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Varying Tactics Boss

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Usually, when a boss character is fought several times over the course of a game, each battle with them is largely the same; they may improve their stats, learn new moves, power up existing moves, remove weak points (if they had multiple to begin with, of course), and/or modify their Boss Room between battles, but the boss's core strategy stays the same, allowing the player to repeatedly use the same strategy to defeat them. These guys want absolutely nothing to do with that. They may confront the heroes several times, but they respond to each defeat they suffer by completely scrapping their previous strategy and drafting a new one, forcing the heroes (and the player) to change their strategy as well with every encounter.

To qualify for this trope, a boss character must meet the following criteria:

  • The boss character must qualify for Recurring Boss status by fighting the player at least three times over the course of the game, with at least three of those encounters taking place at separate points in the game (i.e. not being back-to-back).
  • The boss must have substantially different attacks and tactics in at least three encounters — ideally, each battle with the boss character is completely different, but a boss character can reuse the same battle template a few times and still qualify as long as they have enough other encounters where they have wildly different moves to qualify anyway. Note that this requires the boss to lose attacks in addition to gaining new ones, though they might use all of their tricks together in their final battle. It also helps if the boss changes up the way the player has to score hits at least once or twice, but this is not strictly required.
    • The aforementioned changes in the boss's tactics and weaknesses have to take place between battles — the boss Turning Red doesn't count (unless they Turn Red or go One-Winged Angel to throw out the strategy from their last fight when it's clearly not working in the current fight, either).
  • The many different strategies the boss employs over their different encounters must force the player to change up their own strategy in order to defeat the boss for most, if not all, encounters with them. This criteria can be relaxed if the game doesn't allow for the Player Character to employ a large variety of attack and mobility skills, but even with a Limited Move Arsenal, the player should still have to use their character's capabilities in different ways to overcome the boss's changing tactics.
  • For a game franchise spanning multiple titles with at least one recurring antagonist, a boss character must meet the above criteria in a single game; having a variety of strategies over multiple titles doesn't count.

This is a Sub-Trope of Recurring Boss. It should not be confused with Quirky Miniboss Squad, a collective of multiple boss characters who ostensibly work as a team yet still elect to split up to challenge the heroes separately, nor with Goldfish Poop Gang, a band of mid-ranking lackeys who challenge the heroes together (though both of those can still qualify for Recurring Boss, or even this trope, if they battle the heroes several times). A non-video-game variant that isn't inherently combat-related is Never Recycle Your Schemes, where a recurring villain has a brand-new Evil Plan every time they pop up to cause trouble (even if they might have more success by just modifying whatever parts of their last plan didn't work out).


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    Action-Adventure Games 
  • The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess: King Bulblin is fought four times:
    • The first battle takes place on a plain, riding after him on his boar as he summons Moblins to his aid. Then the battle shifts to a narrow bridge where both charge at each other (he's defeated by hitting him until he falls off).
    • The second battle also takes place on a bridge, but this time he's learned from the last bout and has two huge shields covering his arms. Fortunately, by this point you've acquired the Hero's Bow, and so you need to shoot him between the shields.
    • The third battle takes place on foot in a Moblin stable with Bulblin wielding a giant axe, announcing his presence by smashing it into a giant boar so you can't escape. After beating him, the stable catches fire, and you need to ride the boar to break out.
    • The final battle is in Hyrule Castle and is a standard sword fight. Upon losing, he reveals that he can talk, gives you a key, and names the trope for "I Fight for the Strongest Side!".

    Beat-'Em-Up Games 
  • Altered Beast (1988): Both played straight and inverted. The sorcerer Neff is the boss of each stage, but takes a different monstrous form every time. After being defeated by Zeus's champions, he simply steals the heroes' powers and disappears deeper into the Underworld, forcing them to chase after him at square one and acquire new powers on every level.

    Platform Games 

  • Fate/Grand Order: During Pseudo-Singularity I, Quarantined Territory of Malice: Shinjuku, Hessian Lobo is fought four times. While each battle seems the same on the surface (especially since he retains his skills and Noble Phantasm), each fight changes a key element that forces the player to use a different strategy for dealing with him.
    • In the first fight, his class is Rider, which means that he has class advantage over Casters (a.k.a. takes reduced damage from them and deals them extra damage), and Assassins have class advantage over him. He also has a skill called "Cry of Hatred" which randomly reduces the defense of one party member once per turn for three turns.
    • In the second fight, he no longer uses "Cry of Hatred", but now the field is on fire, which means that both you and your party take damage at the end of each turn. Unfortunately for you, his health bar is enormous so he's not terribly affected by this, and you have to find a way to either keep your health up with constant healing (VERY hard to do considering that the striking majority of healers are Casters) or beat him as fast as possible (not as easy as it sounds, considering his Multiple Life Bars).
    • The third fight sees the most drastic change yet. The field is back to normal, and Casters are no longer at disadvantage... and that's your only saving grace. The Rider is now an Avenger, which means that NOBODY has class advantage over himnote . In addition, thanks to his new class he hits harder by default, and now he starts every single turn by applying an one-time Evade, significantly slowing you down.
    • In the fourth and last fight, he's still an Avenger, but he no longer spams Evade. Instead, he now has a new beefed up version of "Cry of Hatred", which not only lowers defense but also attack, and the debuffs can be split between party members at random. So while there's no Evade to slow you down now, staying alive is even harder.
  • Seymour from Final Fantasy X has four forms, and while they all use elemental magic to some extent since he's one of the most powerful magic users in the setting, there are a lot of differences beyond that:
    • In his first form, he protects himself from magic attacks and casts magic on your party, and has two bodyguards to absorb physical attacks who will also try to confuse your party members. When he drops to half health, he summons his Aeon, Anima, to fight you. When Anima is defeated, Seymour comes back and is now able to doublecast magic with a boosted magic attack power.
    • In his second form, he's got a scorpion-like helper who will remove positive status effects from your party. Seymour will often try to turn the party to stone, with his helper following up with an attack that not only kills the character, but removes their battle slot for the rest of the fight. In between this, Seymour will start off doublecasting elemental magic and later a single cast of the non-elemental spell Flare. His HP can be drained a good deal by repeatedly killing the helper, who will suck a few thousand HP from Seymour to recover. Seymour can also banish Aeons after one turn.
    • The third fight has a different form of his helper from the second one, one who can use a physical attack that hits everyone for moderate damage. Seymour likes to attack the party with a move that inflicts Zombie, with the helper casting Full Life shortly thereafter. Instead of casting Flare directly on the party, Seymour starts casting Reflect on himself and bouncing Flare off himself onto others. He also has a charged attack that deals massive damage to everyone and can again banish Aeons after a turn.
    • The final fight has him surrounded by four elemental discs, each of which has a spot for each of the four elements on it. The party can rotate the disks by attacking them. The more matching elemental symbols closest to him, the harder his attacks with that element are and the more he resists or even absorbs that element. He's replaced Flare with Ultima, the most powerful non-elemental spell in the game. For some reason, he loses the Aeon-banish ability this time around.
  • Path of Exile: The Labyrinth is a Marathon Level that you must complete multiple times in order to get skill points for your Ascendancy class. In there, you fight Emperor Izaro three separate time, and his attacks and arena layout are randomized each day. Izaro will wield either a sword or a hammer, the first two fights add a mechanic which empower Izaro in various ways and carry over to his next fights if not dealt with, and the third fight adds traps into his arena.
  • N in Pokémon Black and White, like most other villainous team leaders and team leaders' patsies in the series, fights the player several times during their journey. What makes N qualify for this trope while the other villainous team leaders are ordinary Recurring Bosses is that N never reuses the same Pokémon twice; he has a completely new team every time he faces the player, not keeping any Pokémon between battles, and each team is made up of Pokémon found in the area where the battle takes place. The exception to the last point is N's final battle in the his castle (which has no locally available wild Pokémon), where his team consists of his legendary dragon and his childhood friends.
  • Hop from Pokémon Sword and Shield generally has a consistent team of Pokémon that he relies on throughout the game, but at one point he suffers a particularly humiliating defeat at the hands of Bede and the resulting self-doubt makes him question his approach to battles. As a result, over the next two fights against him, he switches up his team to include Pokémon that he never uses against you again; in the first of these fights he brings a Toxel and a Silicobra, and in the second fight he uses a Trevenant, a Heatmor and a Boltund.
  • The Specter boss in Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne is fought on three occasions. Each time, it uses an ability called "Gathering" to make copies of itself, but the way it uses the copies, and the strategy to use against it, changes every time:
    • A couple of turns into the first fight, the copies will Fusion Dance into a giant specter. The goal is to kill as many of the copies as possible before this happens to make the Fusion Dance form weaker.
    • In the second fight, it begins by trying to cast the powerful "Megido" spell, but it doesn't have enough MP, and it and its copies will spend the rest of the fight using "Mana Drain" attacks on your party. The goal is to kill them all before one of them stockpiles enough MP to cast Megido again (or begin the fight with 0 MP so it has nothing to drain).
    • In the third fight, its copies will use a Suicide Attack called "Last Resort" to damage your party, and "Gathering" to replace the ones that destroy themselves. The best tactic is to use a Herd-Hitting Attack to wipe them all out at once.
  • Shin Megami Tensei IV: The Terminal Guardian is technically a Mirror Match, as he is a Demon Summoner much like the player character, and he never gets personally involved in the fight. However, each and every time you fight him, he uses a different combinations of demons with different skills, making those fights different each time, and forcing you to use different strategies for each one. And to top it all off, you have to fight him at least six times.
  • Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga 2 features two of these.
    • Heat is only fought twice, but exploits this trope all the same. You first fight him when searching for Sera, revealing his Sudden Sequel Heel Syndrome. The next time you fight him, he not only assumes a completely different transformation, but pretty much none of his attacks from his previous fight make a return.
      • To reach his first fight, you first have to fight three Karma Soldiers before he appears, accompanied by two Gdons. He has a weakness to ice (which he often circumvents by having his Gdons put up ice-draining shields) and specializes in generic fire and physical attacks, all of these properties witnessed in the previous game, in which he was a party member.
      • You fight him again when you revisit the corrupted EGG facility to look for Serph. He instead naturally repels ice (which was previously his weakness) and gains a completely different weakness, namely electricity. He also gains an ice attack that has a good chance of freezing characters, which gives him free rein to pile up on Critical Hits (which also give him extra turns). He also gains an unblockable almighty attack, as well as a literally panic-inducing skill (which if inflicted, causes the affected character to waste entire turns and drop money very often). You also have to destroy his two arms to even deal any damage to him this time around. What cements him as this trope is his own response to when you attempt to hit him with ice attacks in the second fight with him.
        Vritra: No, y'dumb bastard! That won't do a damn thing!
    • The first two times they're fought, the Tribhvana is a Quirky Miniboss Squad with relatively unchanged strategies. However, the third time, the leader of the squad has devoured his teammates and obtained their abilities, transforming him into Abaddon. In other words, the squad has turned into a Barrier Change Boss with completely different quirks.
  • In Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, Morax, Mithras, Horkos, and Asura — bosses fought in the first four sectors — return in the sixth, all having transformed into completely different demons.
  • The Persona 2 duology mixes this trope with Legacy Boss Battle; between Innocent Sin, Eternal Punishment, and the prequel Persona, several bosses completely change tactics.
    • Tatsuya Sudou keeps his Fire affinity in both games. However, he plays differently each time.
      • In IS, he's a straightforward fire user who fights alone against your party.
      • In EP, he suddenly becomes a Flunky Boss with minions that deal damage and ailments, while he comes with a new Persona (which also deals ailments), and Old Maid to turn your party against each other.
      • In Tatsuya's Scenario from the Updated Re-release of EP, he's fought as a Duel Boss and Mirror Boss rolled into one (the player character is also a fire user). This time, he's dubbed as "Drunk Tatsuya Sudou", and while he still deals ailments, he lacks Old Maid (it's useless against one person alone) and has a copy of your character's Signature Move.
    • Ginji Sasaki is an Earth user in both games and he can heal... and that's where the similarity ends. In IS, he's fought alone, deals ailments and has a hand-canon of a gun. In EP, he loses the gun, becomes a Flunky Boss, and takes advantage of his minions' Suicide Attack to damage your party and deal ailments, while he keeps reviving them. And he also has Old Maid.
    • Shadow Maya.
      • In IS, she is fought alone, and she starts the fight by dealing unblockable damage to the whole party (except for the real Maya, who joins the fight right afterwards). She is using Reverse Maia (a Shadow Archetype of Maia Prime), which means Water and Ice, two different One-Hit Kill attacks that she loves to spam, and Poisons.
      • In EP, she becomes a Dual Boss teaming up with Shadow Baofu, and uses Reverse Artemis instead. She's now weak to all physicals but deflects all magic, ditches the one-hit kill moves and previous ailments for dealing a ton of damage and freezing, and she can heal too. And of course, you have to worry about Shadow Baofu too, who is a very nasty customer himself.
    • Takahisa Kandori sure knows how to mix things up.
      • In Persona 1, he is fought alone, has a Weaksauce Weakness to guns, a fire attack, a darkness attack, a couple of sword attacks, and a trick that prevents you from healing. He then enters a second phase when he gets taken over by his own Persona... but there's a further explanation for that below.
      • In EP, he is a completely different story. He got rid of all his weaknesses and previous moves, and now he's fought as a Flunky Boss. He ditches his sword attacks for ranged ones, teams up with the Wolf Pack Boss that you fought just before him (four Anti-Magic Mini Mechas), resists everything, has several new attacks including a few that are only shared by the Final Boss (in this game), and can heal himself.
      • In Tatsuya's Scenario, he is fought as a Duel Boss. Dubbed "Playful Takahisa Kandori" (meaning that he's screwing with you), he now reflects Nuclear, rendering half your moves useless, while still resisting everything else, and he has some other moves that he shares with the Final Boss, which are designed to keep you from using your skills.
    • The Big Bad Nyarlathotep is said to have a thousand faces for a reason. Each time he's fought, he doesn't have a single move in common with the previous ones.
      • Technically, the first time he is fought is in Persona 1, when he possesses Kandori above for phase 2 of the fight. He keeps the weaknesses of phase 1, but now he looks like a hipster Bhuda except it's Body Horror and loses all his previous skills. Now he's dealing powerful Light 'em Up attacks, as well as ailments.
      • He pulls this stunt again in IS with Joker, but this time he ditches the ailments and goes for persistent damage that you cannot defend against. And he has no weaknesses, unlike above.
      • The first time you fight him for real, he's the Final Boss of IS. In phase 1, he's disguised as Adolf Hitler and has several German and Christian-themed attacks that protect him, seal away abilities and deal ailments. In phase 2, he's a Wolf Pack Boss of the Cognizant Limbs kind: his five different parts all have separate skills, elemental affinities and HP pools. He also deals ailments targeted to specific party members, and can damage your SP instead of HP.
      • In EP, he comes back as the Final Boss, and this time ditches the weird disguises. In phase 1, depending on player choices, he gets several attacks that will half your HP and/or instantly kill you whether you want it or not, and even has a move that deals twice the damage if you're defending. In phase 2, he starts dealing ailments, still deals enormous damage, and has an ability that negates all healing, buffs and shields. Have fun.
      • Subverted in Tatsuya's Scenario, where he's fought as the final boss. While you have a party this time - unlike the other fights from that scenario listed here - and he comes at you with another form, he's a mix of phase 1 and 2 above. The difference is that this time, he reflects Armageddon, so you can't one-shot him on New Game Plus.
  • Jr. Troopa fights you a total of six times over the course of Paper Mario 64, and zigzags the trope. On the one hand, he generally only makes one change to his tactics or defenses (usually the latter) between fights. On the other hand, he does make a change to his tactics or defenses for every time he fights you, and that one change he makes is frequently enough to invalidate the player's strategy for the previous fight and force the player to either employ a different form of offense or use a Badge to circumvent his new defense. Going through each fight in sequence...
    • Fight 1: Basic Jr. Troopa. It's a straightforward slugfest, and your HP is better than his, so your victory is inevitable.
    • Fight 2: Jr. Troopa starts hiding in his shell, boosting his defense to 1; this effectively makes jumps useless on him (as he cannot be flipped over), forcing you to use your hammer and time your Action Commands properly in order to deal enough damage to overcome his Defense. If you have Kooper or Bombette, they can also hurt him.
    • Fight 3: Jr. Troopa sprouts wings, forcing you to use jumps or the Hammer Throw Badge (Kooper can't hit him). He still has 1 point of Defense here, but you have the Super Boots by this fight, so your jumps have enough attack power to deal damage (but Bow doesn't). Parakarry can also damage Jr. Troopa, as can Goombario if upgraded.
    • Fight 4: Jr. Troopa sprouts a spike and retains his wings, making both jumping and your hammer useless without some sort of augmentation. Mario needs either Hammer Throw or Spike Shield — otherwise, items and Star Storm are the only option. Most of your partners can't use their basic attack to deal damage, but some can use an advanced attack to do so (Bombette's Ultra Bomb, Parakarry's Shell Shot and Air Raid, Bow's Fan Smack, and Sushie's Water Gun and Tidal Wave), and Watt's Electro Dash counters Jr. Troopa perfectly due to being an attack from the side (bypassing the spike), bypassing Defense, and being able to hit regardless of the enemy's position. Jr. Troopa's attack is still contact-making, so Electro Shrooms and other contact punishers can chip away at Jr. Troopa's HP (these worked for the previous fights, too, but you didn't have access to many, they weren't really necessary, and they were rather inefficient given Jr. Troopa's HP). Jr. Troopa has less HP than he did in the previous fight (rather little for a Boss Battle at this point in the game), so in any case, it doesn't take much to put him down.
    • Fight 5: Surprisingly, Jr. Troopa ditches the wings and spike for this round; all he does is improve his stats dramatically. Oh, and he now attacks with magic rather than a tackle or kick, so you can't use Electro Shrooms or similar items and Badges to hurt him as he hurts you. (Also, the timing for a defensive Action Command against his attack is a little different.)
    • Fight 6: The final showdown with Jr. Troopa. His stats are at their highest and he goes through all his previous tricks — the shell, the wings, the spike, and the magic blasts. He also adds in a lightning bolt attack on top of that, which substantially mixes up the timing of when you need to defend.

    Non-Video Game examples 
  • Glorious Shotgun Princess: The Tower of Ree has 99 blocks consisting of 100 floors, and at the end of each block, every person who attempts to climb it has to fight a construction made of Jade which looks like a human teenage girl. On each block, the girl uses completely different tactics; at one block she uses animals, at another she's riding a Mini-Mecha, in another she uses Self-Duplication, and so on and forth.