The final showdown. The be-all end-all. The grand finale. We’ve all spent hours, maybe more than we’d care to admit, making our ways to the final bosses of our favorite games, hoping that last bout will live up to the journey before it. So we’ve pulled together our list of the most memorable, skill-testing, emotionally cathartic final boss battles of all time. Our main criteria here was that we didn’t just want bosses iconic on name alone. Sure, Bowser might be one of the most famous final villains of all time, but do any of his encounters actually rank up there with the best? We didn’t think so, but we did think these fights were the 10 best final bosses of all time.
10. The Master – Fallout
Victory through diplomacy is, sadly, a rare treat in video games. Many RPGs end with a battle against a god-tier foe which can be unsatisfying despite how epic the fight may be. But the diplomatic victory against The Master in Fallout hits different. An entity that prides itself on its philosophical musings and logical master plan to transform the human race into Super Mutants to survive an irradiated wasteland makes sense until you uncover one important detail the Master has overlooked. Super Mutants are sterile. Confronting your enemy with this simple fact, rather than a drawn-out battle, causes this evil entity made up of multiple humans (each with distinct, unnerving voices) and machinery to commit suicide. You win with a thought, not a fight, reminding us that in RPGs, dialogue choices are just as viable as your fists.
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9. Mother Brain – Super Metroid
Super Metroid is a frightening, lonely game, and the Mother Brain fight serves to drive both those attributes home with this final fight. It begins simply enough, with some standard platforming and scattered attacks flying at Samus. But upon entering its second phase, its brain grows a bipedal body and becomes too powerful to defeat. Hopelessly outgunned by the horrifying creature, Samus can only kneel and breathe heavily as she prepares herself for death. At the last moment, the metroid hatchling she’s been hunting comes to her aid, draining Mother Brain of her power and giving it to Samus. After Mother Brain kills the Metroid, Samus ends the monster with both righteous fury and her new hyper beam. It’s an extremely satisfying conclusion to an already incredible game, with that screech we can still hear to this day.
8. Jergingha – Wonderful 101
Platinum Games is one of the best in the business when it comes to boss battles, and Platinum’s Jubileus and Senator Armstrong fights could have easily made it to this list, too. But we settled on Wonderful 101’s Jergingha as the best of the best out of Platinum’s final bosses. This fight is just pure hype, plain and simple. You’re in space battling against the final form of a planet-sized world-destroyer, fully united with the whole team at full power. It’s a delightful spectacle, and it includes that Wonderful 101 theme blasting through your speakers. Absolutely unforgettable.
7. Baldur – God of War
God of War’s final fight brings its story full circle, as Baldur was the first true boss Kratos faces early on, though this time you have to use much more of Kratos’ – and Atreus’ – expansive skillset to win. Players have to nimbly switch between different arrow shots, shield parries, Leviathan Axe throws, and Blades of Chaos swipes to bring down a truly broken man, something the battle makes ample time to showcase without ever hurting the pace and thrill of the fight. Everything we’ve learned about his tragic past comes to a head as his curse is broken by mistletoe, and his mother Freya promises to rain fury down upon Kratos and son for what they’ve done to her child.
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6. Gwyn – Dark Souls
Dark Souls’ thrilling final encounter works whether you’re invested in the overarching story or not. For those looking to rekindle the first flame (or snuff it out), you must venture into a realm of hubris: The kiln of the first flame, a dilapidated attempt to maintain some semblance of control in a world of darkness and chaos. That hubris is underscored by a hint of sadness as you step into the arena and are greeted by a shocking, solemn dirge instead of the usual bombast that accompanies most Dark Souls boss encounters. But whether you’ve delved deep into Lordran’s lore or are simply in it to master every battle, the fight with Gwyn is immediately evocative. The sight of a boss who’s roughly human-sized tends to be a big “uh oh” moment in Soulsborne games, and Gwyn is a true test of whether or not you’ve learned how to roll, parry, and not get greedy with your attacks. In a series full of teachable moments designed to help you best some tricky foes, Gwyn’s fight is not only one of the fiercest, but also one of the most satisfying.
5. Sephiroth – Final Fantasy 7
Sephiroth is the most popular Final Fantasy villain of all time, and the final battle against him that takes place deep in the heart of an impact crater is a big reason why. Amid thundering Latin choral vocals — a major achievement in itself on the original PlayStation — Sephiroth descends from the heavens to battle Cloud and his compatriots at the end of Final Fantasy VII. And the epic, sweeping battle is matched by Sephiroth’s moveset, most notably his Supernova attack, in which an asteroid wrecks the entire solar system as it hurls toward the party. It’s a battle that made “One-Winged Angel” one of the most famous pieces of video game music and cemented Sephiroth as not just one of Square Enix’s most revered villains, but one that still resonates with JRPG fans to this day.
4. Isshin – Sekiro
Isshin the Sword Saint, like many bosses in Sekiro, is just a real jerk. But a large part of the reason why this boss fight is so sublime is because of how unforgiving he is, and how much he pushes players to their limits. Isshin is a true final boss in the sense that it’s a battle that represents the culmination of everything you’ve learned up to this point in Sekiro’s brilliant combat system. You’ll need patience, on-point reflexes, a total mastery of the parry system, and the ability to recognize when to use mikiri or sweep counters. There’s simply no other way around it. Isshin never takes it easy on you, and just when you think you’ve got him figured out, you move on to his next phase and he adds a host of new deadly tricks you’ll have to master fighting against. But mastering each and every phase is worth it, because few bosses, if any, are as satisfying to defeat as this one. Sekiro is a game where your skill is the only factor at play, and you’re gonna need a lot of it in order to claim victory against Isshin.
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3. Ganondorf – The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker
A showdown between Link and Ganon is the inevitable conclusion to most Legend of Zelda games. What sets this encounter apart is its emotional highs. For the first (and only) time in the franchise, Ganondorf has a personality. He’s actively antagonistic toward Link and Zelda, and he sports a flair for the dramatic — the dude flips around wielding two swords atop a tower named after himself as the world floods around you, curtaining the arena in torrential waterfalls. And his casual, nasty backhand of Zelda mid-battle only makes the final blows against him all the more resonant and satisfying. Bouncing Zelda’s light arrow off your shield to follow up with an uncharacteristically brutal ending for the familiar foe, as Link delivers the killing blow by introducing the sharp end of the Master Sword into Ganondorf’s forehead. A fitting end for Wind Waker’s memorable Ganondorf.
2. Sans – Undertale
Undertale offers a different final boss depending on your actions, and each is uniquely memorable in their own right. Should you choose to systematically hunt down and kill every monster you can find in the underground, becoming an unstoppable killing machine in the process, Sans the skeleton is Undertale’s rebuttal to your genocidal acts. The ensuing fight is an unpredictable roller coaster of attacks that breaks all of your expectations about how battles are fought in Undertale. And that’s if you can even survive his opening salvo. Sans refuses to let you land a hit, breaks the fourth wall to taunt your repeated attempts, and even twists the rules of turn-based fighting mechanics to render you powerless. Add the incredibly catchy battle theme “Megalovania” to the mix and you have the perfect recipe for a boss fight that brilliantly plays with expectations.
1. The Boss – Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
It’s only fitting that The Boss of Big Boss should claim the top spot on our list. Metal Gear is known for its theatrical, high-stakes boss battles, but the final encounter in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater sits above the rest. Ratcheting up the personal stakes, Snake must kill his adoptive mother and mentor. Even while shackled by duty to a fight she didn’t want, The Boss is both a mechanically and thematically difficult and memorable encounter, as she turns the hand-to-hand combat training she and Snake developed together against him. There are many different methods of defeating her, from sniping, to hand-to-hand counters, to the use of thermal goggles, but the fight always ends in the same, emotionally stirring way: a broken man, standing over the only woman he ever loved as he, and the player, are forced to pull the trigger.
Boss battles have been a staple of video games since the early days, but those are our 10 favorite boss battles of all time. Did your favorites make the list, or are there other worthy battles you want to shout out? Make sure to sound off in the comments below, or go check out our Top 10 Metroidvanias and Top 10 FPS campaigns.