Top Ten Boss Battle Themes
Oh boss battles. Where would video games be without them? From the fun to ridiculously challenging, Boss battles are the ultimate test of skill in a video game. Kinda like an exam for the player only much more awesome. But what makes certain boss battles stand out above others? The design of both your opponent and the battle arena are pretty important, giving the fight a sense of scale. Then there is the combat itself from how the boss moves and attacks opposed to whatever strategy the player uses. There is one final ingredient to the mix to help a boss fight cement in the brain of a player for years to come, that is the music. Since boss fights are all about the action, the song that accompanies that action really helps set the mood for everything that is to come. Depending on the context of the boss, it can either be a hard core rock song to pump the player up for battle, or a more sombre piece in order to reflect the tragedy of the situation. The more entertaining the song, the more likely we are gonna want to hear it again, whether its playing the boss over again or even listening to it through headphones. In order to honor those songs that get you ready to kick some virtual butt, I’m counting down my top ten boss themes. To keep this fair, I’m only going to use one song per game franchise. Certain game series have incredible song composition so this was a tough list to narrow down. But I hope you enjoy my choices and feel free to list your own in the comments below. All right, let the battle begin!
Now, I’m gonna take a guess and say most of the folks reading this have no idea what Inazuma Eleven even is. If you do know what it is, bravo to you for checking out this awesome DS game. Now for those of you who don’t know, Inazuma Eleven is a soccer RPG that was created by Level 5, the same great people who brought us the Professor Layton games and Ni no Kuni. Set in modern japan, you follow Endou Mamoru and his soccer club, the Raimon Eleven, as they strive to be the best team in the country. While it is clearly an anime style game (enough to get its own anime spin off once its popularity soared) and is incredibly silly due to the ‘magical’ soccer techniques that can set balls on fire, it is still a lot of fun and definitely worth checking out. On the music front, the Inazuma series has a lot of great music for giving locals atmosphere or pumping up the player for a match. The one which is the most memorable for me, is Crusade of the Gods, the match theme for the final game against Zeus Academy.
Yes, it is not technically what most folks would consider a boss fight, but in the context of the game, this is very much the final challenge before completing the game. After getting tons of build up for the final confrontation, you face Zeus Academy in their flying stadium and are treated to Crusade of the Gods. While I enjoy a majority of the music in this series, I like this one the most since it does a great job setting the tone of the match. The kids on the Zeus team are the best of the best, and Crusade of the Gods does an amazing job at reflecting the epic tension when you face someone who has no equal. This song really captures the feeling of taking on seemingly insurmountable odds but makes you more excited to try and overcome those odds instead of just intimidating you. Even for a DS song, Crusade of the Gods is a grand piece of music that can make you feel that you can take on anything, even the gods themselves.
Being a Sonic fan, there was a lot of good music to choose so this was a tough choice. But when it came down to it, I had to go with Sonic Vs. Shadow theme from Sonic Adventure 2. Ever since putting the game into the Sega Genesis or Gamecube, these were the characters we were promised to have an epic showdown. After playing through all of the hero or all of the dark storylines we finally got the match up of the ages, and it was awesome. While not as hard core as Live and Learn, the most infamous of Sonic Adventure 2’s soundtrack, Sonic Vs Shadow is an interesting piece on how it helps build the rivalry between the two hedgehogs. As soon as the song begins it hits you with a fast beat that makes you want to get up and run just to keep up. The melody gives off a tense sound and comes hard and fast just like the two characters as they go at each other in high speeds. The lyrics of the song while a bit inaudible next the beat of the song are pretty interesting.
“Stars don’t twinkle, the moon doesn’t shine.
Birds don’t sing, the wind doesn’t blow,
To the pure body, to the perfect existence,
I’m shivering with cold, I struggle against despair.”
More or less selling that when these two fight, everything else disappears. They are so equally matched that they literally can’t focus on anything else but the enemy in front of them, achieving perfect focus. It really gives some interesting context that no matter what these two characters have faced or will face, nothing will be harder or require the same amount of focus as fighting someone who is your equal in almost every way. Even with a whole third section of the game left to complete this boss fight and song is a classic and was fortunate enough to be recreated for Sonic Generations. No matter how much time passes, this is the song that perfectly fits the high speed fight of the two fastest characters in video game history.
Of all the games on this list, this one goes into serious nostalgia territory for me. I can’t tell you how many hours my brother and I spent playing Turtles in Time co-op mode, going through level after level until we ran out of lives. The music for the game was simple but a ton of fun to listen to both on and off the game (Sewer Surfing being a musical gem of the Super Nintendo era). That being said, it was the final battle with Super Shredder that had me and my brother at the edge of our seats. After having spent hours battling to the Technodrome, even fighting through time itself, you finally make it to the Shredder. Who pulls out all the stops to take you down. The song begins by building tension repeating two notes over and over, only to break into the main melody that hits you like a punch to the gut. Much like Super Shredder, it hits you hard and fast keeping the player tense and on their toes for whatever is going to be thrown their way. I remember getting really nervous whenever I heard this music since my brother and I had just played through the entire game and were only moments away from finishing it. All that stood in the way was the Shredder himself, and it one of the hardest boss fights in my earliest gaming experience. For an Super Nintendo game based on the Ninja Turtles, this boss theme set the tone in a matter of seconds and to this day is a good representation of why the Shredder can be such a terrifying villain.
As I’ve said in previous articles, I will forever love Cyberconnect2 for the games they make and how they present them. Case in point, the .Hack//GU series for the Playstation 2 and the first game of theirs that I had ever played. Most boss fights in this series consisted of the Avatar battles where the protagonist, Haseo, takes control of the Morgana factor Skeith to fight the virus currently infecting the World:R2. While the avatar fights against these corrupting entities was okay, the excitement for battle was upped when you had to fight other avatars of the Morganna Factors, each boss with their own distinct theme music. The coolest out of all of them however, is the theme of the third Phase, Magus of the Propagation. Since Magus is the first of the Phases we see in the game, it was important to give a good impression on how these sentient programs had been reformatted to fit the new game, and it did it in spades.
‘Differences between People’ has a very cool sound like something out of a film about extraterrestrials. The best part of the song for me however is that the sound of the repeating notes of the bell (which is in every song focused on the Phases) are complimented extremely well by the base line, giving the song a lot of power to it. Out of all the fights with the various Phases the fight with Magus and his Epitaph user, Kuhn, is the most emotionally charged due to the fact that is Haseo who has let his Phase take over while Kuhn is the sane one in the room. The song in a way not only helps emphasis Haseo and Kuhn’s difference in opinion on the use of power but also the difference between them in terms of experience. Kuhn has been using Megus for a lot longer than Haseo has been using his avatar, and is well aware of the consequences of when the Phase consumes the users will, a lesson which he tries to teach Haseo in their one and only major fight. Emotional, intriguing and downright cool, Magus was the best opening act for all the cool avatar battles to come.
I feel like this is a bit of a strange choice since out of all the boss fights in Okami, the battle against Lechu and Nechu in the grand scheme of the game didn’t play too big of a role in the main story. Certainly not like the fight against Orochi or even Yami. That being said however, if you asked me what was my favorite boss fight in the game, I would pick this one hands down. Not only are the opponents in this fight given great build up after seeing what they have done to the region of Kamui, but it’s also the only fight in the game were you fight alongside another character, Oki.
These twin mechanical owls while not the most menacing demons that Amaterasu has had to confront, but they certainly are the creepiest, which their theme Twin Devils displays perfectly. Throughout the whole song you hear the ticking of clocks and the wirring of gears serving as an unsettling reminder that you are fighting machines. The steady chimes in time with the beat give the song a very cold feel, fitting the fights location to a T. The best part however is the flute complimenting the chimes and changing from sharp notes more commonly heard in samurai movies to a more sombre tone as the battle wears on. There no Yami, but even with another character you feel like your taking on more than you bargained for. Even though you have to fight these guys more than once, I for one, had no qualms about facing them again and taking them down for good.
Most of the songs on this list have been specifically designed for a single boss character, ‘Yell Dead Cell’ is the only one that made it on this list that actually is the same theme for several bosses, some more entertaining than others. Out of everything to come out of Metal Gear Solid 2, this piece was easily one of the best due to its fast paced beat and unusual sound. All the members of Dead Cell, an anti-terrorist group gone rogue, are more than a little bizarre but also incredibly dangerous and the song does a good job in continuing that characterization for each of the members you face.
Whether it’s Fatman zipping around on roller skates or Vamp’s elegant acrobatics as he throws daggers at you. Even the short encounter with Fortune fits well with this song, even though you can do nothing to damage her and must instead flee for your life from her constant rail gun barrage. Fitting the game’s theme of espionage style combat, the theme of Dead Cell seems to sound like a battle between ninja’s or super humans. Though this is my least favorite Metal Gear Solid game, I came to like this song so much that I would insist to play it in almost every match I played in Super Smash Brothers Brawl, since it would give me an extra edge. Energetic, fun, and more than a little crazy, ‘Yell Dead Cell’ is a badass boss song that can hone the senses for combat.
When it comes to musical genres, I would have to say Rap is my least favorite genre. Not to say that I despise all Rap but a good majority of it that I’ve listened to on the radios has only varied between the not very interesting to the disgustingly profane. It’s a honest to god shame since if there more rap remixes like this, I would become a huge fan of the genre. Burn My Dread was already a deep song talking about how while you must be conscious of death, that you shouldn’t let the fear of it take away from your enjoyment of living. However, the remix which plays during the final boss fight with Death itself just kind of sticks into your memory if you have gotten this far after slugging your way through the fight with the Nyx Avatar. It was one of those moments in gaming where the combination of the story, music and atmosphere really touched me. How at the end of this long journey, you are literally staring death in the face (the design for this entity is ingenious, creepy yet beautiful at the same time), yet no matter how much it beats you down your character and by extension the player doesn’t waver.
The song itself is doesn’t have that much to it considering it is a short track made specifically for a very plot driven fight, but I love how it sort of builds on the original song, the sound mainly relies on the beat of the drums timed with the occasional power cord from the guitar. It is the lyrics however that really make this song so much fun to listen to. While repeating the original song’s main chorus line, a majority of the lyrics are sung in rap written to create the picture of a person standing in the midst of desperation, turning fear in to righteous anger. Though the game’s main theme is to not fear death, since it is a part of life, another important theme is that while death is not something to fear it also isn’t something to just blindly accept. The lyrics more or less say, if you’re going to die fine but don’t you dare go out without fighting to live with all your strength. Not too much else to it, but it builds on another fantastic song adding a little depth and a badass edge that made the ending of Persona 3 even more iconic that it already was.
Considering all the incredible boss music in the Tales series, this was an incredibly hard choice to make. I kept going between three different songs, one from Tales of Symphonia, ‘Law of Battle’ and ‘Awkward Justice’ from Tales of the Abyss. However, in the end I ended up choosing ‘Meaning of Birth’. Why? Since while it isn’t has hardcore as the other two, it does get the player pumped up for the boss fight its tied with. Not because your eager to take down your opponent necessarily, but because this fight is a much more personal one for the main character, Luke and his opponent Asch the Bloody. Since this list is about the music I’m going to try to not spoil this story for people who have not played Tales of the Abyss yet, since this fight is a MAJOR part of the story. But let’s just say that the relationship between these two characters is incredibly complicated. Starting out as enemies even evolving into reluctant enemies, the two have never really seen eye to eye on anything, despite working together. However it is this fight, where both characters decide that no matter how much they like or dislike each other, in this fight they will test their limits and truly see each other as they truly are.
Due to the fact that is a huge part of the story, no expense was spared in making this song sound as epic as possible. Though people who have seen the opening will recognize the song as an orchestrated version of the game’s main theme, Karma written by the band Bump of Chicken. Though the piece is short enough that you can easily tell when it starts to loop again, it is an excellent crescendo of sound that signifies that the moment you are playing through, is really what this story has been about all along.
I ask you, what is it about the organ that makes it so perfect for specific bosses? Even if said boss isn’t playing the organ, when the sound of one is in a boss fight it is really hard to ignore. And why would you want to? ‘Calling from a Distance’ uses an organ in one of the best ways possible when it comes setting up a great or even challenging boss fight. It is one thing to ready a player for battle by getting them excited or angry, ready to pound the opposition into dust. But what the organ does is something even better, provoking fear in the player. Considering the first boss that this song is used with, it plays out perfectly.
Elyon, the original human who made a pact with the Dragon Odjin has all the same powers and abilities as the protagonist, Ryu. Though he is the one who forbid anyone from the underground city to head to the surface (letting the society fester and become even worse) he is not portrayed as evil or even a bad person. That said, once he stands before you as you make the final push to the door to the surface you know he isn’t going to let you pass without a fight. A fight made all the more daunting as you see him easily make copies of himself and stands behind each of the games heroes in the blink of an eye. This revelation timed with the fast paced organ really triggers the goose bumps as it becomes all too clear that Elyon is much more experience with these dragon based powers than Ryu has had time to learn(he can’t do it that much either unless he wants to die). ‘Calling from a Distance’ may make the boss more intimidating, but the organ combined with the vocal track makes it a gorgeous piece of music all on its own. Making it one of those video game songs that I would love to go see orchestrated in a live concert group.
We all have those characters who we grow up watching throughout our childhood. Whenever we see them it triggers some kind of switch in our brain that makes us feel like little kids again. Since one of the first games I ever played was the original Megaman X for the Super Nintendo, I grew very attached to these characters, particularly Megaman Zero. He was always so cool, had a great backstory and you knew if he was ever on screen, shit was going to go down. This made me all the more excited when I discovered he was getting his own series of games. Throughout all the twists and turns, revelations, and emotional moments that these four games managed to pack in, tying up all the loose ends from the Megaman X universe, nothing came close to the final battle in Megaman Zero 4, as the satellite Ragnarok plummets to earth and serves as the battle ground. As phase 2 begins, the satellite itself is breaking apart, as it gets closer and closer to re-entry. Even as Chiel pleads for Zero to transport back to base, Zero makes the decision to stay behind and finish the job he set out to do, no matter the cost.
What makes this fight and the music accompanying it so cool on top of tragic, is that is very final. This is it, after escaping death time and time again, there is no way out for Zero this time. He makes the choice to fall to his death if it means protecting all that he holds dear. All the more heartwrenching when you realize he made this choice to protect everything that X had believed in. The music during this final phase is nothing short of amazing. It’s pace fits the surrounding environment as it crumbles around you falling faster and faster. The remastered version of this song took the sound even further adding more guitars, which gives the song a very harsh tone. Due to the harsh scenario it is very fitting. Playing this game for the first time, I was eager to win, but the entire time I had tears in my eyes. The minute the song blared to life, and Zero made his choice to stay I had to struggle to focus on the battle while the realization of how this story was going to end hit me full force like a punch to the gut. It was sad, but after the credits rolled I realized that there was no better way to send off such an great character. While Capcom is lesser without him and new instalments of the Megaman series (No Legends 3? WHY?!), it was an incredible boss fight packed with so much emotion an great music that it has made an impact on me that will last for years to come.