Early Bird Boss

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A frequent form of That One Boss that tends to appear in RPG or Metroidvania games.

This quick riser shows up well before you've acquired most of your standard abilities, Heart Containers, or sources of healing, and has to be fought with the bare minimum of firepower and health. The boss may or may not actually be all that powerful in-and-of-itself, but followers of this trope are made infinitely more threatening by your character's lack of all but the most basic abilities/equipment/party members.

If only it showed up an hour later, you'd have the upgrades to beat it handily (and an hour from now, you just might). For now, however, be prepared to either dig in your heels to battle Knight of Slight Peril with your Pointy-Stick-Of-Mild-Discomfort or to run back to your save file. But don't worry, It Gets Better.

Companion trope of "Wake-Up Call" Boss. Subtrope of Early Game Hell.

Examples of Early Bird Boss include:
  • In BioShock (series) the Big Daddies are at their hardest at the beginning of the game, when you have fewer, less upgraded weapons and plasmids. These fights get much easier upon obtaining more of these, to the extent that the crossbow (with trap bolts), grenade launcher (with proximity mines) and trap plasmids mean that you may not even have to directly fight them at all.
  • Skies of Arcadia uses this trope in the ship battle against Admiral Belleza. There are only two ship fights (both of them easy as hell and meant for figuring out the system) up to this point, along with little ship weapons and armor available to buy; this fight is tough because beforehand, there is a required Hopeless Boss Fight against Recumen that can leave your items and healing magic depleted and your health dwindled. As if those weren't enough, Belleza's ship has high health, is evasive, and can cast attack magic, which the player cannot do at that point in the game.
    • That's nothing compared to the early optional bosses. Try fighting a boss that's more than capable of one shotting a party member with only one or two party members with a revive spell... that only works half the time! (looking at you, Rupee Larso and first Piastol fight...)
  • The Shadow Yukiko battle in Persona 4 qualifies in a few ways. Decent persona at this point require a good amount of metaknowledge (that is, Guide Dang It or previous experience with SMT games) to gain. You cannot level up efficiently because you can't heal SP outside of rare items and Arcana Chance events without wasting a day (a finite resource in the entire game) at this point in the game. You have no real healer yet unless you know what you're doing and get the MC a Persona able to do it.[1] Unfortunately, doing this also relegates your most potent damage dealer to pure support. Also, she turns into a bird, making this a literal example of an early Bird Boss.
    • Another good example of this trope, also from Persona 4, is the optional boss for Yukiko's Castle, the Contrarian King. If you, as many players do, attempt this boss directly after beating the dungeon for the first time, the combination of your relatively low party level, his high HP, and, most importantly, his usage of the Rampage physical attack (hits whole party, three times, for a ton of damage) will generally lead to you being hideously maimed. On the other hand, if you come back just before beginning the next dungeon, he's a good deal more manageable.
      • Pretty much any Bonus Boss that shows up at the end of a dungeon qualifies as this if you don't wait clear the dungeon afterward before taking on that boss.
  • In the initial versions of Pokémon Red and Blue Brock can turn into this, especially for players who pick Charmander as their starter, as you have very few options as far as your Pokémon go (your starter and Com Mons for the most part), and even fewer able to exploit his weakness. Yellow and Fire Red/Leaf Green both fix this with new additions, such as Mankey, to be found earlier in the game.
    • Falkner in Pokémon Gold and Silver could be like this, also, as many of the early Com Mons were weak against Flying and there are no super-effective attacks to be found unless you do an in-game trade to get an Onix or level-grind a Geodude. However he is not as difficult as his predecessor because unlike Rock-types, Flying-type Pokémon are not resistant to Normal-type attacks that will be the majority of the moves in the players arsenal at the time, nor do they have high defensive stats. The best antidote, oddly enough, was to fight his Flying-types with other Flying-types, as they would be able to avoid the (Ground-type) Mud-Slap attack that his Pokémon used.
      • And he's still that way in the Gen IV remakes, particularly if you start with Chikorita, which is weak to Flying-types. Then he hauls out his Pidgeotto with constant use of Roost, which makes things even harder. It definitely pays to get the aforementioned Geodude or Onix.
    • Rival battles early in Pokémon games can sometimes tend to lean towards this due to the rival always using whichever starter Pokémon has a type advantage versus the player's starter combined with a lack of wild pokemon of the types the rival's starter is weak against available for the player to catch early in the game, as well as have late and powerful moves for his underleveled Pokemon, like his Gyarados in Lavender Town's Ghost Tower is around level 30 or so and already knows Hydro Pump.
    • Early Bird Bosses tend to be the hardest of all encounters in rom hacks designed to be more difficult than the canon games. One such edit pits the player against Falkner, the very first gym leader in the Johto based games, using an entire team of well rounded flying types, with movesets almost appropriate for the end-game. There are only a handful of weak and/slow Pokémon available to use at that point with attacks that will cause heavy damage to flying types.
  • Spiky Tiger in Secret of Mana - you don't have magic when you fight him. If you had healing spells when you fought him that would help a ton, as would being able to blast him with magic when he jumps on the ledges.
    • Children of Mana is a cakewalk with only two parts that are remotely challenging, but those can be very tough. Which ones? The last boss and... the first.
  • Twilight Thorn in Kingdom Hearts 2 - again because you don't have magic. Being able to heal or shoot him with Blizzard or Lightning when he's out of reach of your keyblade would be nice.
  • The Sanctuary Keeper in Final Fantasy X-2 is considerably difficult for one of the first bosses encountered in the game. Typically, its difficulty rating will be four stars out of five. It's a good idea to grind before this fight.
  • Okku in Neverwinter Nights 2 Mask of The Betrayer can approach this if the player is not playing a tank or can't otherwise avoid damage (such as hide in plain sight), as your only party member is a Squishy Wizard who has barred conjuration (the magic school that allows you to summon disposable meat shields). You can find a Guest Star Party Member golem to join your party, but while strong enough to help with mooks, it will quickly fall to Okku (amusingly, Okku can join your party later and be the best tank in the game). You also lack a healer, but as most healing is best done out of combat, this isn't as big an obstacle.
  • Geyzer of Dragon Quest VIII could be seen as this, since you fight him with only two characters, and your levels are likely too low to have any skills capable of making the battle easier. The fact that he hits pretty damn hard when only your main character is likely to have the game's first healing spell doesn't help at all (Yangus can learn it too, but it requires several points in his Humanity skill, and it's unlikely he'll earn enough for it even if you dump all his skill points into Humanity).
  • In the Dungeons & Dragons module Keep on the Shadowfell, Irontooth definitely falls into this category. The fight here is the first experience players have with "waves" of monsters, as to get to Irontooth you need to fight a whole encounter's worth of monsters to get into the lair, and then another whole encounter's worth once there. Parties who know how to marshal their tactics and conserve their resources find this a tough but beatable encounter. Those who just rushed in to the lair without taking a short rest or who blow all their abilities before Irontooth shows up 3 rounds in will take a brutal beating, and this is where the majority of TPKs for new parties happen in this module.
  • Lost Odyssey has the huge bird boss at the top of the rainy mountain very early in the game, who ends up being difficult primarily because the player doesn't have access to any decent recovery or defensive skills yet. Magic is the only way to effectively damage him enough to kill him before he kills you; but due to an unfortunate glitch in the programming, he will attack the squishy magic user exclusively until he dies, and returns to attacking him the second you revive him. You can't even level grind, since the enemies stop giving exp once you reach a certain level.
  • The Lord of the Flowsand in Final Fantasy Tactics A2 would probably not be so difficult if it weren't fought at a relatively early point in the game where you don't have access to most of the abilities each class can get, mainly due to the Randomly Drops nature of getting new weapons and armor. A lot of the classes will be off-limits to you at this point, as well- it's also impossible to have any Seeq or Gria units (both the better direct damage dealers). When you fight the thing again in a latter optional mission, he is much easier despite vastly higher HP and strength.
  • The Wing Raptor in Final Fantasy V. The first boss in the game; and not only does he show before you get your first job classes, he guards the room containing said first jobs. Your options are basically attack, don't attack, attack some more, or use an item for flavor.
  • The Land Turtle and Djinn from Final Fantasy III DS are fought before the job classes open up.
    • However, if you take even a small amount of time fighting mooks and grinding the job level of the starting job, they become very manageable. And considering job levels are grinded by the amount of battle moves used, you can simple sit in a fight against a weak single enemy and just keep guarding it's attacks over and over to bump up that job level quick.
  • Infamously, house cats in Dungeons & Dragons 3.5. They are small with high dexterity, thus hard to hit, particularly with a base to hit bonus of one or zero. They pack a decent hide modifier, improved further by the mentioned size and dexterity, meaning they attack first. The high dex then gets them the initiative after the first round when the bastards sneak up on you and you can't attack (so they have 2 free rounds on you). Unless you get max HP at first level, you have little HP and cats (thanks to the rules for natural attacks) get 3 attacks a round, each dealing Scratch Damage (no pun intended) of at least 1 point in a game where commoners with 3 HP at level 1 are lucky and wizards, rogues and other non-fighter types have barely more than that at level 1.
    • House cats aside, generally the final opponent of any low-level D&D module will be this trope, due to the fact that most classes will not have much in the way of advanced equipment or class abilities
    • House cats are fine for killing off commoners (they have a slight edge on them), but the effect on PCs is greatly exaggerated. During a surprise round they can only attack once, and their to-hit is, while not bad by any means, in no way guaranteed to hit even a commoner, let alone a PC (even one in basic gear). The only player character they pose a significant threat to is a level 1 wizard (or other very squishy class) with a negative con and dex modifier; even then, if the cat doesn't hit every attack (only about a 30% chance at best), the wizard can still kill it in one hit. It would take incredibly bad luck to die to a housecat at level 1 as any reasonable PC.
  • The first fight with Leon in Kingdom Hearts comes right before Sora gets the Dodge Roll ability that lets the player evade most physical attacks with proper timing. Naturally, most of Leon's arsenal would be much easier to avoid by rolling than by running around.
    • The battle against Clayton on the Stealth Sneak applies too, especially if the player hasn't spent much time leveling up. After you defeat him and learn Cure, bosses becomes so, much, easier.
  • Castlevania 64 features a boss minutes into the game; seriously, you probably won't even have figured out the combat system by the time the fight starts.
    • Legacy of Darkness is even more guilty. The first boss is a hydra which has attacks that are very difficult to avoid, even if you know what to do. The next few bosses are lot easier.
  • The B2 Brawler in Ratchet and Clank 2, though optional, is an absolute nightmare when fought with only early-game weapons, (and worse still. there's a Skill Point for beating it without taking damage!) but falls VERY easily to the stronger ones you get later. The Lock-On mod is also a huge help which, you guessed it, isn't available when you first get to fight the Brawler.
  • Fraaz, the Snow Temple boss from The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, seems to fit this description, being unusually tough in spite of only being the second boss in the game. Fraaz's attacks increase in frequency as the battle goes on, he can split himself in two, and once he's destroyed the torches in his chamber, you have to run suicidally close to his attacks in order to reflect them and stun him. The player only gets one free heart container before him; it's possible to get more, but they involve scraping up a lot of Rupees and a Boss Rush challenge.
  • Super Metroid starts with some empty corridors, followed by a boss battle against Ridley using a portion of his standard attack patterns. You don't have any beams, energy tanks or even your trusty Morph Ball at this point. While defeating him isn't necessary, trying to dodge his attacks is good practice.
    • Mogenar of Metroid Prime 3 is one of these, by virtue of him being the first Leviathan guardian. You've only got a scant few energy tanks by this point, and to beat him you need to use Hypermode several times, each time probably eating up a full tank. If you could fight him even a few hours later, when you have access to more tanks, he wouldn't be That One Boss.
    • The Hive Totem in Metroid Prime gave many new players more trouble than almost any other boss. It's a stationary mech at one end of the room that periodically releases wasps. The wasps fly in circles around your tiny platform, occasionally stopping to ram you in sync. The room is flooded with Grimy Water, which is almost impossible to get out of once you get knocked in. It wouldn't be such a hard fight if you had anything but your default Power Beam and 99 energy (and you might get there with even less than that)!
    • The Alpha Splinter in Echoes. Not a terribly hard fight, but since you only have perhaps two hundred energy at this point, and maybe ten or so missiles, few options are available to you other than "Use your charge beam and try to dodge." Funnily enough, after he Turns Red and becomes the Dark Alpha Splinter he actually gets easier, because he stops relying on his charge and instead mixes it up with an incredibly-easy-to-dodge projectile attack.
  • The first hunter fight in Prototype occurs well before Alex Mercer has a chance to upgrade his capabilities; as such, you'll probobly have a rough time against them (after you kill one hunter, you gain your first offensive power, the claws; but they are not especially useful against hunters). By endgame, however, you've upgraded yourself so much that they pose only a mild threat.
  • The Krogan Battlemaster on Therum in the original Mass Effect. Technically, you can come there later, but Therum is where you recruit Liara T'Soni, so it is a natural first choice. Due to his biotic barrier, high damage shotgun, and ability to come back from the dead unless you burned, iced, melted, or otherwise disposed of his corpse, he is a nightmare for the low level player. Come back after a few missions, though, and he's a cakewalk.
  • Many, MANY enemies in Nethack and many other Roguelikes, by the games' very nature. The early game in Nethack is considered far more dangerous than the endgame, because while you aren't facing minotaurs and demons and liches you are facing housecats and large dogs who can move faster than you, attack multiple times per round, have good armor class and may even have more hitpoints than you. The cake goes to the giant ants, though, who attack in huge swarms that all move faster than you and are the statistically most frequent cause of death in the game. Or killer bees, which are the same but trade hit points for poison and being almost impossible to hit.
    • Go Team Ant!
  • Mega Man Zero 3 is this for the first boss, no matter which of the 4 available you pick first. Fighting each of them at the end of the game is a cakewalk in comparison due to the player having access to things like a Mid-air jump and elementally enhanced weaponry to do more damage. On top of that, you've got to get through a gruelling level of enemies (Again, no powerups like a Mid-Air jump) with maybe 2 or 3 lives to your name to get you through the level and defeat the boss. And if you blow them all, it's back to the beginning of the level.
  • Half-Life 2: the Hunter-Chopper is a somewhat easier fight than a Gunship by the numbers, but your encounter with it limits you to only the airboat gun to kill it, and the airboat is tough to maneuver and offers no cover.
    • Hunters in Episode 2. The first one you encounter is unkillable because you have only the Gravity Gun. The first real fight with them is difficult, with you mostly restricted to plain gunfire for killing them. In the finale, though, Hunters are limited to escort roles, and you're rife with ways to kill them - pulse rifle alt-fires, SMG grenades, the RPG, the crossbow, the car...Ironically, the Gravity Gun is the best choice for killing Hunters, in that physics objects do the most damage next to the rare AR 2 Alt-fire, and they can easily sidestep your car.
  • Depending on the AI Director's mood, Tanks in Left 4 Dead 2 can be this way when it appears while you only have tier 1 guns, which include pistols, pump/crome shotguns, and sub machine guns. It's not impossible to kill a Tank with weak guns, just takes longer and runs the risk of him punching a car to your face.
  • The first mission boss Ace Squadron in Ace Combat Zero can be very frustrating on the first playthrough, since they are pitted against the player as early as in mission 3, long before the player has a chance to unlock a decent plane and money to actually buy it. Additionally, since there are no tutorials in this installment whatsoever, you may not even be fully familiar with the controls and dogfight tactics when you encounter them... IN a New Game+, however, these bosses become moderately challenging, at best.
  • The Butcher in Diablo counts as this, although fortunately you don't actually have to kill him the first moment you see his lair and you can wait until you're some levels higher.
    • The Butcher can even be literally impossible for some characters when they first meet him, as he regenerates health too fast to kill.
  • Diablo II's Blood Raven is this. Honestly, unless you intend to grind past the quest (since it's optional) or play a fully populated game (simulated or actual) from scratch, it's unlikely you'll reach levels high enough to make those level 1 or 6 skills effective enough for Blood Raven nor acquire equipment significantly contributing to survival without twinking, as soon as the quest becomes available. By the time you are able to hire mercenaries without killing Blood Raven, you're probably high enough a level to be on comparable, if not greater footing with her anyway.
    • Speaking of the first two dungeons, The Cave in the Cold Plains(not Blood Moor once the Den Of Evil is done) contains a Super Unique archer pack that's Cold Enchanted. Archers generally cause a lot of grief because of their ranged capabilities, but this monster pack multiplies the damage of an already damage-enhanced monster through the use of minions. The Cold Enchanted property further acts as some sort of a force multiplier by allowing all in the pack to deal additional cold damage AND slow their target's movements. This combination makes for an encounter that makes Blood Raven seem like a cakewalk.
      • The super unique monster is called Coldcrow. Upon death, she flips you the finger like all Cold Enchanted monsters do, by casting a frost nova that's VERY damaging to characters who haven't been investing significantly in their vitality attribute. Woe to the one who doesn't replenish their HP right before they deal her the death blow.
    • One of the first uniques is a shaman who not only can resurrect the Fallen Ones under his command, but can also resurrect the shamans who can resurrect the fallen ones. Upon being defeated, he, like Fire Enchanted monsters, explodes and damages anyone in melee range.
  • Lufia and The Fortress of Doom. The first real boss (not counting one of the Big Bads) as you fighting multiple, upgraded Mooks that you normally wouldn't fight quite yet. A party member joins you as soon as the battle begins, but you are not given the opportunity to put him in the front row (he's a warrior) nor do you have the opportunity to put your mage in the back row (she's in the front given you only have 2 party members prior to this point). The new guy is also equipped with weak weapons and armor too.
  • Knuckles in Sonic Battle is fought with Emerl when he has only a handful of moves and abilities. Kinda embarrassing considering Knuckles turns out to be slow and bulky, although his healing ability is the second best in the game next to Cream's, so YMMV on how embarrassing this actually is.
  • Fallout 2 opens with a series of headaches, in order to prove yourself worthy of searching for the GECK not only do you have to make it through a very tough dungeon filled with enemies that can poison you with a very limited amount of healing items at your disposal but then you have to defeat a local tough guy at the end. Unless you've invested just about all your starting points in hand to hand or melee weapons the guy is a complete beast who will dodge like crazy and drop you with a snap kick. Make it past that? Well congrats now you get to go fight geckos...
    • However, a pacifist can talk his, or her way into being given the key for the door without a fight, though starting as a pacifist out of the gate makes the rest of the opening this...
    • The real early bird bosses in mook clothing in Fallout 2 are the raiders between The Den and Modoc. Groups of 10+ punks with rifles, handguns and melee weapons, good HP basic armor while you only have leather and maybe a .44 revolver able to down 2 raiders a turn IF you have 10 Agility and some luck with criticals. Did we mentionned you would be at best level 8 at that point (that means 85 Hit Point IF you start with 10 strengh and Endurence)?
  • The Level 7 boss in Descent. By then, the most powerful weapons you have are only Quad Level 4 Lasers and Homing Missiles, while the boss can Teleport Spam and massacre you with barrages of Smart Missiles, and is backed up by Homing Missile Hulks and Class 1 Drillers. The first boss of Descent II also qualifies, although you may already be well-enough armed by then.
  • In Mega Man ZX, you fight the first boss before you get even one Biometal.
    • Ditto in Advent. The next two bosses also feel like this. The first one because you fight it literally 3 rooms after obtaining your primary biometal, Model A (so new players will still be feeling out the controls). The 2nd boss you have a choice on, but in either case, you'll get to him before you can get your first subtank.
    • In ZX, you have Model X before even get control of your character. Fighting in your base form would've been impossible since Vent and Aile lack a gun in that form. Grey and Ashe, however have to play the entire first stage and beat the first boss in their base form while using only a regular gun...
  • Fighting Skelter Helter in No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle is literally the first thing you do after the opening cutscene. Hell, the game even tries to teach you the controls mid-fight. Fortunately, if you've played the first game already and have a good handle on the controls he shouldn't be too hard...unless you're fighting on Bitter Mode.
    • The game still goes through the tutorial, even on Bitter, though. This can actually mess players up...
  • Devil May Cry 3 features the Hell Vanguard in Level 2. The real difficulty of this fight is the fact that Dante's not going to be particularly leveled at this point and the Hell Vanguard does have a pretty nice hit to him. That being said, they very quickly become just another enemy as once Dante does re-encounter them, he's got half of hell's arsenal with him and will generally dispatch of them very quickly.
  • Ninja Gaiden Sigma on Play Station 3 has Doku in chapter 2, who is also a Hopeless Boss Fight. Apart from the fact he wields the Black Dragon Sword he is more or less the same boss you fight ten chapters later, except you have only a level 1 Dragon Sword and a very small lifebar at this point making him extremely difficult (though not impossible) to beat.
  • Giacomo in Baten Kaitos: Origins. His main attacks hit hard, easily taking out half of Sagi or Guillo's health as well as knocking them down for long periods of time, and his special, Thrashingale, can take off half to two-thirds of your health by itself. Since Origins is Nintendo Hard, that's all to be expected. However, he's the second boss, so you have three specials, no EX Combo options, and a sparse handful of weak weapons. Just to top it off, your healing options are limited to Low Potions, which are already becoming borderline-useless. It's telling that when Giacomo returns later in the game for rematches, he's actually pretty easy.
  • In World of Warcraft, Lord Godfrey in the normal mode of Shadowfang Keep has all the abilities his Heroic counterpart does. These include putting a Curse on people that must be interrupted, dispelled or healed through (when it's highly unlikely people can or know how to inerrupt, and don't have the ability to remove i), summoning adds mid-battle and firing a Pistol Barrage that essentially kills anyone who stands in it for more than a second or two. These are all abilities that bosses generally don't use until later. However, these actually do acquaint new players with a taste of what will come later.
    • His predecessor, prior to being nerfed, was potentially worse. He had high HP, could regen his mana at will, teleport, Mind Control party members, and was capable of dealing upwards of 600 damage per void bolt every 1.5 seconds (that were type-less damage). He was a threat to parties up to 8 levels higher then he was, unless they were extremely well geared and skilled. If not for dropping some of the best caster gear for a long time, most people would've rather just skipped him. And this was back when Rare quality items were just that, you were lucky to have uncommon gear with reasonable stats (mostly just Spirit and stamina though). So the overpowered characters on WoW these days can't even compare to what it was like back then.
  • In Tales of Graces, Cedric could be considered one. Other than Richard, none of your characters likely have any blast calibers of their own and he has his...as of a letdown as his blast caliber is.
  • Nunkirantula from the first Baten Kaitos game. One of the earliest bosses in the game, he would be cake except you can only fight him with the main character, and he has high defense which can really stall the fight when you only have one character. What would normally be an average fight turns into a drawn-out, semi Luck-Based Mission as you gradually whittle down his HP and rely on the few healing items available to you coming up in Kalas' deck to restore your own. (If the game shuffled your healing items to the bottom, you can't rely on other party members to bail you out, and you should just accept that you might get an unfair Game Over in this battle.)
  • Dark Souls has you fight the Asylum Demon before you've fought anything except unarmed, non-aggressive Hollows, and you don't even have a proper weapon yet. Fortunately, you can escape the first time, collect a weapon and shield, and fight it again, but it has to be killed before you can progress any further.
  • Part of what makes Matador That One Boss of Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne is the fact that you fight him fairly early on, at a time when you might not have any demons that resist or nullify Force element spells.
  • A lot of the early bosses in Super Robot Wars games owe their difficulty to the fact that your roster may be lacking their Mid-Season Upgrade, or upgrades to their stats and weapons, or Spirits (self-buffs) that allow your units to dodge/tank attacks better.
  1. A player who knows what they are doing can get a Slime, keep it active so it levels up and learns both Resist Physical and Red Wall, then fuse it into an Archangel or Senri (latter preferred due to negating Fire) and level that up a few times for Media (mass heal spell). In other words, knowing exactly what you are doing from the very start of the game proper.