Optional bosses that are better than the main game

It's great to finish a game and best the Big Bad, but it's even better when you realize there's more game to go. Just because the main villain has been vanquished doesn't mean there isn't more evil to fight. And sometimes, these optional baddies are stronger, harder, or just plain cooler than the supposed "final boss."

Pokémon Gold & Silver - Trainer Red

Like most Pokemon games, your goal isn't so much to vanquish evil as it is to collect Pokemon and be the very best. In Gold and Silver, you do this by defeating Team Rocket, as a Poketrainer is wont to do, and then conquer all the Pokegyms in the region. At this point, you've more than proven your point, but then you're given one final task, should you choose to accept it. Only choose to do so if you're as powerful as can be–or if you're quite prepared to die.

To reach the game's ultimate goal, you need to make it through Mt. Silver and reach the top. That's hard enough, but then you make it there and meet your latest challenge: Red, the main character of the original Pokemon game, and still one of the toughest Pokemasters out there. You can challenge him for his crown, but be prepared for multiple overpowered Pokemon, including an insane Level 81 Pikachu, who chooses you…for doom. You don't have to beat Red's team to finish the main game, but, as Ric Flair always says, if you truly want to be The Man, you gotta beat The Man.

Star Fox - Slot Machine

If you're playing Star Fox, your typical goal is to destroy Andross, the giant ape-man who wishes to rule the galaxy and make adorable foxes, frogs, and bunnies extinct. But if an evil space monkey isn't surreal enough for you, the original SNES Star Fox has an extra boss that will make you question everything you know about games, and sanity.

To access the secret stage "Out of This Dimension," destroy a huge asteroid in Level 3-2. A bird will appear, but instead of shooting it, fly into it. That will send you to an alternate dimension where nobody can contact you, galaxies look twisted and distorted, and your new arch-enemy is a humongous slot machine. The only way to "fight" it is to shoot its arm and hope you get lucky. Depending on what comes up on its slots, it might attack you, heal you, or just float there. The only way to win is to keep hitting that arm until you get three 7s. Once you do, you get the jackpot–in the form of a destroyed slot machine.

Unfortunately, this stage was apparently the inspiration for "what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas," because you can't leave. Ever. Letters appear in front of you, and you can shoot them until they spell "The End," but that simply resets the letters so you can shoot them again. Fox is stuck here forever, and the only way to free him is to kill him. Or, as the real world calls it, "resetting the game."

Skyrim - Karstaag

Since it's a massive open-world game, many of Skyrim's bosses are optional. But few are more powerful than the main baddie, Alduin, the ancient world-eating dragon you're supposed to kill to save civilization. But there is one guy, Karstaag, who gives even Alduin the shakes and will challenge even the most hardened of Dragonborns.

To find Karstaag, you need the Dragonborn DLC, and to stumble across the secret quest, "Summoning Karstaag." Find the Karstaag's skull and return it to the ruins of his ancient castle. He'll reward you for doing this by kindly coming to life and doing his absolute best to mutilate you. He's a Frost Giant, after all, and they're rarely friendly even when in a good mood. Considering he was killed 200 years ago in Elder Scrolls 3, and now you're trying to kill him again, he's definitely not in a good mood.

Challenge-wise, Karstaag's a Frost Giant on Super Shredder steroids. His stomp can send you clear to the other side of his room, and his blizzard attack will keep you frostbitten throughout the fight. But beating you up alone is boring, apparently, because he keeps summoning Ice Wraiths to end you as well. It's worth the fight though, because if you win, you get to summon him during battle, and he's as definite a fight-ender as they come. He's so strong in fact, that you can only summon him three times. So use him wisely, or when some vendor rips you off and he must pay.

Final Fantasy VII - Emerald and Ruby Weapon

Few villains in Final Fantasy history are more iconic than Sephiroth. But while his final battle is a classic (terrific music, and quite the challenge without spamming Knights of the Round until he bites it), there are two additional battles that are even tougher, to the point where they're almost unfair.

Both Emerald and Ruby Weapons are part of a side quest triggered by defeating their brother, Diamond Weapon, in the main quest. Ruby's a giant red thing, and you can fight him by flying your airship right into him. He'll then almost certainly kill you, as it has 800,000 hit points and some of the most powerful attacks in the game. One of them can send party members flying off-screen and out of the battle — and considering you only get three people in your party, losing 33% of your manpower in one go is less-than-ideal. But if you're strong (and patient) enough, you can beat Ruby, earning a Gold Chocobo for your troubles. It's certainly a harder route than mating the birds until one hatches an adorable gold chick.

Then there's Emerald, who can be found underwater. He has an insane 1,000,000 hit points, and you only have twenty minutes to beat him unless you equip a special materia that lets you breathe underwater. Like Ruby, his attacks are insanely strong, and can routinely kill you in one go. If you beat him, you get several rare materia, despite how you're basically an in-game god by this point and don't need the extra help.

Super Street Fighter II Turbo - Akuma

When you think iconic Street Fighter bosses, M. Bison almost certainly comes to mind. That is, until you play Super Street Fighter II Turbo and learn the truth: that for M. Bison, the day he gets to kill you will be the most important event of his life. But for Akuma, it will be Tuesday.

Akuma is, quite simply, many times stronger and cooler than Bison. If you want to fight him, first of all you're crazy. Second, you need to basically be a perfect street fighter: you have to reach Bison without losing a single round, and you must go damage-free for at least three rounds. Once you do, Akuma will appear, decimate Bison, and probably do the same to you. Ability-wise, he's Ryu plus Ken, plus he can teleport and shoot fireballs while flying. Honestly, the only thing Bison's got over him is Raul Julia.

Akuma's beatable, but barely. Luckily, the game lets you play as Akuma, which is just plain awesome, though the path to doing so is also pretty convoluted. It involves highlighting various characters on the select screen for various lengths of time, then pressing a bunch of buttons at once. If you do that, you get to kick tons of tail as Akuma. If you play as him and lose anyway, probably just give up Street Fighter and play Barney instead.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night - Galamoth

It's basically illegal to have a Castlevania game without Dracula as the main bad guy. But if you're playing Symphony of the Night, and the Lord of Vampires is simply too easy, try Galamoth for size, and try not to get squashed.

In the Inverted Castle, there's a section called the Floating Catacombs, which is the highest part of the upside-down castle. There's no Dracula-related reason to go there, but if you want to fight a super-strong, 200-foot-tall demon, your only hope is to visit the Catacombs. Once you do, you're in for a fight. Galamoth's attacks all do massive damage, he has 12,000 hit points (while Dracula has a mere 9,999), and his weak spot is naturally his head, which is often way too high up to even hit. That's honestly just mean.

If you manage to beat Galamoth, you gain the ability to turn into poisonous mist, which is awesome and all, but it would've made life so much easier to have it before the battle. Then you could just float up and toxic-mist the guy to death, like an undead boss.

Metroid: Other M - Phantoon

Most of Metroid's final bosses are cut from the roughly the same plot-cloth: a giant Metroid, Mother Brain, Ridley, and the like. But 2010's Other M gave us both a brand-new villain (an android named MB) and the optional final baddie, the ghostly Phantoon last seen in 1994's Super Metroid. But while you don't have to fight him, it's highly recommended for a good time.

Reaching him isn't complicated: simply finish the game and return to the Main Sector for more. Fight your way to the Navigation Booth, and say hi to your old buddy, Phantoon. He remembers what you did the last time you met and isn't happy about it. Also, he's way bigger than before, because why couldn't a ghost size-shift at will? To beat his gigantic spiritual carcass, wait until he starts smashing holes in your booth's glass window and start pelting his big orange eye with Super Missiles. How a ghost can die from physical missile damage is never explained, but you have to beat the bad guy somehow, so why not this way?

Once you defeat him (and his army of weak-yet-annoying minions, because every intergalactic badass has them) you get rewarded with perhaps the ultimate Metroid gimmick: everything crumbles around you, and you have to get out before the world explodes and takes you with it. While you can win the game without fighting Phantoon and triggering the "escape NOW" stage, it really wouldn't be Metroid if you didn't.

Super Mario RPG - Culex

One of the few Mario games that isn't "beat Bowser, save the princess," Super Mario RPG's main story concludes with you facing Smithy, a bearded robot who wishes to rule the world by replacing all wishes with weapons. If that's too weird and nonsensical for you, perhaps you'll enjoy RPG's optional boss, a 2D demon called Culex who simply wants to return home–but not before turning Mario into mincemeat.

To find Culex, you enter a special door in Monstro Town after finding a Shiny Stone. This door will send you into an alternate dimension, where Culex resides. He tells you that he is both matter and antimatter — like Katy Perry thinking you're both hot and cold, only you're also evil — and then he challenges you to fight. If you accept, you're in for a treat. Culex not only looks cooler than Smithy, he's way harder. Between him and his Crystals, he has more hit points than Smithy, his attacks can kill you in one hit no matter how strong you are, and his defense is near-impenetrable.

If you actually beat him, he congratulates you, then returns to his world. You also get a Quartz Charm, which significantly raises your offense and defense, and immunizes you to Instant Death. Those Piranha Plants won't stand a chance.

Wild ARMs - Ragu o Ragula

All the Wild ARMs games have independent stories, much like Final Fantasy. Also like Final Fantasy, they all share recurring elements, such as a Wild West theme, a planet called Filgaia, and an optional, super-strong boss called Ragu o Ragula (his saucy brother, Prego o Ragula, is busy invading another planet, probably).

In-game lore refers to him as the "The King of the Monsters" and "The Master of the Beginning and the End," all but outright saying he's the brains behind anything bad that happens to your party. So you might as well make him pay for that.

You find Ragu in various locations depending on the game, but he's usually found at the bottom of a deep dungeon called the Abyss. He'll give you the toughest challenge of the game, regardless of which one you're playing. If nothing else, his "One Trillion Degrees" attack (a fire spell that can potentially kill your whole party in one shot) will make you wish fire had never been invented. If you can best him, you usually get a relic called the "Sheriff Star." It boosts all your stats, making you stronger than ever, which seems to be a recurring theme among hideously strong hidden bosses. We just beat the toughest part of the game, now we're going to be even stronger? That's like Jeff Bezos winning Powerball.

Kingdom Hearts - Sephiroth

It's rare that the final boss of one game moonlights as an optional boss in another, but that's what happened when Sephiroth, Final Fantasy VII's top-baddie, cameoed in Kingdom Hearts as one of the hardest side-bosses in the series.

In both the original Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts 2, you can take a break from battling Organization XIII and seek out Sephiroth. In the first game, he can be found at Olympus Stadium as the Platinum Cup challenge, once you've won all the other cups. He's as difficult as he was in FFVII, wielding many of the same attacks, and if you're not careful he can hack-and-slash you to pieces immediately. Oh, and you'll be fighting him alone, Goofy and Donald having been banished to the sidelines. Beating him will net you the Platinum Cup, plus a fun sequence where Cloud Strife appears to fight Sephiroth again, though the game doesn't actually show the battle. What a tease.

In the sequel, the Cloud/Sephiroth feud bleeds into the main story, but you don't have to follow it. If you wish, you can find Sephiroth in Hollow Bastion, after beating the Master Control Program. Once again, you fight him alone, and if you're not careful, his sword can ribbonize you within seconds, so don't approach him underprepared. Once you beat him, he gives you respect, then asks you to find Cloud. Once you do, the two fight again, with both ultimately being engulfed by light. They disappear, presumably to fight elsewhere because they're gaming's Batman and Joker, destined to do this forever.