Video games have changed quite a bit, in some ways they've become less and less like “games” over time.
At one time it was just understood that whatever genre or type of game you played you usually progressed through levels, beat bosses at intervals, and then beat your game by beating the biggest and baddest foe. That final foe took some time and brain power to beat. He or she typically took on various forms and gave the gamer a hell of a time. Once that final boss was toast you got treated to your ending.
I'd like to lay out a few examples here of great games without much of a final boss to speak of but I abhor any kind of spoiling so I'll have to stay vague. I've just finished playing two really good action games in a row and neither one of them had a significant boss fight at the end. And honestly, that didn't bother me. The stories were well told, the games were a lot of fun, and the provided ending for the hero was a good way to wrap things up.
This generation a certain amount of realism has been introduced that has changed the trajectory of certain kinds of games. While plenty of them still have the boss and final boss structure I'm starting to think it only fits games that retain the “I am playing a video game” vibe which is somewhat at odds with games trying to effect a semblance of realism. Suddenly it doesn't make a great deal of sense for my archenemy to be able to take hundreds of bullets to the head just because he is the last to die. Maybe a dramatic quick time event was all that made sense?
Or perhaps it just wouldn't fit to put a shiny spot on them that is their weak point you only attack so you can then hit a more exposed area. Maybe there is a big, bad boss at the end and he just happened to be a giant pushover. Does that mean the end fight is a let down?
I've seen some people complaining about games this generation that didn't give gamers a big challenge at the end. It's a legitimate discussion point I think. Honestly I can say that I used to expect that too, but a good ending which gives me a good run up to the finale is just fine by me. I don't look forward to really difficult final bosses in most games. They belonged best in JRPGs but with the end of turn-based mechanics there's less of a point to them. I still think they have their place in games that really buck the realism trend but I don't have a problem with a good game ending without an overly epic clash that kills me ten times.
So how about you? Are you let down when a final boss battle isn't so epic, or hardly present?