Demon's Souls, Dark Souls, Dark Souls II, Bloodborne. Titles that have become synonymous with exploration, engaging combat, and death after death after death.
From the challenging gameplay to the dark, evocative worlds inspired by Western fantasy and reimagined by FromSoft, Souls and, recently, Souls-like, games have consistently proven their greatness.
Perhaps the biggest cornerstone of the series, though, is the reward at the end of the tunnel. The grand finale to each zone that keeps you wondering: the boss. Often punishing, usually intimidating, the Souls series manages to keep you cautiously guessing about how the next big bad you're going to fight is going to tear you in half.
This is a series that has built up quite a repertoire of iconic battles, but today we're going to try and pare it down to the top 14. With Demon's Souls boasting 19 bosses, Dark Souls 26, Dark Souls II a whopping 32, and Bloodborne at a clean 17 (more if you count those that hide in the hellish grind of the chalice dungeons), this leaves us with 94 bosses to choose from.
Let's get started, shall we?
The culmination of a frustrating series of challenge dungeons, Darklurker is a "secret" boss in Dark Souls II, and while he might not be the most challenging fight out there, he's definitely interesting. While he starts as a cake-walk for the first portion of his fight, eventually he'll split himself in two, and that's when the real fun begins.
The cleverness of this fight is the fact that the first segment is used to teach you his moves. When there's only one Darklurker to worry about, there's a lot less pressure on you, the player. Anyone who dismisses him as "easy" might blow through his health and fail to learn all of the deadly spells he can hurl at the player. This might be fine if he didn't get a helping hand partway through the fight. But since he does, this is a fight that rewards cautiousness and attentiveness on the battlefield.
Definitely a worthy and challenging boss for the Souls series.
The iconic first boss of Bloodborne. He's a bit of a pushover, but everything about him plays so perfectly into the game's atmosphere. His frenzied attacks that grow increasingly violent as you whittle away at his health. With the horrible screams and hideous appearance of a cleric ravaged by beasthood, everything about him oozes flavor. This boss was a fitting nod of confirmation that, yes, this game was going to be crazy.
From the Dark Souls II DLC Crown of the Old Iron King, Sir Alonne is given lip service in the base game as a loyal knight of the Old Iron King. In the DLC, you travel back in time to confront this katana-wielding badass because, well, I don't know. But, man is it cool.
At the end of a gauntlet of fireball-spewing salamanders and obnoxiously fast knights, you'll find yourself in a beautiful overlook adorned with reflective tiles. Sir Alonne is sitting there, waiting for you. When you arrive, he gets up, charges, and attacks relentlessly until his death. The sheer aggressiveness of this boss coupled with his beautiful arena earn him a spot on this list.
Plus, if you beat him without being hit, he's so ashamed of himself that he commits seppuku.
A giant wolf that wields a sword as big as himself in battle; Sif isn't the most challenging of fights, but he is one of the most iconic. Made all the more tragic by his appearance in the DLC, which, if you complete before his boss encounter, will demonstrate his unwillingness to fight you. Sif is memorable from both a story and design perspective.
And his sudden arrival on the scene is bound to have caught more than a few players off-guard. This is one of those boss characters that really illustrates the uniqueness of the Souls series in how it interprets Western fantasy. Obviously, a giant animal isn't anything special - but a giant, sword-wielding wolf guarding the grave of his fallen master? Not something you see very often.
"Ahh Kos, or some say...Kosm."
Again, more fascinating than challenging, Micolash comes out of left-field in Bloodborne near the end of the game. While he does have story relevance, most players just reaching this point won't know a damn thing about this madman.
The fight consists of a wild chase through Micolash's funhouse while he giggles, howls, and jumps through mirrors to evade your pursuit. The goal of the fight is to corner him so he can no longer flee, at which point he reveals himself to be a flailing man who can only use some easily avoidable spells to defend himself.
The real challenge is figuring out what, exactly, you're supposed to do, while also getting over the surprise of the encounter, which may just get you killed once or twice.
After traversing the snowy wastes of Eleum Loyce in the Dark Souls II DLC Crown of the Ivory King, the player will eventually reach a spectacular finale. Allying with the former king's uncorrupted knights, you leap down into a pit not knowing quite what to expect. Suddenly, the icy aesthetic gives way to an enormous platform over a sprawling lava pit.
Before the king will even show himself, you need to fight through hordes of his burnt knights alongside your newfound allies. Slowly, the gateways, which the enemy knights pour through, will be sealed by the NPCs you brought with you, who will commit suicide to freeze the portals one by one.
Finally, a massive, gaping, black gateway, almost reminiscent of the Eye of Sauron, appears, and out comes the Burnt Ivory King.
The sheer badassery of that moment, with him walking out of this hellish portal, earns him a spot on this list.
His design is especially interesting, since you might first enter "The Old Chaos" before you've rescued every knight that will help you. If that happens, you've essentially dropped down into an unwinnable encounter since, by the time the king arrives, you're being swarmed by constantly respawning burnt knights.
So when the king slaughters you, it becomes all the more satisfying when you go out into the city, recruit his former knights to your cause, then march back and get a fair rematch against him.
The Souls series rarely does justice to the idea of the "phase" boss. That is, a boss that slowly changes as you whittle down his health. Gascoigne however, is an exception, as he does this spectacularly, giving the player a duel to the death with a rival hunter who has been plagued by the madness of beasthood.
The nuances of the fight are spectacular, with his initial attacks being relatively reserved. He even wields a regular weapon. As you lower his health, his attacks grow in brutality, with him transforming his weapon, just as a player would.
The arena in which the player fights Gascoigne is especially effective, since, for the first half of the fight, the player can abuse gravestones to keep away from this relentless foe.
Then the transformation comes.
Beasthood hits Gascoigne hard as he becomes an enormous, wild creature. The defenses that were helpful in the first half of the fight are suddenly little help against the onslaught of his new form.
This fight hits a sweet spot in terms of both flavor and combat quality, and is easily one of the most engaging battles you'll have in Bloodborne.
Dropping into the abyss was horrifying. Rarely does a game so effectively use a field of total blackness to convey something dreadful. But descending into the dark, only to realize you're moving about in suspended, featureless nothingness is more than a little intimidating.
Then, as you begin to move through the nothing, something enormous emerges and attacks you. As you try to learn the thing's patterns and brutal attacks, you're soon struck from behind. Panning the camera, you realize there's now another one off in the distance. And as you now try to double-time it to survive their attacks, a third emerges. By then, you're probably dead.
Four Kings were an awesome roadblock and a really cool gate to "secret" content in Dark Souls. Only by besting them before delivering the Lordvessel could you become a Darkwraith, an invader of other players' worlds looking to suck them dry of humanity. Of course, if you wanted to reach the Four Kings before delivering the Lordvessel, chances are your character would be underleveled, making an already challenging fight into a self-inflicted hard mode with one of the most satisfying rewards in gaming as your prize.
While Sir Alonne felt like an exciting one-on-one duel to the death, his spot on the list isn't high since that experience was already had in the Artorias of the Abyss expansion for Dark Souls. One of the most iconic fights in the series, I am, of course, talking about your confrontation against Knight Artorias.
Every attack the knight makes shows just how twisted by the abyss he's truly become, and every move is a spectacle. His whirling assaults and furious charges show you the fading shell of an immensely powerful character who still has enough fight left in him to tear you apart again and again.
A sorely needed fight in the initial Dark Souls game before this spectacular DLC hit, this is the hero's duel to the death with one who came before him and failed.
If you knew how to parry, this guy went down like a ton of bricks. But if you went through the fight without that strategy in mind, you know how horrifyingly aggressive this guy is. Attack after attack after attack with little to no downtime. However, that isn't what made Gwyn such an amazing fight, it's the scene itself:
The story comes full circle once you're standing up against Gwyn. The fact that he burned himself hollow reveals him as a tragic figure, and it's clear you're fighting a shell that has no other intent but to stay by the dying flames of his fading civilization. You're fighting something comparatively weak to the horrors you've faced by this point in the game, and while it's cheap to say "that's the point," it really is. The way the game conveys this important lore point is satisfying enough for Gwyn to earn himself a spot in the top 14.
Low on tension, high on hilarity. Player-controlled methods of ruining other players' single-player experiences is an iconic staple of the Souls series, and the epitome of this player-driven cruelty can be seen in the form of the Old Monk, where you aren't just coming in to harass a player, you're there to be the boss that player has to fight.
Turning a player into a boss and pitting him against another player is a brilliant idea. No enemy AI to trick or game here, just another player, and that's somehow more terrifying and exciting. For a game that dropped in 2009, this was revolutionary, so Old Monk deserves a spot on this list because of how iconic he is to the whole hilarious system of players going out of their way to ruin everyone else's game.
A welcome change from the pushover end bosses that the Souls series seems to include, Gehrman will not make your decision to remain in the Hunter's Dream an easy one. This guy starts going to Devil May Cry levels of speed, zipping around the battlefield and taking advantage of the player every time he's off-guard.
After slaughtering countless Eldritch horrors in Bloodborne, the game ends (except on the 'True Ending') on this really satisfying and crazy encounter that is so mechanically unlike any of the other fights in the game.
A fakeout endboss that turns out to be face-meltingly powerful. No one was ready to get charged and soul-sucked right out the gate, but Old King Allant did it, nonetheless. The difficulty spike hitting this penultimate boss is staggering, and the buildup, awesome.
Artorias was the epitome of the honorable one-on-one, but Allant here is the dishonorable one-on-one, and really, that's what the Souls series is all about. This is a boss that had players crying "bullshit!" as the words SOUL LEVEL DRAINED popped up on their screens. A frustrating yet awesome memory from the first Souls game, False King Allant slaughtered his way to second place on this list.
A lot of the characters I've been talking about have been significant more for story reasons than mechanical ones. Not so for the most iconic duo to grace the Souls series. These two armored titans bum-rush you the second you pass through the fog gate.
So many things are well-done in this fight. From the pure intimidation factor of the characters to the pillars placed just perfectly to make this nightmare 2-on-1 fair enough to be beatable, the player is constantly harrowed and beaten down on both fronts, and once one goes down, the other becomes strong enough to fight the player on his own.
Even better, this is a fight that really hits a home-run in terms of setting up the feeling of adventure in the game, since you can call up Solaire or any soapstone buddy and tag-team the duo, which, while not as challenging, is still an extremely satisfying concept.
With their reputation as player-killers who still keep things fair, Ornstein and Smough deserve their spot at the top.
What do you think?
Did we mention your favorite bosses, or is there something we missed? It's a tough top 14, that's for sure. Bosses are the highlight of the Souls series, and with The Old Hunters DLC coming for Bloodborne this month and Dark Souls III inbound next year, let's hope we get more of those excellent boss battles that FromSoft is known for.