Highlights include a child whose parents are divorcing, a young man facing death, and a business mogul looking to leave a legacy.  Note that these are actual problems held by actual people who play these games.  If Bravely Default and other video games are looking to add depth to their characters, this is a good place to start.

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