Top Ten RPG Boss Battle Themes
Now, I understand that virtually every article writer has done a top ten list, perhaps even on the same topic as this. Everyone has their own opinion on the matter; to be frankly honest, my opinion on the matter changes every so often, so it is a little difficult to compile a “top ten” list, but here we go!
Please note that this list does not include final boss themes, since that may be put in a separate list in the future. Also please note that this list tries its best to avoid outright spoilers; however, indirect spoilers may be subconsciously and unintentially implied and some cases spoilers are absolutely unavoidable.
#10: The End of Raging Waves: Etrian Odyssey III
I actually have never played this game, so I never had the opportunity to experience this song yet in its actual game. I originally considered writing The End of Raging Winds from Etrian Odyssey IV, since I really liked that song, but after hearing that song was based upon this lovely gem, I had to give it a listen. After having listened to both songs numerous times and dissected both and why I liked both, I had come to the conclusion that I liked this version better. Call me a sucker for well-written chip music, but listening to this song brings a fresh feel of a JRPG boss battle theme while taking that block of nostalgia and chipping away at it.
The song is a solid combination of a good bassline, a good lead, and percussion that help drive the feeling of necessity to win a battle. It is a solid theme and definitely will stay on the top ten for a while to come.
#9: Armada Battle Theme: Skies of Arcadia
I was hesitant on putting this on the list, because as amazing as Skies of Arcadia is, I have to say the soundtrack is actually the weakest part of this game. Not even close to saying it was a terrible soundtrack, but as great as every part of this game is, one part had to be the part that was the weakest. Every song on this soundtrack was very well made, but unfortunately for me, none of them really completely stuck out to me. The only song I can say for a fact that even somewhat stood out to me would be the theme that plays when the player fights against a member of the Valuan Armada.
The song itself is upbeat enough to definitely give the vibe of a boss battle, but it definitely has a more sombre tone in its main melody to denote that something serious is going down. However, the B-theme (or second melody in other terms) goes from having a sombre feel to a bit more of an uplifted tone. This was probably to give players the subconscious feeling that there is light at the end of the tunnel; I can certainly say that hearing that part in this song definitely raised fighting morale.
#8: Spider Dance: Undertale
This entry is only debatable because one might argue that Undertale is not truly an RPG. Personally, I feel that the game has enough RPG elements in it that I would classify it as a hybrid containing elements of classic turn-based JRPG and simpler bullet hell games. Out of all the boss themes in the game, I find this one to be the one that appeals to me the most both in terms of musical composition and how appropriate it is for the scene.
The constant movement and torrent of notes is quite reminiscent of spiders running, and I applaud composer Toby Fox for a job well done on this track. In terms of the game being a humble tribute and/or throwback to the old school RPG’s, this song definitely hits the nail on the head. Between the chiptune-esque nostalgia of the piece, the driving pace of the song, and the appropriateness of the mood set by the piece, I can definitely say this piece is worthy of being on the list.
#7: Fight Against a Somewhat Stronger Monster: Super Mario RPG
Honestly, this was a toss up, since this one and Fight Against an Armed Enemy were both spectacular boss themes on this soundtrack. However, this track managed to deliver a knockout punch and jump to the list, shooting up to the seventh spot by clawing its way up there.
Super Mario RPG is a delightfully quirky game that combines the elements of a traditional RPG with some timing elements in attacks, a whimsical plot and characterization that is signature of a Mario game, and a fantastic soundtrack that reflects both elements in this amazing amalgamation of quaint and quirk. Between the off-the-wall drumming, introductory brass fanfare that screams old school boss battle, and a melody that could go in most mario games, this song definitely is a great hybrid of Nintendo and Square’s talents.
#6: Kraken of the Sea: Earthbound
While on the topic of games on the SNES that are affably quirky, Earthbound seals this spot with the boss battle theme in the second half of the game. Earthbound is a game that delivers a deceptively simplistic world full of crazy hippies, punks on skateboards, corrupt officers, cults, and many other enemies for a good majority of the beginning of the game, leading people to a sense of security in that this game is very light-hearted. After certain events happen in the game, the turning point has the game do a complete turnabout, even going as far as to change the battle music for the boss battles (or sanctuary guardians as some have referred to them as). The last part of the game takes a decidedly dark turn and the music itself in the second boss theme of the game manages to capture that essence and deliver it great justice.
#5: Boss Battle Theme: Shin Megami Tensei IV (no official title of the track)
Although this song has no official title (to my knowledge), this track definitely replicates the grim nature of this game quite well. The entire game has you entrenched in a battle of law vs. chaos, where neither is in the right or wrong, one’s morality compass spins in all directions, and the only thing the main characters can do through most of the game is survive and try to carry on with their mission. The driving beat, frantic pulse, and relentless lead gives the player the rush they need in this grim, gritty masterpiece of a game. It is hard to justify what makes this song so appropriate for the game outside of strongly advising one to play the game themselves, but if this song makes a person think of a battle for the party’s life, where every wrong move in a punishing battle system could have your party flat on its butt and possibly slaughtered in a world that really is relatively thankless for the actions you have been taking, then the song has done the situation justice.
#4: Gym Leader Battle Music: Pokemon Red/Blue/Yellow
(Video chosen because the actual song has sound effects from the game in the background)
This song was almost a no-brainer as soon as I started this list and was one of the first songs to be considered for the list. In a game where a young child captures creatures from the wild, trains them, makes them one’s friends, summon them to battle against other trainers, growing in friendship, and growing in experience, eight particular adversaries stand in the way of reaching the very top (nine if one counts the fact this song also plays when going against Elite Four Lance). The gym leaders in the Pokemon games traditionally are trainers who specialize in a particular type and are much stronger than the average trainer, serving as the player’s boss battles in this revolutionary RPG.
The music itself constantly pushes forward with a constant stream of eighth notes, usually in the bass, and a frantic run in the middle voices, while the melody almost sings on top of all this chaos with long notes that complement the chaos under it quite fittingly. The moments in the song where everything just stops and only the lead is playing provides a stark contrast to the rest of the piece. Overall, a very solid boss battle song.
#3: The Fierce Battle: Final Fantasy VI (Final Fantasy III on the SNES)
This song is the oftentimes overshadowed other boss theme in a game with an already beloved and well-known boss theme in The Decisive Battle. However, and I may be of the minority, I find this song to actually be superior of the two amazing boss themes. This song plays late in the game when the player is facing some of the last bosses of the game. At this point, everything lays in chaos and destruction and your ragtag party of heroes have worked so hard to stand as the last bastian of defense against the psychopathic antagonist’s grand scheme.
This song’s rather frantic introduction and chromatic movements quite accurately and precisely manage to reflect that ideal. With the flutes playing the lead in the next part of the song bridging the intro into the actual song, one can almost feel the emptiness of the world weighing in on your mind. With the actual melody going on afterward, one can feel almost the frentic battle high in the sky over the ruined world. The next line with the trumpets does an interesting development of the initial melody by offering a more optimistic outlook of the battle, but this is quickly quashed by the reprise of the song’s introduction, restarting the loop.
#2: Magus Confronted: Chrono Trigger
With a rich storyline, an awesome cast of unique characters, and a new spin on the Active Time Battle system with dual techs and watching character placements on the map, Chrono Trigger is, by far, one of the greatest JRPGs to have ever been created. What stands out most about this track is that you do battle with Magus, an evil sorceror that you have been chasing for a while, in a dimly lit hallway with only torches to light your way. For most of the game up until this point, the story has been pushing for him to be the antagonist that you have to absolutely take down, so this song fits perfectly as something akin to a final boss theme. From the slow build of the introduction, the relentless drive of the rest of the piece, and the percussion break that fits seamlessly in,
#1: Wicked Flight: Bravely Default
Bravely Default, personally, has set a new standard of expectation of what is the bar of expectation for great video games. A video game is a combination of the skill of a writer for engaging the mind, the skill of the artists for engaging the eye, and the skill of the composers for engaging the ear working together in perfect harmony with each other to deliver an immersive artistic experience for the player.
Wicked Flight is the song that plays for the penultimate battle of the game and is as satisfying as it is epic. In a series of plot twists and turns, the player eventually comes to terms with engaging and battling this game’s antagonist. One can easily relish this moment of a truly difficult boss battle with the idea of finally taking this person down for good. After having fought them in two battles before and, if one takes the wrong route in relation to the crystals, is the final boss of the “bad ending”, this battle will be the most satisfying victory once overcome.
Honestly, everything about this song screams “final boss”. In fact, the character themselves scream “final boss” to me, but that is an opinion article for another time. From the introduction, which introduces a fanfare, to the main theme itself, the song is heavily appropriate for not only the situation at hand and the severity of the plot at the moment, this song is very appropriate for the character themselves. It has the feeling of unease and discord, yet has a feeling of uplifting flight (hence the title of the song).
Overall, while this list may always change in my head, it is hard to justify putting any boss theme above Wicked Flight. It is simply the right song written the right way for the right occasion in a masterpiece called Bravely Default.
Do you agree with this top ten list? Comment below!