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River City Girls’ Boss Fights Punish the Player for Learning

I’ve started playing River City Girls and I mostly like it, but there are some really strange decisions around boss fights that came close to ruining the game for me.

The fights themselves are basically fine (at least the first two, which are all I’ve seen so far). You go up against a powerful enemy with unique attack patterns. They have a lot of health and they hit very hard, so you need to figure out their pattern and the best way to apply your own tools to get in sustained damage while avoiding nearly all of their attacks. They also change their patterns and become more dangerous twice - once when you’ve depleted a third of their health, and then again when you’ve depleted a second third.

It’s really not feasible to predict their patterns and vulnerabilities in advance - at least, I wasn’t able to. They have their own telegraphs but they can usually whip out attacks very quickly and you just have to learn through experience what their attacks are and what their areas of effect are. In short - I’d expect even very skilled players to die a couple of times in the course of learning each new boss.

If I’m correct, then dying to a boss isn’t necessarily a failure. It’s just part of the learning process. If that’s the case, then it’s bizarre how heavily punished it is.

As you defeat enemies in River City Girls, they drop money which you collect. This money is very important to progression, as it’s how you buy stat-boosting and health-restoring items, bonus-granting accessories, and new moves. Dying costs you one third of your cash on hand. (This is at least gentler than in the original River City Ransom where you lost half your money.) I don’t love this, but I can get used to it. I recognize that it encourages the player to take danger seriously, and also creates some of that sweet, sweet risk/reward trade-off. Like, let’s say you’re running low on health - do you spend your money on some healing food, or try to survive long enough to save up for a new move? Although this is undercut somewhat by the fact that you can only buy things in certain places, there isn’t really a fast travel system, and even when backtracking you can trigger “screenlock” battles where you have to defeat a few waves of enemies to be allowed to progress.

When you’re fighting a boss, though, you’re going to die a couple of times, and you’re going to lose money doing it. One could respond that clearly you should just spend all your money before entering a new boss fight - fair enough, except the first boss comes before you have a chance to spend any money. I entered that fight with over $100 burning a hole in my pocket; in the course of learning to beat her (remember, this is the first boss, when players will have the most learning to do and fewest options, especially since they couldn’t have bought any food or new moves) I died four times and was left with $19.

But okay, later bosses don’t have that problem. You can spend your money before triggering any subsequent boss fight. But here’s a problem they do still have: intro cutscenes.

For a long time now, games have recognized that making the player sit through boss intros repeatedly is a bad idea. It’s a waste of their time and it destroys the tension and drama. Heck, all the way back in 2009, Bionic Commando had a “shut up” button for skipping boss chatter on repeat attempts. This isn’t a new idea, but River City Girls apparently didn’t get this memo, because the bosses have multiple introduction scenes that must each be skipped individually by holding down a button for a full second or so, even on repeat attempts. So the process is this:

  1. Enter boss room.
  2. Watch intro cutscenes.
  3. Fight boss and start learning their patterns.
  4. Die. Lose 1/3 of your money and get kicked out of the boss room.
  5. Re-enter boss room.
  6. Hold button to skip cutscene.
  7. Hold button to skip cutscene.
  8. Hold button to skip cutscene.
  9. Fight boss again and continue learning their patterns.
  10. Go back to 4 another few times.
  11. Finally beat boss and move on.

This would be dumb even if most players could reasonably be expected to beat each boss on their first attempt. But when it’s very likely you’re going to die multiple times on each boss just as part of learning them? It’s downright player-hostile.

In my first play session, I had a great time until I got to the first boss. By the time I beat her, I was so frustrated that I nearly abandoned the game. But there was enough I liked about it that I decided to give it another shot, and again had a good time until I got to the next boss, which again ended up being a serious spike of unenjoyable frustration.

And again, the fights themselves were fine. In principle I enjoyed learning their patterns and figuring out how to overcome them. I’d rather do it without losing a bunch of money, but mostly I wish I could do with without the game wasting my time and punishing me for learning.