Last week, Destiny 2, a highly anticipated online shooter that’s best played with friends, raised the curtain on a mystery it had been teasing for weeks leading up to the game’s early September release: the Leviathan. That’s the name of the game’s marquee Raid, a massive, sprawling level that explains almost nothing about how to beat it, and requires teamwork among six players to solve its riddles and take down whatever boss lies at the end. It’s both Destiny 2’s biggest challenge and mystery, and for the past week the game’s community of players has been racing to square off with Leviathan’s mysterious boss, six people at a time.
Until somewhat recently, it seemed as if the concept of the video-game boss was on its last legs. Bosses were effectively bottlenecks at a time where games were expanding. Open-world and online games flourished, player choice became paramount, and boss fights in games that felt otherwise wide open — like the notoriously underwhelming boss confrontations in otherwise acclaimed games such as Bioshock or Deus Ex: Human Revolution — ended up feeling like dead weight.
Then a wave of nostalgia brought the boss back. Demon’s Souls had already embraced the opaque design and challenges of classic games, adding names like Ornstein and Smough to the wince-inducing canon of legendary video-game big bads. Souls and its sequels/spinoffs inspired countless imitators, like Lords of the Fallen and this year’s Nioh, to such an extent that ‘Souls-like’ is now a genre descriptor. Runaway sleeper hits like Shovel Knight and Hyper Light Drifter nakedly emulated and updated 8- and 16-bit sensibilities, where challenging levels were par for the course and boss fights took center stage. And there’s Destiny, a series that brought bosses back in a big way by borrowing ideas from massively multiplayer online games like World of Warcraft, making them nigh-insurmountable challenges that required teamwork from a large group of players.
What this big-bad revival reminds us is that we’re better off with bosses in our gaming lives. In a medium where individual experiences can now vary greatly — no two people play Minecraft the same way, nor do any two games of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds even remotely resemble one another — bosses remain a common experience, cultural touchstones for entire generations of games and the people who play them. Whether it’s M. Bison or Psycho Mantis or Atheon, they’ve all served as finish lines, final examinations, and feats of collaboration.
That goes most for these 100 bosses, who have been providing gamers with shared war stories for more than 30 years. Assembled by a committee of gaming journalists with various tastes, our rank factored in each enemy’s overall difficulty, the novelty of their fight mechanics, and their influence on subsequent games. Most important, however, was how vividly they lingered in our minds. A good boss encounter elevates the game it’s in. It’s not something you easily forget.
Edited by: Mike Rougeau Essay by: Joshua Rivera List contributors: Brian Feldman, Stefanie Fogel, Phil Hornshaw, Sarah LeBouef, Julie Muncy, Max Read, Joshua Rivera, Jake Swearingen, Kaitlin Tremblay
Super Mario 64 (1996, Nintendo 64/Wii/DS)
It’s a tale as old as time: plumber meets demonic turtle, demonic turtle kidnaps plumber’s girlfriend, plumber defeats demonic turtle. Super Mario 64 changed up the classic series formula by giving Mario a 3-D world for the first time ever, but despite the gameplay changes, one thing was the same: Bowser was a jerk. There are a couple of Bowser fights before the game’s climax, but the third Bowser is the biggie. The confrontation takes place high in the sky, and the battlefield literally breaks apart, sending Mario plummeting to his doom if he’s not careful. While Bowser spits fire, the player then has to grab his tail and spin him around with the N64 controller’s joystick like it’s some kind of Mario Party minigame. Then the boss needs to be tossed into a bomb with unholy precision. At that point, Mario’s got to be asking himself if Princess Peach is even worth the effort; she’ll probably just go and get herself kidnapped again in five minutes anyway.
99. Senator Armstrong
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (2013, PS3/Xbox 360/PC/Mac)
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is a game full of giant tanks, mechs, and chainsaw-tailed robo-wolves. Yet the hardest (and final) boss is a spectacled, power-crazed politician named Senator Armstrong. A caricature of American corruption and excess, Armstrong is also ridiculously strong. His powerful punches will obliterate your health bar if they’re not blocked or dodged. Partway through the battle, Armstrong stops fighting and espouses some pretty messed-up beliefs about America and its political system, before launching some pesky timed-button-press attacks your way. Don’t forget to hit X for victory (and democracy).
Titanfall 2 (2016, PS4/Xbox One/PC)
The original Titanfall had no story mode, and Titanfall 2’s excellent campaign was a great surprise. Its boss fights showcase the game’s rich variety of Titan toys, especially Viper, which is near impossible to defeat without switching things up from your traditional Titan loadout. Viper is a glorious display of Titanfall 2’s arsenal, a shining example of how to fully encourage players to explore all of their options and not just settling into a one-loadout rut.
97. Ghost of Lady Comstock
BioShock Infinite (2013, PS3/PS4/Xbox 360/Xbox One/PC/Mac/Linux)
Lady Comstock, the First Lady of Columbia, is one of the hardest bosses in the BioShock series. A powerful spirit created out of resentment and fear, she raises a small army of undead soldiers to attack the player. Killing her minions forces her to resummon them, leaving her vulnerable, but exploiting this weakness is tough to do while dodging both bullets and zombies. And did we mention you have to do this three times? Defeating Lady Comstock and showing her the truth behind her death frees her from her bitterness, and frees you from one very annoying boss fight.
96. The Brickster
Lego Island (1997, PC)
The Brickster boss fight is an odd one. As the criminal tools around Lego Island, you fly high above in a helicopter, directing the police to his whereabouts and hoping to cut him off. The problem is that, I guess because it’s a Lego game, you have to direct the cops by throwing doughnuts in their path and luring them in certain directions. Meanwhile, you have to throw pizza in the Brickster’s path to slow him down. And the game doesn’t supply an aim reticle, so you just kinda have to guess the entire time.
95. Kai Leng
Mass Effect 3 (2012, PS3/Xbox 360/Wii U/PC)
Lots of people want Commander Shepard dead. It just comes with the job. But few are as persistent and frustrating as Kai Leng, whose fight in Mass Effect 3 can make even the Reapers look like pushovers. It’s a long, slow grind made even tougher by his recharging shields and his tendency to call support troops to swarm you. This is a theme you’ll see a lot on this list: Some of the toughest bosses like to recruit help. It’s debatable whether or not this is fair, but it’s certainly one way to ratchet up the challenge.
94. Vortex Queen
Ecco the Dolphin (1992, Sega Genesis/Master System/Wii/3DS/Xbox 360/PC/iOS)
There are few things creepier than a giant green disembodied head lurking under the ocean. The xenomorph-esque Vortex Queen presented friendly dolphin Ecco with his great challenge, thanks in part to insta-kill attacks that swallow him up. If he gets too close to the Queen, she unleashes superpowered jellyfish, and considering Ecco attacks by ramming his nose into foes, the odds are good that he’s going to have to fight close up. Her facial parts need to be removed one by one, including a regenerating jaw, before Ecco can even charge her head-on. And, of course, this being an era long before autosaves, the smallest mistake might result in having to begin the fight — or the entire game — all over again.
93. The Alien
Alien: Isolation (2014, PS3/PS4/Xbox 360/Xbox One/PC/Linux)
The Alien isn’t a traditional boss, exactly; more like a constant threat on the margins of your vision, always ready to pounce and devour you. Still, the sleek, unreal monstrosity is the primary focus of Alien: Isolation, and figuring out how to avoid and outsmart it takes up the majority of your time. It’s an original, brilliant design focus, and you can see echoes of it in games like Resident Evil 7, which forces you to sneak away from enemies like Jack — foes who can’t be killed, only survived.
92. Landing on the aircraft carrier
Top Gun (1987, Nintendo Entertainment System)
Dogfighting in Konami’s 1987 adaptation of Top Gun was relatively easy. Bogeys moved slowly, enemy missile lock-ons were easy to dodge, and your F-14 Tomcat plane somehow came loaded with 40 (40!) missiles. But most players never saw the later missions, because most players just ended up slamming their jet into the ocean while attempting to land.
You’ll need to keep your plane relatively flat while watching the screen for instructions to reduce or increase speed, and adjust your flight patch to the left or right. The problem is that all these directions could come within seconds of each other, and you were never really sure if you were actually on a good flight path — you could be making an approach with no warnings and still hit the ocean. The secret is ignoring the games exclamation points and making only small course corrections. But it’s still tricky to pull off, which you’ll need to do at least three times in a row if you want to beat the game. If nothing else, it reinforced what every gamer knows: Water levels suck.
91. Queen Zeal
Chrono Trigger (1995, Super Nintendo/PlayStation/DS/iOS/Android)
The first time you attack Queen Zeal is a wonderful time, as she can continually hit you with an attack that reduces your health straight to one. But it’s really the second time battling Queen Zeal that makes her a nasty boss. Attacking her hands rewards you with a murderous counterattack that drains either the attacker’s HP or MP to one. Unlike other bosses for whom peripheral appendages are their weak points, destroying Queen Zeal’s face ends the battle, a counterintuitive twist on standard RPG tropes. Queen Zeal isn’t the first or the last corrupted queen to make saving the world difficult, but she is definitely one of the most difficult to beat.
Super Smash Bros. Brawl (2008, Wii)
The final boss of Brawl’s Subspace Emissary adventure, Tabuu has probably the worst move a fighting-game boss can have: a one-hit KO. This makes the hardest part about Tabuu learning his patterns — which is at odds with the manic energy of Smash Bros. As the boss of an ambitious mode in what, ultimately, was the least popular Smash Bros. game, it’s unlikely Tabuu will ever return.
Shadow of the Colossus (2005, PS2/PS3)
All of the bosses are big in Shadow of the Colossus, but the final boss, Malus, is easily the biggest of them all — you’ll need to bring down what looks like a skyscraper with legs with just a sword and bow. That is, if you can reach him at all. Once you finally begin your ascent of Malus himself, falling off him is the easiest way to die. When you get to his bicep, you’ll need to avoid a hand slap, and then shoot an arrow into his left shoulder. Once you reach his head, be content with quick, short stabs rather than trying to land heavy blows, and retreat to his shoulders to regain stamina.
Shadow of the Colossus left a long shadow on video games. Its use of atmospheric storytelling and the experience of being dwarfed by something much larger than you influenced a game that makes a frequent appearance on this list: the Dark Souls series.
88. The Airship
BioShock Infinite (2013, PS3/PS4/Xbox 360/Xbox One/PC/Mac/Linux)
BioShock Infinite’s airship fight requires you to zip from rail to rail killing patriots, some of whom are armed with long-range RPGs, while commanding Songbird to attack the zeppelins circling above. Not only was it not like any other part of the game preceding it, but it required a ton of trial and error on what was probably the least fun part of the game. BioShock Infinite was great in a lot of ways, but this battle in the sky was not one of them.
Turok 2: Seeds of Evil (1998, Nintendo 64/PC)
For a series that’s all about shooting dinosaurs, it’s a bit odd that the final boss of Turok 2 is a telepathic alien. Fighting the ultrapowerful Primagen requires avoiding his deadly attacks while keeping the ammo for weapons like the flamethrower and cannon stocked and reloaded. In the first phase, Primagen starts lobbing out nukes and flying mechs, and that’s the easy part. Round two means more nukes, more mechs, and long-range shockwaves while your target is reduced to his two left arms. All the while, he’s trying to knock you off the edge of the arena. Taking down a full-size T-Rex would probably be easier.
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (2000, Nintendo 64/3DS/Wii)
The Majora fight is one of those classic three-stage white-knuckle boss fights, growing from Majora’s Mask into Majora’s Incarnation into Majora’s Wrath. The Mask will spin around on the ground like a top, calling for assistance from four other Boss Remains, requiring the player to quickly switch between dodging and ranged attacks. Incarnation zooms around the room even faster, and can hurl energy from afar. And Wrath has giant tentacles that make every inch of the confined quarters unsafe.
85. King Krusha K. Rool
Donkey Kong 64 (1999, Nintendo 64)
Donkey Kong 64 was released to rave reviews and massive sales, but it hasn’t aged particularly well. Part of that can be attributed to King Krusha K. Rool, the game’s final boss. Set in a huge boxing ring, the fight requires you to defeat him with each of the game’s five characters: Donkey Kong, Diddy Kong, Lanky Kong, Tiny Kong, and Chunky Kong. The game takes away most of the ways you can attack, and gives you just three minutes to KO the boss with each Kong — if you fail, his health refills to full while yours remains the same. If Rool kills any character, or you fail to beat him with each Kong within 12 rounds, the whole thing resets. It’s incredibly frustrating.
84. Ender Dragon
Minecraft (2011, Everywhere)
If you thought Minecraft was just about building houses and taming horses, well you’re technically right. But Minecraft also features a few bosses that take lots of preparation and skill to defeat, and the biggest, baddest boss is the Ender Dragon. It makes its home in the End (naturally), a dark alternate dimension filled with creepy Endermen and floating islands. It has a large health pool, it deals lots of damage, and it’s constantly healed by the Ender Crystals that surround it. But while the Ender Dragon is a fearsome opponent, it’s the painstaking preparation needed just to reach it that lands it on this list. To properly tackle the blocky boss, players need to craft enchanted gear, brew potions, cook food, and gather Ender Pearls. Then they need to find a stronghold and build or activate an End Portal. The portal is one-way, so once you’re in the End you’re stuck there, and a single mistake could cost you all of your hard-earned supplies, forcing you to start the entire process over again.
83. Crawmerax the Invincible
Borderlands: The Secret Armory of General Knoxx (2010, PS3/Xbox 360/PC/Mac)
Borderlands has a thing for murderous shellfish, if Crawmerax is any indication. A giant crab-worm-hybrid beast with a spiked, heavily armored shell, Crawmerax is a part of the long tradition of Borderlands throwing high-level, giant monsters at you and watching you squirm. This guy has the subtitle “the Invincible,” and he earns it. If you can manage to best him, you’ll get the best loot in the game. But that’s a big if. This was the hardest boss yet seen in the Borderlands series, and it would set the template for future encounters.
Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening (2005, PS2/PS3/Xbox 360/PC)
Vergil is like you, only cooler. He’s the calmer, meaner Dante, which makes every time he flattens you in Devil May Cry 3 a little more painful. You fight him three times during that game, and each time is like fighting a better version of yourself. Games get a lot of mileage out of this trope – you can see it several times on this list, in fact! — but there’s something incredibly satisfying and devious about fighting an enemy that can pull from the same bag of tricks as you can, especially when they do it as effortlessly as a rival like Vergil.
Dishonored (2012, PS3/PS4/Xbox 360/Xbox One/PC)
Daud himself isn’t such a formidable opponent if you’re playing a stealth or non-lethal run of Dishonored. You can steal his key and remain unnoticed by him, slipping away safely, or you can kill him via pure stealth. The challenge of fighting Daud head-on is his ability to block most of the attacks and powers in your possession. You just can’t run in, sword drawn. Even the boldest players will need to employ some level of finesse to sneakily get the drop on this opponent.
80. Shadow Queen
Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door (2004, GameCube)
Don’t be fooled by Paper Mario’s cutesy paper-craft aesthetic —The Thousand-Year Door is not without its challenges. The immortal Shadow Queen, a sort of Nega-Universe version of Princess Peach, is the game’s main antagonist, and there’s nothing she won’t do to destroy Mario and his friends. Like many of the boss fights on this list, it’s a lengthy, multistage battle in which you’ll see your resources depleted quickly if you’re not careful. It certainly doesn’t help that her defenses are high and she’s immune to normal attacks for a chunk of the battle. She also possesses Princess Peach during the battle, forcing the party to attack the very person they’re supposed to be rescuing. Rude.
Batman: Arkham Knight (2015, PS4/Xbox One/PC)
What’s frustrating about fighting Deathstroke in Batman: Arkham Knight isn’t the villain himself; it’s the fact that you have to do it in the clunky Batmobile instead of using the Arkham series’ brilliant melee fighting. First, you’ve got to target the tanks accompanying the big bad, which is a tedious process that requires a lot of driving around in circles. You’ve got to wait for individual tanks to break away from the pack before taking them out. Actually taking out Deathstroke’s vehicle is easy compared to the lead-up, though many players would’ve preferred a head-to-head fight over racing through Gotham’s streets.
78. Matriarch Benezia
Mass Effect (2007, PS3/Xbox 360/PC)
Depending on the order in which you decide to tackle the missions in Mass Effect, the fight against Matriarch Benezia could either be a breeze or your worst nightmare. Tackling her early on means you’re up for a challenge because Benezia is invincible until after a certain point in the fight. Destroying her cronies is a good tactic, and finding strategic positions on the map to take cover in between your attacks is key. Benezia is one of the first Asaris you encounter in the Mass Effect universe that shows the terrifying depth of their power to completely decimate foes, establishing a solid foundation for the lore surrounding this strange alien race.
Doom (2016, PS4/Xbox One/PC)
The BFG is always your best friend in Doom. It easily annihilates any of your enemies and can make difficult bosses much easier to manage. Without it (or enough ammo for it), taking down the Cyberdemon in the 2016 Doom becomes a test of unrelenting attacks and quick movements. This release of Doom saw the game nearly perfect its combat style of “staying still is death,” and the Cyberdemon is a perfect incarnation of how true this is.
76. Shima Sakon
Nioh (2017, PS4)
A magic spear-wielding badass, Shima Sakon will efficiently and quickly wreck you if you don’t remain fleet-footed and mindful of his reach. Best mitigated with a spear of your own, Shima Sakon is the right kind of challenge inspired by the Souls games, one that lets you relish one-on-one combat instead of taking it for granted, just hard enough to deserve your full attention and whiten your knuckles.
Destiny (2014, PS3/PS4/Xbox 360/Xbox One)
Atheon isn’t the most difficult challenge Destiny’s raids would have in store for their players, but it is a memorable one that required an impressive level of teamwork to best. Capable of frequently sending half of your team backward or forward to another dimension in time, where they have to survive an onslaught of foes, the rest of your team had to focus on bringing them back. Reunite your team, and the six of you could open up on Atheon — but only for a little bit, because then you’d have to do it all over again. A tremendous final encounter to what had been an underwhelming game up to that point, Atheon proved what Destiny could be at its best.
Final Fantasy Tactics (1998, PlayStation/PS Vita)
In a game all about working with a team, the battle with embittered soldier Wiegraf will force you to fight with just your main character, Ramza. If you haven’t grinded out some levels in random battles, you’re done. Even with proper stats, you’ll want to equip something that lets you move fast, and then use the Yell skill to build up your speed and Accumulate to build up your attack power so you can move in for a one-hit kill. After that, Weigraf transforms into the demon Velius. Your allies will then show up, and so will several other demons to fight alongside Velius.
Wiegraf’s arc, which sees him go from sympathetic freedom fighter to unhinged monster, is one of the main reasons why the game’s story worked so well. This battle, which was a hard stop for many players, is one of the reasons it’s notorious for its difficulty spikes.
73. King Bohan
Heavenly Sword (2007, PS3)
The Raven King is a culmination of everything that came before it in Heavenly Sword. The first portion of the fight takes place on a huge battlefield that quickly becomes littered with bodies as your powerful attacks clash with the bosses, sending poor soldiers flying as their screams fill the air. Speed is your only real ally against Bohan as you dodge his devastating attacks and close in for the kill, but after dishing out what feels like a huge amount of damage, it’s off to a second portion of the battle — where he suddenly starts flying. At that point, there’s no way to hurt Bohan except to reflect his own fireballs back at him to knock him to the ground so you can close the gap and slash up his face with your sword. The fight goes on for what seems like forever with three different distinct phases, setting a bar for crazy battles in action-adventure games like this one.
Borderlands (2009, PS3/Xbox 360/PC/Mac)
It’s an unspoken rule of video games that flying bosses are the worst, and Mothrakk is no exception. Mothrakk’s attacks are relentless, preventing your shields from fully recharging (unless you take the tried-and-tested strategy of hiding under the nearby carport to shield yourself from the attacks being rained down from above). Difficult and infuriating, Mothrakk is a testament to Borderlands’ monster and enemy design: powerful, obnoxious, referential, and always worth the mega loot drop.
Gunvalkyrie (2002, Xbox/Dreamcast)
Flying shooter Gunvalkyrie was a tough game to master even without taking on this ridiculous boss, and it took some serious know-how to bring him down. Ivaldi likes to chuck huge balls of powerful energy at players, and the only way to really get after him was to get in close, brave his attacks, and knock him out of sync to make him vulnerable. As the fight wears on, he gets tougher and tougher to kill, using attacks that basically turn him into a spinning death tornado in between huge blasts of energy. Beating Ivaldi was an exercise in twitchy reflexes and ridiculous speed, and even now, watching video of the battle is utterly confusing. Ivaldi feels like a precursor to later games that would cherish devastatingly tough boss design, one that had no qualms about requiring players to develop their skills, or die trying.
70. Kurt Zisa
Kingdom Hearts (2002, PS2)
Beating this optional Kingdom Hearts boss requires returning to Aladdin’s homeland of Agrabah later in the game and tracking him down with the help of the flying carpet. It’s an endurance fight that requires the strategic use of high-level magic attacks, which is why it’s extra frustrating when Zisa repeatedly silences the entire party. His constant dashing and sword-spinning attacks quickly rid Sora and pals of their HP, and he’ll repeatedly bounce between multiple forms before you’re able to beat him, during which time precious MP drains away when you are actually allowed to use magic. If you’re a completionist, the battle is worth it to get a page of Ansem’s Report, but otherwise, it might be best to just leave this guy in the desert.
Vagrant Story (2000, PlayStation)
At the height of Squaresoft’s dominance of the role-playing-game scene, Vagrant Story was one of its toughest games. Filled with tough bosses, it constantly required expert strategy out of its players, and even then, every fight was a battle of attrition to stay alive as you squeezed out minimal damage. But nothing was as tough as the final fight against Guildenstern, a knight who’d gathered monstrous dark energy into himself to become a vicious fighter. Guildenstern could wallop you with his regular attacks, and he had some huge abilities that triggered lengthy cutscenes as they enveloped you. If you missed the split-second button prompt that let you deflect some of the damage, you were in for a world of hurt.
68. The Batomys
Valkyria Chronicles (2008, PS3/PS4/PC)
The Batomys is a heavily armed tank equipped with a cannon and turrets, making it a dangerous foe from literally any position on the map. It’s also a long battle, which is a big problem in a game where fights can often be won or lost in a few turns. To top it off, the tank can get stuck, preventing it from opening its weak points until you prod it into moving to the right position, extending an already-overlong battle even further. It’s a unique fight for the strategy genre.
Pokémon Red, Blue, and Yellow (1996, Game Boy)
The all-powerful psychic pocket monster was the ultimate goal of every player in the first iteration of Pokémon. Catching Mewtwo was your greatest test as a Pokémon trainer — the toughest challenge out there. Accessible only after beating all the Pokémon gyms and the Elite Four, Mewtwo waited at the end the special Cerulean Cave. If you had a Master Ball, you could catch Mewtwo immediately, but if not, you were in for a protracted fight in which he might just heal himself and smash all your Pokémon with his powerful psychic attacks. Mewtwo made a lasting impression on Pokémon — he frequently tipped the scales as players battled each other, and he’s popped up in other games like Super Smash Bros. to devastate Pokémon and people alike ever since.
Diablo II: Lord of Destruction (2001, PC/Mac)
Before you fight Baal, you have to survive. When it’s finally time to confront him, the final Prime Evil in Diablo II will force you to take on wave after wave of demons before fighting you one on one. Once you can take him on, you’ve got to be ready for a litany of powerful spells and an annoying teleport move that lets him frequently blindside you. Beating him requires preparation, and a character built to survive his onslaught. While not the blueprint for Diablo-style bosses (that would probably be Diablo), Baal and his ilk would be imitated in action role-playing games for years to come.
Wolfenstein 3D (1992, PC/Mac/Linux)
In the third and final chapter of Wolfenstein 3D, you are out to kill Hitler himself. Unfortunately, Hitler has acquired a mecha-armor suit with four chain guns, and he doesn’t want to go quietly. To take him out, first focus on killing the Nazi officers in the room with him. Then try to get close to unload on him, and then find cover before his chain guns open up. After dishing out a tremendous amount of damage, you’ll destroy the armored suit. But this is actually the harder part of the fight — Hitler still somehow has two chain guns and can now move much faster. You’ll need to move to cover faster, as he can still quickly kill you. But with a cry of “Eva, auf wiedersehen!” Hitler eventually goes down in a mess of gore.
Wolfenstein 3D signaled the early ’90s move of video games into ultragore, and while its blocky 3-D graphics look dated 25 years later, at the time its fast, violent Nazi-killing action was unmatched by any other game out there. This, combined with id Software’s subsequent Doom, essentially created the first-person shooter.
64. Kerafyrm (a.k.a. the Sleeper)
EverQuest (1999, PC/Mac)
Kerafyrm was never meant to be killed. The dragon, imprisoned in an icy cave called the Sleeper’s Tomb, was designed to awaken only once on each EverQuest server, kill everyone in sight, and then wreak havoc across the game world. Each server that triggered the event failed to slay the dragon. The story line demanded they fail. Everyone believed the Sleeper was indestructible. But the last server to make the attempt, Rallos Zek, managed to get the boss down to a quarter of its health before developer SOE allegedly despawned it, robbing Rallos Zek of its victory. After intense backlash from its player base, SOE apologized and respawned the dragon. Rallos Zek gathered nearly 200 players to make a second attempt. Kerafyrm’s attacks killed dozens of players at a time. Clerics resurrected them. Back and forth it went until, about four hours later, the “unkillable” Sleeper finally died. Over a decade later, the incident remains one of the MMO genre’s biggest controversies.
63. Old King Allant
Demon’s Souls (2009, PS3)
Old King Allant is one of the five archdemons Demon’s Souls players have to kill before they can confront the game’s final boss, the Old One. Allant is a fast and relentless opponent, capable of dishing out hefty damage with his sword Soulbrandt. But what makes him extra nasty is his ability to drain soul levels from the player permanently. Each loss lowers the player’s stats, making the fight even harder and erasing hours of hard work. Although there are a few strategies you can use to defeat him, many Demon’s Souls fans recommend keeping your distance. Bait him into using his ranged attacks, then move in for an opportune strike.
Resident Evil 3 (1999, PlayStation/Dreamcast/Gamecube/PC)
A giant zombie with a rocket launcher and singular focus, Nemesis is one of Resident Evil’s most memorable bosses. The first time you meet him, he kills your buddy Brad with a fleshy tentacle through the face (R.I.P., Brad). The second time, he smashes through a window like a rotting Kool-Aid Man. He relentlessly pursues the player throughout the entire game, forcing them to waste precious ammo and healing items. Each time you put him down, you think it’s the last time. But, like any good horror-movie villain, he keeps getting back up. And it’s that tenacity that lands Nemesis on this list.
Chrono Trigger (1995, Super Nintendo/PlayStation/iOS/Android/DS)
Why is this Chrono Trigger big bad so hard to take down? First of all, he’s got multiple independent body parts with their own attacks and high HP, and keeps healing himself throughout the multiple phases of the fight. Oh, and you’ll have to go through this boss fight a handful of times if you want to see all of the game’s possible endings. As if that weren’t hard enough, more recent rereleases for the DS and mobile added another postgame version of Lavos, and it can only be reached by beating the game once and playing again in New Game Plus.
Shining Force (1992, Sega Genesis/Saturn/Game Boy Advance/Wii/PC/iOS)
In most strategy role-playing games, keeping your units in a tight formation helps prevent them from becoming surrounded and overwhelmed; it also enables players to give stat, attack, and defensive bonuses to units next to each other (when applicable). But Darksol’s attack preys upon this strategy. His Demon Blaze attacks any units within three squares of him, and attacks in a cross pattern, making your fail-safe defensive strategy now a liability. Magic users and archers are also a liability, since Demon Blaze can very easily knock them out in a single turn. Only Max, the playable character, has increased bonus stats against Darksol, reinforcing the story we’ve been told all along: Darksol is a great and nefarious evil, and only the chosen one can really stand against him.
Dark Souls 2 (2014, PS3/PS4/Xbox 360/Xbox One/PC)
Darklurker is one of the toughest bosses in Dark Souls 2, and she’s also one of the easiest to miss. Players looking to defeat her must first join the Pilgrims of Dark covenant and complete its questline. This involves finding and speaking with a certain character three times, traveling to three special Abyss dungeons, and defeating four dark phantoms. Only then can you face the Darklurker, a winged four-armed angel who attacks with multiple forms of deadly magic. When she gets to half health, she splits into two. And that’s when things get really serious. She has two main weaknesses however — lightning and fire.
58. Shao Kahn
Mortal Kombat 3 (1995, Arcade/Sega Genesis/Super Nintendo/PlayStation)
Unlike early Street Fighter games, the original Mortal Kombat games have not aged terribly well. In striving for realism Mortal Kombat 3 became clunky, making its ultimate fight against final boss Shao Kahn all the more challenging. Capable of closing distance quickly with a rush attack and attacking from comfortably far with a fireball and a sledgehammer, Kahn is a Swiss Army Knife of a fighter — in a game that only gives you Allen wrenches.
Wolfenstein: The New Order (2014, PS3/PS4/Xbox 360/Xbox One/PC)
The nemesis himself. After an entire game spent taking down thousands of Nazis powering Machinegames’ futuristic Reich, you come up against Deathshead, the architect of the villainous war machine and a man BJ Blazkowicz has been trying to kill for decades. In an ode to the original Wolfenstein 3D, he takes you on in a mech as your arena bursts into fire around you. It’s the navigation that makes this fight tricky: As you pummel the Nazi scientist with everything you’ve got, you have to make sure you avoid the steadily increasing flames, too. It’s worth the trouble, though — Deathshead is a real jerk.
56. Rebel Flagship
FTL: Faster Than Light (2012, iOS/PC/Mac/Linux)
There are many dangers in Subset Games’ spaceflight simulator FTL: Faster Than Light: oxygen deprivation, hostile aliens, giant spiders — that kind of thing. But the biggest, deadliest threat in the galaxy is undoubtedly the Rebel Flagship. Intrepid captains who want to take down this boss have to fight through three increasingly difficult stages, and they have to do it before it reaches the Federation base. The flagship’s hull and systems repair at the end of each stage, and it alters its tactics dramatically. Fires and breaches are cleared, and it has unlimited ammunition. Even if you manage to reach this fight, there’s a good chance your journey will end here.
Street Fighter IV (2009, Arcade/PS3/Xbox 360/PC/3DS/iOS/Android)
Fighting-game bosses, as a rule, turn the difficulty up just shy of unfair, ideally never crossing that line. Seth, however, is cheap as hell, with an uninspired array of moves largely lifted from other fighters like Guile, Dhalsim, and Ken/Ryu. Some of his super moves are unblockable, and worst of all, he’s boring. He doesn’t look cool or threatening, and his only function seems to be a frustration between you and the end of the game. Later releases of Street Fighter IV would make the villain more balanced, but Seth was absent from the Street Fighter V lineup, and likely won’t show up for some time, either.
54. Manus, Father of the Abyss
Dark Souls: Artorias of the Abyss (2011, PS3/Xbox 360/PC)
Manus is the final boss in Dark Souls’ Artorias of the Abyss DLC. Found deep within the Chasm of the Abyss, this ancient creature was once human (some Souls theorists believe he’s the Furtive Pygmy, an important figure in the game’s dense lore). But after the citizens of a town called Oolacile wake him, he becomes enraged and demonic in appearance, obsessed with finding his precious broken pendant. Like many Dark Souls bosses, Manus is fast and brutal. His physical attacks can remove more than half your health if they’re not blocked or dodged, and his dark magic can be difficult to avoid as well. There are two ways to make this fight a little easier. If you save the Great Grey Wolf, Sif, in the area before Manus’s room, you can summon him to help you during the fight. Also, the Silver Pendant, found in a hidden room in Oolacile Township, can deflect Manus’s magic.
53. Psycho Mantis
Metal Gear Solid (1998, PlayStation/PC)
In hindsight, defeating Metal Gear Solid’s Psycho Mantis is pretty easy. All you have to do is plug the game controller into another port to fool the clairvoyant villain. But for players who weren’t in on the joke back in 1998, Psycho Mantis was a nightmare. He first demonstrates his telepathic powers by reading the contents of your PlayStation’s memory card (“You like Castlevania, don’t you?”). He also uses telekinesis to “move” your controller via the rumble feature. Then, once the battle starts, he becomes basically invincible, using his mind-reading power to predict every move you make. It’s an inventive, if gimmicky, fight that’s still memorable almost 20 years later.
Final Fantasy VIII (1999, PlayStation/PC)
Ultimecia just wants to have unlimited power and makes a bargain with a greater evil that ultimately becomes her undoing (girls just wanna have fun). For this battle, you are also randomly assigned a party member, rather than being able to curate your best fighters. This means that if you haven’t been keeping pace with all your characters, the odds are already stacked against you before you even begin. Ultimecia’s forms begin normally and then go off the rails, including an entirely different boss she summons and then later merges with. It gets crazier from there, to a level of spectacle that’s still rarely seen today.
51. Spider Mastermind
Doom (1993, PC/Super Nintendo/PlayStation/PS3/Xbox/Xbox 360/iOS)
This giant brain with legs doesn’t seem like he’d be that scary, but running into him at the end of the original Doom is a terror. He’s the thematic culmination of id’s preoccupation with blending sci-fi and occult horror, and his deadly chain gun is brutal. The best strategy to taking him down is to rush him and get around him, where his chain gun can’t hurt you. As one of the first big bosses in any first-person shooter, you can see his echoes everywhere, from General Raam in Gears of War to the half-hearted arena bosses in Halo 2.
50. Shadow of Yharnam
Bloodborne (2015, PS4)
Bloodborne is a more assertive game than its brethren in From Software’s Souls series, forcing players to ditch shields and defensive tactics for a more aggressive style. Few bosses test your willingness to embrace this more than the Shadow of Yharnam, which is not one foe, but three, each with their own distinct attacks and each with the ability to transform into something more monstrous once you’ve taken their health down two-thirds. There’s only one way to take the Shadow on, and it’s to run like hell in the limited space you’re given, bobbing and weaving and doing what you can to take the trio out one at a time.
Shovel Knight (2014, Everywhere)
The Enchantress, the boss fight that all of Shovel Knight has been leading up to, uses one of the most annoying video-game tricks in the book: disappearing platforms. Dashing around the screen at random angles, she can take out half of the player’s real estate if they’re not being careful. On top of that, the shovel jump technique that you’ve spent most of the game perfecting can also cause the ground to crumble, meaning that one wrong move — which the game has been training you to use — can send you plummeting to your doom. Luckily, the second half of the Enchantress fight is far less difficult, thanks to the reappearance of a certain ally. It’s almost like the developers knew how tough the first part was.
48. Ginso Tree
Ori and the Blind Forest (2015, Xbox 360/Xbox One/PC)
While Ori and the Blind Forest doesn’t have bosses in the most traditional sense, each section of the forest must be defeated by surpassing a facet of nature. The Ginso Tree contains the element of water, and the tree takes on the quality of a larger-than-life boss. The Ginso Tree is an extremely difficult uphill battle (literally) as you flee from the rushing water that threatens to drown you at any moment (while also dodging environmental hazards and lesser baddies). But the Ginso Tree escape battle doesn’t have any checkpoints. If you touch the water, you die and you have to restart, no matter how much progress you made in the nearly five minutes it takes to safely escape, making this one of the most difficult escape races in video games.
Earthbound (1995, Super Nintendo/Game Boy Advance/Wii U)
Earthbound is pretty weird, as far as RPGs go. There aren’t many games in the genre in which you regularly call your dad, grab cash from an ATM, and explore both thriving cities and dinosaur-infested valleys. So it’s only fitting that its main antagonist, Giygas, also veers into the bizarre. Unless you had one of those sweet limited-edition strategy guides, you were left using trial and error to figure out effective ways to beat this monster, which was especially challenging because at times he’s literally invincible. The boss’s final stage is only weak to Paula’s heretofore mostly useless Pray ability. Oh, and you have to do it nine times. Once you know the formula, it’s easy, but figuring it out took quite a few reloading of saves back in the SNES days.
Nioh (2017, PS4)
An ice spirit waiting for you in the frozen wastes of Nioh, Yuki-Onna was a relentless boss with a ton of attacks and no major weaknesses. The only way to beat her was to fight repeatedly and get a sense of which attacks were coming when, how devastating they’d be, and how you might deftly avoid them. Nioh takes a page from Dark Souls–like games, with devastatingly tough boss battles, and as more and more developers try their hand at similar games, fights like Yuki-Onna continue to iterate on the ideas that are driving the whole genre forward. Yuki-Onna has the position of being one of those fights that makes you want to throw a controller and then scream at the top of your lungs when you finally emerge victorious.
45. Silver Knight & Laser Eye
Shining Force (1992, Sega Genesis/Saturn/Game Boy Advance/Wii/PC/iOS)
While the Silver Knight is technically the boss of this battle, the real threat in this map is Laser Eye. Laser Eye is, well, exactly what it sounds like: a giant eye that shoots a laser. Laser Eye spends a set amount of turns charging before unleashing a devastating blow straight across the map, dealing significant damage to any ally or enemy in its path. Navigating the narrow passage that Laser Eye shoots down in order to reach the Silver Knight is tricky since you have to resist playing the way you’ve been taught to play in previous battles – charge forward with all your might. The trick to Laser Eye is taking it slow, knowing the spaces where its beam won’t hit your units, and properly equipping your flying units to be able to handle the other enemy units who are just as much subjected to Laser Eye’s wanton destruction.
44. Liquid Snake
Metal Gear Solid (1998, PlayStation/PS3/PSP/PC)
The Liquid Snake fight, unlike the rest of Metal Gear Solid’s menagerie, is hard simply for the sake of being hard. After defeating the bipedal nuclear weapon known as Metal Gear Rex, you then have to fight its pilot, using stodgy PlayStation 1 controls to perform close-quarters combat as a timer blinks down. So close to the end of the game, a game meant for stealth sticks you with a fist fight and a timer that feels unforgiving.
Tekken 5 (2004, Arcade/PS2)
A fighting game boss so superpowered he wasn’t initially included as a playable character, Jinpachi is a large, powerful foe who overwhelms the screen. Tremendously strong but quite slow with a relatively small arsenal of moves, the worst thing about Jinpachi is his power to stun opponents at a moment’s notice, leaving them entirely vulnerable to a devastating combo. Although important in the grand, ridiculous story of Tekken, Jinpachi would only return for two more games.
42. Wood Man
Mega Man 2 (1988, Nintendo Entertainment System)
Mega Man bosses terrorized many a small child in the late 1980s with lengthy levels of tough jumps and tougher enemies, capped off by stupidly difficult boss battles. Wood Man was arguably the worst. The log-shaped robot used a powerful leaf weapon, and it seemed that leaves were everywhere in that fight — falling from the ceiling, flying through the air, and spinning around Wood Man to provide him with a shield against attacks. Nobody’s ever been afraid of leaves before, but stepping into Wood Man’s domain, you knew to fear nature’s digital wrath. Of course, if you were a Mega Man 2 player in the know, you’d just grab the right power to defeat Wood Man before you got to him. But if you didn’t know to get the Atomic Fire power first, may the forest gods help you.
Demon’s Souls (2009, PS3)
This demon, found high above the Fool’s Idol Archstone in Demon’s Souls, is a formidable opponent. A winged chimeralike beast, it uses swipes, a lunging attack, and a self-buff while in melee range. While flying, it shoots soul arrows at the player. At the one-minute mark, a second Maneater joins the fray. And to make matters worse, the battle takes place on a narrow walkway, adding the danger of death by gravity to the mix. A savvy player can make this fight a lot easier by standing near the fog door and shooting the first Maneater with arrows as it enters the arena. Cheesy, but effective.
Shadow of the Colossus (2005, PS2/PS3)
Colossus 10, or Dirge, is one of the most difficult bosses in Shadow of the Colossus. Fighting this giant sandworm requires excellent endurance, patience, technical skill, and timing. It’s a dance of enticing the colossus’s attention enough to expose its head from the sand, allowing for a shot in the eye that stuns Dirge, providing the opening to climb atop this colossus and do what the game lets you do best: take down giant monsters in very cool ways.
39. General Raam
Gears of War (2006, Xbox 360/Xbox One/PC)
In a game all about using cover and firing at just the right time, General Raam, the final boss of the first Gears of War, never gives you an opening. Covered by an organic suit of armor, wielding a mobile turret, he bears down on you without ceasing. To beat him, you have to shoot off his armor and then, in proper Gears fashion, shoot off the rest of him. Good luck doing that without getting shredded by turret fire. If you can, do this fight in co-op. That way you can use your friend as a distraction.
God of War (2005, PS2/PS3)
The final confrontation against God of War’s titular antagonist wants to impress you as much as it wants to crush you. By the time you face Ares as the angry mortal Kratos, you’ve gained enough power to be on equal footing with the god of war — but then the fight moves to Kratos’s mind, where you must defend a vision of his family from a nigh-endless horde of doppelgängers. Manage to do that and you’ll be stripped of your powers, with naught but an ancient blade to take on Ares with — and the finest test of your mettle yet. These encounters paved the way for a new era of cinematic boss confrontations in action games, where presentation matters as much as challenge.
37. Spider Guardian
Metroid Prime 2 (2004, Gamecube)
Possibly the most ridiculous fight in all of Metroid history is the Spider Guardian. It’s not tough in a “this horrifying boss will crush you” kind of way — rather, it’s an intricate series of puzzles that require exact timing and execution. The Spider Guardian is just some kind of weird slug that hangs out in one of Metroid Prime 2’s “morph ball” mazes, areas accessible only by turning player character Samus into a small sphere and rolling around. The whole idea is to plant bombs and activate switches to divert the Spider Guardian through the maze to damage it. The Spider Guardian fight turns a boss battle into an intricate puzzle that requires as much brains as it does quick reflexes, proving inspirational to countless future games.
36. High Dragon
Dragon Age II (2011, Xbox 360/PS3/PC/Mac)
The High Dragon waits for Hawke and their party at the end of the Mine Massacre mission in Act 3 of the game; the beast has slain an entire mine’s worth of innocents and it’s up to you to make the place safe again. The dragon isn’t alone, either; periodically during the fight it’ll summon its young to swarm you, taking potshots at you with its fire while you’re distracted. As one of the toughest fights in Bioware’s high fantasy series, this is a grueling, lengthy contest against a monster that wants nothing more than your blood.
35. Doom’s Bride
Catherine (2011, PS3/Xbox 360)
Picking just one boss from Catherine as the most difficult isn’t an easy task. They’re all mutated, humanesque figures whose murderous pursuit of you makes quickly, competently, and calmly solving puzzles a nightmare. But Doom’s Bride is just downright terrifying, crawling after you, a monster in a wedding dress, wielding a bloody knife instead of a bouquet. The most difficult part of claiming your victory over Doom’s Bride is surviving the tornado she unleashes toward the end of the level, causing random blocks to fall off and insta-death for Vincent if he’s caught in one directly. Doom’s Bride is the epitome of the chase boss, an adrenaline-filled nightmare.
34. Grim Reaper
Castlevania (1986, Nintendo Entertainment System)
The original Castlevania inspired a lot of fond memories, but actually replaying it will remind you how hard the game is. Memorizing enemy patterns is a requirement. The controls are punishing to the imprecise (you can’t, for instance, change direction while jumping). And timing your whip hits, which means anticipating the slight delay before you hit, takes practice.
The Grim Reaper boss battle puts all those together into what can easily be the most frustrating boss in the game. He’ll toss hard-to-see sickles, which you have to deflect with your whip, while moving slowly around the stage. His huge life bar means that you have to keep up whipping away sickles while trying to get in a hit or two — a long and tedious process. The Grim Reaper cemented Castlevania’s reputation for being a game that forces you to prepare properly, and its later sequels (along with the Metroid series) spawned a whole genre for 2-D exploration action games: Metroidvanias.
Dark Souls: Artorias of the Abyss (2011, PS3/Xbox 360/PC)
Artorias the Abysswalker is built up as a legend throughout the runtime of Dark Souls, and when you face off with him in the DLC named after him it almost lives up to the hype. He feels remarkably like fighting another player, behaving with a realistic and unpredictable set of rolls, dodges, and slashes. Except he’s much stronger than you are, and even with a broken arm he’s more than a match for most players. Fighting Artorias is a gripping, intense challenge, and you can see shades of his design in every good one-on-one fight in the Souls games (and their various imitators).
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (1996, Super Nintendo/Wii)
Culex is a reference to the Final Fantasy series, an attempt at blending two disparate game franchises as Super Mario RPG entered Final Fantasy’s turf (with the help of developer Square, of course). The boss battle with Culex solidifies the weird place Super Mario RPG occupies in the Mario universe, a blend of beloved games and genres. And as an optional fight that many players won’t even find without help, it was far more difficult than anything else in the game.
Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse (1989, Nintendo Entertainment System)
In the official Castlevania cosmology, Death plays second fiddle to Dracula, despite being, you know, death. In Castlevania III, it ends up working out, because Death is much harder to beat than Drac himself. As in the original Castlevania, Death faces off against you alongside a set of whirling, randomly moving scythes, which you’ll spend most of your time trying to avoid, at the cost of your actual task, which is, uh, killing Death. But unlike the original Castlevania, Death has a second form — a floating head that whirls around the room after you. It’s hard to imagine the disappointment you feel the first time you beat Death’s first form, only to realize that you now have to face round two with whatever pathetic HP you have left.
30. Dark Link
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998, Nintendo 64/GameCube//Wii/3DS)
Dark Link is one of the hardest fights in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and he’s not even a proper boss. He’s a mini-boss, more like it, an atmospheric one to boot. You walk into a vast, empty room with a strange tree in the middle, and then he’s there, from the ether, completely wrecking you. What makes this fight so tricky is that Dark Link can predict and block almost all of your standard moves, forcing you to either fight without using the game’s targeting system or relying on tricks and items to get through.
29. The Reaper
Persona 3 (2007, PS2/PSP)
Picture this: You’re exploring Tartarus, Persona 3’s many-floored dungeon, just minding your own business and fighting shadows. Something feels off, though. Chains are rattling. There’s a whisper: “It must be Death!” The Reaper appears randomly throughout Persona 3, ready to wipe out hours of dungeon-crawling progress in one battle. Until the later levels of the game, it’s a chilling experience, and one that makes you immediately search for a staircase or an exit. Sure, the Reaper becomes beatable around level 75 or so, but that’s not very reassuring when your party is level 20 and you’ve just turned the corner to find a dead end as the sound of chains gets ever closer.
28. Terramorphous the Invincible
Borderlands 2 (2012, PS3/PS4/Xbox 360/Xbox One/PC/Mac/Linux)
Terramorphous is a massive tentacled terror; an intended capper to Borderlands 2, this raid boss is designed to wreck even the most prepared players. Spawning only in a mission called You Will Die (Seriously), Terramorphous is an eldritch killing machine, all armor and flailing limbs, and each one of these limbs can kill you in a hit or two. The initial level cap in Borderlands 2 was level 50. This guy is 52. Bring friends and your best guns, and keep your distance.
27. Death Egg Robot
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (1992, Sega Genesis/3DS/iOS/Android)
For the entirety of Sonic 2, there’s a safety net between you and failure, and that’s the rings you’ve collected. If you got hit and had some rings in your possession, you’d lose them all, but you’d survive — hopefully with time to get a few back. Not so in the final act of Death Egg Zone, where Sonic faces off against Dr. Eggman for the final time, and there isn’t a single ring in sight. Not only did you have to learn and adapt to the most complex boss in the game, you had to do it without any rings to protect you — that is, if you even survived a first fight against your robot doppelgänger Mecha Sonic. Sonic 2 was about speed, but to challenge its players one last time, it forced them to slow down.
Resident Evil: Code Veronica (2000, PS2/PS3/Xbox 360/GameCube)
There isn’t really a trick to beating Tyrant; he’s just difficult, even moreso if you’re not prepared and haven’t properly conserved your strongest ammo throughout the game, the anti-B.O.W. grenades. Only when Tyrant is properly hurt and bleeding after taking some blows is it a good idea to launch the catapult in the cargo bay to send Tyrant flying off the plane and down to his death. The epic shot of his butt when he first boards the plane will forever go down as one of the sexiest introductions to a boss.
25. Omega Weapon
Final Fantasy VIII (1999, PlayStation/PC)
The hardest bosses in Final Fantasy games are never the main antagonists, a tradition that carried into Final Fantasy VIII. Ultimecia and her squad of sorceresses put up a good fight, but it was optional boss Omega Weapon that presented the greatest challenge. Omega Weapon has over a million HP, and beating it requires masterful use of FFVIII’s Junction system. Otherwise your party is going to be faced with attacks that cause automatic knockouts and one-hit kills. Oh, and even finding Omega Weapon requires completing a timed side mission in Ultimecia’s Castle, which is a challenging enough place on its own.
24. Lingering Will
Kingdom Hearts 2 Final Mix+ (2007, PS2)
Kingdom Hearts has a thing for adding secret bosses in its Japanese rereleases. These fights are, invariably, incredibly challenging, and are based on parts of the series’ sprawling narrative that won’t be explained until the next game (if you’re lucky). Kingdom Hearts 2’s Japanese rerelease, which hit the west with the 2.5 HD rerelease, had the Lingering Will, a classic example of an enemy that does things with your abilities that you absolutely can’t. He’s an angry suit of armor with a Keyblade, but his Keyblade can transform into, like, a gun and a glider and stuff. Why can’t anyone else do that, Lingering Will?
23. Shadow Link
Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (1987, Nintendo Entertainment System)
The much-maligned second Legend of Zelda game gets a lot of heat, but one thing it had going for it was a quintessential boss moment: Shadow Link. The boss fight pits players against a perfect copy of their character — one that copies your moves as quickly as you can rattle them off, and can almost perfectly match you blow for blow. Fighting a version of yourself that copied your every move was stupidly tough but extremely inventive. An evil shadow version of Link was so iconic, Nintendo reused the idea repeatedly in Zelda games, rolling it into the future iterations of the franchise.
22. Ornstein and Smough
Dark Souls (2011, PS3/Xbox 360/PC)
The debate about what was the hardest boss fight in Dark Souls is eternal, but Ornstein and Smough have a strong case. A Laurel-and-Hardy duo, Ornstein carried a huge spear while Smough waddled around with a massive hammer. Ornstein can harry you from far away, and if Smough gets in close, his hammer swings hit hard and are difficult to dodge. And after you take down one, the other absorbs his partner’s soul and immediately gets much, much more difficult.
From Software obviously enjoyed the idea of forcing players to deal with multiple bosses; Dark Souls 2 is littered with boss fights that have you taking on multiple enemies (including, at one point, a horde of mohawked rats).
21. The End
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (2004, PS2/PS3/Xbox 360/3DS)
The End is several Metal Gear Solid hallmarks wrapped up in a single encounter: a tense sniper duel, a memorably strange foe, and a weird gimmick to exploit that served as a punch line for a joke players didn’t even know was being set up. Beating the End under normal circumstances was a challenge of stealth and patience, requiring the strength of will necessary to move with extreme care, lest master sniper the End spot you from wherever he’s hiding and put a tranquilizer round in you. Of course, you could always just save your game and wait a week (or manually set your PlayStation’s clock ahead) and the End would die of old age.
20. Ludwig, the Accursed
Bloodborne: The Old Hunters (2015, PS4)
A confrontation that’s really two rolled into one: For the first half of the fight, Ludwig is a grotesque and primal beast, one you’d think is best handled with lots of dodging — but you’d be wrong. He’s far too aggressive for that. Instead, players must get close — especially in the second half, when Ludwig becomes lucid and gains a giant holy blade. Allowing any sort of distance at that point is far riskier, but Ludwig also gains powers that punish you for getting too close. Not a fun guy, that Ludwig. At least the music’s real good.
Destiny: The Dark Below (2014, PS3/PS4/Xbox 360/Xbox One)
A meat grinder for Destiny players who made it to the finale of the Crota’s End raid, Crota eschewed a lot of the problem-solving and variation that defined most of Destiny’s raid bosses in favor of sheer endurance. Players found themselves contending with their health regeneration stunted, constantly under fire from minions both large and small, and only actually able to send one player at a time to damage Crota during a brief, fleeting window. Oh, and every time anyone did this, Crota would attempt a maneuver that would instantly kill every member of your team if you weren’t vigilant. It was so grueling that Destiny players willingly disconnected their consoles from the internet once they found out they could glitch their way to victory.
Castlevania (1986, Nintendo Entertainment System)
Dracula is a recurring villain in the long-running Castlevania series, and the master vampire usually puts up a good fight. It all started with 1986’s Castlevania for Nintendo, a game that required a lot of trial and error throughout. Since this was long before console hard drives and memory cards, there wasn’t any way to save your progress, and you certainly couldn’t look to the internet for walkthroughs and video tutorials. Defeating Dracula’s multiple forms to successfully complete the game meant memorizing his patterns and figuring out which items worked best; in those days, it could take multiple playthroughs before giving the final boss a run for his money.
Mortal Kombat (1992, Arcade/Sega Genesis/Super Nintendo/PS2/Xbox)
Anyone who spent time playing the single-player campaign mode of the original Mortal Kombat could quickly learn how to “cheese” their way up to the final two bosses — the computer opponent’s AI was just too predictable. Then there was Goro, the game’s penultimate boss and by far the hardest in the game.
Goro has four arms and a fondness for anabolic steroids. Get in close and his four fists will put you down in just a few hits. Try to turtle and stay away, and he’ll spam fast, hard-hitting projectiles to wear you down. To beat him, wait for him to approach and then high-kick in. If he blocks the high kick, uppercut and then hope you get away clean. But it’s entirely possible you won’t. Fans’ love-hate relationship with Goro prompted Midway to introduce the playable Sheeva, a similarly four-armed fighter, in Mortal Kombat III.
Jaws (1987, Nintendo Entertainment System)
Unlike some of the optional bosses on this list, you can’t avoid Jaws in this old-school NES title. In fact, the entire game is about taking down the titular great white. Sadly, you won’t find eight-bit versions of Chief Brody or the loose cannon Quint here; it’s just you, the nameless scuba diver, versus the shark. The final fight requires excellent timing in order to lure Jaws out and stab him with the bow of your boat, and messing up means you get to do the whole thing all over again. It’s a game that takes years or 20 minutes to beat, depending on how good you are.
Kingdom Hearts (PS2, 2002)
As Sora, the plucky, naive hero of Square Enix’s bizarre Disney–Final Fantasy crossover, you’re reaching the climax of your journey, and in classic JRPG fashion, your best friend wants to kill you. Worse yet, he has help. Possessed by Ansem, the Big Bad of the series (well, actually, he’s not really Ansem, he’s — never mind, it’s complicated), Riku has newfound mastery of the powers of darkness and he’s an absolute juggernaut in this fight.
First, he separates you from your party, then he charges across the small combat arena with punishing, unblockable dash attacks. Survivability in Kingdom Hearts relies on finding brief pockets of safety to heal, and Riku/Ansem is determined not to give you a single one. Worse yet, it’s a helluva difficulty spike. For most of the game, you prance around fighting Jafar and cute shadow rats, and then all of a sudden Riku is also Billy Zane (seriously, Billy Zane voiced the baddie in Kingdom Hearts; 2002 was wild) and you’re dying over, and over, and over again. You’re going to need more than the power of friendship to get out of this one.
14. M. Bison
Street Fighter II (1991, Arcade/Super Nintendo/PlayStation/iOS/Switch)
Easy to write off as cheap or overpowered, M. Bison immediately makes an impression for showcasing an arsenal of moves that seems more aggressive and powerful than anything you’ve seen before. Fond of his signature Psycho Crusher move, he’ll mop the floor with you and make it look easy. But few fighting games beg to be mastered like Street Fighter II, and with enough practice, you’ll find the tools are there to slip your way in between Bison’s overwhelming attacks and snatch victory with calloused thumbs. The perfect boss for the perfect fighting game, M. Bison would go on to inspire every ridiculously powerful final opponent in the ’90s fighting-game boom and beyond.
Ninja Gaiden (2004, Xbox)
Team Ninja’s 2004 masterpiece Ninja Gaiden was hard during an era when video games were becoming more like theme-park rides: Keep your hands and feet inside the ride and you’ll be fine. Ninja Gaiden, on the other hand, required precise timing, quick reflexes, and the ability to make choices on the fly.
Nowhere was this clearer than the game’s seventh boss, the winged Alma. There are no good options when fighting her. Try to gain some distance and Alma unleashes a barrage of homing projectiles. Move in close and she dodges away while also using her ability to go vertical to punish you for overreaching. Your best hope is dodging her attacks and then rushing in for the few seconds she’s vulnerable. Beating Alma required a combination of tactics, positioning, and sustained focus that set the stage for some of the truly punishing bosses of the Dark Souls series.
12. Pandemonium Warden
Final Fantasy XI (2002, PS2/Xbox 360/PC)
Final Fantasy XI’s Pandemonium Warden was once so hard to beat it made players sick — literally. About 36 members of a “linkshell” (a.k.a. guild) called Beyond the Limitation squared off with the boss over an 18-hour period in 2008. Some of them reportedly became physically ill, passing out or vomiting during the marathon battle. Finally, they decided to end the fight “before we risked turning into a horrible new story about how video games ruin people’s lives,” one member said at the time.
So why was the Pandemonium Warden so tough? It took on 20 different forms during the fight, and some of them could literally take hours to beat. After Beyond the Limitation’s infamous attempt, developer Square Enix stepped in and reduced the Warden’s number of forms to ten. It also added a two-hour time limit. Seven months later, a linkshell called Shard of Apathy finally killed the Warden — with five minutes to spare.
11. Fume Knight
Dark Souls 2: Crown of the Old Iron King (2014, PS3/PS4/Xbox 360/Xbox One/PC)
After fighting your way through the second Dark Souls 2 DLC, descending through a kingdom of ash, you find yourself in a plain arena, and this guy waits for you. Oh, you say. He’s just another dude in armor. I’ve fought tons of these. This will be fine. How wrong you are. The Fume Knight feels, at first blush, like an imitation of the Artorias fight from the first game, but his moves seem specifically designed to punish players who use the kind of tactics that work against Artorias. His second, smaller sword allows him to attack from any angle, preventing you from just following his off arm to better dodge attacks.
As soon as you get used to these punishing patterns and start gaining ground, he switches stances, imbuing his main sword with elemental power that can damage you through any shield in the game, and attacks you with a speed and ferocity that’s difficult to weather. The Fume Knight is one of the hardest enemies in all of the Souls games.
10. Mike Tyson
Punch-Out!! (1984, Arcade/Nintendo Entertainment System)
Punch Out is a game first and foremost about rhythm. Its fights are dances; juke left, juke right, don’t forget to stay light on your feet. After a game full of tight, rhythmic encounters with colorful (and sometimes unfortunate) national stereotypes, fighting Mike Tyson is like doing that well-practiced dance with a bulldozer. Every punch has the potential to knock out our plucky hero, Little Mac, and beating him requires punishing every opening Tyson gives you. Not that he’ll give you many. The former heavyweight champion was the nemesis of a great many young Nintendo players, and even though he was replaced with Mr. Sandman in later iterations due to licensing, you know exactly who you’re fighting.
9. Dr. Wily’s Yellow Devil
Mega Man (1987, Nintendo Entertainment System)
Talk about your nightmare fights. The original Mega Man is difficult enough as it is, composed almost completely of tough-to-kill enemies, unforgiving, pixel-perfect jumps and stupidly tough boss fights with killer robots. But then you get to the end of the game, and come across a huge yellow bad guy who looks like he belongs in a Tasmanian Devil cartoon. And he splits apart, with huge chunks of his body flying at you. It looks like the game is glitching out, possessed by Satan with the singular goal of killing you and wrecking your day. Fitting that the big weird yellow creature is called the Yellow Devil, because fighting this guy, at least until you memorize all his patterns, is hell made video game. The Yellow Devil was unlike anything up to that point in Mega Man, and it would influence action games that followed as they created their own huge, epic boss fights that required tons of skill and mastery.
Kingdom Hearts 2 (2006, PS2)
In Final Fantasy VII, Sephiroth is daunting, but nowhere near impossible. In Kingdom Hearts II, where he appears as an optional boss fight, it’s a different story entirely. Moving from the turn-based battles of FFVII to the action-oriented Kingdom Hearts showed just how brutal Sephiroth could be. It’s a one-on-one fight, which means no assistance or healing from Donald and Goofy, and the battle requires impeccable timing just to land a hit. Meanwhile, Sephiroth comes at Sora with an obscene number of hit points and ultra-powerful abilities, which gain strength as he loses HP. If you manage to take him down through a combination of well-timed special attacks and a healthy stock of potions, you’ll be rewarded with a powerful keyblade for your efforts — but since you can beat KHII without it, you’re mostly doing it for bragging rights.
Demon’s Souls (2009, PS3)
For many, the first boss that displayed what a Souls boss could be was Flamelurker. Encountered relatively early in the game, in the second level of the game’s second world, Flamelurker is immediately intimidating, an aggressive tank of a demon that deals tremendous damage and overwhelms with its fire attacks. Where the first few bosses in Demon’s Souls are mostly out to impress and terrify you by being imposing, besting them generally just involves paying close attention. Flamelurker, however, demanded you understand combat on another level altogether, never losing track of where in space you were and hastily micromanaging your health and stamina. One misstep and you’d be burned to oblivion, but take no risks and you’ll never beat him.
6. Orphan of Kos
Bloodborne: The Old Hunters (2015, PS4)
The big boss of Bloodborne’s The Old Hunters expansion, Orphan of Kos is a skeletal humanoid creature that wields its own placenta in combat like a club. Yuck. When you first encounter it on the shore of a fishing hamlet, it ignores you. Standing next to the corpse of its mother, it sobs and stares at the moon. The battle begins once you approach. The Orphan’s attacks are fast and brutal, and each one is punctuated by a horrifying scream.
Once the Orphan’s health gets low, the thin, cloaklike membrane on its back transforms into something resembling wings and it attacks with blood explosions and lightning. Oh, and it’s also super pissed. Once it’s dead, you’ve really conquered Bloodborne. And you earned it.
5. Emerald Weapon
Final Fantasy VII (1997, PlayStation/PC)
Unlike in Kingdom Hearts 2, Sephiroth isn’t nigh unbeatable in Final Fantasy VII, despite being its main antagonist. As epic as that final boss fight is, the real challenge in FFVII is taking down the various Weapons that appear around the globe — and Emerald Weapon is the hardest of them all. Emerald Weapon lives in the sea and can only be accessed by submarine, which adds another layer of creepiness to the whole encounter. What makes the battle particularly daunting is that the superboss boasts a staggering HP of 1 million, several times more than the One-Winged Angel himself, and the whole thing is on a 20-minute countdown timer — no pressure! Emerald Weapon is also loaded with attacks that will easily knock your party out in one shot if you’re not properly prepared, which means going far beyond the training the rest of the game requires.
4. “Through the Fire and Flames”
Guitar Hero 3 (2007, PS2/PS3/Xbox 360/Wii/PC/Mac)
Online forums freaked out about this track’s inclusion in Guitar Hero 3. It was easy to see why. The first two Guitar Hero games had challenging songs, but “TTFAF” approached masochism. It didn’t even have the standard difficulty ramp, it just launched into a lightning-fast intro (which the truly talented would do using two-hands with a well-timed hammer-on trick). The metal track is almost eight minutes long and it never lets up. It still seems impossible that some players can score a 100 percent perfect run on the track, but “TTFAF” marked a turning point for rhythm games, when they became tests of not just one’s ability to keep time, but tests of raw strength and endurance as well.
3. The Nameless King
Dark Souls 3 (2016, PS4/Xbox One/PC)
There are many Soulsborne bosses on this list, but none of them can raise a person’s blood pressure like Dark Souls 3’s the Nameless King. A tall armored man wielding an electrified spear, this ancient monarch was “a dragon-slaying god of war before he sacrificed everything to ally himself with the ancient dragons,” according to an in-game description.
During the first phase of the fight, the king flies around and tries to hit you with his spear while a wyvern attempts to roast you with its flames. Not only are his attacks unpredictable and difficult to avoid, you’ll spend the entire fight wrestling with the game’s camera, too, since your opponent is too big to fit on the screen. And when you finally defeat him, joke’s on you: A second phase begins that’s even more demanding. Taking him down requires a lot of patience (and maybe some lightning resist gear), and it’s one of the Souls series’ ultimate challenges.
World of Warcraft (2004, PC/Mac)
C’Thun, the fantasy genre’s second-most-popular evil eye, is the final boss in World of Warcraft’s Temple of Ahn’Qiraj raid dungeon. Blizzard added the Old God to the game in 2006, and at that time he was considered its hardest encounter. He ate some of WoW’s hardiest guilds for lunch — literally. During the fight, C’Thun periodically swallowed random players and slowly digested them in his stomach. His green eye beam insta-killed anyone caught in it. He also spawned tentacles that could make short work of a 40-man raid group if they weren’t handled efficiently. If the raiders were good and/or lucky, they’d weaken C’Thun for 45 seconds at a time, barely denting his massive health pool. It was an impossible, infuriating battle that stretched many of WoW’s finest guilds to their breaking point.
Once developer Blizzard realized the encounter was broken, it stepped in and nerfed C’Thun in a patch. A European guild called Nihilum took him down that same day, and other guilds shortly followed suit. Now, 11 years later, high-level players in powerful gear can solo the Old God, and his brief reign of terror is a footnote in World of Warcraft history.
Destiny: House of Wolves (2015, PS4/Xbox One/PS3/Xbox 360)
Destiny became a phenomenon among its most dedicated players, spawning communities on sites like Reddit that became tight-knit societies of gamers working to help each other succeed. Maybe their toughest challenge was Skolas, the stupidly hard final boss of the game’s second expansion, House of Wolves. Skolas awaited in the Prison of Elders, an arena full of big fights, and the weekly challenges to defeat him often included modifiers that made certain types of weapons devastatingly powerful. Skolas and almost all of his minions, aliens known as the Fallen, carry “arc” weapons, so the “arc burn” modifier made the fight basically impossible for the vast majority of teams — not that it stopped Destiny players from gathering in groups of three to try to take Skolas down, sometimes for hours at a time.
The battle was so rough developer Bungie wound up removing the burn modifiers so that players would actually be able to win — but not before many a Destiny addict questioned why they played the game at all, before reluctantly diving in to try to take down Skolas once again.