Why is it that the last boss has this great influence on us? Because we have experienced that narrative that has led up to it. Most Final Fantasy games start you as a relatively naïve character with little knowledge outside of what the player can immediately see. When you first start up the game you are introduced to your Protagonist, whether that’s Vann, Zidane or Luneth and a brief amount of back-story for them. We empathise with what they do on a day to day basis, Squall training for SEED or Cloud’s job as a mercenary. We learn that this is the norm for these characters and for the first hour or so nothing exceptional tends to happen while we learn the basics of the game.
Then something will go wrong for our protagonist. Something unexpected that breaks down their stereotypical day and as a player we are just as out of our depth as the characters we’ve just gotten to know. We pay attention to why this has happened, and what we have to do to survive, or what needs to be set right. We learn at the exact same rate as the characters we are playing. Understanding the same things and using the knowledge we gain to progress. This simultaneous understanding of the plot draws us into the narrative and lets us embrace it as though it were happening to us as players ourselves.
So we’ve made it past the first few hours or so, discovering and learning alongside our player character, meeting allies who will help us to accomplish our goals and performed a number of smaller quests. We may have our main objective already, who to defeat or what task needs accomplishing, but it is far out of reach. Every time we load up the game we experience another small section, maybe a dungeon that we must traverse, or a fetch quest that opens a new area. But during these quests our character never loses sight of his or her main goal, and as players neither do we. We understand that each smaller quest is a part of our odyssey to beat the Final Boss, another chapter in our characters life, a necessary task that makes him stronger. Each step along the way allows the character to gain not just experience points and equipment that means they can face the final threat on an even field, but in terms of narrative it lets them understand the effects of their actions on the world.
Take any Final Fantasy character at the start of their adventure; now imagine that character facing their main Antagonist. They could surely never win? Both in terms of level and equipment, but in regards to their resolve and constitution they would be un-prepared. But as they venture throughout the story they witness the evil of the antagonist first hand, suffer through the loss of friends and face challenges that slowly increase in difficulty, allowing them to prepare for the final showdown. Now think of you as the player. At the beginning, the first time you play the game you don’t possess any knowledge of the game’s systems, of your character abilities or any real motive behind your actions. But through the gradual progression mentioned above, you grow. You learn how magic elements interact, when it is best to use potions and stat boosting equipment, you meet character that you like only to see them killed off and lost from your party. You begin to empathize with your characters long quest but you also understand that the journey you have taken is making you stronger and ready to face the cause of the game’s problems. You and the character grow to have the same goal.
Beat the Final Boss.
It is this synchronized way of thinking that means that by the time you confront Chaos, dive after the Cloud of Darkness or prepare to strike down Braska’s Final Aeon you know both why you need to take them and that you know you are strong enough to do it. The way that the game builds up your strength then presents you with the ultimate challenge to test it and the emotional commitment to beating the cause of the narrative world’s strife and unrest come together in the climatic battle meaning you are on edge, excited and nervous all at once.
All of this is what makes the final battle have so much of an impact. But of course it is not true of everyone, it might just be that you didn’t save for five hours before the final boss.
What makes the bosses so great for you? Fire off in the comments below!