Top 10 Most Memorable Bosses in The Dark Souls Series
What would Dark Souls be without its legendary boss fights? Whether it’s their magnificent orchestral backing, teeth-grinding difficulty, fascinating creativity, wonderful design, or just the way they always feature as a suitable climax for some lethal little labyrinth, the bosses in Dark Souls are undoubtedly the core of what makes Dark Souls great.
But some of those bosses in Dark Souls do stick with us more than others. Some of them hang around within our memory for years, whilst others get replaced by trivia about pencils and thoughts along the lines of “must call Dave on Thursday”.
Quelaag presides more prominently than her sister Najka for most people. The Gaping Dragon is more of an icon than the later appearance of the Dragonrider. And the ethereal prowl of the Boreal Dancer probably sticks with most more than the Caprus Demon ever did.
But let’s see how they stack up. Raise your shields and allow your twitchy urge of self-perseveration to take over, this is the Top 10 Most Memorable Bosses In Dark Souls.
THE DUKE’S DEAR FREJA
As you descend through the thick cobwebs of Brightstone Cove Tseldora, you know there’s a big spider coming. It couldn’t be more obvious. There’s been little ones already (by which I mean about five-foot at least), but you can just smell the impending doom of the huge Momma spider boss getting ever more prominent, as the webs get thick enough to stand on and the caves get darker, deeper and more deadly. They might as well have stuck up signs saying “EIGHT-LEGGED BOSS MONSTER AHEAD – ROLLED UP NEWSPAPERS RECOMMENDED.”
And yet the out of all bosses in Dark Souls the reveal of Freja still manages to be horrifying, even though you’re expecting something along those lines. Perhaps it’s the specifics of her arachnid body. Crooked, deformed and with two hideous heads at either end of her abdomen, this colossal creepy-crawly scuttles towards you with gleeful hunger, her oversized legs hunched around carapace figurelike bars on a cage. Or perhaps it’s her full name of “The Duke’s Dear Freja,” which conjures all sorts of unnerving imagery and ideas. Or maybe it’s the fact she can tear you in half with the beams of magical energy fired from her mouths. Yeah, that might be it.
I was filled with disappointment with the first boss of Dark Souls III. A big guy in armour with a silly name? That’s it? The other two games began with monstrous mega-titans dropping in to stomp you into mulch, and all you’ve got is a chunky bloke in a tin can?
So I hacked at him for a bit, when suddenly his top half exploded into a black tangle of demonic evil the size of a fat hippo and made the kind of noise that no living being should ever have to hear.
I barely had time to whimper for my mother before the hippo blob went for me, and within moments, I was respawning back at the previous bonfire with a noticeably flatter head. That’ll teach me to get complacent, or to think I can predict the terrifying minds of From Software. Next time I’ll remember there’s one thing you can’t do in a Dark Souls game: think you understand it. Iudex Gundyr may be a trick, but it’s a trick that works. For that reason, he deserves to be here.
Yep. Pinwheel. You didn’t mishear me, you didn’t go to a different article. Out of all bosses in Dark Souls, Pinwheel is definitely a favourite of mine, because he’s the only Dark Souls boss that makes people laugh. He’s the Magikarp of the series, or perhaps the Mysterio, going down so easily that he’s almost no different from the regular enemies you fought on the way there.
I genuinely thought I’d encountered some sort of glitch when I dismembered him with a couple of attacks, or that the developers were screwing with me. Was he about to be replaced by a better boss? Was he faking his wounds? Would he keep coming back if I didn’t fulfil some criteria?
No, Pinwheel just sucks. But he’s kind of endearing for that reason, the little kid in the big boys’ club. After being badly abused by every foe you encounter throughout Dark Souls, finding a boss who’s weaker even than you is an oddly amusing moment, especially when you know that the big, bad Nito is coming up soon in the terrible Tomb of The Giants. When you meet Pinwheel, just kick the idiot into the gutter and move on, chuckling as you do. It’s not immoral, he’s a necromancer.
THE NAMELESS KING
What, you think the final boss should be the most challenging fight? How wrong you are. It’s the bosses in Dark Souls that you don’t have to fight that you should feel nervous about because the greatest suffering is always that which we hunt out ourselves.
Considered by most to be the hardest boss in Dark Souls III, The Nameless King knows what he’s doing when it comes to a bit of fanfare if nothing else. Climb to the top of Archdragon Peak and ring a bell the size of a small apartment to summon a chaotic storm, inside of which this madman dwells. Perhaps the worst thing is that this demigod tricks you at the start. To begin with, you fight his giant dragon / hawk / cockatoo mount thing, which isn’t too much of a challenge to bring down. It’s got some decent offence, but not much health and telegraphs most attacks pretty clearly, allowing you to roll out the way without difficulty.
But it’s only after you kill this oversized pigeon that you realise that the fight isn’t over. The towering figure on its back (who looks like a combination of Sauron, a homeless man and a heavy metal album cover) steps down, picks up a lightning spear with which you could spear AND roast an elephant in seconds, and then goes berserk. Turns out The Nameless King is the son of Gwyn, the final boss from the first Dark Souls game, and it really shows, as he unleashes a torrent of electric attacks that would make Thor feel inadequate. Challenge this hard boss at your peril, because this is where the men are separated from the boys.
HIGH LORD WOLNIR
I don’t pretend to be particularly wise, but even I know that when you see a skull-themed chalice emanating pure darkness that you should turn and run like the dickens. And the one at the bottom of the Catacombs Of Carthus is no exception. Giving it a careful poke will take you to a long, barely-lit room where you’ll search around blindly for some sort of sign that AAGH GIANT SKELETON RUN RUN RUN!
God, the appearance of High Lord Wolnir gave me a shock. A skull five times bigger than the player lunges forward in the darkness, two bone hands reaching out hungrily, glowing gold bands rattling on his wrists. Turns out that you can finish him off by shattering those bands and dodge-rolling away from all his slaps and poison breath, but that initial intimidation had me sprinting in a panicky terror the other way up the room, with Wolnir dragging himself along in slow, grinning pursuit. It takes a lot to make a classic skeleton boss frightening, but From Software managed to make it hold weight again.
MANUS, FATHER OF THE ABYSS
I’ll be honest, I love Manus. Not because he’s the most visually fascinating boss in Dark Souls, which he isn’t. Not because he’s the most enjoyable boss fight in Dark Souls, which again, he isn’t. It’s not even because you can get an interesting companion to help you out with that skirmish, in the form of a familiar furred friend. No, Dark Souls boss Manus is great because he represents everything that works about the Dark Souls lore.
What do I mean by that? Well, even though Manus was introduced as early as Dark Souls I DLC, we still know almost nothing about him, at least not for sure. Was Manus a regular mortal before his humanity was corrupted? Was Manus the mythical Furtive Pygmy as many now suspect? Who was the serpent that urged the naïve people of Oolacileto to go hunting for his body in the Abyss, and what were their motivations in doing so?
We have only fragments of information, as befits a game taking place after the end of society. And that’s what makes it fun! Everyone has their own personal theory of the truth, one made from scraps of data and a lot of guess work. Consequently, Dark Souls is one of the few games that actually inspires debate on what the story means, not just regarding sub-text but genuine discussion about the basic plot beats. It’s a great aspect of the narrative that could only ever work this well in video games, and Manus is the embodiment of that design. That’s worthy of recognition in my mind.
DRAGON SLAYER ORNSTEIN AND EXECUTIONER SMOUGH
One of the most well-known battles that Dark Souls has ever offered, this deadly duo waiting for you in the last rooms of Anor Londo have inspired grief and frustration the world over. They make a pretty odd-looking pair though, one as lanky as a lamp post and the other so fat you wonder if the coronary failure will kill him for you.
One of the great things about these bosses in Dark Souls is the sense of bombast and magnificence. You’ve spent the last few hours walking through a glorious marble city, fighting soldiers from the strongest army ever formed and witnessing true architectural wonder as you do. So it really makes sense that it finishes with two of the most impressive figures in the city: a fabled knight without equal and the city’s most feared butcher. And if that weren’t enough for you, Ornstein and Smough are dressed in gold armour and defending a God-princess upstairs (cough, probably, cough).
Both warriors having a different fighting style keeps you on your toes, with Ornstein dashing back and forth quickly whilst Smough makes slow, lethal strikes; but things really heat up when you manage to defeat one of them, at which point their comrade-in-arms will finish them off without regret and gain a massive boost to their power. Yay! Good thing that Solaire is waiting outside to help you out if you need it, because otherwise you might be stuck for a while.
You think you know misery? You think you know despair? Take a look at the pathetic, barely-existent figure that is the great King Vendrick, and think again.
God, what a miserable soul. For ages in Dark Souls II, you think the ruler of Drangliec is the true villain of the piece, having inflicted untold misery on his kingdom and that of the Giants. Surely King Vendrick would be a true vision of evil, right?
Nope. Vendrick was just a pawn in the schemes of his wife Nashandra, who turns out to be a fragment of Manus’ soul given life. Damn it, I thought I held onto that! Regardless, through a series of poor choices and regrettable events, Vendrick ends up locked in a crypt to go slowly insane, separated from his own soul and consequently becoming a tormented, mindless shell. A bit like somebody who spends twenty minutes watching reality TV, or follows one of the Kardashians on Twitter.
The most depressing thing is that Vendrick won’t even fight you until you make the first move, shuffling limply in pointless little circles until you finally decide to hack at his ankles to put him out of his misery. Oh, did I mention Vendrick is the size of a house? Yeah, Vendrick could butt heads with a giraffe if he wanted to, and yet still manages to look weak and emaciated. That’s pretty impressive if nothing else.
SIF, THE GREAT GREY WOLF
Game Of Thrones might think it’s pretty snazzy, with its big dire wolves and excessive violence, but Dark Souls was combining those things before it was cool. No, hold on, Game Of Thrones came first. Well, does that show have its dire wolves wield large swords in their mouths? I didn’t think so.
Thus, we have Sif, The Great Grey Wolf, who manages to be one of the most well-recognised characters in Dark Souls. Everything she does sticks with you, whether it’s Sif’s backstory (tragic), Sif’s boss fight (epic), Sif’s first reveal (ominous), or the choice you get to summon a young version of Sif to fight with you later on (HELL YES).
Perhaps what makes Sif really stand out is that Sif is one of the most sympathetic, comprehensible entities you’ll encounter. Sif is guarding the grave of her master out of loyalty, limps painfully when you hurt her too much, and even looks sad about the idea of initiating combat if you met and befriended her earlier. Jeez, that’s sad, but also kind of touching. It’s strange that one of the most human elements of Dark Souls comes from a big dog, but maybe that’s the point.
Sif might just be one of the most beloved figures in Dark Souls, and who should argue with man’s best and most dangerous friend?
THE ASYLUM DEMON
Who else could it have been? Who else could’ve held the number one spot? The very first appearance of a Dark Souls boss is one of the most impactful when blubbery, warty death drops from the ceiling and prepares to smash you to bits. And of course, you take up arms, raise your shield and… Run.
Just turn on your heel and get out of there. Seriously, Dark Souls tells you to vamoose when this thing shows up, but it’s OK. A little later you’ll get to drop off a ledge and drive a spike into its brain, so it all works out for the best.
The Asylum Demon was a wonderful thing because it so perfectly stated what Dark Souls was going to be about. Monsters with cryptic backgrounds, brutal challenges that left you twitchy from adrenaline, and a choir shrieking minor chords to help set the scene. The Asylum Demon even made a return in Dark Souls III as a fossilised version of itself, because moisturising is difficult when undead heroes keep jumping on your head and try to kill you.
This might not be the best boss fight in Dark Souls, but it’s the one that sticks with people. Everybody who’s played Dark Souls has a weird sense of nostalgia for that first boss fight, where you were still desperately getting to grips with the controls and wondering what the rules on parrying were.
And honestly, that’s probably the moment where Dark Souls is at its Soulsiest, if you see what I mean. People snort and tell you to “get good” when you hit the inevitable wall, but Dark Souls is meant to be hard, it’s meant to tax you. If you find it easy, you’re not getting the full experience and lost something very important. So we’ll always appreciate the Asylum Demon for being the resolute symbol of that challenge because at some point everyone struggled there. And for that, they’re luckier than they realise.
Thanks for reading, and hope you enjoyed this list of the most memorable Dark Souls 3 bosses. Honourable mentions go to the Hydra, Prince Lothric, The Ancient Wyvern, The Pursuer, Quelaag, The Last Giant and The Demon Of Song. But more importantly, can we get a sitcom with those Dark Souls characters?