From David and Goliath to Little Mac and Mike Tyson, the magic of dueling has captivated audiences for as long as stories have been told. When co-creator James Tillman and I set out to make Cold Iron, a virtual reality game that lets players duel opponents from the past, present, and future, we were tasked with figuring out exactly what makes a duel a duel.
To answer the question, we searched our library of games to find the ten best duels in video game history.
10. Squall vs. Seifer (Final Fantasy VIII)
Do you want to know how I got these scars? If you answered "yes", Final Fantasy VIII has you covered. As soon as you boot up FF8, you're presented with the duel between the game's two gunblade users that resulted in protagonist Squall's gnarly facial wound. It's the first of two duels in the list that are shown during a game's introduction.
9. Link vs. Dark Link (The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time)
Not every duel has to pack an emotional punch. In Ocarina of Time, Link faces his doppelganger as a mini-boss in the Water Temple. The excitement here comes from the fact that the two duelists are perfectly matched: who's better equipped to defeat Link than Link himself?
8. Ken Hayabusa vs. Bloody Malth (Ninja Gaiden)
Like Final Fantasy VIII, Ninja Gaiden uses a duel to set the game's tone as soon as it begins. This time it's a moonlight encounter between two ninjas. It's notable for two reasons. For one, it's easily one of the most beautiful moments ever realized on the NES. The other reason is that the duelists aren't the hero and a familiar foe. Instead, we see Ryu Hayabusa's father slain by a mystery man before we set off in search of answers.
7. Guybrush Threepwood vs. René Rottingham (The Curse of Monkey Island)
The Monkey Island series is so full of hilarious contests that it was hard to pick just one. In Curse, Guybrush Threepwood (mighty pirate) goes mano-e-mano with "the most well-groomed captain ever to sail the Caribbean." Unlike the other duels on the list, Guybrush doesn't overcome his opponent with physical superiority, but by humiliating him via witty repartee.
"I'll skewer you like a sow at a buffet."
"When I'm done with YOU, you'll be a boneless fillet!"
6. Kirby vs. Meta Knight (Kirby Super Star)
Kirby Super Star is a collection of games starring the super tough pink puff. The most unexpectedly cinematic of these sub-games is Revenge of Meta Knight. Kirby can summon a Helper and break rule number one of dueling, but it couldn't be clearer whose fight this is. En garde!
5. Cloud vs. Sephiroth (Final Fantasy VII)
Final Fantasy is the only series to earn two spots in our top ten. In many ways, the duel between spiky-haired Cloud and his nemesis Sephiroth is the mirror image of VIII's duel between Squall and Seifer. Instead of introducing us to the world and its characters, the fight between Cloud and Sephiroth serves as the climactic final moment of gameplay in FF7. Revenge is a major theme in many of the most famous duels in gaming, and this one is no exception. Who didn't want to cross swords with Sephiroth after he broke our hearts in the Forgotten Capital?
4. Jack Marston vs. Edgar Ross (Red Dead Redemption)
Spoilers ahead! It wouldn't be right to have this list without Red Dead Redemption. In talking to other players, everyone remembers the death of John Marston, but few bring up the game's powerful epilogue. Years after the tragic ending of RDR, John's son Jack seeks out the man behind his father's ruin. Once again, as in Ninja Gaiden so many years ago, the confluence of family and revenge make for an unforgettable duel.
3. Snake vs. The Boss (Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater)
The Metal Gear Solid franchise is famous for its incredible boss fights, but none of them left players as emotionally scarred as Snake's fateful showdown against The Boss. It's a scene so devastating that it caused The Boss's motion capture actress to burst into tears on set. The Boss was Snake's mentor, so she comes at him with all the same familiar moves. It's a can't-miss moment in gaming history.
2. Mega Man vs. Proto Man (Mega Man 3)
I know. I know. "Mega Man 3 has the second best duel in the history of video games?" Hear me out. Ocarina of Time taught us that a duel is exciting when the two combatants are very evenly matched. Proto Man was Dr. Light's prototype that led to Mega Man's creation. Red Dead Redemption taught us that family matters make for emotionally charged duels--brother versus brother, anyone? Metal Gear Solid turned up the emotion to eleven when it revealed that The Boss wasn't really Snake's enemy. MM3's conclusion sees Proto Man rescue the blue bomber from Dr. Wily's collapsing lair. All this in 1990, in a cartoony 8-bit action platformer. Bravo.
1. Frog vs. Magus (Chrono Trigger)
The best duel in video game history, Frog vs. Magus from Chrono Trigger has been at the top of our list since day one. After a topsy-turvy journey through time, Frog finally gets his chance to take revenge on Magus. In this corner, a squire who was turned into an anthropomorphic frog by the evil wizard who killed his dear friend. In the other corner, the very wizard who ruined his life. If players choose to spare Magus, Frog says that killing him won't bring his friend back and Magus joins the party. Otherwise, Frog tells his allies to step aside so he and the dark one can settle their score once and for all. Defeating Magus breaks the spell and leads to an ending in which Frog is restored to his original form. It's one of the weighty decisions that puts Chrono Trigger among the greatest games ever made.