Top Bosses

Some of PlayStation's favorite antagonists

Video game bosses are, in a word, awesome.

In some games, the entire adventure leads up to a final square-off against a boss, while others form their whole basis around chaining a series of them. Often this is where new gameplay concepts are introduced or combined to add even more challenge. Above all, bosses are memorable, whether because of the difficulty, because of how they change the gameplay, or just the fact that they have such amazing designs.

Before we start gushing about some of our favorite boss experiences, a few disclaimers: we will obviously be firmly in spoiler territory for most of these bosses. Many are iconic (and in some cases more than a decade old), but fair warning; we can’t talk about why many of these bosses are great without directly discussing where they appear in a game. Secondly, this is by no means a “Top __” list, and their order doesn’t mean we liked one boss other than another. In our eyes, these are all equally amazing for their own reasons.

M. Bison

Street Fighter Series

There are plenty of iconic fighting game villains, but c'mon, admit it: you knew the head of Shadaloo would be on this list, didn't you? The bosses in fighting games often eschew most of the established rules to write their own, and from his first appearance, Bison's ability to move in ways none of the original World Warriors could made him instantly distinctive. Unless you were a fighting game master, you never knew if or when a Psycho Crusher would streak across the stage or an agonizingly precise Head Stomp was coming.

Over the years, his role as a drug lord and arms smuggler became more fleshed out, and even after being apparently killed (in truth, his consciousness was transferred to a new body), his machinations never seemed far from whatever was happening in the Street Fighter world. Like so many villains, his ability to manipulate and cheat death keeps him at the top of our minds, but he just seems to do it with so much style.

Psycho Crusher into Street Fighter V

Father Gascoigne

Bloodborne

Veterans of the "Soulsbourne" games (Demon's Souls, Dark Souls I-III and Bloodborne) will likely get a kind of wistful stare in their eyes when you ask them to name their favorite boss fight; FromSoftware's unflinchingly challenging games have a way of slyly working in lore that presents itself in item descriptions and environmental storytelling long before or after the actual encounters. For us, though, it was the shift toward a much more aggressive style of combat in Bloodborne, and the first real test for many players in a Hunter that's slowly become the very beasts he hunts that makes Father Gascoigne such a treat to behold.

For starters, his story is pure Soulsborne tragedy, having killed his wife and abandoned his daughter (who, if you can find her before the fight, can give you a music box that weakens him after his transformation into a lightning-fast wolf) he succumbed to the same fate that awaits all Hunters in Yharnam. For many, though, Bloodborne was their first game of this type, and while it was certainly challenging in that same any-enemy-can-kill-you way, the two-stage part of this fight ostensibly versus another Hunter with similar moves and abilities suddenly changes halfway through and requires a complete rethinking of defensive maneuvers.

It's a masterclass in From's ability to teach through gameplay. All of the enemies you fought along the way were slowly teaching you parrying with a sidearm, were explaining that environmental elements (when they're actually around) are impediments for enemies, and most importantly that when the enemies grow more aggressive, you pay that back in kind.

Discover Yharnam’s secrets in Bloodborne

The Boss

Metal Gear Solid

There will never be a boss as emotionally important to the main character as The Boss in Metal Gear Solid 3. We are going full on in terms of spoilers here, so if you haven't played this masterpiece yet... well, maybe we can convince you.

The Boss is Snake's mentor (we'll save the Liquid/Metal/Solid/Pained/Naked/etc. distinctions for another e-mail). She trained him, she made him in nearly every way and, at the end of Metal Gear Solid 3, she offers herself up as the ultimate sacrifice: a supposed conspirator that would undermine the US government via a stolen nuke.

To complete the cover-up, she asks her mentor, the series' hero to kill her, but not without a test of the very same close-quarters combat takedowns she taught him. To unpack a Metal Gear Solid game's plot is to ask someone to listen to a novel of dissertation. What matters is that, once it's over, in a field of white flowers, YOU must make the decision to pull the trigger and end the life of your mentor. Her sacrifice ultimately ushers in a whole new global series of events and shifting power. In the end, to avert nuclear war, Snake keeps her true story hidden. There is only room for one Boss and one Snake.

See her sacrifice in The Legacy Collection

The Joker

Batman: Arkham Series

Has there ever been a better foil for a character than The Batman and The Joker? The two literally define each other, with a suited vigilante and a sociopathic madman always in some combination of Gotham's fragile destruction or repair. As has been uttered multiple times throughout the Arkham games, Batman made The Joker, and vice-versa. They are literally two sides of the same card.

What makes all of the Joker fights so amusing (other than the fact that they often employ a host of Bats' in-game abilities) is that it's almost always intensely plot-driven. Yep, we're spoiling more here, but when it's revealed in Arkham City that The Joker is ACTUALLY dying from the toxin he guzzled in Arhkam Asylum, the Clayface reveal was straight-up incredible.

None of that, of course, compares to how well he worms himself inside The Dark Knight's head throughout the course of Arkham Knight, and this is where he truly presents himself not just as a villain, but a core part of Batman's psyche. The "BOO!" moments anyone who will have experienced (and for once, this actually isn't a spoiler) is reason enough to understand how a completely malevolent, insane, crafy and calculating villain can completely change how a normally placid, detail-oriented detective might be thrown off his game - even if he's the world's greatest.

Detoxify yourself in Arkham Knight

Sepheroth

Final Fantasy VII

For anyone who experienced Japanese Role-Playing Games in the 90's, this rewrote what a villain could do. It established a familiar narrative in the introduction (and eventual death) of an innocent-yet-helpful flower girl named Aeris (no, we’re not waiting in on that whole s/th thing, thankyouverymuch).

Final Fantasy VII got you to like this flower girl, got you to appreciate her ability in fights when you needed healing, got you to buy into her hopeful idea of what the world could be, and then, at the height of that buy-in, she was snuffed out in a computer-generated cutscene that was peak 90s. She was stolen, and the rest of Final Fantasy VII was spent on a death quest to get revenge.

Sepheroth's final reveal, surging with power, gifted him not just a single black angel wing, but one of the single most epic soundtracks ever written. There's a reason why "SEPH-I-ROTH" is something shouted by superfans at Final Fantasy tribute concerts.

Wait, what? You didn't know there were tribute concerts? With literally hundreds of people rocking out to composer Nobuo Uematsu’s aural creations? Yeah, that's a thing, and "One-Winged Angel" always brings the house down. THAT'S how important a boss fight Sepheroth is.

TBattle the One-Winged Angel in Final Fantasy VII

The Burst

FURI

FURI is one of those “boss rush” games we alluded to in the intro – which is to say the entire game is essentially one boss battle after another with a bit of narrative injected between the fights. Each boss introduces a new mechanic to learn through practice (and failure), but by the time the mysterious protagonist encounters The Burst, a female sniper that can cloak, those mechanics gel in a way that makes the multi-phase fight an absolute blast.

Like most of FURI, the fight is difficult, forcing not just on-the-fly reaction to patterned damage zones and waves of attacks, but memorization of what kinds of attacks will be coming next. After dealing enough damage, the whole cycle starts over, with the silent protagonist following the sniper’s laser (and avoiding the incoming shots, of course), before closing in to attack her cloaked form. In addition to throwing out timed melee counters, The Burst is prone to conjuring patterns of energy on the floor that force constant movement.

Though she isn’t the final boss in FURI, The Burst ends up being the first time most of the game’s lessons stack in such a way that you feel at once always on the edge of losing the fight, and when she’s finally taken down, the sense of accomplishment and relief is palpable.

Uncloak The Burst in FURI

Ornstein & Smough

Dark Souls

We’ve already mentioned a Soulsborne fight in Father Gascoigne, but no less memorable is the epic duel against two armored knights in the original Dark Souls. Taking place in a cavernous chapel, the portly, hammer-wielding Executioner Smough and lithe, acrobatic Dragon Slayer Ornstein make for an interesting dichotomy. Choosing which of the two to focus on at any one time can be difficult, but the fight changes dramatically when one of the enemies is felled, lending their power to the other.

The charge changes the remaining attacker, imbuing him with a bit of his counterpart’s skillset; if Ornstein remains, he moves even more quickly and hits much harder, whereas Smough gains quite a bit of speed and agility himself if he’s the last one. Like all Soulsborne games, the fight itself lends a bit of backstory to the characters: Ornstein prays to gain his powers after Smough is taken out, but Smough actually stabs Ornstein through the chest to absorb his lightning ability if he’s the survivor, a nod to the Executioner’s mercilessly cruel personality.

Regardless of who you choose to take out first, the encounter’s epic music (something that can be applied to nearly all of FromSoftware’s bosses) is just the right mix of soaring choral chants and bombastic orchestral swells to keep you pumped up even after the 10th (or 20th… or 30th) attempt at taking the pair down.

Don their weapons/armor in Dark Souls III

Bob Barbas

DmC: Devil May Cry

The actual fight against the self-described “King of Media” is a fairly simple mix of dodging walls of energy with specific safe spots and up-close melee attacks, but getting to the fight is one of the most incredible sequences in DmC. It requires jumping into the motion graphics of the right-wing Raptor News Network, using the flying shapes as platforms as anti-hero Dante pushes toward the literal core of the network’s broadcasting operations.

Bob’s ability to throw Dante into live feeds from earlier in the game also mixes things up, and his looming digitized head continues to spit out propaganda about how Dante is a dangerous, violent killer. That getting to the RNN headquarters also requires traversing a section of the city that’s completely upside-down only makes the whole section of Ninja Theory’s controversial reboot that much more thrilling.

Cancel Bob Barbas in DmC: Devil May Cry

The Raids

Destiny

We honestly had a hard time picking just one of the fights in Bungie’s space epic, mostly because they’re where the developers really cut loose with their level design and team-based mechanics. That players have to walk into these high-level Raids with no knowledge of what’s to come (at least until countless how-to videos and player-based tutorials from those that have been through the Raids become the norm after a few days) only makes them that much more memorable.

From intricate platforming sequences involving the Hive’s Tombships to carefully timed pressure plate activations in Oryx’s throne room to a wielding a sword at just the right time as an absolutely killer musical que kicks in to outrunning a literal wall of death, Destiny’s Raids are easily where the promise of cooperative play against massive bosses really hits its stride. Bungie has started to integrate more of these creative approaches into the “vanilla” Strikes, but the Raids are still far and away where Bungie is most experimental.

Those first few days when the Destiny community is piecing together the mysteries and mechanics of a raid (including hidden treasure conditions that have gotten increasingly complex) are when the game truly shines. The level of collaboration and cooperation lends itself to a sense of the entire player base (or at least a very large chunk of it) working together to solve a mystery.

Meet your fellow Guardians in Destiny

Albert Wesker

Resident Evil Series

Throughout Capcom’s survival-horror-turned-spooky-action-thrillers, there’s been one almost constant antagonist: Wesker. Intrinsically linked to whatever evil corporation’s scheme that makes for the various creepy crawlies that are terrorizing the increasingly muscular leads of the mainline Resident Evil games, he’s posed as a leader of the S.T.A.R.S. team, a member of the Raccoon Police Department, and undergone a whole host of infections to strengthen his natural martial arts acumen.

The result? A cold, emotionless, calculating egomaniac that, over the years, has become progressively more unhinged as his abilities changed him – eventually physically during the final (or “final,” since he’s certainly died before and returned even stronger) confrontation at the end of Resident Evil 5. At one point, his plan was to infect the entire human population of the world so that he could rule over them as a superpowered god. He’s nothing if not ambitious, and every time he shows up, Bad Things™ are never far behind.

Plus, let’s be honest here, the guy almost never removes his sunglasses – not even indoors or in the dead of night. Granted, that’s to hide those glowing eyes of his, but everybody knows you shouldn’t trust someone in perma-shades.

Head back to the Mansion in Resident Evil HD

Cyberdemon

Doom

Short of just the Marine himself, there’s probably no more iconic creature in the Doom franchise than the towering hulk of rocket-spitting, goat-legged pain that is the Cyberdemon. For the all-caps 2016 DOOM reboot, however, id Software made an already imposing creature even moreso, and threw him into a smallish arena.

In stark contrast to his appearances in earlier Doom entries, the Cyberdemon in DOOM attacks not just with rockets, but with the ability to erect walls on either side of the player and throw mixed-height energy attacks and streams of bullets that have to be dodged with the game’s kinetic sense of player movement. More than any other boss fight in the game, the Cyberdemon encounters rely on some wonderfully old-school pattern memorization before the towering hulk will finally go down in a glorious explosion of viscera and blood.

Rip and tear through DOOM

Handsome Jack

Borderlands Series

Borderlands’ wise-cracking antagonist leaves an impression – particularly if, as in the case of the utterly fantastic Tales from the Borderlands adventure game by Telltale, he’s actually embedded in the head of one of the main characters. Even if he hasn’t been downloaded and is currently attempting to possess said character, Jack’s massive ego means he never really shuts up. In Borderlands 2, Jack and a certain diamond unicorn with a name we won’t repeat (it is, in fact, a unicorn made of diamond, as he’s happy to remind the player) almost incessantly taunts and insults the player.

The thing is, Jack has charisma. It’s not hard to see how his ruthless nature and penchant for control of the mysterious Vaults that serve as the series’ main goal got him to the top of the Hyperion Corporation, but it’s hard not to laugh at his various barbs and jibes along the way. He is, weirdly, a sympathetic jerk, irredeemable to be sure and a complete sociopath, but we just can’t bring ourselves to actually hate the guy. Even his motivations in essentially enslaving his daughter have a kind of paternal tug on the ol’ heartstrings.

Experience the majesty of Butt Stallion in the Handsome Collection

M. Bison

Street Fighter Series

There are plenty of iconic fighting game villains, but c'mon, admit it: you knew the head of Shadaloo would be on this list, didn't you? The bosses in fighting games often eschew most of the established rules to write their own, and from his first appearance, Bison's ability to move in ways none of the original World Warriors could made him instantly distinctive. Unless you were a fighting game master, you never knew if or when a Psycho Crusher would streak across the stage or an agonizingly precise Head Stomp was coming.

Over the years, his role as a drug lord and arms smuggler became more fleshed out, and even after being apparently killed (in truth, his consciousness was transferred to a new body), his machinations never seemed far from whatever was happening in the Street Fighter world. Like so many villains, his ability to manipulate and cheat death keeps him at the top of our minds, but he just seems to do it with so much style.

Psycho Crusher into Street Fighter V