2021 absolutely wasn’t a let-down in one department: boss fights. Boss battles went dormant in the 360 / PS3 era, but they’re back with a vengeance, and 2021 provided plenty of spectacular (and spectacularly difficult) boss fights. We’ve got expansion bosses, bonus bosses, and super bosses accounted for on this list — and that includes a final boss or two. Beware of spoilers, but we won’t get into the nitty-gritty of storylines anywhere here. These are 10 of the toughest boss battles of the year… in no particular order. Some of these fights are doable by regular gamers like you or me, and some of these fights are for true masochists only. You’ll instantly know which is which.
The Best of 2021:
The Dark Lord [Doom Eternal]
Doom Eternal took me by surprise. After the chill but fast-paced action of Doom (2016), I was not prepared for the face-melting killer speed of Doom Eternal. This is an FPS that demands your full attention at every moment, forcing you to juggle multiple cooldown timers to keep your ammo stocked and your health above zero. On Normal difficulty, this game is a beast. And the two DLC expansions added even more challenge. So much that many players finally broke. The Dark Lord is truly difficult.
Waiting for players at the end of The Ancient Gods: Part 2 expansion, the Dark Lord is basically an uber-beefed up Marauder — you know, those enemies everyone already hates? Well, the Dark Lord is the biggest threat of them all. He wields a giant shield that reflects all your attacks, can summon multiple high-tier enemies, and moves much faster than his big fat body lets on. And worst of all, this guy can heal himself just like you. By doing damage to you directly, the Doom Guy will spawn little health pick-ups that the Dark Lord can grab to heal up.
If you don’t play perfectly, the Dark Lord boss fight can literally last hours.
Any Class Trials [Bravely Default 2]
Many veteran players of Bravely Default 2 blanch at the idea this is one of the hardest JRPGs out there, which it absolutely is if you’re a new player that doesn’t look up the best ways to break the game right after starting. But, there’s one thing we can all agree on — the class trials are so difficult, they’re basically begging you to break the game over your knee just to survive a few rounds. After reaching the endgame, your party can enter special portals where you’ll fight teams of bosses you’ve fought earlier in the game.
Basically, you’ll have to fight 3 big bosses in a single fight — and all of them have special beefed-up class abilities. By defeating them, you’ll earn the right to enhance your classes, and some of these classes are crazy powerful. The Class Trials are the most difficult challenge in the game, surpassing the secret super-boss because you’ll be so woefully unequipped to deal with these x3 boss fights. If you weren’t using Godspeed Strike yet, you’ll be desperately using it when an unlucky roll from the Gambler boss kills your entire party in one hit. Everyone dying every other turn is to be expected in these battles. You’ll learn to manage.
NEO Spamton [Deltarune Chapter 2]
The hidden boss of Deltarune: Chapter 2 is actually a lot easier than the Chapter 1 secret boss — but he’s still a sudden leap in difficulty (and horror) for a silly little game like Deltarune. In Chapter 2, you’ll encounter the spammy little reseller named Spamton, that assaults you with pop-up ads and other annoying tactics. NEO Spamton changes the game entirely, putting your party on a rollercoast track as the powered-up (and on-strings) puppet summons waves of attacks that make you think outside the standard box. In great Deltarune fashion, this is a totally unique fight with its own little gimmicks, and a great soundtrack. This (and more) battles might not be the toughest of the decade, but they’re challenges we won’t soon forget.
Chronos [Tales of Arise]
Sometimes the biggest bosses are returning bosses — and Tales of Arise has a bonus final boss waiting in the wings after you complete the game. Returning from earlier game in the series, Tales of Xillia 2, the Great Spirit of Time Chronos is one of the primordial beings of the Tales of universe. Once a final boss, now a super final boss, Chronis is the second-highest level opponent in the game and has some of the nastiest tricks. Like his previous incarnation, Chronos can stop time mid-battle or rewind time to heal his wounds. If you’re not fully prepared (after a whole lot of postgame grinding) then this guy is literally impossible. He’s the biggest leap in difficulty. By the time you beat this guy, you’ll have no trouble handling the Level 99 repeat fight at the very end.
Extreme Nagoriyuki [Guilty Gear Strive]
This is where the real pain begins. This is the type of boss that most players will never fight — much less actually beat. Nagoriyuki the vampire assassin final boss of Guilty Gear Strive is an infamously broken boss — and Extreme Nagoriyuki is so hard that pro players can’t beat him. Fighting games are infamous for arcade mode bosses that completely clown on the player, crushing your spirit with perfect inputs and unfair abilities that player simply can’t counter. Extreme Nagoriyuki takes the worst of those types of boss fights and multiplies the difficulty exponentially. If not for another boss on this list, this would easily be the most difficult boss of the year.
To unlock Extreme Nagoriyuki, you have to win Straight Matches (both rounds without losing) on all opponents — then you get to taste Nagoriyuki’s bloodsucking blade. Watch the video above for the blindingly fast inputs you need to (barely) stay alive in this fight. Cheesing is required. And if Extreme Nagoriyuki wasn’t bad enough, there’s an enhanced, even-more-impossible version called Ultra Extreme Nagoriyuki that appears if you somehow win a Straight Match against Extreme Nagoriyuki. If you can beat this guy, you’ll be in the top 1% of the 1% best players. The chosen few.
Weiss The Immaculate [FF7R Intergrade]
Why does this guy exist? The hardest boss in Final Fantasy 7 Remake canonizes one of the darkest periods of Square Enix history. Is this an elaborate sick joke? Is Square Enix laughing at us from above? Why in the name of Chocobo are bosses from Dirge of Cerberus appearing in FF7R?
We can’t answer that. We can only know that Weiss The Immaculate, the long-haired leader of Deep Ground’s experiment super-unit of weirdos is the hardest boss. If you own the DLC, this guy is available as a battle in the main campaign Combat Simulator. To take him on, you’ll have to play the game at least twice — you can only earn enough levels to fight him if you play on Hard Mode. Thankfully, this is one boss that (mostly) requires a lot of grinding. If you’re willing to put in the long, long hours and replay a 50~ hour game, you too can finally defeat one of the most absurd characters in a very absurd series.
The Warrior [Kena: Bridge of Spirits]
Less about overall difficulty, and more shocking-surprise difficulty. Kena: Bridge of Spirits walloped us upside the heads with a sudden spike in challenge. The Warrior boss forces you to use everything you’ve learned — and he’s so aggressive, it’s pretty easy to forget. This late-game battle pits your child hero against a professional soldier. The twisted form of the Warrior is up there with some of the most serious Dark Souls bosses (if you play on the game’s harder difficulties) — not what you’d expect from a gentle platformer.
Returnal isn’t the beast other rogue-likes claim to be. The most challenging aspect of Returnal is just how much time it takes to complete a run. You’ll lose hours on an unsuccessful boss fight. The moment-to-moment gameplay isn’t as demanding as other games in the genre, but the cost of a mistake is much higher. You’ve got to be perfect, and Nemesis immediately throws you off your game simply by being weird. Like, incredibly weird.
Instead of taking on the boss in a standard arena, approaching the strange Nemesis sucks you into a bizarre mental world, the boss growing to cyclopean size as it dominates the arena. You’ll have to manage incoming enemies (and those annoying turrets) to win the fight. This mind-bending fight really announces that you’ve reached a new, more surreal, phase of the game.
Raven Beak [Metroid Dread]
Let’s take a breather with a battle most of us will be able to finish with a little practice. Still, for a Metroid boss, Raven Beak is on another level. For a series that most people can breeze through, Metroid Dread surprised us by making the bosses ask so much more from Samus. The new melee counter comes into play heavily here, as you’ll only be able to damage Raven Beak when he’s vulnerable — and he’s so fast, this really feels like a 2D Devil May Cry fight. We’re a long way away from simply standing still, tanking hits with all your extra Health Tanks, and firing endless missiles into the boss to beat them. Raven Beak forces us to learn his moves and survive each round, learning his moves until you can counter them efficiently, making it one of the most satisfying bosses of the year.
True Hades [Ghost n’ Goblins Resurrection]
And we end with the hardest boss of the year. True Hades is the secret true final boss of Ghosts n’ Goblins Resurrection — a game most of us ignored. Little did we know, the developers took the reputation of the series to heart. Ghosts n’ Goblins Resurrection isn’t just the hardest game of the year, it might be the hardest game of the decade. Even the hardest of the hardcore admit — this game is brutal. Most of us baby players won’t be able to beat the first level. This is a game players can (conceivably) finish in about 40~ minutes. But, you’ll only be able to overcome after hours and hours of memorizing every devious trick and track in the non-stop hell that is each moment of gameplay. Enemies are attacking you from every angle and every opportunity. Want to survive for more than a few minutes? Get good.
Before you can fight True Hades, you’ll have to replay the game twice — collecting hidden chests and entering difficult hellholes along the way. On the second playthrough, you’ll fight through even-more-painful Shadow levels. Once you defeat the regular final boss, you’ll take on True Hades. Can we even call him the hardest boss on this list when the real challenge is just unlocking him? I think so. When a game is this brutally hard, is the hardest boss really that different from everything else? I humbly submit that playing Ghosts n’ Goblins Resurrection and beating True Hades are the same infernal punishment. You can’t have one without the other, and that makes True Hades the true final boss of this list.
Think this bosses are too easy? Got some big bosses that are even harder? Let us know! If there’s anything I love, its little pieces of games most people are just never going to beat. It adds more mystique.