Top 10 scary/disturbing bosses in non-horror games

I love boss-fights; they are the big baddies that truly test your skills and demand you to show off your knowledge of the game’s mechanics. Depending on their role in the story, it can lead to some dynamic and memorable villains. For part 3 in this series of countdowns based on non-horror games, I wanted to talk about some of these awesome bosses, particularly the ones that were also notably scary.

The usual rules apply here:

  • Only games I have played and remember.
  • One entry per franchise.
  • Spoilers on the horizon!

Keep in mind that I try to avoid obvious candidates, so if you don’t see one of your favorites on here, then that might be because I wanted to keep this list interesting, taking a look at some of the overlooked cases (or I just didn’t know it to begin with). Feel free to share your own picks in the comments below and I’ll be sure to read them and comment whenever possible.

#10: The Thorian

A massive and ancient plant that lives on the planet Feros, The Thorian is a boss you may remember from the original Mass Effect. In the game, the player takes on the role of Commander Shephard and is tasked with tracing down the rogue agent “Saren” before his evil plans can be realized.

The Thorian, as it turns out, is capable of controlling organisms with its spores that cause pain to the people that inhale it. Essentially, this turns them into mindless slaves and it forces the player to use non-lethal methods of stopping the affected individuals. Even worse are the “Creepers” it creates, which are zombies that hibernate by kneeling on the ground and wake up upon approach. This bloated dandelion is one tough son-of-a-bitch to beat, and the dark nature of his lair, combined with the presence of the Creepers, makes for a very thick atmosphere.

As a final quirk, the Thorian has a habit of vomiting out clones of captured humanoids, which is as nasty as it sounds.

#9: Ansem

I had to debate furiously with myself over which of my two favorite fights from Kingdom Hearts I would include in this list; Xion from 358/2 Days or this one, Ansem, Seeker of Darkness.

While Xion made for an emotionally charged battle, there is something plain unnerving about a Disney game in which the final boss is a half-naked philosophical douche that attaches himself to a massive organic battleship. The Disney part might seem deceiving, but Ansem, and more specifically The World of Chaos (the name of the vessel), is made of fleshy tissue and multiple living parts. Many components of this titan also require you to enter pocket-dimensions contained within itself in order to disable them. Only serving to make this section even more intense is it’s ridiculous difficulty.

I’d rank this entry higher on the list, but I still can’t overlook the fact that Ansem doesn’t make for a very compelling antagonist compared to sub-villains like Malificent. Future entries would also try to explain Ansem’s origins further, but these served only to make him less and less relatable due to his numerous forms and look-alikes.

#8: Matt Helms

Matt Helms is the number 24th ranked assassin in No More Heroes 2 and thus one of the early foes that Travis Touchdown has to face in his journey to become the very best like no one ever was. To reach Matt, the player first has to push through a somewhat creepy forest until they reach an abandoned building. This seems like a setup for an amateur horror movie and the game is very much aware of that, following this discovery up with an atmospheric cut-scene that builds up to the reveal of the boss himself.

Helms appears as a heavily muscled psychopath with an axe and blowtorch; he also wears a “cute” mask to cover up his face. The fight with him takes place in a very small area, making it difficult to maneuver or recover mid-battle. It goes without saying that Matt can do some serious damage upon hitting you, but since players are able to obtain the sword with higher speed before this fight, he can also be easily stun-locked.

After beating him, it is revealed that Matt is actually a young boy who was abandoned by his parents. Angered by this, he made a pact with the devil and murdered his family. Because of this pact, Matt is actually immortal and killing him only serves to delay his next massacre, which is fairly morbid, in and of itself.

#7: Shadow Teddie

Shadow Teddie is a boss from Persona 4, which I am currently playing through on CJ’s recommendation (and possibly at gunpoint). The game is what I would call a character-exploration, as it attempts not to engage the player with the actual mechanics, but by presenting them with a cast of enjoyable characters with the game focused around getting to know them. One of these characters is Teddie.

Teddie, at first sight, appears a comedic-relief that has no real backstory. However, as the game progresses, the creature starts to remark on his desire to discover who or what he actually is. Like many other characters before him, his character specific boss fight serves as the highlight of his character arc. His “Shadow” takes on the form of a grotesque version of himself with a cracked face, dark colors and penetrating eyes. The cracks in his face reveal nothing, but an empty void, taunting the actual Teddie by telling him that he is empty inside.

This shadow symbolizes not only Teddie’s loneliness (the pit he is immersed in referencing that lonely people often feel trapped in their position), but also depression and nihilism. Shadow Teddie will often make statements relating to the meaningless nature of life and how living in ignorance is preferable over trying to grasp a goal that doesn’t exist. It makes for a very interesting fight, even compared to other characters in the game that get a similar treatment. The fact that the fight is also fairly long and challenging is a neat extra.

”I am a Shadow, the true self. I will give you the truth you claim to hold so dear…the inescapable fact, of your death here!”

#6: Possessed Walter

Many fans looked down on Fable 3 due to its gimmicky nature and rough exterior, however, I found it to be quite an enjoyable game. It tells the story of a king’s brother who has to overthrow his dictatorial sibling. After claiming the throne halfway through the game, the hero realizes that a Lovecraftian horror will show up in exactly 1 year from then and he has to prepare for its arrival. Fortunately for us, the monster in question does not disappoint.

Though “The Crawler” is slightly generic in its appearance, he does make for a very threatening villain. You really feel that a full year of preparation was necessary to minimize his carnage and even if you did get a pretty good score, he still manages to utterly ruin the city of Bowerstone that players have spent 8 years worth of games adventuring in. When he possesses the character of Walter, who has been a friend to your main character all throughout the game, it is like pouring salt in the player character’s wounds

What I like most about this boss is the way he tries to guilt-trip you throughout the fight with taunts like “You rule over the graveyard. Is that what you wanted?” as well as similar ones, some of which he says as if they came from Walter himself. I also think that it was appropriate for this franchise to end on a battle between equals, no dragons or powerless lords, just two men (or a woman and man) fighting it out with a combination of magic, pistols and swords.

#5: Chapter 12 Verse 9

At this point I had to down half a bottle of wine and some anti-depressants because I seriously didn’t want to talk about this scene (I was young the first time I was exposed to it). The game Drakengard at first appears as a slightly clunky fantasy RPG in which you alter between using a dragon to scorch your enemies and standard melee combat down on the ground. However, if you get far enough in the game and actually manage to unlock the secret levels, you’ll be exposed to some plot-twists that get really insane and convoluted. God knows how, but it eventually ends with Chapter 12 being about fighting an army of demonic, flying babies.

While I am using the term “boss-fight” loosely, this section sure is difficult enough to be one, while the actual “fight” with the source of the flying infants is not particularly challenging itself. The goal is to make it through the toddler armada with your dragon while being fired upon from all sides, all the time. Aside from been incredibly unnerving, the babies are also pretty accurate and truly put your skills at dodging to the test. The high damage inflicted by their projectiles also leaves very little room for mistakes. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go cry a little.

#4: The Undead Core

The Undead Core is the final boss for the popular indie game Cave Story and while it is in some ways a rehash of an earlier boss-fight, its challenging nature and presentation makes it more special than before. You will have to fight three other bosses to get to him, turning his battle into both a test of skill and a test of endurance. Even when you arrive with a reasonable amount of health, he’ll also have two companions with him that act individually, so it’s safe to say that this is mechanically a very challenging battle.You may be asking yourself “But why is it scary?”

Well, because it’s a giant, zombified, floating rock with a glowing, red face and who has malformed versions of Misery (another villain) and Sue (one of your allies) as his companions. Compared to the rest of the game where half the boss-fights involve a flying toaster called Balrog and other enemies that would be right at home in a cartoon, this is a pretty disturbing change of tone.

I am aware that Ballos is technically the real final boss of the game, but that last stage for the true ending can go royally screw itself.

#3: Crocomire

Super Metroid… Damn I love this game; I have spent hours adventuring, exploring and fighting in the atmospheric labyrinths of Planet Zebes. Of course a game with such a focus on atmosphere has some very fitting boss-fights, but none that truly stick out in terms of being scary. After going through all the bosses, I eventually decided to settle on picking one based on shock-value, hence, Crocomire.

This red lizard is encountered deep inside the fiery depths of Norfair and his fight plays out quite uniquely compared to the other bosses. He doesn’t have a set health-meter, instead all the damage done to him merely causes push-back. This is important, because you are locked in a small room with Crocomire and his side has lava while yours has spikes. Crocomire will menacingly approach you, forcing you to back away from him while fighting. The one who can first run the other into their death-trap wins.

The aforementioned shock-value comes in when you actually do beat the Croc and he drops into the lava. He will repeatedly try to crawl out in an attempt to recover, but instead his skin slowly melts, his eyes pop out and his screams faint away. This game was rated E for Everyone by the ESRB!

#2: Nihilanth

I have absolutely no idea how to pronounce this guy’s name, but who needs a name when you are a gigantic, flying alien. Nihilanth serves as the final boss of 1998’s Half-Life and the battle against him takes place in a large room where he floats in the middle. It nicely combines both platforming and shooting, as you have to take down the crystals that protect the boss from damage with your weapons while jumping around the room to avoid his devastating projectiles. Furthermore, Nihilanth will often use a teleportation spell that homes in on the protagonist; if hit, the player is teleported to another room filled with enemies that get more impossible each time the spell connects.

What makes Nihilanth rank so high on the list is not just the way his fight plays out (though the difficulty certainly does help), but rather his appearance. This is the second infant-shaped boss on this list, but instead of been an uncanny recreation of the original, Nihilanth just looks deceased and rotten. His skin is a lifeless tint of grey, his body shows numerous signs of damage (stitches, missing eyes, amputated legs) and his voice is distorted. Also, when the crystals are destroyed, his scalp opens up to reveal his brains, which I am pretty sure is not how his natural construction was meant to function.

Back when I first played Half-Life, I wasn’t sure how they could possibly end a game like this without ignoring at least one component that made it great. I was convinced it couldn’t possibly both feature action, platforming, atmosphere and mystery at the same time and still offer a challenge that is to be expected of a “final” boss. Nihilanth is just a homerun, a strike, a perfect ending to an equally fantastic game; that is why I put it on the #2 spot.

#1: Giygas

While I generally attempt to keep my lists interesting by eliminating popular choices, there was simply no way around this one. Giygas is the main villain of both Mother and Earthbound, the leader of an army of aliens and one of the most tragic villains in video game history. I will be talking about the way he appeared in Earthbound for the sake of keeping this section relatively short.

Giygas is present throughout the entire game, as people often drop his name and hype you up for the grand final battle against him. He is never outright shown or described, so going into his lair, you have truly no idea what to expect. The first oddity that people are sure to notice is the floor of his lair, which seems to be made of organic tissue. Furthermore, in the approach to the actual fight, the tissue takes on the form of a woman’s uterus with a machine shaped like a cervix (from which a face emerges, which is just disgusting). Throughout the first phase of the battle, Pokey, the power-hungry and manipulative sub-villain, is the target and he tells you how Giygas became too powerful for a physical body and has to be contained in the machine for his own good. This, to me, is rather frightening to think about: a foe that is so strong he could not survive himself.

Once Pokey has had enough, he simply leaves and frees Giygas, which covers the entire lair in a thick, impenetrable fog. At this point there is nothing on the screen aside from the interface and red patterns over a black background. The patterns itself take on the shape of an infant (boy, this list has a lot of babies on it) infinitely repeated and has led to the popular theory that this entire character was based on a rape-scene that designer Shigesato Itoy viewed as a young child when walking into the wrong movie-theater. Combined with the fact that the lair was shaped like a woman’s vagina, this fight literally depicts an abortion taking place.

There is also no way to defeat this enemy, as he is immune to every single attack and his own moves are beyond something humans can comprehend; the game simply states “You cannot grasp the true form of Giygas’ attack” and then deals damage to the player’s party. The only thing the player can do to win is keeping their party alive and having the character of Paula pray as often as possible. This allows her to reach out to the many people that the player has met over the course of the game and ask them to pray too. These brief cut-scenes made me rather emotional, as they allowed me to think back to the fun times I had with the game and remember the many adventures I had with these fictional characters. If you hang in for long enough to do this multiple times, the game will eventually “ask” the player to pray as well and deal the final blow.

To me, this was one of the most beautiful moments in a video game, as well as the only one I can name that left me trembling in my chair. Interesting to think that this came from a series of games whose first and third installment have never even been released outside Japan.

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