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Seemingly Hopeless Boss Fight

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With a boss fight, sometimes the plot demands that you fail—sort of. With a Seemingly Hopeless Boss Fight, the failure is only temporary. Rather than a simple Game Over, a cutscene triggers in which the protagonist gets back up and proceeds to fight the boss as they normally would—except this time, they can actually win. This trope is fairly common with Final Bosses, but not necessarily exclusive to them. A Seemingly Hopeless Boss Fight generally follows a specific formula with a little variation from boss to boss:

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  1. The protagonist and boss square off normally.
  2. A cutscene (often an in-battle one) renders the fight unwinnable—though there are some cases in which the fight is unwinnable from the start.
  3. The protagonist gives up hope.
  4. Another cutscene gives the protagonist the power to win the battle.
  5. The protagonist and boss square off normally (again).

Done well, this can add a dramatic flair to otherwise normal boss battle. Done poorly, however, the boss’s invincibility and the subsequent nullification thereof come off as a jarring and pointless break from gameplay.

The Fission Mailed aspect of a Seemingly Hopeless Boss Fight often comes in the form of the boss becoming invulnerable to all attacks, though another common variant is an unavoidable One-Hit Kill. In the invincibility scenario, it’s fairly common for the player to have to spend some more time attacking the boss just to show that yes, the boss is invincible.

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Ways for the protagonist to resume fighting vary. Some common ways are:

  1. The protagonist's allies remind them that they're right there with them, giving their a boost through The Power of Friendship.
  2. The boss gets conveniently weakened/handicapped either from an ally/s attack, an accident, a MacGuffin acts up, etc.
  3. The protagonist gains an 11th-Hour Superpower that levels the playing field.
  4. A Heroic Sacrifice occurs to open the gap, sometimes in the form of Taking the Bullet, prompting the protagonist a boost through Unstoppable Rage.

Due to its common use in final boss battles, it is rare for a Seemingly Hopeless Boss Fight to ever be mistaken for a conventional Hopeless Boss Fight. After all, if losing to the Final Boss is scripted, The Bad Guy Wins no matter what. Furthermore, in a Seemingly Hopeless Boss Fight, unless the loss in question is scripted (such as from an unavoidable One-Hit Kill), losing will mean an actual Game Over.

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WARNING: Due to the nature of this trope, spoilers are almost inevitable. To prevent pretty much every entry from being hidden behind spoiler tags, an unmarked spoiler policy has been implemented.

If a boss seems hopeless, but actually requires a trick to defeat it, that's a Puzzle Boss, not this trope.


Examples:

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    Action Adventure Games 
  • The Two-part Final Boss/Sequential Boss of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, in the first part. While you can damage him (albeit just Scratch Damage... even if you're using an Absurdly Sharp Blade), it is very risky and you can easily be One Hit Killed by his Grapple Move. Plus, the fight ends if you whittle his health enough (but not empty it, which is impossible anyway) and you lose the battle (but not get a Game Over). One cutscene after that, someone gives you a sword, and part 2 starts with only the sword being different, which now allows you to damage the boss and finally kill him.
  • Metroid:
    • In Super Metroid: Mother Brain, when damaged enough, unleashes an Eye Beam so powerful it burns through multiple energy tanks and freezes Samus on her knees. After bringing her within an inch of death and preparing to finish Samus off with one final beam, Mother Brain is attacked by the Super Metroid, who restores your health, sucks away Mother Brain's Hyper Beam attack, and gives it to you so you can finish her off.
    • In Metroid Fusion: The final boss is an Omega Metroid, who is invulnerable to all your attacks and brings you down to 1 point of health with a single attack. Just before it can kill you, the SA-X pulls a Villainous Rescue and is damaged enough by the Omega Metroid to let you absorb the SA-X. Thus you receive its powerful suit and Ice Beam, letting you defeat the Omega Metroid.
    • Metroid: Other M: The Queen Metroid fought at the end swallows you and you're seemingly stuck inside while your health drains. Unless you try laying a Power Bomb in her stomach, which had been forbidden to use up until now and which you weren't even notified that you could use them now.

    Platform Games 
  • Mega Man:
    • In Mega Man X1, in Sigma's 1st stage, X (you) meets Vile, who previously appeared in the intro stage as a Hopeless Boss Fight and now has beaten Zero (who infiltrates the stage earlier) and incarcerates him. Then you proceed into another HBF with him, until he grabs X with his mech again... Suddenly, Zero, seeing X in danger, breaks free of his restraints and destroys Vile's mech in a desperate attack that nearly took out his life as well. Then X, after breaking free and seeing Zero's state, has his HP replenished to full. And then, normal boss battle ensues; you can beat Vile this time.
    • Mega Man & Bass: In the first fight against King, the player character (either Bass or Mega Man) can't damage him because he puts out an impenetrable shield in front of him. What you have to do is stay up long enough until Proto Man comes to the rescue and, in a cutscene, incapacitates himself with an attack that managed to break said shield. After that, Mega Man and Bass can injure him normally, but he becomes more aggressive as a tradeoff.
    • The very first boss you face in Mega Man Zero 1, the Golem, is mostly impervious to your dinky little pistol's attacks. You just have to survive for a few minutes until X interrupts the fight and gives Zero his signature Z-Saber. After that, you can use it, and it destroys the Golem in one hit.
  • Copy Kitty:
    • Phoenix Yoggval has an annoying tendency to repeatedly come Back from the Dead numerous times in the same fight. Just when it seems Boki's finally destroyed it for good, it suddenly comes back again with a massive power boost, features faster and stronger attacks, and on top of that, Boki's cursed, reversing the player's movement, all but ensuring it'll completely destroy her. The game lingers on Boki's death animation for a few seconds before revealing that, on top of copying his attacks, Boki also copied his ability to Come Back Strong, and the Curb-Stomp Battle flips to Boki's favor as she not only easily crushes Phoenix Yoggval one more time, but also destroys the artifact that keeps raising him. The game also subverts the contrivences many games fall into with the trope. In a display of Developers' Foresight, if you reach the aforementioned phase with less than 20 HP remaining, the game will grant you the HP boost, just to let you live long enough to experience the desperation. If you're sufficiently skilled however, and avoid taking any damage up until the third attack in its last phase, the game skips the pretence and simply grants you the upgraded powers.
    • A more traditional example can be found in the Final Boss of Boki's Normal campaign. After getting a handle on the battle with Supreme Thremnat, he'll create a shield that while not invulnerable to her attacks, won't damage him. Tiring of the fight, Supreme simply blasts Boki with his massive rainbow laser. Only when the blast clears is it revealed Boki copied the same shield, evaded his attack, and now not only has access to the same shield, but an upgraded shot and the same laser-blasting Grapple Move that's been a source of massive damage. Have fun.

    Role-Playing Games 
  • In the first major boss battle of Tales of the Abyss, Luke and Tear battle the Liger Queen, with levels in the low single digits. It looks like they're finished halfway through, but then in comes Jade Curtiss, who is level 45, and smokes the boss on his own. (In the anime adaptation of the game, he just one-shots the boss with Indignation.)
  • In Paper Mario, Bowser’s Star Rod is powered up by Kammy Koopa’s special arena, rendering the Star Beam useless and Bowser invincible until the Star Beam is powered up by Peach and Twink.
  • In Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, the Shadow Queen is invincible upon going One-Winged Angel and revealing her true form. After a few rounds of futile attacks, the Crystal Stars go to the places Mario visited and serve as a conduit for all the NPCs to cheer Mario on in his final battle. The Shadow Queen is weakened by The Power of Friendship and rendered vulnerable to Mario's attacks.
  • In Super Paper Mario, there are two Seemingly Hopeless Boss Fights in immediate succession, separated only by a cutscene. First, Count Bleck is impervious to all damage until Mario's companions arrive, giving the Pure Hearts the power to nullify Bleck's invincibility. After Bleck is defeated, Dimentio merges with Luigi and the Chaos Heart to become Super Dimentio, who is also invincible thanks to the Pure Hearts' power having already been used against Bleck. The Pure Hearts are restored by the powers of love and friendship, however, and Super Dimentio is also rendered vulnerable to damage.
  • In Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, they play with this a bit in the Final Boss fight against Cackletta's Soul. It starts with the bros at 1 HP forcing you to heal first.
  • In Bravely Default, Ouroboros pulls off two of these. First, he uses an ability that fully restores all his HP, effectively nullifying any damage done to him each turn. Lord DeRosso eventually puts a stop to that by sacrificing himself to block Ouroboros’s healing move. Later, Ouroboros devours a few worlds, leading Agnès to surrender to protect the rest of the worlds. The people from the various worlds unite to fend off Ouroboros’s world-destroying powers, though, thus allowing Agnès and her companions to finish the fight without having to worry.
  • Bravely Second opens In Medias Res with the battle against The Kaiser Oblivion. Your attacks do nothing, and the Kaiser inflicts a Total Party Kill with his first attack. This would appear to be a standard Hopeless Boss Fight, but after you unlock New Game+, you can use Bravely Second to win the fight, and completely derail the game's plot.
  • The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel plays with this on two occasions.
  • In Persona 4, Izanami will cease taking damage once her HP is low enough and will unleash an unavoidable One-Hit Kill, killing the player’s party members one by one until everyone is dead. The player character is roused back to action, however, by the people he has formed Social Links with over the course of the game, gaining the ultimate attack to defeat Izanami and bring back his fallen companions.
    • In Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth, a similar sequence happens when fighting the final boss Enlil; When her One-Winged Angel form's HP is low enough, she will prevent the party from making any more moves and remove them at first one at a time, then everyone else after removing two party members, only leaving the party's combat support in the battlefield. Then in all of a sudden, Hikari steps in and tries to persuade her with her words alone, which take the form of support skills that appear to have no effect. Since Enlil somehow still considers Hikari a friend, she chastises her after the first support skill used, then does absolutely nothing. After three turns, the P3 male protagonist, P3 female protagonist, P4 hero and Joker answered to Hikari and returned, finally finishing Enlil off with a single Unison attack.
    • It should also be worthy to note that Enlil shares similar moral grounds and mythological status as Izanami.
    • Persona 5 has a non-Final Boss version - the fight against Cognitive Wakaba in Futaba's Palace. The first phase is impossible, as you cannot use attacks which do an adequate amount of damagenote  because she's too far away for them to connect. As if being unable to do decent damage wasn't bad enough, she then uses a combo best described as the Pokémon move Fly on steroids - Rapid Ascent and Sphinx Dive, where she spends several turns in the air out of range of everything, then slams into the entire party. The first phase ends with Morgana admitting that countering this is beyond his capabilities. Then Futaba, who has entered her own Palace, blunders into the battle and overcomes the gaslighting that created the monstrosity, resulting in her awakening to a Persona - one perfectly suited to Mission Control. Oh, and she's effectively a Reality Warper as long as she's in this world because it's basically made out of her mind. Not only can she tell when a Sphinx Dive is imminent, allowing the party to adequately prepare, she wishes a ballista into existence, allowing the party to shoot Cognitive Wakaba down during a Rapid Ascent, thereby preventing a Sphinx Dive.
  • Final Fantasy:
    • Final Fantasy IV:
      • Dark Elf has high defence and magnetic powers that make it impossible to use metal weapons against him. As such, he can't be harmed... for the first fight. A cutscene plays out when the fight's script forces it to end; Edward plays his Magic Music to impair the Dark Elf, and the party has a chance to rearm before starting the fight anew.
      • The fight against Golbez in the dwarf kingdom initially seems hopeless, but then Rydia appears as The Cavalry, allowing you to turn the tide with her summoned Eidolons. However, this requires Cecil to be alive: you had best spring a Phoenix Down on him before Golbez paralyzes your party if he isn't.
    • In Final Fantasy XIII, after Snow is critically wounded in an airstrike, Hope is left to fight the flying robot that attacked them on his own. Due to the way the battle system is designed, it is pretty much impossible to defeat a boss enemy with just one character — the best you can hope for is to keep Hope from dying by switching to the healer role often. Luckily, just before he hits 0 HP (or after he survives for a set time), a cutscene plays out where Lightning and Fang finally catch up with them and help deliver a sound thrashing to the boss.
    • In Final Fantasy XIV, the Ultima Weapon seems impossibly strong at the start of the fight, brushing off anything players can throw at it until the Blessing of Light kicks in and evens the scores.
  • Ight in Breath of Fire IV is completely impossible to damage at first due to carrying a very large shield. Once Ryu is knocked unconscious, however, he will transform into the Kaiser Dragon and unleash Kaiser Breath twice; Ight's shield is obliterated the first turn, then Ight the second.
  • In Ni no Kuni, the second round against the boss Vileheart is fought without Oliver; the goal is to survive long enough for Oliver to have a Big Damn Heroes moment and join the fight with his new Mornstar spell, which makes the third round considerably easier.
  • Dragon Quest V: The fight against Kon goes very badly at first, with his shield shrugging off every attack. Then it breaks three turns in, and he can be fought as normal.
  • MOTHER 3, in the Final Battle. The fight starts with your entire party except for Lucas being wiped out, and you can't revive them (if you do, the Masked Man knocks them out instantly). Lucas can't bring himself to attack the Masked Man. The Masked Man lays a relentless barrage of attacks on Lucas, and it's all you can do to keep Lucas alive. But then Hinawa's spirit appears and tries to appeal to the humanity in Claus and get him to remember himself, but Claus keeps attacking. Flint then taking two PK Love Omegas for Lucas to protect him, and then you can finally attack back, but the goal is to just wait until Hinawa's efforts finally break through to Claus and get him to remember who he is, ending the fight.
  • Golden Sun: The Lost Age has the fight against Poseidon. His shield remains up until you raise the trident against him (some players forget to do this, as there's no cutscene at the beginning of the battle like in many other cases). It is however just as possible to reach Poseidon before you even have the trident which can leave new players very confused.
    • The Serpent boss fight is a story-driven one. An NPC tries to get it drunk before attacking, but still fails to kill it. You can attack it at that point, but as the Serpent regenerates enormous amounts of health every turn, it's a Hopeless Boss Fight for all but the most dedicated of Self-Imposed Challenge gamers. It must be weakened by sending shafts of light into his lair which decreases its regeneration (all four shafts reduce it from 2000 to 30 HP per turn), though still leaving it a dangerous boss fight.
  • Xenoblade has a few of these fights, most prominently featured against Xord and Metal Face. Due to their mechon armor preventing them from taking damage normally, their fights tend to start off as a seemingly hopeless boss fight before a cutscene or two renders the fight winnable.
  • All three of Undertale's final boss fights feature this.
    • Neutral: While the battle against Photoshop Flowey seems like a hopeless "Groundhog Day" Loop at first, eventually the souls he's using for power start helping you instead, providing you health and weakening his defense. He even loses the ability to heal by loading old save states.
    • Pacifist: Asriel Dreemurr turns out to be one of these as well in two different ways. First, any time he actually defeats the player, the player's soul comes back out of sheer determination. Second, he completely immobilizes the player upon assuming his second form. After a few rounds of hopeless struggling, the player gains the ability to SAVE the souls Asriel has absorbed—and eventually Asriel himself.
    • Genocide: Sans will attempt to get the player to Rage Quit by making his turn last forever. Because of the game's turn-based combat system, the player can't attack until Sans's "attack" is over, even though said attack is literally nothing. Sans eventually falls asleep, though, allowing the player to drag the dialogue box over to the "FIGHT" button and kill Sans.
  • NieR: Automata has this in what's basically the real final boss of the game: the Mini-Game Credits of Ending E. The credits change into a Bullet Hell minigame that you have to beat to unlock the Golden Ending, but the patterns to actually be able to shoot the credits eventually become nigh impossible to power through by design (while it is technically possible, you have to be insanely skilled and have a ton of patience) leading to your death and the game itself mocking you for it in the game over screen. But if you continue to press on despite the overwhelming odds, after enough deaths you can choose to receive help from other players across the game's network, which gives your player a shield and a stupid amount of ammunition to unload, making the sequence finally beatable for anyone. And then you find out the reason that you were able to receive help was because those players willingly gave up their save data to give your player a chance to succeed. Would you choose to do the same?
  • Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse:
    • At the start of the game, Adramelech shows up with a band of fellow demons, killing Nanashi's mentors before toasting him dead. In the afterlife, however, Nanashi forms a contract with Dagda, who brings him back to life, repairs his smartphone, and grants him the power to summon demons, allowing Nanashi to repel Adramelech and save Asahi.
    • While visiting the Tokyo Skytree, Nanashi and Asahi happen upon a group of angels guarding the tower. After dispatching them, the herald Aniel shows up, and is much, much higher-leveled than them, proceeding to tear the two "unclean" ones a new one...until Flynn and Isabeau show up, driving off Aniel and saving the duo from dying for real (more specifically, Asahi, since Nanashi can be simply revived by Dagda).
    • In the Bonds route, the fight against Dagda seems like it's going to be lights out for Nanashi for real as Dagda takes his powers back from Nanashi, causing him to slowly die and lose control of his demons, until Dagda's mother Danu creates a more obedient clone of Dagda to ensure Nanashi's survival, allowing the original Dagda to be killed off without repercussion on Nanashi's part.
  • The first boss of Rakenzarn Frontier Story will regenerate its health if you knock it down by around 35-40%. After it KOs Makoto or several turns pass, the game moves on to after the fight in the next chapter. Later, you return to the fight in flashback form when Makoto gains summoning powers to nullify its ability.
  • In Kingdom Hearts 1, Leon and Cloud, when you first fight them, are much more powerful than anything else you've fought up to those points and are designed to be incredibly difficult to defeat unless you've done extensive grinding beforehand. However, it is possible to beat them, which lead to alternative cutscene aftermaths and, in the case of Leon, nets you a bonus item.

    Shoot-Em-Ups 
  • RefleX's Area 7 features the boss battle with ZODIAC Virgo, which starts off innocently enough. But late into the battle, the BGM fades out, replaced by one that basically screams "prepare to die". Virgo then traps your ship, the Phoenix, with a tractor beam and then fires a Wave Motion Gun followed by a grotesque display of Bullet Hell, the combines lengths of the attacks being so long that your shield doesn't last long enough and soon your remaining armor runs out. Your ship then goes up in a spectacular explosion and for all intents and purposes it seems to be destroyed with you, the pilot, deadnote ...but then the Phoenix reincarnates as the ZODIAC Ophiuchus, sprouts energy wings, gains a speed and firepower boost and an infinite-use shield, and Virgo retreats, only for the Ophiuchus to catch up and force it to fight to the death.
  • In the final battle with the APITEX in Ether Vapor, the boss can't go down easily with its attacks. Suddenly, your ship goes into Overdrive mode, making the boss even more vulnerable to your attacks.
  • In Ikaruga, after defeating Tageri, the Stone-Like emerges from the remains and attacks you with several different patterns of bullets for 60 seconds. You can't even shoot, much less damage it. After you dodge and absorb the Bullet Hell, your ship performs a Heroic Sacrifice Beam Spam with the energy charged up during that time. Shinra ascends to a higher plane of existence according to the storyline in the Japanese version.
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