Few games crush the wills of their players more than From Software’s Souls series. Each game is its own grueling, fascinating experience, every bleak world rich with mythology and filled with monsters ready to turn you into a fine red paste the moment you get close. Move too fast or too slow, you’re dead. Miscalculate a jump, you’re dead. Bring the wrong equipment to a fight, guess what, dead again!
Here are the ten bosses across all three Souls games that probably made you dead the most.
Tower Knight is one of the first bosses in the Souls series and he certainly is an intimidating fellow, a massive Goliath encased in armor. This is a pretty clever fight because the location is designed in such a way to encourage you to run around the walls and shoot arrows at him when, really, what you’re supposed to do is charge at his ankles, slash at them, roll away and repeat until the giant falls, exposing his head to you. Tower Knight is the perfect introduction to Souls because this is a series where playing it safe is rarely the best way to go about getting things done. I died many a time against the Knight before I gathered up the courage to charge as his legs and do what I had to do instead of trying to exploit distance or glitches that would let me win. This is a process I would go on to repeat many times because, well, I’m a coward at heart.
This one starts off easy enough. Oh hey a duel on top of a creepy church with a giant, halberd-wielding stone gargoyle. Cool, no big deal. Weave in and out, maybe die a few times learning his pattern, do better next time. Then you get his health bar down halfway. And oh…oh dear. Now there are two of them. And they both breathe fire.
I died at least 20 times before I snatched up what was probably an undeserved victory by flailing about the roof with my sword in hand until I miraculously killed the two of them on my own.
Smelter Demon is a hulking, flaming monster encased in armor, and he hits hard. His sword is massive and can sweep a large portion of the room in a single swing. After you get his health down halfway, he sets his sword aflame, which does even more damage. And of course all your attacks just chip away at his health, so it’s a fight that demands an ungodly amount of patience. Wait for the swing, dodge, attack, do it again. The challenge is that the fight is just so long that it’s easy to screw up and perish in a hit or two.
I lucked out with Smelter Demon. After he killed me several times, I summoned a phantom and we both managed to get his health down to a third of the bar before he offed my buddy (sorry benevolent, dead stranger!). From there it was pretty easy to finish him off, but good grief, the idea of doing that fight alone is hellish.
Oh Sif. Not only is Sif, a giant wolf that carries a sword in its mouth, one of the most difficult bosses in Dark Souls due to his swift, powerful attacks; he also manages to be one of the most sympathetic bosses in the game. Near the end of the fight, he starts limping. It’s not even a fight at that point. You’re just hitting a dog repeatedly until he dies, but there’s no way to back out of the duel, and there’s no way to progress until you finish him off. Heartbreaking. Rest easy, bud.
The Armor Spider hangs out in a creepy looking mineshaft, minding its own business until you show up. As if being a giant spider isn’t bad enough on its own, this one breathes fire down a tunnel you happen to be standing in.
As a character who specialized in melee attacks, I died 40 times or so trying to rush down the tunnel to kill this beast. Eventually I made my way to its lair and then hid behind a beam nearby where its fire couldn’t reach me. I spent probably ten minutes edging in and out from behind the beam and firing arrows at the blasted thing before it finally died and I learned one of the most valuable lessons for a Souls games: always have arrows.
Capra. Fucking. Demon. Ever seen a horror movie where the protagonist is trapped in a tight space while a killer lunges at them with a kitchen knife? That’s this fight in a nutshell, except that you’re not skilled or lucky enough to dodge the knife. You will die so many times trying to sidestep Capra’s hell hounds or avoid the swing of his blade as you dash up the stairs that you’ll have every square inch of that glorified closest memorized before you land the killing blow.
There are two kinds of people who fight Gwyn. Those who parry and those who can’t. Guess which camp I fell into.
No one in Dark Souls gave me more trouble than Gwyn did. He’s the only boss I fought where my deaths reached triple digits. He’d fly across the room and cut me open like a pig. I became so mad that I decided not to use phantoms to help me in the fight. I would best Gwyn. Me alone. Eventually I learned to become competent enough with my parrying to block every other jab or so. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more satisfied with a game than when I killed the bastard and gave a celebratory shout. More like Gwyn, Lord of DEAD.
To loathe Flamelurker is to hold a special kind of hate in one’s heart, a white hot, intense hatred that never dies even long after the battle is won. While everyone is sitting around raging about Ornstein and Smough or Capra Demon, there will always be a select few Souls fanatics intensely muttering obscenities under their breath about Flamelurker. He’s fast, he’s powerful, and there are multiple strategies on how to win against him by exploiting various environmental glitches. But as far as taking him on in the middle of the arena alone, fair and square, sword against claw? You have fun with that. I’ll be over here summoning a phantom and hoping for the best.
These four spirits lurk at the core of the New Londo Ruins and they come together to create one of the hardest fights in the series. After you fall into a dark abyss, the fight begins with the appearance of one king who, as the fight goes on, is joined by his comrades. The only way to win is to kill each king as quickly as you can before they overpower you. A feat that’s easier said than done, especially if you haven’t gone through the necessary steps to be able to summon Witch Beatrice to your side. After a number of losses, I finally powered through this fight thanks to a claymore imbued with the power of fire.
Ask someone what the most memorable part of Dark Souls is and they’ll probably tell you it’s the incredible fight against Ornstein and Smough. The pair have become perhaps the game’s defining boss battle and though they’re not technically the hardest fight, it’s definitely the most grandiose battle in the game and probably the whole series. You fight both Smough, slow and powerful, and Ornstein, swift and less powerful, amidst a room with pillars while spooky orchestra music composed by Motoi Sabukura plays in the background.
Players who know how to do this fight understand that it’s a dance. You’re weaving in and out of the columns, focusing on Ornstein and damaging him when you can while Smough lugs behind the two of you swinging his hammer around. Once Ornstein bites the dust, Smough absorbs him, becoming even more powerful and a royal pain to deal with. My strategy was to run around, pelting his face with arrows until he died. Probably not the most sportsmanlike way of doing things but, to be fair, he had a massive hammer so it’s hard to feel too bad about it. After all, anything goes in Dark Souls.
Okay, okay, they’re not technically bosses in the sense that they’re giant, hulking monsters with lifebars. However, they are, without a doubt, the hardest part of Dark Souls. At one point in Anor Londo, you must traverse a series of walkways towering over an abyss. It’s already hard enough to walk along this path by yourself, but having two archers shooting arrows at you makes the task significantly more difficult. A single arrow is all it takes to send you falling down into the abyss and robbing you of souls and at least ten minutes of progress.
Thankfully there’s a bonfire right behind them, so you only have to make this particular trip once but it’s such a pain that to not offer the player a respite afterward would be a little too cruel even for a Souls game.
Javy Gwaltney devotes his time to writing about these videogame things when he isn’t teaching or cobbling together a novel. You can follow the trail of pizza crumbs to his Twitter or his website.