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The Epic Battle, and lack thereof

by Bendragon X 

Many people have talked about the factors that make or break a role playing game. The graphics, the plot, the sound, the random monsters, etc. However, there is one element to role playing games that are truly one of the three major tests of an RPG, one that seems to disappear as the games go on. This element is the epic battle. (In case you were wondering, the other two are story and how well it keeps your interest) The truly epic battle is an element that is hard to create, but one of the true tests of an RPG's mettle.

I suppose I had best clarify what an epic battle is first. An epic battle is a fight against a boss, (not just the final one) that truly feels ... epic. There are three main factors (three factors again ... coincidence?) that make a battle truly epic. The first is the challenge. By challenge, I don't mean a little bit tricky. As my father (who used to act as Dungeon Master during the time I played AD&D) once said, the perfect boss of a dungeon is one that, after you just barely kill him, leaves you with barely a hit point to spare, almost no magic, and possibly a casualty. The epic battle is one that presents an incredible challenge. A boss where your party is almost eradicated, and just barely manages to win, has the potential to be an epic one. Now, challenge isn't the only factor. Emerald and Ruby weapon, while super-powerful, are almost random enemies. For it to be a true epic battle, it must also be a plot point. If a boss is thrown randomly, for no reason but to fight you, it is almost as if the boss is just another enemy. For a boss to be epic, the reason for the fight has to follow the plot, and be a major point in the plot. The true epic boss fight must be fought as if it was written as part of the story, and not just a random act of goodness. The characters must truly care about this fight, and not simply because the earth will be destroyed if they don't. It must be important in the story, and it needs to be fought because of the characters' thoughts, and emotions. The final aspect of the epic battle is that it must be exciting. The player must care about the fight as much as the characters. If the characters have a feeling, say, of rage, or vengeance, the battle must be presented in a way so that the player feels the emotion through the characters. If the battle is not strong in these three aspects, then it will not be truly epic.

The question still remains, though. What do I mean by epic? I have simply listed the parts, and not what their sum is. Thus, I now state what an epic battle truly is. An epic battle is a truly memorable one. It will live on in the player's thoughts, and be remembered by the player. If a battle is truly epic, then the player will remember it whenever they think of the game. It is a battle that makes the game worthwhile. Even if a game lacks one element, then the other two can still make it feel epic, and worth it.

Which brings me back to my original point. The epic battle is dying out. Back in the SNES days, there were a lot of them. In Final Fantasy IV, I can still remember Golbez, after so much time tormenting my party, finally fighting. I remember annihilating my group with that black dragon summon, and Rydia leaping to the rescue. I can still feel the triumph I felt as I killed him, only to be shocked as he came back to life. In Chrono Trigger, the battle against Magus truly felt epic the first time around. I felt for Frog, and truly wanted everyone to win, as if they were actual characters, and not sprites on the screen. Even in Breath of Fire II, to a lesser extent, the battle with Barabury felt epic. The way he haunted the hero from childhood, the one on one fight to the death between the two, and the element of closure as he finally fell, bidding the hero a fond farewell. (If you chickened out and fought with the whole party, you missed out) As time goes on, these appear less and less. I am not saying that they have ceased to exist, far from it. In Suikoden II, the battle against Luca Blight was truly epic. (It would have been even more so if he had enough HP in the one on one duel to pose a challenge...) In Final Fantasy Tactics, the battle against Wiegraf-Velius was one that I'll remember. When Rue fights Doll Master in Threads of Fate, it is a challenge, and brings about a closure in the plot that could not have been achieved otherwise. Even in Final Fantasy VIII, widely regarded as an extremely controversial game in terms of the gaming system, has an epic battle. The first fight against Edea, after she just basically declares war on humanity, is epic. This is the point that the entire first disk pivots around. She is THE major plot point at that stage of the game, and for that alone can be considered epic. These examples, however, are far the minority. For every 50 bosses that a player kills nowadays, a maximum of three can be considered epic, and that's only if the player plays the right games. It begs the question: Has this element of our games begun to die out, or is it already dead?

Questions? Comments? Send me a message at BendragonX@aol.com . However, let's reserve our fires of rage for those epic bosses, shall we?