Like many, I was a fan of the first season of Heroes…. right up until its “epic” last battle with Sylar. The thing is… as you might’ve noticed… that last battle was not epic at all. As I do so many things in life, I’m going to explain this in Dragon Ball Z terms…
So we are offered a Goku in Peter: a nice guy who just wants to do good – who also happens to have the potential to be the most powerful humanoid in the universe. He even trains a little bit to try and sharpen his skills. Good for him! We are also offered Vegeta in the form of Sylar: maybe not a bad guy, but certainly with a great capacity of evil – who also happens to have powers that could come to rival the protagonists, if not quite as naturally/effortlessly, and with a head-start.
We have supporting cast: Hiro/Krillin, Glasses Guy/… I don’t know… Piccolo, Buff White Chick/Bulma, her boyfriend/Yamcha, Cheerleader/… Chi-Chi? Is Nathan Raditz? And Parkman… In any case, we have a great ensemble and many potential heroes, but none who are quite on the level of our protagonist/antagonist… so obviously when it comes down to a final, epic battle… yes, some teamwork is involved – but overall, the expectation would be that the final battle would see the two most fitting rivals converging. This is something Dragon Ball Z has shown us over and over again – but that Heroes took one look at and balked. Perhaps they thought it they gave us a Peter/Sylar show-down, we’d be satisfied with that and forget about the show entirely? Alas, they underestimated our extreme excitement to see such show-downs over and over and over again. I mean, seriously: how many fights did Goku and Vegeta get into? And now how many actually bored you? (Well… you know… besides for the episodes-long power-ups).
That’s just one of my issues with Heroes. When the moment came for Peter to live-up to the title of the show, he wussed out, and the “final battle” with Sylar amounted to a bunch of people taking a whack or two at Sylar. Now, I know that Yajirobe is the one who cut-off Vegeta’s tail, much like Hiro was the one who stabbed Sylar with a friggin katana – but removing Vegeta’s tail was far from a final blow, and it only demonstrated that the defeat of Vegeta was arduous… not just a gang of people randomly pot-shotting one (admittedly bad) guy.
This makes for an easy comparison to the final battles of video games: typically, you have a team. That team stands by you throughout each battle; you begin to think of them as a single unit with your hero. In Persona 3, you can have the protagonist, Akihiko, Aigis, and Koromaru or Ken or Mitsuru or whomever. In KOTOR, you actually get to face off with Malak alone, which is awesome (and basically the hardest fight ever… or maybe just for me)… but up until then you have Bastila, Carth, Zaalbar, the ever entertaining HK-47, and T3-M4 – who basically won my entire penultimate battle against Malak single-handedly (immune to many force powers and able to heal my party when Malak fled; I hardly leveled HK-47 at all due to my insistence on playing mostly-light side). Final Fantasy always gives you your teams. But because you are controlling all members of your party in these fights, the accomplishment feels like a win for you – the player – who has trained and leveled-up and tried every tactic after death scene after death scene (my tactic when fighting Malak? Stock-up on grenades, especially shock ones/ice ones, run really far, throw a grenade, hit him a little bit, then continue to run like hell).
You feel satisfaction in those wins because it took effort, and it was challenging and utilized the sum of your training. Because it was the fruitage of one person’s struggles against a worthy adversary: yours.
So yes, in TV shows like Heroes, you do track the progress of several different characters of the arc of the series. That’s a trend continuing more and more. You don’t want writers to just drop the ball entirely by forgetting about the characters once shit gets real. But you don’t want to totally neuter the main character either, by rendering their efforts useless in comparison to a few slaps in the face by auxiliary characters. I think, in this case and despite my many problems with the movies itself, Man of Steel did well in that department: we followed a determined soldier trying to protect his country from beings vastly out-matching him… and win (sort of) – throwing back a catchy little jab at said beings, at that. Meanwhile, the ultimate, most difficult victory was still Clark’s.
For our own game, we face the same difficulty all game creators do: making boss battles feel meaningful and difficult – without being impossibly frustrating. While we’re a little limited with the Pokemon-like battle-system, acquiring skills and leveling up will vastly aid us in this quest.