Video games are an especially effective medium for building up anticipation of an epic final fight with the boss. In almost every great game, there’s a palpable sense of building tension as you fight your way through enemies to the final confrontation with your arch nemesis. To create a truly great video game boss, several factors are needed. First, they need to powerful and physically imposing to pose a visible threat to the protagonist. This can be done with sheer brute force, or the ability to control a situation. Second, a true video game antagonist also has a memorable and animated personality. There’s no denying that a great villain is just as important to crafting a good story as a good hero, if not more so.
Of course, sometimes we end up loving the bad guy, even to the point we don’t want to kill them anymore. Sometimes their motives are inherently sympathetic, even if their methods are questionable. Other times even unambiguously evil villains manage to make you feel sad for causing their deaths because they were just so charismatic and entertaining. A little personality goes a long way with villains, and video game bosses are no different. Some bosses are even outright tragic figures or old friends of the protagonist, and it makes sense for them to meet their death at the hands of a reluctant hero.
Here are 15 video game bosses who we didn’t want to kill. Please be aware there will be major spoilers for each of the games involved.
15. Screaming Pirate Psychopaths Are Always Fun
Ask anyone who played Far Cry 3 what they remember most about the game, and the first thing to come out of their mouth is almost guaranteed to be “Vaas.” More specifically, how loud Vaas screamed, how crazy and psychopathic he was, and how he was used in all the promotional art for the game despite not actually being the main antagonist.
As a pirate leader, human trafficker, murderer, and drug smuggler, Vaas will never earn points for likability or being sympathetic. But he was a memorable character and stole every scene he appeared in without fail. Even though he was murderous and clearly out of his gourd, the pirate lord was endlessly entertaining to watch, and any player who says they didn’t feel a twinge of disappointment when he was killed off halfway through the game is lying.
14. Date, Marry, Kill?
The Beauty and the Beast Unit from Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots are a group of four female super-soldiers named after the bosses from the first game. Despite their appearance as inhuman machines, they shed their beastly mechanical armor after Solid Snake defeats them, and in the process you learn the backstory of each Beauty.
As if their appearance as models in skin-tight catsuits wasn’t enough motivation to not kill them right away, it turns out all four are suffering from terrible combat post-traumatic stress disorder from their experiences on the battlefield. Who really wants to kill four emotionally disturbed women with PTSD, especially when they’re helpless, broken, and crying before you? If anything you probably wanted to have Snake give them a hug.
13. Sympathetic Spider-Lady
Chaos Witch Quelaag is one of the daughters of the Witch of Izalith, though she’s primarily remembered by players as “the big lava-spewing spider lady.” You have to fight her in Blighttown to get to the second Bell of Awakening and progress in the main storyline of Dark Souls. Thus, you have no choice but to fight her and kill her. It seems like it would be easy to kill a monstrous half-spider, right?
Unless you know the lore surrounding Quelaag and her sisters, who were turned into half-spiders by the Flame of Chaos incident. And should you find Quelaag’s sister Quellan behind a hidden wall with the Old Witch’s ring equipped, you’ll find out that Quellan is dying after trying to heal the people of Blighttown by sucking the blight out of their bodies. Quelaag was taking care of her, and likely only trying to protect her from you.
12. We Had A Bad Time
The deceptively cute indie role-playing game and massive cult hit Undertale features the option for both Pacifist and Genocide runs, and everything in between. In a world where humans and monsters used to co-exist before a war drove the monsters underground, the game emphasizes that it’s the player’s choice when it comes to killing or sparing enemies.
While every boss battle in the Genocide or evil run of the Undertale will make you feel like a total scumbag, the final fight of a Genocide run is Sans the Skeleton, a fight that will crush your soul with its difficulty and ability to make you realize the weight of your sins. If soullessly killing all the monsters in Undertale didn’t hurt you, murdering an adorable laid-back pun-telling skeleton in one hit – after he falls asleep, no less – will.
11. Nice Guys Really Do Finish Last
Considered to be one of the most tragic characters in the Resident Evil survival horror franchise, Steve Burnside is a prisoner of Rockfort Island who meets protagonist Claire Redfield during the course of the game. In Resident Evil: Code Veronica, the two eventually form a friendly partnership, but they are captured and Steve is injected with the T-Veronica virus. Predictably enough for anyone familiar with Umbrella Corporation’s less-than-moral business practices, it mutates him into a huge grotesque monster.
Now up against your former friend, the still-recognizable Steve is impossible to fight, but he sacrifices himself to save Claire from Alexia’s tentacles. Even though the player didn’t kill him directly, there’s no way to save Steve, which is pretty sad. While the “I love you…Clai…re” line that follows is one of the worst-acted cutscenes in gaming history, it’s undeniably sad that a genuinely good guy like Steve Burnside had to sacrifice himself to save Claire’s life.
10. Philosophy 101 With A Dictator
Though it gives you the choice of four factions to side with, Fallout: New Vegas clearly biases you towards joining the New California Republic (NCR) from the very start. The antagonists of the game are the NCR’s archenemies, the autocratic Roman-style slave army known as Caesar’s Legion. When you finally met their leader, the eponymous Caesar, he turns out to not be what you’d expect.
While players may find his methods distasteful, it’s undeniable that Caesar is charismatic and highly intelligent, sounding more like a scholar than a bloodthirsty warlord. The conversation you have with him is hands-down the best one in the game. If you never thought you’d hear Hegel and dialectics discussed in a video game, buckle up. While most supporters of the NCR or Mr. House will slay Caesar after talking with him (or even before), it’s undeniable the supreme leader makes some good points.
9. Monster Or Misunderstood?
Handsome Jack from Borderlands 2 was a villain you couldn’t help but love. He was with you throughout the whole game, being arrogant and condescending from the radio every few minutes, mocking you (rightly) for being mercenary scum. It’s easy to dismiss Jack as a heartless psychopath, but those who played Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel know better.
Jack is a highly complex and charismatic figure and a classic example of an antagonist who thinks they’re the hero of their own story. He genuinely wants to save Pandora, and is quick to violence because he’s been abandoned, abused, and betrayed by everyone he ever cared about, including some of the supposed “heroes” of Borderlands 2. Jack’s last words are, “You’re the bandits, and I’m the goddamned hero!” Even in death, his determination never falters. You gotta admire that in your opponents.
8. She Just Wanted To Save Humanity
One of the most hotly debated villains in video game history, Marlene is the leader of the Fireflies from The Last of Us. When Marlene encounters Joel and Ellie, she learns of Ellie’s immunity to the cordyceps virus and that performing surgery on her might led to the development of a vaccine. Unfortunately, it will mean her death. Marlene sees Ellie’s death as necessary to save humanity, while protagonist Joel (who has already lost one daughter), refuses to let anything happen to his adopted daughter.
The Last of Us fanbase is sharply divided over Marlene’s motives, and whether she or Joel are the true antagonist of the game. But whether you think Marlene was an authoritarian commander willing to sacrifice a young girl’s life, or as a sensible leader faced with hard choices who wanted to save humanity, one thing’s for certain: Joel pulling the trigger was a heartbreaking moment.
7. You Were The Bad Guy All Along, Sorry
Shadow of the Colossus is an adventure-fantasy game in which you have to kill 16 gigantic creatures to resurrect a girl named Mono. One of the strangest things about the bosses that you quickly realize is that most of them don’t attack until you attack them first. The game also plays haunting and sad music when you kill one, and it doesn’t feel like a victory but rather a burden to kill them all. With each colossi killed, your character Wander also appears more and more sickly, and his hair slowly goes white.
At the end of the game, you find out the colossi were innocent, and it was all a plot by the evil Dormin to release fragments of himself stored in the colossi. Not only did you kill beautiful and innocent creatures acting in self-defense, you also were being used by an ancient evil.
6. We Still Call Him… Revolver
Ever since Metal Gear Solid, Revolver Ocelot has been a fan favorite. Many players couldn’t wait to face him in battle again. Ocelot constantly slipped under our radar in all four main MGS games, always popping up but disappearing again before he could be captured or killed, his true motives growing ever more unclear.
After MGS 2 introduced the idea that he’d become possessed by Liquid Snake’s transplanted arm, he took the persona of Liquid Ocelot and appeared as the final antagonist of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. Fans finally got the cinematic, epic fight between Ocelot and Solid Snake they’d wanted for so long. But the end of the game reveals that Ocelot was not actually possessed, that he was plotting against the Patriots, and that he was trying to realize Big Boss’ vision, which makes his death more tragic than anything else.
5. Perfect Hair Forever
In between enthusiastically stabbing people with his pen, enjoying flashy pinks suits, and chowing down on crab rangoon, Pagan Min acts as the self-appointed dictator of Kyrat in Far Cry 4. You have several options to deal with Min in the game, including a secret ending where you can just wait at the dinner table after the opening sequence like he asks. If you do so, he treats you as a friend.
Much like Vaas, Min is undeniably the most memorable part of Far Cry 4.Despite his violent temper, Min is one of the few antagonists in video games that seems to bear no ill will toward the protagonist. There are several occasions where he could kill Ajay, but chooses not to. It’s made clear that he wants to install you as his heir as well. In the end, it’s almost sad to see the entertaining tyrant die.
4. Shake A Jyggalag
As the Daedric Prince of Order in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion‘s DLC content The Shivering Isles, Jyggalag’s crime seems to have been growing too powerful for the other Deadric Princes’ liking. By expanding his sphere of influence and trying to create a universe of perfect order he earned the ire of the other Deadra, who cursed him to become Sheogorath, the Prince of Madness and Jyggalag’s polar opposite.
Jyggalag seems like a victim in all this, and some players of Oblivion likely wanted to see the Greymarch, where he endlessly tries to conquer the Shivering Isles only to turn back into Sheogorath again, ended. But we are forced to be Sheogorath’s champion and kill him instead. Luckily, this breaks the cycle anyway, allowing Jyggalag to come back.
3. Suicide Isn’t Painless
The rogue Spectre agent Saren Arterius is the secondary antagonist of the first Mass Effect game. In between insulting humans, the Turian veteran was working for the Reaper flagship Sovereign, trying to overthrow the Citadel Council and allow the Reapers to invade the galaxy. The player’s Commander Shepard pursues Saren across many planets until their final confrontation. Depending your Shepard’s dialogue choices, you can engage Saren in battle and kill him, or you can convince him that he is indoctrinated, whereupon he commits suicide.
While debate still rages among the fanbase whether Saren was indoctrinated or if he really believed the only way to save the universe was through synthesis, Saren proved himself a worthy opponent and a master of manipulation, and watching him try to find redemption by pulling the trigger on himself is more sad than satisfying.
2. The Student Surpasses The Master
Probably the most emotional moment in the Metal Gear Solid series came in the pivotal fight of the third game, Snake Eater. Naked Snake, who would eventually be known as Big Boss, reluctantly faces off against his mentor The Boss, under orders to kill her for defecting to the Soviet Union. After a lengthy battle in a field of beautiful flowers, the game forces Snake (and by proxy the player) to shoot her.
After spending the night with Eva however, Snake learns The Boss was not a traitor but part of deep cover mission to ensure the U.S. got hold of the Philosopher’s Legacy. The Boss willingly died known to history as a traitor, when she was really a hero all along. This knowledge was devastating enough to make Big Boss (along with most of the fanbase) shed tears over his former mentor.
1. Doggo Murder
No Dark Souls player ever felt more heartbroken than when the Great Grey Wolf Sif was limping near the end of the battle. Formerly the companion of Sir Artorias, the Abyss walker, the brave knight sacrificed himself to protect Sif from the creatures of the Abyss by using his greatshield. Sif now guards Artorias’ grave in Darkroot Garden and fights with his sword in his mouth.
If you think your heart has been ripped out of your chest and stomped on so far, check this out: if you play the additional content of Dark Souls and have received the Cleansing Greatsword, Sif recognizes you and appears reluctant to fight, but picks up the sword out of duty anyway. If that wasn’t sad enough, Sif starts limping when you wear his health down enough. Hold on, I have something in my eye…
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