There’s no denying that music plays an important role in entertainment media, be it movies or video games. The right tune can accentuate an emotional scene or bring out urgency during a boss battle. Music often tells a story by itself, with barely any need for words. Like Psycho Mantis said before his battle against Solid Snake: “There’s no need for words, Snake!”. Hence, this compilation is not just about songs that sound good, but songs that tell a story.
A boss battle theme needs to convey struggle and despair, solitude and the futility of your actions. It needs to serve as a climax to the relationship between those fighting, while you ardently slash away at the boss’ health bar. One boss battle theme that constantly comes up in conversations is the “One-Winged Angel”. Sephiroth’s battle theme from Final Fantasy VII is a perfect example of everything I mentioned above. It conveys struggle and futility; it tells a story.
However, I would argue that “One-Winged Angel” isn’t even the best boss battle theme in the series. And to bring attention to other incredible boss battle themes, I decided to compile a list of seven. Seven, because Final Fantasy 7.
vs Gwyn, Lord of Cinder
Battle theme: “Gwyn, Lord of Cinder”
Dark Souls is a dark game and its music perfectly exemplifies that. It’s a lengthy journey from the cold stone walls of the Undead Asylum and the poisonous swamp of Blighttown. Through the treacherous traps of Sen’s Fortress and the abandoned city of Anor Londo, this grand journey culminates in a final battle against Lord of Cinder.
After overcoming the likes of Ornstein and Smough and the Four Kings, you’re expecting the fight of your life. A struggle of all struggles. But once you pass through the fog and enter the final arena, a sombre piano melody begins playing. Taking a few steps forward prompts a figure to approach you and engage in combat.
Not a gargantuan dragon or a terrifying spectre, just a hollow husk of a broken man. A man whose featureless expression leaves you with nothing but grief as you parry his strikes and counterattack. Once you beat him, complete silence takes over and you become the bearer of the First Flame. And one day, you might face the same fate…
Devil May Cry 3
Battle theme: “Vergil Battle 3”
To make the epic character of Vergil even more epic, you need equally epic music. Dante and Vergil find themselves on the verge of the underworld after teaming up for the first and only time to defeat the arrogant Arkham. It almost seems like the common enemy may have finally united siblings, but Vergil refuses to abandon his quest for power.
All encounters against Vergil are a spectacle. From the initial battle atop Temen-ni-gru during a rainstorm to the gruelling second encounter at the door to the Demon World. This final showdown builds up slowly with a choir for about a minute and the subsequent tone makes it obvious that one of the twins will not survive the duel. Exhausted, the silver-haired demons clash for one last time and the theme encompasses the futility of their struggle.
As expected, Vergil suffers defeat and leaves Dante with a parting memento before sinking to the dark depths of the underworld. It’s one of the most emotional encounters in the series and this battle theme perfectly exemplifies that.
Final Fantasy X
vs Braska’s Final Aeon
Battle theme: “Otherworld”
Final Fantasy X is a story about love and self-sacrifice. Summoner Yuna and Blitzball player Tidus unite to acquire powerful beings known as Aeons to defeat Sin, the evil that threatens their world. Sin is immortal and whoever bests him becomes his new incarnation. Many years ago, Tidus’ estranged father Jecht helped Yuna’s pops defeat Sin…
“Otherworld” plays several times throughout Final Fantasy X. Once before the Blitzball match at the very start and then, dozens of hours later, a unique rendition plays during the final boss battle. It invokes sensations of anger and power. It harkens back to the original Blitzball match and conveys the troubled relationship between Tidus and Jecht.
There’s something about battles between relatives which makes them reach exceptional emotional heights. When Braska’s Final Aeon — aka Jecht — appears, “Otherworld” starts playing and it’s unlike any other track in the game. It’s a powerful metal track with an angry tone and lyrics like “Fight, fight, fight!”, a complete opposite to serene piano tracks like “To Zanarkand”. “One-Winged Angel” isn’t the best boss battle theme in Final Fantasy; “Otherworld” is.
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
vs The Boss
Battle theme: “Snake Eater”
“What a thrill… with darkness and silence through the night”. “What a thrill… I’m searching and I’ll melt into you”.
Anyone who played Snake Eater probably knows these lyrics by heart. This musical masterpiece, titled “Snake Eater”, plays at the very start of the game, like an intro to a classic spy movie. It also plays during possibly the longest ladder ascent in gaming history, making an otherwise mundane sequence into one of the most memorable in gaming.
In fact, “Snake Eater” makes every sequence memorable and that’s why it plays during the final boss battle. Snake faces off against The Boss for the final time, and eventually, the instrumental version of “Snake Eater” kicks in. White flowers carelessly flutter in the wind as the pupil and his mentor clash in a sombre battle to the death.
Snake comes out victorious, pulls the trigger, killing his mentor and love, and bitterly assumes the title Big Boss. The field of flowers turns red, signifying an end of an era and one of the finest boss battles in video games.
Resident Evil 2 (2019)
vs Mr X
Battle theme: “Last Judgement”
One of the best boss battle themes I’ve ever heard comes from the recent remake of Resident Evil 2. When you see a massive human-like figure lift a helicopter with just one hand, you know there’s a serious challenge ahead. Mr X pursues Leon throughout the whole game and doesn’t give you a breather until the very end.
Eventually, Leon’s story culminates in a spectacular showdown against Mr X. His signature trenchcoat burns down, he loses his arm and his heart becomes exposed. With these injuries, it might seem like he’s decommissioned, but as Mr X enters the scene, an epic battle theme resembling Final Fantasy VIII’s “Liberi Fatali” commences.
He jumps down onto a descending elevator platform with minutes left until the facility detonates. As the platform descends, the facility explodes and crumbles, and debris falls down from all over. “Last Judgement” conveys the supreme power of Mr X and the intense choir at the end puts a perfect ending to an incredible battle.
Star Ocean: Till the End of Time
vs Albel Nox
Battle theme: “The Divine Spirit of Language”
Star Ocean: Till the End of Time tells a sci-fi story spanning multiple planets across a giant galaxy. Spearheaded by Fayt Leingod, the party of heroes encounters Albel Nox numerous times throughout the game. As the powerful leader of the Black Brigade, Albel wields a sharp double-bladed katana and boasts an immensely quick movement speed.
Albel Nox has two boss battle themes, one of them being “Malicious Fingers”. “The Divine Spirit of Language” plays during two boss battles against Albel and perfectly fits his character. With a powerful combination of electric guitar and drums, it conveys his nearly demonic speed and power and brings a much-needed urgency to the battle.
While “Malicious Fingers” is great in its own right, “The Divine Spirit of Language” truly brings out the exceptional combat qualities of Albel Nox. Moreover, unlike the other bosses on this list, Albel eventually joins the party on a permanent basis. And after witnessing his power firsthand, gaining such a powerful ally is a blessing indeed.
vs Yoshitaka Mine
Battle theme: “Fly”
Much like “Otherworld” and “Snake Eater”, “Fly” plays multiple times throughout the game; during the intro and the final battle. Yakuza 3 follows the story of Kazuma Kiryu and his perilous path as a former member of the mob. His journey eventually leads Kiryu to bad terms with the interim chairman of the powerful Tojo Clan, Yoshitaka Mine.
Mine doesn’t reveal himself as a formidable opponent until much later in Yakuza 3. He often assumes a background role during conversations until Tsuyoshi Kanda prompts a more violent response. Imagine the terror in Kanda’s eyes when Mine shuts him up with a single punch in the gut and words: “I may not look it, but I’m really quite strong”.
This scene serves as an impressive prelude to what you, as Kiryu, will eventually have to deal with. Hours later, Kiryu and Mine engage in combat on top of a spectacular Tokyo highrise. This version of “Fly” starts out with an epic piano buildup and smoothly transitions into heavy rock once both opponents clash for the game’s final battle.
Naturally, I wanted to include more tracks and some just didn’t make the cut. I also limited myself to one battle theme per franchise because otherwise, the article would end up as a glorifying Devil May Cry and Final Fantasy tribute.
Whether you agree or disagree with my choices, feel free to leave a comment below with your favorite battle theme.