Video Game Musing: Fighting Bosses Underleveled or Overleveled?


This is always apparent in RPGs where numbers dictate how strong your characters are, especially your levels. Can’t beat a boss? Well, just grind and come back to it, and you can probably beat it with ease.


Now admittedly, it’s not like I like grinding or anything. Just a little is fine, but I dislike it when I literally require days of grinding just so I can fight on par with some bosses, it disrupts story progression a little too much even for me. The best RPGs are the ones where the difficulty of the bosses are balanced well, each one only stronger than the previous a little. This sense of progression slowly but naturally absorbs you into the gameplay and makes you try out newer things in the mechanics as you progress from one boss to the next.

I actually enjoy figuring out the best strategy and equipment to defeat a boss, and I also like figuring out what should I do mid-battle where perhaps even a simple choice between “Attack” or “Defend” can cost my life. Where am I going with this? Well, long story short, if you were to ask me whether I prefer fighting bosses underleveled or overleveled, I would prefer the former without a doubt. When you enter a boss fight and you find out you can defeat a boss just by spamming the attack button, that’s when you really have overleveled, what’s the fun in that?


Though I don’t like grinding, I have to admit there are games where they are pretty creative in their approach to grinding. Xenoblade Chronicles is one such game — you barely get any EXP from killing monsters. In fact, most of your EXP comes from discovering landmarks, exploring the world, completing quests, etc… It’s a system I hope more RPGs would use as well as it really forces you to explore the game’s world rather than just repetitively and mechanically killing monsters. If “fun grinding” ever exists, then that’s definitely my idea of “fun grinding”.

bravely default

Either way, that’s exactly why most of my favorite RPG bosses are the ones where it gave me a nice challenge and also where the immediate answer is not “grind more”. In fact, I recall when I was playing The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky SC, one of the end-game bosses whooped my ass even when I’m at level 90+. See, now that’s a challenge, that’s a good boss design — it forces me to scrutinize my equipment, setup and brainstorming a strategy; grinding more is pointless here since my levels are already so high. This is what a good end-game boss should be like, incredibly hard, challenging, but not where you can easily beat him just by grinding aggressively and overleveling. For this reason, I also greatly enjoyed Bravely Default’s bosses, it’s “job system” forces you to think of a strategy and to really explore the gameplay mechanics. Trying out the vast number of jobs in that game and making good use of their different styles is one of the best part of that game, it makes boss fights dynamic since you have a multitude of ways to defeat them. That kind of versatility is what I like in RPGs.

Overpowered Kirito definitely knows a thing or two about overleveling himself.

Overpowered Kirito definitely knows a thing or two about overleveling.

At the end of the day, I just prefer a little challenge in RPGs, and what challenge is there when I have overleveled to the point that I can destroy my foes by just simply spamming the attack button? At the same time, a video game design also played a big role in this too, and some games can make their bosses challenging regardless of overleveling and underleveling – and that is a clear sign of a game with good design. Indeed, at the end of the day, I just desire a little bit of challenge, so I guess it’s less to do with overleveling and underleveling and more to do with a game’s design, and if a game’s difficulty really IS dictated by how much I level, then I would definitely underlevel without a doubt.

What do you think of underleveling/overleveling in video games?

PS: I’m not gonna lie. This post is inspired by Yuru Yuri.

This entry was posted by Kai.

12 thoughts on “Video Game Musing: Fighting Bosses Underleveled or Overleveled?

  1. When I play RPGs, I normally only grind for levels when the boss overpowers me too many times. Though there were times where I fought a boss under-leveled and barely won.

    And sometimes I don’t bother with grinding at all. There was this time I played Xenoblade and fought a certain later-game boss. …I lost. A lot. Didn’t help that this boss in particular was one I found pretty annoying. …And maybe it’s because I honestly kinda suck at video games. My close calls are super close and often tend to be luck-based. Take for example this one time I played Dragon Quest 9.

    I fought a boss, and I had a hard time with him because my party wasn’t at a good level to fight said boss. (I skipped over a dungeon) Also, younger me didn’t seem to know that Alchemy saves lives and money in this game. So… I fought him. And a lot of dumb stuff happened. The close call was this- My Warrior (the obligatory “Tank” character) did the final blow. At 1 HP. I have NO clue how that happened, but it happened.

    So yes! I only grind for levels when I think it’s needed.

    • Yeah, barely beating bosses can be pretty fun sometimes :p

      Don’t think I had much issues with Xenoblade myself. Though Xenoblade’s “grinding” is actually pretty fun since you’re mostly exploring and doing quests for the exp.

      Never played Dragon Quest, but yeah, sometimes exploring the game mechanics a little deeper goes a long way. I actually like games that makes people do that.

  2. I hate going into a boss fight and knowing after one attempt that I can’t beat it at my current level or with my current party or equipment. Worse when entering the boss fight cuts you off from just walking back out and grinding some more so you have to reload an older save just to be able to prepare for the fight. Basically I tend to not enter a boss fight unless I’m pretty sure I can win. If the fight ends up too easy, I’ll do it again but mix up my equipment or give myself a challenge like trying to win without healing or only using a particular type of spell or something equally silly.

    • That’s an interesting way to challenge yourself. The ability to switch difficulty mid-game is godsent though, and is one I abuse if an RPG has such a feature. Not many does though.

  3. While I haven’t played that many games that require an insane amount of leveling, it’s not surprising since some very hard difficulties that can make boss battles very difficult, especially in Atlas games at the highest difficulty. In that case, the grinding is obviously going to become tedious.

    The funny thing is that the Atelier franchise has tough bosses, but simply level grinding is not going to get you that far since the equipment and item traits matter more, even with higher difficulty settings. Either way you look at it, it’s still a grind to create the right items, although one is not level grinding.

    • High difficulty and grinding is strange sometimes. In some of the newer Tales games, the higher the difficulty, the lesser exp you get from mobs (despite the mobs being extremely harder to beat). Though you do get better drops, and can change difficulty anytime.

      Yeah Atelier is interesting in that regard, the battles themselves are almost a side attraction as more of the focus is on crafting. Like what you said, being a crafting-centric game, the equipment and items you crafted are more important than level-grinding. Creating the best weapons/armors sure take a hell lot of work though, lol

  4. As a huge level grinder, since my fave FF is FF5, I actually love just spending time leveling up. I dunno, but I like being in control like that. But I mostly get my challenges during optional boss fights though, since they ae designed to challenge a grinder specifically. I still remember hunting down all those zodiac bosses in FF12only to escape with one party member barely breathing. haha
    If you want balanced gameplay, why not go for platformers like Zelda? You cannot grind in Zelda, and the bosses are balanced since you are rquired to be flexible and fast thinking rather than acting turn based.
    but there are games though that does require you to pay attention, like the Shin Megami Tensei games. Even when you level up nicely in one area, the next area will always have tougher monsters. Devil Survivor always have stupid win/loss objectives that twists your arm unexpectedly.

    • I don’t mind grinding, just not too much, lol. I would prefer to do sidequests tbh. Even more better if the quests want me to hunt Monster X or Y or something.

      Well, as strange as this may sound, I never played a Zelda game and still not sure I want to go down this rabbit hole since I decided not to keep up with Nintendo that much anymore. The SMT games are titles in my backlog I just haven’t got the time to get into either. Played Devil Survivor though.

  5. I really liked the system in The World Ends With You, and how you’re able to turn your level down at will for either a better chance at items or just a better challenge. You could give yourself a decent challenge without having to otherwise handicap yourself, or, if you found things frustrating, put your level back up to maximum and get better odds against a boss.

    • Oh yeah, I faintly recalled that (been awhile since I last played The World Ends with You). It’s sort of similar to how some newer games have been scaling their difficulty (easy mode=more exp, easier fights, but less drop rates, while harder difficulty=less exp, harder fights, higher drop rates, etc…).

  6. I too loved how Bravely Default’s job system allows you to be creative with boss battle tactics. Some of the setups you can put together can really break the game.

    Personally, I think the best games are designed in such a way that when you face a boss you should be leveled enough to beat them. I am not a fan of grinding because it gets dull. Some people disagree though.

    I know people who get satisfaction from becoming overpowered early on and then steam rolling the rest of the story. On the flip side some people love the challenge of beating bosses on the lowest level possible.

    • “Some of the setups you can put together can really break the game.”
      Dat ninja combo :p

      Yeah, good games should have their bosses’ difficulty scaled accordingly, and let players feel a natural sense of progression with minimal grinding. It gets dull because it’s repetitive, but the best kind of “grinding” are ones like Xenoblade imo, where they reward you with exp for exploring the areas and side quest, and even feel kinda fun.

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