So here we have the best of the best. I’m hoping that this is at least a little different from what you’d normally see from other similar lists. Of course, there are certain powerhouses that have to be there because it’s universal truth that they’re great themes. As always if you disagree with me, feel free to tell me your opinions!
#10 “Beat the Angel” Tales of Symphonia, Composed by Motoi Sakuraba
Sakuraba makes a triumphant return on this list with this great track. It was honestly really hard to pick a favorite boss battle theme just from this one game, as they’re all really good. The reason I like this over others is because it’s kind of a nice diversion from Sakuraba’s normal high octane synth driven themes. A clever listener may discern that this theme is in 3/4 time, which is pretty unusual for a battle theme, in my opinion. They’re either always 4/4 or go completely nuts into some other ridiculous meter. But a moderately paced 3/4 meter, filled with bells and organ work, provides a perfect setting for this particular date with destiny.
#09 “Unavoidable Battle” SMT: Persona 3, Composed by Shoji Meguro
This boss battle plays during some of the more meaningful encounters in the game. Appropriately, it takes on a kind of down and dirty aesthetic, using rhythmic irregularities for tension rather than just relying on speed and driving bassline. Gets the job don’t you think? Shouji Meguro is more or less the musical genius for this new age of RPGs, as his tunes fit perfectly with the modern settings of most of the games he composes for. The Dark Hour isn’t exactly the happiest of times after all.
#08 “The Red Locus” Radiant Historia, Composed by Yoko Shimomura
When I first heard this track, I immediately fell in love with it. Its first occurrence happens fairly early into the game, and it (plus the battle it plays over) is pretty much the point where most players go, “oh shit, things are getting real.” To me, this music embodies the struggle of a small force stuck in a hopeless situation. And in this game, there are plenty of those scenarios. In fact, the entire concept revolves finding these hopeless dead ends and then traversing throughout time to find ways around them. Hailed as a classic JRPG for modern times, it’s definitely worth checking out.
#07 “The Fierce Battle” Final Fantasy VI, Composed by Nobuo Uematsu
Speaking of impending doom (well, kind of), we have this rare boss battle theme. I believe this only plays once (maybe twice?) in the entire game, and it’s against Atma Weapon who plays no significant importance to the plot aside from slowing your advance and providing this kickass music. The fact that this battle is a surprise attack makes it all the more, well, surprising. The intro riff makes that all the more apparent, too. The melody is pretty smooth, but rhythmic hits (plus all the spikes on Atma Weapon) always paints a coarser image in my mind.
#06 “Showdown With Magus” Chrono Trigger, Composed by Yasunori Mitsuda
I hate to throw this word around, but come on. Things seriously don’t get much more epic than this. The entire first part of the game builds Magus up to be the ultimate villain, and while his 6666 HP might suggest so, he’s just a normal yet badass boss that marks one of the biggest turning points in the game. Don’t let me be misunderstood, he might be one of the coolest bosses in the entire game, if not just for his Dark Matter attack. I love how the music incorporates both the “Dark Wind” at the beginning and evil laughs throughout. While its position on this list may not indicate it, things honestly don’t get much better than this.
#05 “Unfounded Revenge” Mother 3, Composed by Shogo Sakai
One of the main reasons I love this track is the fact that it’s so unlike anything you’d ever really hear in an RPG. Fitting, considering Mother 3 is very much unlike any other RPG you’d ever really play! As a game whose battle system relies heavily on music, it’s expected that its boss battle themes would be good. Shogo Sakai meets that expectation tenfold. Whenever boss themes are reused, he’ll change up the rhythms to trick you up, which makes for some awesome musical variation. This particular track takes the form of a manic march, appropriate considering the Pigmasks are so dumb, yet so evil.
#04 “Those Who Fight Further” Final Fantasy VII, Composed by Nobuo Uematsu
Ah, here’s one everyone should be familiar with. This is one that just sounds so typical from an RPG, yet everything just works so well together to make something rather unforgettable. I honestly think that when most people think of a boss battle theme, this is what first comes to mind, for good reason. After composing what he believed to be his magnum opus in VI, Nobuo Uematsu forced himself to step up his game in VII. Whether this is “better” than that can be debated forever, but what IS apparent is that this is some damn good music. It takes a prog-rock style that Uematsu seems to really be fond of, as evidenced by his future bands The Black Mages and The Earthbound Papas.
#03 “Heartful Cry” SMT: Persona 3, Composed by Shoji Meguro
Joining “Prisoners of Fate” from Chrono Cross on the list of sentimental boss battle themes, we have this track from The Answer. Oddly enough, of the things I like most about the theme is the kick drum used throughout. I didn’t think about it until now, but doesn’t it sound like a heartbeat? After the intro, it just trudges along with undying conviction, supporting one of the best boss theme melodies I’ve ever heard. It’s really quite impressive that two very different emotions, tenderness and resolution, can be combined so adeptly.
#02 “I’ll Face Myself” SMT: Persona 4, Composed by Shoji Meguro
Looking back, this boss battle theme actually turns out to be quite a simple with a some musically intricate stuff too. Without me sounding too technical, the “chorus” has that leaping pattern three times with each attempt getting further up in the scale. The highest note in this pattern happens to be the tonic (the note of the home key), or as I like to think of it “the true self.” So if you’re crazy like me, you’ll see how this theme nicely encapsulates the ordeal one must face to overcome one’s shadow in musical form.
#01 “The Decisive Battle” Final Fantasy VI, Composed by Nobuo Uematsu
Probably a boring choice for number one, but there’s probably a reason why it often tops similar lists. That reason being that it’s so freaking good. It’s really easy to get burnt out on some music tracks, but this is not one of those. Like, I seriously don’t think I could ever get tired of this, and my lowly descriptions can’t do it justice really. It’s a timeless classic and a hallmark of what any boss battle theme strives to be. Like the game that it’s featured in, it’s the culmination of all that came before it and has become the precedent of everything that follows it. Everything just clicks, making it the definitive RPG boss battle theme of all time.
Great list! I love the nod to Radiant Historia. There are so many good songs in that game :)
I absolutely loved Fog in Persona 4, but that only plays once… and I’m not sure if it is actually the song I like, or just how well it sucks you into the epicness of that battle/moment. Either way, it was epic, but again, many solid songs from that game.
I definitely think that Radiant Historia is one of Shimomura’s strongest soundtracks, which is saying a lot because I love all of her music.
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I know it’s almost a year later, but I just noticed I put the Magus battle theme at number 6. Totally unintentional but appropriate.