Final bosses are important, and there’s no genre they’re more important in than JRPGs. A good final boss can cap off a game perfectly, transitioning into an ending that allows players to truly reflect on their experience. A bad final boss, on the other hand, can bring a great game to a horrible close, souring things at the last minute.
Of course, like with any genre, there’s no real consistent sense of quality with JRPGs. Some are good, some are bad. Some good JRPGs have bad final boss fights. Some bad JRPGs have good final boss fights. More often than not, though, it’s the good games that end well and the bad ones that force players through less than worthy final bosses.
10 BEST: Giygas (Earthbound)
Giygas is one of the most interesting antagonists in video game history. He first appeared as Giegue in Mother 1, where he portrayed as almost sympathetic in nature. Earthbound opted to go with a more cosmic horror route, perverting what happened to Giegue at the end of the first game. It makes the second game’s finale all the more impactful.
Coupled with the final boss’ surreal imagery, Giygas makes for a highly uncomfortable and thematic final boss fight. Better yet, the battle makes use of Paula’s Prayer mechanic, more or less as a means of formally welcoming the literal player into the game’s final boss fight. It’s a great final boss that’s as creepy as it is strangely somber.
9 WORST: Chaos (Final Fantasy)
Chaos isn’t a particularly compelling antagonist, but he’s certainly interesting. His role in the plot is more fleshed out than other antagonists of his time, and that his role loops into the game’s story in a clean way ultimately helps the original Final Fantasy stand out as one of the more cohesive RPGs from the 8-bit era.
Unfortunately, Chaos, as he is in the original NES release, is a massive pushover. It offers nothing in terms of challenge and essentially brings a game all about building a party to a close without players ever needing to put real effort into beating the final boss. Thankfully, the WonderSwan, PS1, GBA, and PSP remakes all buffed Chaos.
8 BEST: Lavos (Chrono Trigger)
What makes Lavos such a meaningful final boss is the fact that players can theoretically defeat him incredibly early in a playthrough. It’s not going to happen if someone’s playing Chrono Trigger for the first time, but that it’s possible has a lot of weight. Not just that, Lavos can be defeated at multiple different points in the game.
Coupled with Chrono Trigger’s groundbreaking New Game + system and its wide array of alternate endings, and Lavos serves as quite a few different story branch’s final boss fight. In all of them, he’s incredibly tough (sometimes even tougher than the main game’s final Lavos fight) and helps bring the game to a triumphant close.
7 WORST: DracoLord (Dragon Warrior)
While the remixed version of Dragon Warrior on the Game Boy Color does help make the DracoLord a bit more imposing (along with his appearance in the Mobile Dragon Quest re-release,) the original NES version of Dragon Warrior poses one of the most pitiful final bosses in a JRPG. And he was the first!
To his credit, DracoLord was a big deal at the time. The fact he had a second form at all fundamentally changed the nature of boss fights in gaming. Unfortunately, the NES release makes him a total pushover. It wouldn’t be until the Remixed version gave him more health that he became a challenge, but even then DracoLord is still fairly weak.
6 BEST: Galbalan (Ys: The Oath In Felghana)
It really can’t be stated just how insane of a remake Ys: The Oath in Felghana is. It took the black sheep of the series and remade it into what is arguably the single best action RPG of all time. Oath in Felghana has amazing combat, amazing level design, and amazing boss fights— the final battle against Galbalan standing out as a real tour de force.
It’s a battle that engages and challenges the player in every way. It’s not enough to brute force Galbalan. Players need to genuinely think about their actions and the immediate gameplay consequences they may have. It’s a tense, bombastic conclusion to one of Falcom’s best games.
5 WORST: Galbalan (Ys III: Wanderers From Ys)
On the flip side, while Ys III: Wanderers from Ys isn’t nearly as bad as it might seem on a surface level, it certainly isn’t that good of a game. It, for whatever reason, takes quite a bit of inspiration from Zelda II, but it’s surprisingly lacking in the same mechanical depth as its NES compatriot.
Worse yet, Galbalan in the game is just… bad. He’s a boring, bland final boss that really adds nothing meaningful to the game, instead bringing the whole title to a whimper. That Oath in Felghana (and Ark of Napishtim) recontextualizes Galbalan into so much more is a big deal knowing how lame he once was.
4 BEST: Dark Gaia (Terranigma)
Few people have played Terranigma, but those who have can attest that it’s one of the better Super Nintendo games that never got the chance to make it to the States. The third game in the unofficial Soul Blazer/Quintet trilogy, Terranigma follows the exploits of a boy, Ark, as he slowly rebuilds the world.
It’s a genuinely poignant game that manages to comment on the nature of humanity better than most titles today. The final boss is one of the hardest in the game, but it makes for an incredibly climactic showdown that takes advantage of everything in the player’s disposal. That Terranigma transitions into one of the most powerful endings in gaming history is really the cherry on top.
3 WORST: Malroth (Dragon Warrior II)
In general, the second half of Dragon Quest II is… weak, to say the least. Really, getting the boat places the game in two distinct before and after phases. Before Enix started rushing, and after Enix started rushing to the point where they couldn’t even playtest the final chunk of the game. As a result, Malroth ends up a mess of a final boss.
Unlike the DracoLord, however, he swings in the opposite direction. Players have to complete a boss rush that respawns every time they want to fight Malroth. Leaving to heal results in players needing to do the entire rush again. Worst yet, Malroth has healing magic, making it so he can realistically heal all his HP whenever he wants.
2 BEST: Kefka (Final Fantasy VI)
If DracoLord made multi-form final boss fights possible, Kefka made them fashionable. Final Fantasy VI’s final boss fight is so long that every single one of Kefa’s forms has their own unique track to designate the next part of the battle. It’s a long, grueling fight that may not be too hard, but it is certainly is epic.
Best of all, players can tackle the dungeon however they want— splitting their party into three different groups. Players can even enter the final dungeon with a reduced party as only Celes, Edgar, and Setzer are mandatory before getting the airship. It’s not just one of the best JRPG final boss fights, it’s one of the best final bosses, period.
1 WORST: Mother Angel (Drakengard)
Credit where credit is due, the Mother Angel is a unique, memorable final boss fight that actually brings Drakengard to an unforgettable conclusion. That Nier takes what’s seemingly a morbid joke ending and gives it consequence really puts into perspective Yoko Taro’s genius. What’s not to love about a final boss like this?
Quite literally everything else. Drakengard’s combat is already a chore, but it’s at least easy to pick up and it’s thematically justified in-game. A rhythm-based final boss that takes place in modern-day Tokyo, though? That’s a lot to take in. It’s really well done from a lore perspective, but in terms of gameplay it’s an utter disaster.