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The First Boss Complex

A rant on the role of first bosses, in particular, Breath of Fire's Frog

By Caleb ShermanPublished 3 years ago 6 min read
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First impressions are the most important. Someone said this, at some point, and they were right, at least in most instances. This is why most media, including video games, try to start with the best foot forward. Murder mysteries showcase a resolved case or a murder in action. Horror movies tend to start with a scare or an eerie introduction. With video games this means a strong tutorial section or a cinematic masterpiece of a cutscene to get the story going.

Occasionally, a perfect first impression can't be made by what would otherwise be a masterpiece. This is why we must often give prolonged works of art the benefit of the doubt and trudge a portion of the way through the story before rendering judgement. Don't judge a book by its cover and all that. Someone else said that, just as wise I'm sure. For instance, platformers-games that focus on acrobatic progression from stage to stage, rather than the growth systems of RPGs and the action-packed playstyle of Adventure games-often hold back some of their mechanics for later stages, in order to help diversify mechanics. In the case of most games, where applicable, I hold off my judgement until the end of the first act, or the first boss encounter.

Bosses, often characterized by over-sized models and hero dwarfing stats-or unusual mechanics in the case of platformers-are typically the challenging confrontation set at the end of a major part of a game. The exception to this rule is often the first boss who, rather than being a great challenge, offers players a bit of knowledge for their forthcoming journey. In RPGs like the Final Fantasy series, these bosses often help to introduce mechanics that will become core to gameplay later on, such as elemental weaknesses or immunities. In platformers and action/adventure games these bosses again tend to serve to introduce you to certain core mechanics. A prime example comes in the form of King Bob-omb from Super Mario 64. Following the climb to the top of the first level in this iconic platformer, Mario is faced with the King of Bob-ombs-the Baron of all Blasting Matter. This guy will stick with you for the rest of your Mario career for two simple reasons. The first, which is a little off topic, is that he has a fantastic introduction as far as early Mario enemies go. The more important subject here is that King Bob-omb teaches you how to defeat Bowser for the remainder of the game. By flipping over and running around "The King of Kabooms," Mario is able to snag him from behind, and hurl him to the ground. In this way Super Mario 64 expends the first 3D Mario boss to introduce a core mechanic for the remainder of the game.

So it comes time for my complaint, the end of my diatribe on the importance of first impressions, and that is this: I have no idea the purpose of Frog in Breath of Fire for the Super Nintendo. The Breath of Fire games are not a line of RPGs I have much experience with, but it's a franchise within my spectrum of awareness, and so I began with certain expectations. For instance, I go into an RPG expecting a certain amount of grinding, but I look for a bit of telegraphing on the part of game design. I anticipate difficult boss fights, but certain mechanics are reserved for major enemies. Items are there for me to use, but I don't anticipate relying on them. In one fell swoop, all of this is destroyed by Frog.

Frog appears at the end of a short trip to the top of the first castle you come to on your journey. Along the way you encounter three or four enemies that pose little threat. One mechanic is introduced during this brief part of your adventure, poison; so far as I can tell, Frog does not apply poison during the fight. Frog is a heavy enemy, supporting a massive health pool and dealing between 5 and 10 damage per hit, if the player has optimized their equipment with loot from the castle. The problem here is that Frog's health pool is massive, at level 5 the hero can take about six hits before needing to heal, seeing as Frog will act before the player and if he attacks while at 10 hit points the next turn Frog will K.O. the hero before he can use a healing item. This usage of items is my first qualm with Frog.

I am inclined to thrift when it comes to RPGs. If I can avoid the use of items, I do. This probably originates from a large amount of time playing games like Shining Force and Fire Emblem, wherein using items to restore your allies robs your healers of valuable experience. As a result items like Potions and Herbs are used sparingly in my playthroughs, and I tend only to carry the ones I encounter in the wild. So, when I am faced with a hero who has no ability to heal, and a boss fight with no reasonably fast end, I am forced to do the unthinkable and expend numerous healing items keeping my hero alive. This is more concerning for my mental state (as I spent most of the fight with Frog cursing and fidgeting with each Herb expenditure), than the actual state of my inventory (I owned enough Herbs by this boss fight that I still had a full stack of 9 Herbs after healing uncountable times). There was a method alternative to stress-inducing item consumption for overcoming this boss; grinding.

I am no stranger to grinding, RPGs require it of you. I've spent weeks breeding for perfect Pokémon, power leveling Final Fantasy characters, or harvesting cash crops to get that next big building in farming simulators. The grind is no stranger to me. But grinding is not my first priority when I have one hero out of a team of four, at the very beginning of an expansive RPG. Sheer stat growth alone could have allowed me to overcome Frog in my traditional fashion, no items, just slashing away for a few turns. But the amount of time I would consume just leveling up above 10 would drive me mad. Afterwards, the next sequence of challenges would also have become numbingly superfluous, as at level 9 I have already passed the second boss in my current playthrough.

The tedious elements of Frog aside, he introduced one concept that seems to carry over into other bosses (or at least the next boss, Knight). Frog's final battle element took me by surprise. As noted previously, I do not like using items, so as the fight with Frog drew to a close I carefully observed my health bar and his. With 10 hit points left as I brought him to his final sliver, I knew that I could absorb his forthcoming attack and kill him subsequently, without losing more than 8 HP. But, as I reduced Frog to 0 hit points, the game displayed the message, "Frog is alright," and no amount of button mashing could get an Herb into my hero's mouth before Frog lashed him to death. Typically bosses holding out at 1 HP, or recovering from death altogether, is reserved for final bosses or bonus bosses. But in Breath of Fire for the SNES it seems to be a trend that bosses both hold on at the 1 hit point mark, and have frequent recovery abilities to rival the player.

Of course, after Frog's surprise final round I climbed the castle again and took him out. In a sense, Frog did exactly what a first boss should do, he introduced me to the mechanics of the game's bosses. Albeit, the bosses of Breath of Fire are apparently tedious trials of resource management, but mission accomplished. I do wish i had been taught that lesson without having to die. Lives aren't limited or anything, there's no permadeath, but it still feels bad, man. Well, there's my rant on Frog and the first boss complex, I wonder what the next boss will hold for me?

rpg
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About the Creator

Caleb Sherman

Twitch.tv streamer (Amnesia Duck), retro game enthusiast (don't ask me about Ataris though), lucky husband, and author.

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