Final Dungeon and Last Boss Design Thoughts

Sephiroth

Image by CLF via Flickr

Final dungeons and last bosses should be delicate balancing acts. They should be hard, intimidating even, and yet not so challenging as to frustrate the player base.

Both the final dungeon and the last boss should be a culmination of everything experienced in the game so far. Which means neither should be a unique experience separate from what the players have seen up to that point. Gameplay up to end game content serves as something of a Pavlovian training ground; it just wouldn’t be right for all of that training to be for naught.

So, if the game has emphasized puzzles involving flipping switches and pushing blocks, well, the final dungeon should have the player flip a lot of switches and push a bunch of boxes. The last dungeon should not, however, suddenly involve pushing boxes if the prior dungeons never introduced the concept.

(I’ve been pushing a lot of boxes cubes around in Vagrant Story, so they’re on my mind.)

Similarly, the last boss should build upon previous boss encounters. If 99.9% of the boss encounters were basic in your face melee spam fests, then the final encounter probably shouldn’t be some sort of cat and mouse (wild goose) chase.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m a huge fan of interesting boss fights that require timing, coordination, and awareness. But if a game introduces these elements only in the final moments, then the player isn’t prepared for it. And I don’t just mean mentally unprepared. Suddenly, the character or party that breezed through all of the previous content is faced with the stark realization that they need higher levels, better gear, and more powerful abilities to actually finish the game.

That’s rough. That’s like Lucy jerking the football away right before Charlie Brown attempt a field goal.

Let’s do the players a favor. Let the final dungeons and last bosses be extensions of the established themes within the game. Don’t jerk the football.

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