Hello again! I know it’s been a while, but I took a break to work on things in my life like some projects and my mental health! However I’m happy to see that we’re back! I just got back from cosplaying as Edward Elric from Fullmetal Alchemist at a con for four days, so I’ll post some pics next week once the photographer sends me them for those interested! Now onto the topic of the next few articles: bosses. Not the kind that yells at you at work, we’re talking about the good kind of bosses, or in this case the absolute best. Video game bosses that go above and beyond to make a truly unforgettable experience, and I’ve got a few I’ve been itching to talk and gush about. I know I’ve talked about them in the past, but this will be more personalized and focused rather than covering a broad array of vague concepts and topics.
There are lots of things that can go into making an amazing boss fight. Mechanics, difficulty, theming, story impact/plot payoff, music, character design and fun factor. Most boss fights will at least do a good job in a few of these categories, as at their core bosses are obstacles that challenge you and ask that you learn or master a part of the game’s core mechanics in order to overcome them. What separates a good boss from a great one is just how many categories they excel in and/or how much they excel where they do shine. A fight can only focus on a few categories but if it executes all of them perfectly it will still be an amazing boss fight. Also as one can imagine, spoilers ahead, though I always do my best to make it as light on spoilers as possible. Especially for this first game I’m going to talk about, because it’s so hard to properly convey everything that makes this game great without experiencing it firsthand, so I don’t wanna spoil too much for someone who might wanna play it after reading this.
I don’t think I’m breaking any new ground when I say that Undertale is an amazing game. Its characters are unique, rich and believable, it is filled to the brim with care and charm, every line of dialogue feels finely tuned to the moment and emotion it’s meant to evoke, it has an innovative and fresh twist on your traditional RPG and story, and on top of all of that the game has multiple routes that you can end up at that change.. EVERYTHING actually. What’s cool about how Undertale goes about it is that it’s not as obvious or clear as other games (at least your first time playing Undertale blind). Your choices matter, but not in the style of having multiple “I have four ways I can respond to this and one of them is good and one is bad” scenarios like so many games do when they try to claim choices matter in their games. The different routes in Undertale can be so vastly different that they’re almost entirely different games and stories.
Characters in Undertale are often deceptively deep and subversive. Many times these characters will appear to be serving one role which leads to you ‘knowing what to expect’ only for them to put a unique spin or twist on it. They are also often not at all as you expect them to be based on their appearance. There are plenty of great examples of this. Undyne the Captain of the Royal Guard, Sans the Skeleton, Flowey the Flower, and of course the boss I will be discussing in depth; Asgore the King/Ruler of the Underground and all monsters.
In Undertale you play as a child who fell into a hole and found themselves in the ‘Underground’, a place where monsters reside and were sealed in after they lost a war with humans long ago. However even the term ‘monster’ is a subversion of its own, as many of the denizens of Underground are peaceful and friendly towards you, even though you are of the race that sealed them away.
Combat in Undertale is a strange beast, and is one of the key components that makes this game so endearing, charming and refreshing. Rather than your typical RPG where you learn spells or awesome new attacks as you progress, Undertale is quite simple. You have 4 different options/menus when a fight breaks out. Fight, Act, Item and Mercy. Fight is pretty much what you’d expect, you do a simple attack that damages the enemy, and with a properly timed input does extra damage. Item also does what you’d expect, it lets you use various (typically curative) items you find throughout the game to aid you in your fight.
Act and Mercy are what makes this game so unique. The Act menu will be completely different for every enemy you come across and has extremely strange commands by RPG standards. Things like Flirt, Joke, Encourage, Flex, Undecorate, Beckon and Laugh. Every enemy you come across has a different personality, and by doing the correct ‘Actions’ you make the enemies no longer wish to fight. You’ll know if you’ve succeeded because their name will change from white to yellow. When you do remove an enemies desire to fight you can then use the Mercy option to end the fight without killing them or getting XP. There’s some significance to that, but that’s more something for you to uncover for yourself. What’s really interesting in this game though is that even the bosses can be spared in the same way. Granted that it takes MUCH longer to do this than with a normal enemy encounter, but it is nevertheless rather interesting.
Enemies don’t attack you in like they do in most games. Rather than them hit you with an attack that does 10 damage, you’ll be placed in a bullet-hell type mini game where you have to avoid the enemy attacks, taking damage every time one of the enemy animations connects with your ‘heart’. It might sound unintuitive or that it’d break up the combat, but it’s a really smooth and seamless experience that becomes quite fun to figure out. Several bosses also change up the formula of the bullet hell in cool and dynamic ways. One really cool touch is that many enemies will throw out different attacks depending on what Act option you chose. An example could be you have two Act options, one is to Insult and one is to Praise. If you Insult them they’ll start crying and you’ll have to dodge a torrent of tears, but if you praise them they get happy and start singing so you instead have to dodge musical notes. Some enemies you can befriend faster with certain Act options but will throw out much more dangerous or difficult to dodge attacks afterwards. Using our example it might be quicker to make the enemy not wanna fight you by Insulting them, but the tears might be much tougher to avoid.
Now that you understand combat, we can discuss more on what makes Asgore such a cool boss. As you travel throughout the Underground you’ll hear people mentioning their king or ruler from time to time, and he is spoken highly of by almost every monster you meet. Their praise is typically worded in one of two ways. He is often praised for his kind heart and ability to lead the monsters and bring them hope, or they praise how amazingly strong he is and how he’s their best chance to free the monsters from the humans. Your first meeting with him is likely not what you expect, after making your way through his castle you find him in one of the deepest rooms… tending to flowers. He knows about you and what you’ve come to do, and how you are also one of the last obstacles in the way to achieve his goals (won’t go into details to avoid spoiling). Yet in spite of that he acts friendly towards you and speaks politely with a hint of melancholy. He clearly wishes things could be different, and you come to see why the people think so highly of him. On top of that, he looks extremely friendly and huggable, almost like a giant stuffed animal.
After that, he takes you to the secret room where the boss fight takes place in and he dons his combat bear and he immediately looks 100 times more intimidating. After you talk a bit more the inevitable boss fight begins and he immediately does something really awesome. He destroys the Mercy button at the start of the fight. There are several reasons/theories as to why he does that, however my personal favorite is that he does not believe himself to be worthy of your Mercy after all the things he’s done, and subconsciously wants you to kill him as punishment for what he has done.
The fight itself is filled to the brim with all the mechanics you’ve learned from the other bosses you’ve encountered. You also have to Fight him if you wish to win the fight. Whilst you can’t end the fight with the Act options, they are still useful as you can speak with him a few times to lower desire to fight you (decreasing his attack and defense). You can use a specific item to lower his stats further as it breaks up painful memories for him. It’s really hard to explain just how fun this boss fight is as it’s really the culmination of all the mechanics you’ve seen in this game blended into a brutally difficult fight. His attack animations are cool, powerful, tough to dodge, and hit really hard (even if you lowered his stats). He’s truly an absolute menace. His boss music is also my personal favorite track in the whole game (which says a lot because this game has great music) and there is a ton of really cool details in his boss theme. Most notably how it’s a mixture of some of the music themes from other characters in the game that are extremely important and tied to Asgore’s life/backstory.
There’s also all the story payoff, as you’ve been preparing for this fight from the moment you stepped into the Underground at the beginning of the game. All the friends you’ve made have warned you that Asgore will kill you if he finds you, that he’s way too strong for you to beat. This encounter has been hyped for hours now and it pays off the hype in full. This fight is really a complete package. It nails the difficulty, has cool mechanics that it uses including the unique destruction of the Mercy button, has really cool character design, amazing music, a ton of story payoff, and perhaps most importantly of all is a really fun challenge. There are so many details I’d love to add to the discussion, however to do so would spoil so much of the magic of Undertale for those who haven’t experienced it yet, and I can’t in good conscious do that.
And… that’s a wrap! Undertale really became a cultural phenomena. Whilst I know that there is a large and obnoxious portion of the Undertale fanbase that pushes things a bit too far, I think the game is entirely deserving of all the praise it receives. It is a shining example of what makes indie games so special as you can feel every ounce of passion put into the game. Up next I’ll be talking more about bosses, so stay tuned for that! Otherwise I’d just like to thank everyone for their patience and understanding as I took a few weeks of a break to work on my life and to work on myself. As always thank you so much for reading, I hope you enjoyed, I hope you give Undertale a try (it’s really cheap and readily available), and until next time I hope you stay healthy!