THE OPTIONAL SUPERBOSS
The optional boss, a game trope most commonly found in but not exclusive to Japanese RPGs, presents an opportunity for extra content outside the critical path. With its inclusion serving only as an extra challenge, little incentive exists to take it beyond the gameplay. It only needs to be a fight.
But the best game experiences are often the most unified, game and story going hand in hand into every aspect. So why not integrate this impossible enemy into the narrative? The experience would only be stronger for it. This series looks at examples of optional bosses and how they’ve been used.
“PANTHERA CANTUS” FROM THE WORLD ENDS WITH YOU
Structurally, ‘Another Day’ has all the components of a solid post-game chapter. A tangential relation exists; Joshua escaped into this alternate reality during the main game. No essential plot elements hide within the section; a comparatively inconsequential but self-contained plot unfolds involving alternate-Neku and Tin Pin. Challenges provide adequate additional difficulty; Hanekoma’s noise form is a formidable opponent. Some interest is generated as well; with his role as Producer and (Fallen) Angel, one wonders just how powerful he is.
But another trope gets used here that continues to wear itself thin: the notion of the ‘test battle’ between allies/friends. Fighting Hanekoma isn’t about conflict. It isn’t a battle to the death. But in every other instance of this semiotic unit, a battle is defined as a life-and-death struggle. Through this unexplained exception, the urgency is trivialized. As a post-game fixture, it doesn’t cause much damage to immersion. It still stands that a more grounded conflict could have made an interesting setup even better.
“ANGOL MOA” FROM WILD ARMS
This is another excellent application of the superboss trope, and it recurs throughout the Wild ARMs series. While the heroes deal with an imminent and often world-ending threat in the main plotline, books found in Filgaia tell of a prophesied monster destined to lay waste to the world far in the future. This is Angol Moa, the King of Demons. It’s often found in a slumbering state or behind numerous seals, explaining why an entity more powerful than the Big Bad we’re concerned with isn’t factoring in to the story. It also meshed incredibly well with the frontier theme which makes the series unique. You read about a legend, then go out and find it.
There are some problems in its application. In most, if not all, entries in the franchise, Angol Moa measures weaker than one other recurring optional boss: Ragu O Ragula. The latter is another monster, a king of beasts of sorts, who is cited as possessing incredible power. No prophecies encircle his existence. No explanations of his origins are found. He seems to be the more common approach: a challenge for the sake of challenge. Still, Angol Moa mostly delivered. Through it, we catch a glimpse at a rather interesting dilemma: if it takes everything you have to defeat a current threat, do you first risk your life to fight a more powerful, far-off enemy?
“DREAM DEVOURER” FROM CHRONO TRIGGER
The Dream Devourer had the unfortunate fate of being a band-aid on a gaping wound that was the failed continuity between Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross. Adding him the in DS re-release of Trigger felt rushed. It was certainly the right idea, though. He was an eventuality fated to occur after the final battle with Lavos, a loose end that needed to be tied. With the time-travelling narrative, it’s less of a stretch to see the heroes deal with a threat-that-hasn’t-happened-yet canonically before the event that precipitates it. Who says time-travel is confusing?
Besides issues of characterization with Magus, wherein he somehow casts aside his identity and wakes up in the world of Cross as Guile, it’s a great concept that expands on just how awe-inspiring Lavos is as an ever-surviving ‘character.’ So in that respect, it characterizes the antagonist quite well. It just cannot seem to die.
“THE FORGOTTEN ONE” FROM CASTLEVANIA: LAMENT OF INNOCENCE
From a level design perspective, the Forgotten One is — strangely enough — an unforgettable encounter. It’s wonderfully grotesque, and it’s also unlike any of the other enemies in the game: a man-made abomination with untold strength that has to be killed in three sections. This isn’t to say TFO is the first multi-stage battle, but it is the only one in the game. What really stands out is how he’s visible from a room you pass in the main game, but only just visible below the ground. When you discover the means to get to him, there’s a suspense-building descent down a spiralling staircase where the heartbeat of the beast grows more and more audible. Fantastic mood-setter.
Similar issues plague this application as well. TFO could, one may argue, be a self-contained narrative simply by virtue of its name. It is from a bygone era, chained up and cast out of memory, locked with a lost key no one is looking for. His narrative ceases to exist. But with enduring histories elsewhere in the Castlevania series, this interpretation doesn’t quite fit well thematically. Someone or something somewhere, surely, has to refer to this creature, how it came about, and why it is there. But no one is talking — not even the ice whip.