I was recently thinking of the old Dragon Quest video game series and it occured to me that there are two or three minibosses and one big end game boss in the first game, released in US as Dragon Warrior. You have the Dragonlord at the end, you have the Green Dragon guarding the Princess, there is the Golem protecting the city and there is the Axe Knight protecting Erdrick’s armor. Compare that to the first Final Fantasy game and you will run into 11 bosses to battle, each at different portions of the game, sort of like checkpoints to measure your progress.
Does the presence of what could effectively be called ‘level bosses’ like the Koopas in Super Mario castles make one game any better or worse than the other? Final Fantasy probably is longer because of all the grinding to get powerful enough to beat these bosses, but is that really necessary to make the game more exciting? The average Dragon Warrior playtime is between 10 to 14 hours if just playing to beat and Final Fantasy was 17 to 24, so that does show it requires more of an investment of time. However, play time does not determine which had the better value for story, and they did both launch a series of games so they did connect with fanbases for various reasons.
Ratings wise, they both did pretty well, getting great reviews. Gamasutra cites Quinton Klabon of Dartmouth College as stating Dragon Quest translated the D&D experience to video games and set the genre standards. Even games such as Mother, Breath of Fire and Lufia & the Fortress of Doom were inspired by various Dragon Quest titles. Meanwhile, Gamesradar felt while Dragon Quest introduced gamers to the genre, Final Fantasy popularized it. The reason for that was because Final Fantasy ’s storyline had a deeper and more engaging story than the original Dragon Quest. Of course, if we start getting into stories, Final Fantasy has had some major issues with their stories in later games, with characters being lampooned in various jokes.
As mentioned above, there were critiques for the series in general, but a lot of the issues with the first few games stems more from these being the first on the market. They had their limits on how the systems work, on what they could do and eventually they grew capabilities with each release, just like a gamemaster who learns with each adventure what they can do and cannot do well.
So, back to the point at hand, looking at these two games and the amount of bosses in it, I say the correct amount depends on the style you’re going for. One thing the Final Fantasy minibosses allows is a benchmark to hand out victories and rewards to your players at set points, making them fight for each achievement while the Dragon Quest version is more like each boss was special and there were so few that were it a current gen system they would likely all have special approaches to beating them to make the most of these boss moments.
Do the same in your tabletop, based on story needs. You can have ‘checkpoints’ where you can switch your story up, such as how after beating supervillian X the hero has another supervillain next issue to go after. If your story doesn’t have as many villains or you want it to be focused more on the actions of a smaller cast of villains, take your time to make them and their encounters unique. For example, Game from Penny Arcade had one big set piece be fighting a dragon during freefall to seperate it from a normal combat.