When it comes to video games, make mine a RPG and when it comes to RPG’s, nothing compares to the magic of Square’s 16-bit debut Final Fantasy IV for me. I’ve been singing the praises of this picture-perfect masterpiece since the early 90’s and I have no intention of stopping now.
In a previous article, I stated that I could easily devote my weekly columns to writing about this one game and never tire of it. While I’m not going to test your patience by putting that notion into practice, this time out I’d like to demonstrate my ability to do so by highlighting one aspect of my favorite video game of all time in particular. The awesome bosses.
When a powerful and tricky boss appeared after an hour or two of your party being worn down to a nub, it was often a seemingly insurmountable obstacle.
Final Fantasy IV was already a beast of a game even in its original nerfed North American release (as Final Fantasy II) with harrowing dungeons (none of that “auto-heal after every battle” sissyness) and a semi-real time battle system that had the enemies attacking relentlessly even while you browsed your possible options in the combat menus.
Resource management and survival were almost always vital issues in the field. So when a powerful and tricky boss appeared after an hour or two of your party being worn down to a nub, it was often a seemingly insurmountable obstacle.
Characters are what often make or break a story. A group of lovable misfit heroes combining their talents to save the world is a tale as old as time, but to be truly worthy of legendary status in this day and age, you need great villains too. This game has that in spades. There are a ton of bosses and many of them are instantly memorable even though they only appear in a scene or two. They had personality, panache, murderous abilities, and every single one was unique. Here are five of my favorites.
“As if the attacking doors weren’t enough…”
As your party claims the Dark Crystal from the Sealed Cave, attempting to keep it from the maniac attempting to gather the crystal’s power for himself, they find a nasty surprise to top the cavern’s doors fighting back throughout the quest. The chamber’s wall comes alive and begins closing in, attacking them as it does.
This battle is legendary for its difficulty because the wall quickly closes in on your party and its attacks are so fierce that most of your efforts will be spent just trying to stay alive. When the wall gets close enough, it instantly kills you all and it’s game over, man. Game over. So your goal here is go all out to destroy the wall before it reaches your party.
The key to this battle is to buff your characters ASAP with Haste spells and use your white magic wisely and your offensive abilities efficiently. You may need a little bit of luck, but once you adjust your strategy (probably after a few wipeouts) you’ll have what it takes to play demolition squad.
This fight inspired one of my favorite videos on Youtube: this struggle of classic Nintendo characters fending off the assault of Microsoft’s Xbox 360 in the early days of this gen’s console war.
The Four Fiends
“You are a slave to your emotions, and so, will never know true strength. Such is the curse of men.”
Over the first half of the game, you encounter these elemental archfiends individually as boss fights unto themselves. But in one particularly epic confrontation later in the game you have to face them all one after the other. It’s a pretty intimidating moment, to say the least, but Rubicante being the stand-up guy he is, he mercifully heals your party before the fight.
In one particularly epic confrontation later in the game you have to face them all one after the other. It’s a pretty intimidating moment.
The first elemental archfiend, Scarmiglione, is the easiest. He first faces you with a contingent of zombies while barring Cecil’s path at the end of his journey to become a paladin. At the time, Cecil is a dark knight, making him an unsuitable hero to battle the undead and the head baddie, Golbez.
This hissing bastard comes at you again from behind –targeting your vulnerable magic users- after you beat his mortal form and he specializes in nasty debuffs. Thankfully, white magic and fire are absolute murder on the undead so that’s your comeback.
Cagnazzo is a confusing boss at first when you encounter him posing as the king of Cecil’s home country. Water is his deal and he surrounds himself with it as both offense and defense. He’ll counter most attacks when surrounded with water, but lighting attacks are his kryptonite. If you hurt him enough, the turtle monster pulls into his shell to heal. If you’ve got the juice to finish him, now’s the time. If you should fail to wreck him fast enough, he will hit you with a tsunami that is pretty much instant death for everyone.
Next up is the archfiend of air, Barbariccia, and her job is to guard your kidnapped white mage, Rosa. She is like a living tornado whose spinning makes her invulnerable to physical attacks in addition to her nasty offense of lightning and wind spells. And your party is full of tanks at the time so have fun with that. Thankfully, Kain has something for dat ass as his jump attack stops her spinning and opens up her defense for the rest of your party to inflict damage.
Last up is Rubicante, the biggest and baddest of the bunch. But as strong as he is, he is actually a pretty cool guy. Like I said before, he heals your party to full strength -which is a major blessing in this hardcore RPG- has an overall positive opinion of your party and some serious issues with his allies’ tactics. But a fight is a fight and this dude gives you one. He hides behind his cloak -which absorbs all magic attacks- and blasts your entire party whenever they strike him physically so this is a good time to bide your time and use some creative abilities. If you are dumb enough to attack him with fire, he’ll tell you about it.
When the cloak comes off, it’s go time as this both makes him vulnerable to ice and water attacks and unlocks his deadliest attacks, which scorch everyone, annihilating most of your party and healing himself at the same time. Good luck.
When a group of weird dancing marionettes assaults you, it doesn’t appear to be a major threat. They come in two different colored varieties, Cal, and Brena (or Calca and Brina in some versions) and look pretty typical. But this boss is a pain and a puzzle wrapped in a conundrum with a dose of Voltron because if you don’t handle this battle just right, the dolls will merge into a giant Calbrena and probably wreck your shit. Yip-ho-ho!
The easiest way to handle this one is to alternate taking out Cals and Brenas one at a time. If there is an uneven amount of one or the other for more than a few seconds they will merge into Calbrena. Odds are it’s going to happen anyways because you have to be pretty quick and know what you are doing to avoid it.
Calbrena is devastating for one simple reason: it can turn your own strength against you. Its Glance attack charms a party member, causing them to attack you. It has three seriously heavy hitters or your white mage to choose from, and you can’t afford to lose any them, much less have them turn on you.
What’s worse is if you don’t take out Calbrena pretty quickly, it divides back into the original number of dolls, putting you right back where you started. This fight used to give me absolute fits. And what’s worse than worse is that the battle immediately following this one is arguably the toughest in the game. We’ll get to that in a while.
“Sorry, but your quest will be over here. Take our Delta Attack and farewell!”
These three baddies serve under Barbariccia guarding the Tower of Zot where Rosa is being held. Sandy, Cindy, and Mindy aren’t the toughest of bosses, but they make for a very interesting battle because of the way they use party tactics against you.
Having a group of enemies use actual player tactics against you is one of the ways that FFIV is still ahead of the RPG curve.
The tallest sister, Sandy, specializes in casting Reflect, which causes any spells targeting the affected character to bounce back at the party who cast it. So if you cast on one of the sisters, you’ll get blasted with your own spell. This can be circumvented by reflecting a spell off of yourselves.
The middle sister, Cindy, is a white mage who heals her sisters and revives them if they go down. Obviously, she’s the one you want to focus on first. The little one, Mindy, is the black mage. When the three sisters are together, they cast a Delta Attack. This is done by Sandy putting a reflect spell on Cindy with Mindy bouncing particularly strong spells off of her.
Once you take Cindy down, these three aren’t much, but having a group of enemies use actual player tactics against you is one of the ways that FFIV is still ahead of the RPG curve.
“Your eyes should still be free. Open them, and gaze upon true terror!”
So you’ve grinded for levels, stormed the castle, bested the other bosses, and are generally kicking ass in one of the toughest JRPG’s of all time. Well, if you’re feeling so powerful you won’t mind a little handicap when you face your invincible arch-nemesis in one of gaming’s most awesome battles.
Hot on the heels of the Calbrena fight, the game’s primary antagonist makes an appearance and immediately asserts his power by binding your entire party before summoning a Shadow Dragon that casts an instant death spell on your party members one by one while you can only watch. Shit just got real.
As Golbez’s pet reaches the last man standing, the game’s first boss monster suddenly appears out of nowhere, assaulting Golbez and banishing the dragon. Cecil is suddenly cured of his paralysis and your offscreen advocate makes her surprise appearance in what is gaming’s most memorable “fuck yeah” moment for me. The triumph will be short-lived the first time you experience it, though, methinks.
So you’ve now got two party members conscious with one still injured from a previous fight and three others down and out (including your primary healer) and you’re facing down the Big Bad himself. In the SNES version this fight was a trial by fire, but in the DS remake it’s just plain ridiculous. But still: come at me, dark bro.
Naturally, your plan is to use items to revive Rosa and heal, heal, heal with everything you’ve got before proceeding to revive the others and healing them up as well prior to launching your assault. Golbez is not taking it easy on you, hitting you with everything he can come up with, which includes the brutal Virus/Bio spell that constantly drains your HP in real time.
In the DS remake, his elemental weakness is randomized and he absorbs all others while changing it at will (his will being every time you hit him with the correct element) so either using Libra to find his current weakness or non-elemental spells combined with physical attacks from your tanks are a must. It’s one of the roughest boss battles of all time unless you’ve spent a crazy amount of time level grinding, but it’s doable.
Why don’t they make them like this anymore? I don’t know. The amount of creativity expended in this old-school title alone is more than most of the JRPG’s of this past generation put together. How often does a game these days start you off with most of your party KO’ed, have you facing an opposing party that works together, or give you mini-boss characters with personalities that you never forget? How often are you really challenged to find a way to overcome insurmountable odds in a modern JRPG?
The amount of creativity expended in this old-school title alone is more than most of the JRPG’s of this past generation put together.
The turn-based role playing game is feeling more and more tired these days, but Final Fantasy IV still feels fresh and challenging to me after all these years. The wiki for the game has the boss count for the expanded DS version at 67. Sixty. Seven. Bosses. In the same game. I’ve only shown you five of them (actually, eight if you count the Fiends individually).
No doubt this game will come up again in the future, but for now I’m going to have to continue fighting off the urge to ignore my fancy current-gen console and all their releases in favor of snatching up my DS and playing through this one for the dozenth or so time so that I can live in the present with you guys . Wish me luck.