Heroes are only as good their villains and, to whit, fighting games are only ever as memorable as their final bosses. It ain't enough to just have some 'final challenger' at the top of a championship ladder; you need a boss who twists the player's stomach around in bitter, seething frustration! Either he has maddeningly cheap attacks, or he cheats at his own damn game, or he's got a scummy backstory that frames the gameplay as a true good/evil struggle, or there's just something about him that's begging for red-knuckled comeuppance. The more you hate a boss, the more cathartic your eventual (right?) victory against him will be, no?
Let's face facts, though: bosses just aren't as threatening in our post-arcade gaming era. The danger of getting pantsed by one of these rat bastards just doesn't breath down your neck as hotly when you aren't worrying about how many quarters are left in your pocket. Also, nobody makes psycho killers quite like the Japanese do, so if you notice that these bosses all debuted in a very specific time and place in gaming, well... that ain't an accident.
10. Ryuji Yamazaki (Fatal Fury 3: the Road to Victory)
Technically, Yamazaki-san was only ever a sub-boss, but he's still getting a spot here because he seems like the most... ah... realistically psychopathic of the bunch. He's your classic "madman" Yakuza type who always has THAT look in his eye. You know the one - you can just see that he's planning to shove a broken bottle up your ass once he's done with you. His fighting stance is unsettlingly cocksure-unto-predatory, and his specials (which range from cobra-strike strangulation to smashing your skull on the concrete) feel far more like pervy assault than honorable combat.
Also, Yamazaki's penchant for "pocket pool" knocks him up to that next level of crazy to which all lesser evil bosses aspire. We're supposed to believe that he's keeping a switchblade concealed down in there, but we're 90% sure that homeboy is discretely diddling himself for most of his fight. So, like we said, that's psychopathy that's more uncomfortable "prison real" than "escapist cool."
9. Fernandez (Waku Waku 7)
Never heard of this game? Well, let me tell you... Waku Waku 7 was a comprehensive parody of all the tropes of fighting games' Golden Age.
So, of course, it fits that its boss would be an enormous, evil, city-crushing bowling-ball- with-teeth-and-stubby-little-appendages-for-stomping-and-punching. Fernandez is so absurd, and he makes such little sense, that he's truly one of the genre's most satisfying bosses to pound on. He's like the embodiment of all the countless spastic kid brothers who've ever intruded on totally serious fighting game sessions at the arcade.
While his constant squealing and creepy toothless grin would be enough to earn your hate, he also happens to be a real pain in the ass to defeat. Fernandez is more than just a challenge - he's an insult. His motivations to destroy remain mysterious (or nonsensical, take your pick), but those googly eyes betray a far off longing deep within the heart of this beast. What horrors have you witnessed, Fernandez? We may never know...
8. Dural (Virtua Fighter 2)
Granted, Dural seems like a fighter created with Midway's old M.O. ("Hey! Let's just repurpose the character assets we've got! Nobody's gonna know better, right?"). In the first Virtua Fighter, she was barely more than a dressed-up wireframe propped out of debug mode. However, when Sega got around to V2, they gave her a gold star makeover - sanding down her metal skin and giving it a smooth coat of polish - and there was suddenly something undeniably creepy about this naked, metal, ninja lady being in an otherwise down-to-Earth fighter.
The VF series has never put much emphasis on trivialities like plot or context. None of the matches were of the grudge variety, and no fights were clearly fueled by that precious petrol of revenge. A couple of characters were brother and sister, and another couple were father and daughter (we think, anyway) but, past that, it was just another bunch of internationals butting heads in exotic locales. So, having a final round as conceptually far afield as a T-1000-with-boobs summoning you to the ocean floor for a rumble felt... unshakably intrusive. Tack onto that the condition that you moved at a sluggish speed (due to the water, natch!) while she moved at full speed (just like in your nightmares!) and you have an unforgettable villainess.
Wait, she's also the ninja character's mom!? Sure, we'll go with that. But wait, again - why is she naked and made of metal? Ah, never mind. Cold, unflinching, existential horror is scarier when you know less about it.
7. Cervantes (Soul Edge)
Sure, Cervantes entered the standard roster of Soul Calibur characters long ago. The era when he was still a fearsome force remains bloodcurdlingly vivid in our minds, though. Crazy, cursed and ghostly, this blackheart pirate captain was driven completely insane and totally immortal (a delightful combo) by the Soul Edge, the series' titular weapon. Apparently, that also made him violent and petty because, for TWENTY YEARS, his "massacre-everything" switch would get flicked whenever anyone even laid sight on his sword.
No, this isn't the author of Don Quixote, the classic of Spanish literature. This is basically Gollum with a tri-corner hat, twin badass blades and a mustache that'd stop the burliest men in their tracks. Worse than an evil, ageless, ghost pirate, Cervantes is an evil, ageless, ghost pirate who hates sharing. And as the series goes, he just gets crazier, hairier and more undead - even after he's lost his precious.
His never-give-up, always-get-evil, terrify-you-even-after-he-falls-off-the-boss-pedestal attitude actually becomes weirdly admirable over the successive SoCal instalments. Cervantes is the real deal and his villainy isn't a phase; it's an endless-lifetime pursuit.
(Also, that torpedo-across-the-entire-screen special move of his is just hella cheap).
6. Amakusa (Samurai Shodown)
This is an evil, androgynous ghost of a Christian maniac, resurrected by some sexy, evil goddess who asks him to, in turn, revive her...
Look, don't worry if you're lost. Amakusa is an evil-as-shit dead guy - in an ornamented muu-muu - that hurls a glowing crystal ball at you, and that's all you need to know. If you're still curious about the story, though, he is apparently based on the real life historical figure (extremely accurate portrayal, we're sure), Amakusa Shiro, who is pretty frequently used as a demonic heel in Japanese media (take that, Christianity!). So... he ought to be familiar to any self-respecting fan of samurai flicks.
It should just be taken for granted that any SNK boss will be so nightmarishly cheap that you, the player, will seriously wonder if the game designers are actually sadists who hold you in burning contempt. As such, we don't need to spell out how difficult it is to beat this guy (it's tough, alright?), so let's stay focused on his character. What's perhaps most striking about is this zealot's motivation. Amakusa's willing to tear the feudal world apart and unbalance all life: not for the sake of his religious quest, but to impress his evil goddess girlfriend, Ambrosia. So when this dude beats you, the humiliation doubles when you realize you got trounced by a guy who is honestly this whipped.
Get over her, man; she's not even that cool.