Final Fantasy V: Bosses

I honestly thought I would reach the end of the game this weekend, but the last bits have been taking longer than I expected, largely due to a whole slew of trick bosses. Generally speaking, there’s an approach that makes each boss easy to beat, but it’s different for each boss. Maybe it’s vulnerable to a particular kind of elemental damage; maybe it’s invulnerable to spells and has to be taken down entirely through melee attacks, or vice versa; maybe it has an attack that can wipe out your entire party in one round if you’re not prepared with specific defensive magic. The number of possible gimmicks increases as your capabilities increase over the course of the game.

The scariest boss I’ve encountered so far is definitely Atomos, the final guardian of that force field generator back in world 2. This is one of those monsters that’s so freakish it doesn’t even look like a monster. It looks like a gateway to the swirling void, its frame irregularly decorated with spikes and fins and things. Its modus operandi is to bombard you with the Comet spell more or less constantly until someone dies, at which point it starts slowly drawing the corpse toward itself. Things don’t usually move around during combat, so it took me a while to notice that this was happening, and to convince myself that I wasn’t imagining it. When I did, I freaked out. The natural reaction here is to immediately resurrect the fallen as they fall, lest they disappear into Atomos’ inky maw. It’s also exactly the wrong thing to do. As long as Atomos is drawing someone in, it isn’t attacking. If you just concentrate on doing damage to Atomos, you can kill it before your comrade disappears, or, if that doesn’t work, distract it by deliberately killing another party member before resurrecting the guy who’s about to disappear.

The most unusual gimmick boss is Gogo, a jester-like entity who guards the crystal shard from which you learn the Mime job. Gogo insists that he’ll only step aside for a master of mimicry like himself. In combat mode, Gogo waits for you to do something, and then replies in kind: if you hit him, he hits you back for 9999 damage, and if you cast a spell — even a defensive or healing spell — he casts some heavy-duty attack spell. The key here is to take what he says seriously: he wants you to prove that you’re a master of mimicry. If you don’t attack him, he stands there and does nothing, so you have to do the same. After a minute or so of just standing there, he declares that you imitated him perfectly and leaves. This strikes me as very much a late-game gimmick — the designers’ way of saying “OK, so, by now you’ve proved that you can fight. So let’s try something else.” (I understand that some people actually have managed to kill Gogo by conventional means, but that would take more insanity than I can spare.)

Most of the summonables in this game are bosses first, and become summonable when you defeat them. In fact, this game is fairly explicit about the idea that things become summonable by dying. There are two dragons in the game who are friendly with the party, die plot-related deaths, and become summonables in the process; one of them sacrifices its life specifically for that reason. Even weirder, there’s a couple of bosses in this game who show up as summonables in later games. Atomos is one, although I haven’t yet played the games where you can summon it. The other is Gilgamesh, X-Death’s incompetent right-hand man, who runs away from the first few battles (making him the first boss in the series that you have to fight multiple times) and ultimately gets banished to the Void by X-Death. I first saw Gilgamesh in FF8, and was baffled: he just showed up out of the blue, replacing Odin as the guy who randomly appears and ends battles for you. But at least Odin looked like the Norse god; what did this guy in the ridiculous puffy red outfit have to do with the hero of Sumeria? I’m pleased to now know where he really came from.

Now, the endgame is basically a very long dungeon with a boss fight approximately every other room, and sometimes multiple boss fights in the same room. Most of them aren’t too gimmicky, and can be finished with general-purpose equipment and job assignments, but still, any boss fight I’m not expecting has the potential for an instant TPK. This makes for nervous exploration. I find myself running back to the save points a lot. But that’s okay, because that just means more ordinary random encounters, and in this area, ordinary random encounters yield grossly disproportionate amounts of job experience. This is the last chance to master jobs for the final battle, so the designers help the player along a little.

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