You never forget your first Souls boss. The bosses of Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls are designed to be more than mere roadblocks meant to slow down your march towards the end credits. No, the bosses of these games are more like puzzle boxes you suddenly find yourself trapped in. You know there’s a way out, but how?
As great as the bosses from this franchise are, though, they are not created equally. Call it the price of doing business when you traffic in so many epic encounters. There are bound to be some that simply don’t meet the expectations set by the greatest foes in the series. While so many of those bosses are simply just a few rungs below the heaviest hitters, others conjure the opposite memories of the best bosses in the franchise. Indeed, there are some bosses which conjure a sense of dread that has little to do with their intimidating presence.
It’s a daunting task to rank all of those bosses, but attempting to do so reveals something quite important about these revolutionary titles. It shows us the tremendous creative scope of these games as well as re-affirms that the legacy of the Dark Souls series is so great that even the “worst” bosses from the franchise are ones that you can probably dig up memories of if you think hard enough.
Before we dive into that, though, there are a couple of things to keep in mind when looking at this list. First off, it only includes full “proper” boss fights. That means no encounters with unique enemies you meet along the way that don’t have their own boss health bar or other identifiying elements. Second, these rankings are based on many things, but they ultimately came down to the feeling that these bosses left and how excited they leave you at the thought of doing battle against them again, tough as they may be.
With that out of the way, here’s every Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls boss, ranked.
106. Bed of Chaos (Dark Souls)
You know, it’s almost kind of an honor to be named the worst Dark Souls boss of all time. I mean at least it would be if Bed of Chaos wasn’t such a blight on the series.
Bed of Chaos is an uninspiring boss that still manages to frustrate even the most hardcore of Dark Souls players, thanks to its series of frustrating and unenjoyable combat elements. It’s the part of the game you’ll dread coming back to the most and contributes nothing to what is otherwise one of the greatest games of all-time.
105. Royal Rat Vanguard (Dark Souls II)
You know what’s a good idea for a Dark Souls boss? Anything but a bunch of rats.
That may sound obvious, but apparently, it wasn’t, as that’s exactly what Royal Rat Vanguard is. Among a series of regular rat enemies is the one rat you have to kill in order to beat this “boss.” There is nothing special about these rats besides the fact that there’s a lot of them. Even then, there’s not really a lot of them in the grand scheme of things. It’s all pretty sad, actually.
104. Leechmonger (Demon’s Souls)
It should be noted that nothing from this point on is quite so bad as the previous two bosses who almost received a separate tier of their own. That being said, Leechmonger is essentially the Souls series’ Great Mighty Poo without the singing or humor. This largely immobile blob of waste doesn’t put up much of a fight regardless of your character build and the entire time fighting it is spent in a dingy brown environment that perfectly clashes with the rest of the series design philosophy of bleak, but beautiful.
103. Pinwheel (Dark Souls)
To be honest, I’m not sure I would have included Pinwheel as a boss if he wasn’t classified as such by the game’s official materials.
But so long as we’re here, I’d just like to say the major failing of Pinwheel is how painfully easy and generally unimposing he is. This sorcerer looks like any regular enemy but puts up less of a fight than most them. Lazily floating around the room and occasionally making a copy of himself, Pinwheel is the only Dark Souls boss that seems like he can’t wait to die. Most are happy to oblige him.
102. Fool’s Idol (Demon’s Souls)
You know, Fool’s Idol isn’t really that much different from Pinwheel. Both are fairly lazy magic wielders that really don’t inspire many Souls players to praise the brilliance of their fights.
The chapel setting for the Fool’s Idol fight is much more enjoyable than Pinwheel’s domain, however, and at least Fool’s Idol does put up something resembling a fight. Still, there’s just nothing much more here than some magic missile dodging and quick beatdowns.
101. Dragon God (Demon’s Souls)
I do have to give From Software credit for naming a boss something as imposing as Dragon God and actually making the boss look like he could indeed be the God of all dragons.
However, that just makes it all the more of a shame that the fight is such a disappointment. The entire fight boils down to running between protective pillars en route to firing pre-staged ballista arrows at the Dragon God until he is dead. It’s the kind of fight that might work in a game like God of War but takes very little advantage of the things that truly make great Dark Souls boss fights tick.
100. Centipede Demon (Dark Souls)
The fact that the Centipede Demon is one of the few Dark Souls bosses I needed to Google to remind myself which one it is should tell you a lot about this fight.
Though I’m actually a fan of the way From Software incorporated physical centipede elements into the design of this boss, the actual fight is nothing that memorable. This is your basic towering beast with a large weapon that so happens to be aided by the presence of pools of lava. Considering the lava is more of an annoyance than an actual threat, that one distinction does not save this encounter from becoming a low-tier fight.
99. Covetous Demon (Dark Souls II)
Let it be known now that if you see a lot of Dark Souls II bosses on this list, that’s because the game had a significantly higher amount of bosses than any other game in the series.
In the case of Covetous Demon, it certainly could have done with one less. Covetous Demon is a huge slug-like creature that bears more than a passing resemblance to Jabba the Hutt. Beating him requires little more than circling around his attacks and hitting his tail when available. Overall, the encounter contributes nothing substantial to the game or franchise.
98. Belfry Gargoyles (Dark Souls II)
You know, callbacks to previous bosses are not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, you’re going to see a few of them higher on this list.
The biggest problem with the Belfry Gargoyles boss in Dark Souls 2 is that it’s essentially a Michael Bay sequel to the first encounter with these beasts in Dark Souls. There’s more of them and they’re more dangerous, but the stakes and emotion that made the original encounter so memorable are just not there. It certainly feels good to beat this tough boss, but the whole encounter feels surprisingly close to nostalgia exploitation.
97. Deacons of the Deep (Dark Souls III)
This boss fight earns some extra points for the theme. The room the fight takes place in is well-designed and the idea of a congregation of deacons protecting the archdeacon amongst them is neat enough.
However, this is one of those unfortunate boss fights that is really just a mob of mostly standard enemies that you have to wade through. It’s quite possibly the easiest boss fight in Dark Souls III, and it’s definitely the one that you’ll have the hardest time remembering when you’ve beaten the game.
96. The Duke’s Dear Freja (Dark Souls II)
First off, can we give some love to the From Software employees responsible for the naming of bosses? The Duke’s Dear Freja is just a great name that makes you go, “What the hell is that?” when you hear it.
Unfortunately, the answer to that question is “A giant spider.” This is pretty much your typical giant spider encounter made slightly more disheartening by how easy it is to avoid most of Freja’s larger attacks. The smaller spiders Freja attracts can make this fight more difficult, but considering this was a significant boss fight progression-wise, it does feel tremendously underwhelming.
95. High Lord Wolnir (Dark Souls III)
Every now and then, the Dark Souls development team forget that they’re working on something special and dip into the deep pool of dark fantasy cliches. High Lord Wolnir is one of those times.
Wolnir is a giant skeleton. He’s a pretty well-designed giant skeleton, but he’s a giant skeleton nonetheless. What’s worse is that he’s beaten by employing the “attack the glowing weak spot on the limbs” strategy. The set-up to this fight is okay, and Wolnir is visually interesting, but this is Dark Souls on autopilot.
94. Dirty Colossus (Demon’s Souls)
Although many franchise bosses are ultimately just lumbering beasts with various attacks, most of the fights do a fairly admirable job of disguising this in some way.
Dirty Colossus, however, feels like it could be the template that the team uses to build every other boss fight off of. Aside from the lingering darkness that surrounds the Colossus (imagine the Balrog in Fellowship of the Ring), this is a perfectly average fight in a game filled with otherwise pretty creative bosses.
93. Scorpioness Najka (Dark Souls II)
Remember earlier when I mentioned boss fight callbacks that would actually be featured much more prominently on the list? This is not that fight.
Scorpioness Najka is essentially a re-imagining of the Dark Souls fight with Chaos Witch Quelaag but offers substantially less than that encounter did. The balance of the fight’s difficulty is pretty good, and the way she is revealed from underneath the sand is neat, but the design of the two bosses is far too similar to not compare them. In that respect, Scorpioness Najka falls short.
92. Demon Firesage (Dark Souls)
You know, the Dark Souls wiki does such a good job of describing this particular encounter, that I feel the need to quote it here:
“This boss is very similar to the Asylum Demon and practically identical to the Stray Demon, the strategy is much the same.”
They also go on to mention that his skin is on fire, which is indeed his trademark characteristic. Otherwise, this is a boss you actually see multiple times in Dark Souls, with this being the least memorable of the encounters.
91. Crystal Sage (Dark Souls III)
I’m a big fan of Crystal Sage’s character design. He looks like a boss/enemy that you would have caught roaming the badlands in an old-school NES RPG. What I don’t like is just about everything else about this boss fight.
Crystal Sage relies on some of the worst Dark Souls boss fight tropes. Mirror copy enemies? Check. Summoning damage-dealing items from the ground? Check. Cheap magical spam? Check, check, check. There’s just nothing especially noteworthy about this fight.
90. Giant Lord (Dark Souls II)
The premise of how you encounter the Giant Lord is actually fairly interesting as it requires you to essentially take a trip through time and encounter a beast that actually plays well off an earlier boss lore-wise.
The fight itself is a disappointment, though. It’s a slightly more difficult version of that earlier fight, but the general strategy here remains the same, as you’ll still be circling around this lumbering giant sword wielder and patiently waiting for opportunities to strike. Given the scenario behind this boss, it’s hard to not view it as a letdown.
89. Ruin Sentinels (Dark Souls II)
This is a fight that I always want to love more than I do, as I happen to be a fan of multiple character boss fights, and the Ruin Sentinels have this Egyptian protectors design philosophy to them that’s hard not to love.
Unfortunately, this fight is undone by the way these guys are cheesed into an easy battle, removing much of the drama from the encounter. It’s almost impossible to really make this a 3-on-1 fight unless you wish to, and as a 2-on-1 it doesn’t measure up to similar multiple boss encounters elsewhere in the series.
88. Taurus Demon (Dark Souls)
As one of the first bosses that players encounter in Dark Souls, this showdown with the Taurus Demon will always hold a fond spot in the hearts of many Dark Souls players as an early reminder of just how screwed they truly are.
Nostalgia aside, though, this fight suffers from a similar problem that the Ruin Sentinels battle does in that it is too easily exploited. By making your way up a convenient ladder and dropping strong diving attack after strong diving attack onto the Taurus Demon, it becomes quite easy to beat this lovable monster even at lower levels.
87. Ancient Wyvern
This is one of those boss fights that sounds pretty great on paper. The gimmick here is that the Wyvern can’t really be beaten just by attacking it. Instead, you have to work your way up a series of steps in a derelict tower in order to get into position to jump on this boss and land the killing blow.
It’s a cool idea, but it doesn’t offer the one thing that a Dark Souls boss fight should offer; a sense of satisfaction. Most will beat this boss on the first try which is kind of a shame.
86. Phalanx (Demon’s Souls)
In many ways, Phalanx is a precursor to Royal Rat Vanguard. The difference is that, while Royal Rat Vanguard completely sucked, Phalanx’s premise of surrounding a giant blob with hoplite soldiers is actually kind of cool.
What hurts this fight in comparison to others is that it’s far too simple. While you can kind of forgive the ease of Phalanx, considering that it’s an early game boss, the encounter itself doesn’t really amount to more than taking on a series of slightly tougher normal enemies and then wailing on the gooey center of them so you can move on.
85. Flexile Sentry (Dark Souls II)
There’s actually a lot to love about Flexile Sentry. As the world’s most dangerous siamese twins, these back-to-back swordsmen certainly look intimidating, and the fact they reside on a pirate ship does imply they may be pirates. The great thing about that, of course, is that pirates are cool.
The biggest problem with Flexile Sentry is that the boss rarely takes advantage of its unique design to really come up with creative attacks. Aside from limiting the player’s ability to properly circle the boss, this is a surprisingly standard encounter against such a cool foe.
84. Cursed Rotted Greatwood
Cursed Rotted Greatwood is one of the first bosses that From Software showed when they were first promoting Dark Souls 3, and we can certainly understand why that was the case. The set-up to this fight – an ancient tree slowly comes to life – is almost as good as the pay-off that sees you drop down to battle his roots.
Mechanically, though, this fight is a bore. The challenge here has more to do with tedium than any mechanical mastery. That’s a shame considering how impressive the Greatwood’s entrance is.
83. Skeleton Lords (Dark Souls II)
Well first off, props to these fine gentlemen for becoming lords of the skeletons, as that cannot be an easy title to come across. Skeleton bros are a universally tough lot and climbing to the top of their hierarchy is a real accomplishment.
In this case, it’s a fairly good bet that they achieved such a lofty title by hurling wave after wave of annoying enemies and attacks at their foes just as they do to the player. This fight isn’t bad so much as it is frustrating. It accomplishes the ultimate Dark Souls boss goal of making you feel better for having beat it, but only because you’ll be relieved to not have to do this again until the next time around.
82. Throne Defender & Watcher (Dark Souls II)
While I can’t blame Dark Souls II for trying to capitalize on what made the Ornstein and Smough fight so memorable (more on that much later), the game’s fascination with multiple bosses began to get tiring and made them all seem to run together.
That’s certainly the case here with Throne Defender & Watcher, who try to emulate the power and speed combination of the famous duo, but come across more as cosplayers than genuine threats. This fight isn’t awful by any means, but it’s little more than an appetizer to the final battle.
81. Prowling Magus (Dark Souls II)
The Souls series occasionally toys with the concept of a boss fight that’s basically a mob of enemies and it rarely works. It’s a tricky concept in the first place, and the fact that they are usually far easier than the typical boss fight certainly doesn’t help.
At least that’s what holds this particular fight. Being forced to take down both Magus and his zombie congregation should be an incredibly tall task, but the minions prove to be easily removed with a few wide attacks, and Magus himself is a fairly weak sorcerer that doesn’t require much more.
80. Oceiros, The Consumed King (Dark Souls III)
Much like Aldrich, the Oceiros fight benefits greatly from the lore behind it. Oceiros was once the king of Loric, but he went mad researching the uses of royal blood (which is a fascinating allusion to Bloodborne). He also seems to believe that he is clutching/protecting a child, even though there is none to be seen.
The fight itself is actually pretty good to boot. Oceiros is a surprisingly aggressive boss whose odd design makes it somewhat difficult to read his fights. He falls well short of the “great” tier of Souls fights, but he’s a very good boss in a game that’s full of good bosses.
79. Halflight, Spear Of The Church (Dark Souls III)
Halflight repeats an old Souls trick by allowing other players to participate in this boss fight and create a kind of PvP situation. It’s always been a great idea, and there’s a strong argument to be made that this is the most technically successful attempt at this style of fight in series history.
Unfortunately, the technical execution is ruined by some pretty bad design choices. Offline, this fight is nothing special at all, and online, there’s a chance that you can run into a player-controlled minion that often proves to be more frustrating than the boss itself.
78. Baneful Queen Mytha (Dark Souls II)
Far be it from me to call a snake lady who carries her own head and wields a spear a Medusa rip-off, but I do believe that Mytha may just have taken inspiration from Medusa during the design phase.
Despite the familiar visual cues, this is actually an interesting fight given the area where it’s set. While most of the time Mytha is surrounded by a pool of poison that harms you and heals her, if you manage to burn an otherwise perfectly innocent windmill prior to this fight, then you can remove much of the poison and make the battle easier. Of course, a similar idea would actually lend itself to a much more interesting fight elsewhere in the game.
77. Dragonslayer Armour (Dark Souls III)
The low rank of this boss fight will undoubtedly be controversial to some. After all, this boss fight demands that players abandon the comfort of the circle-strafe strategy and employ some expert combat rolls in order to win the day. It’s a battle that makes you feel like you’re participating in a true duel of skills.
Unfortunately, this fight lacks flair. Perhaps that’s an odd complaint, but given how special the best Souls fights feel, thematically uncreative duels such as this tend to stand out in the wrong ways.
76. Sanctuary Guardian (Dark Souls)
Generally speaking, the bosses in Dark Soul’s Prepare to Die expansion were excellent. While Sanctuary Guardian is perhaps the weakest of the four new bosses in the bunch, this is still a good encounter.
A part of what makes Sanctuary Guardian special is certainly its perfect use of the “tough, but fair” Dark Souls difficulty, but there’s also something to be said for the design of the beast and the way that it looks like the perfect boss for the job of protecting the rare piece of sanctuary that you fight it in.
75. Gravetender Champion & Gravetender Wolf (Dark Souls III)
To be honest, those who believe that the best Souls boss fight must also be its toughest will likely balk at this fight being ranked among others in the franchise. The battle against Champion’s Gravetender & Gravetender Greatwolf is fairly easy, especially when you measure it against other DLC boss fights in the series.
However, this fight nails the feel of an epic encounter. The white/blue flowers, the visual of a champion ambling towards you as his guardian wolves pounce without hesitation, and the final summon of a great wolf all help this boss fight tell a contained – yet fascinating – narrative.
74. Moonlight Butterfly (Dark Souls)
I really want to like Moonlight Butterfly more than I do. It’s an oddly tranquil battle that features some great music, and the design of the Butterfly itself is pretty great.
The problem is the fight itself. If you’re using magic or projectiles, this fight is simply laughable. Even as a melee character, you’ll probably find yourself growing bored at some point, as you dodge projectiles with ease and get in a few cheap hits now and then until the boss falls. There was potential here for a really interesting fight, but the presentation of the battle is excellent regardless.
73. Yhorm The Giant (Dark Souls III)
Fights against Souls giants are traditionally kind of unmemorable due to the mechanical pattern they fall victim to. Avoid the power attacks, roll between the legs, and repeat. While the battle against Yhorm the Giant certainly utilizes a similar pattern, it benefits greatly from the emotional weight it carries.
See, the battle against Yhorm can actually be fought with the Onion Knight at your side. That may seem insignificant, but the presence of the Onion Knight in this battle is one of the few moments of clear “fan service” in a Souls game. It’s a welcome use of the tactic.
72. Stray Demon (Dark Souls)
I love when Dark Souls punishes players for their confidence, and that is certainly what Stray Demon accomplishes. As a surprise return of the game’s first boss that is accessible when you attempt to re-enter the game’s tutorial level, this optional encounter has caught many a first-time player off guard.
As for the boss itself, this isn’t much more than an amped up version of the battle that opens the game. While that’s certainly a little disappointing, the staging of this battle is simply excellent.
71. Dragonrider (Dark Souls II)
Dragonrider is a classic example of a BGBSBW boss. What is BGBSBW? It’s an abbreviation I just now established for “Big guy, big shield, big weapon.” It’s a classic boss archetype that’s actually one of the more reliable sources of boss fight entertainment in the series.
Dragonrider is a fairly standard example of this type, though he does have one interesting twist in the form of a collapsing arena that falls away as you deal more damage. It’s not much, but it does add a nice level of difficulty to this fight, considering that you typically beat these guys by circling around them. By making that process more difficult, this boss fight is made more memorable.
70. Royal Rat Authority (Dark Souls II)
While I’m not entirely sure what the obsession with rats was while designing the Dark Souls II bosses, I will say that Royal Rat Authority is a significant improvement over the Royal Rat Vanguard.
That said, damn this is one annoying fight. Royal Rat Authority has a variety of frustrating attacks at his disposal and their pattern tends to be somewhat erratic. Complicating matters is the presence of his minions, whom the game never seems to want to let you lock onto properly when absolutely necessary. It’s the kind of annoying fight that’s actually fairly memorable because of it, but I wouldn’t put the encounter in the Souls hall of fame by any means.
69. Vordt Of The Boreal Valley (Dark Souls III)
Every Dark Souls game has at least one boss designed to serve as a kind of ramping up point for the game’s difficulty curve. They’re the fights that force you to abandon whatever comfortable strategies you may have been using until this point and truly learn to adapt to what the game is handing you.
Vordt of the Boreal Valley isn’t the best of those fights, but it is a perfect example of the concept. This fight has a decent set-up and that perfect level of difficulty that forces you to be at your best without making you feel like you’ve been cheated.
68. The Rotten (Dark Souls II)
So far as this fight goes, I will admit that it is similar to the other “massive blobs” encounters. I will say that The Rotten is the most mobile of the immobile mass enemies mentioned to this point.
What is great about The Rotten, though, is his design. Made up of a mass of human bodies, the rotten is carried along by the arms of his damned and apparently stores his giant cleaver within himself. He looks like the final form a horror movie demon might take and is capable of taking you down quite easily if you’re caught staring at his design too long.
67. Aldrich, Devourer Of Gods (Dark Souls III)
This is a tough fight to rank. On the one hand, the fight itself is merely ok. Aldrich loves to use spam magic attacks and cheap, quick attacks which are usually big no-nos in terms of truly great Souls boss fights. However, the Aldrich fight benefits greatly from the lore behind the battle.
Given that the Souls games never demand you care about their lore, there’s a good chance that many players won’t get much out of this fight. Those that dig deeper, though, will surely appreciate how Aldrich’s story ties into the stories of Gwyndolin, Smough, Anor Lando, and Prince Lothric.
66. Armor Spider (Demon’s Souls)
The Armor Spider fight is an interesting one from a combat standpoint. Taking place in a narrow mineshaft, you must pursue the armor spider down a corridor while trying to avoid its attacks as best as you are able. It’s a fascinating study of the effect of claustrophobia in a Souls fight.
Unfortunately, the fight itself doesn’t quite measure up to the concept, as the battle only proves to really take advantage of your surroundings through very specific attacks. Generally speaking, this is a fairly simple boss design-wise. Still, it’s certainly a memorable encounter.
65. Elana, the Squalid Queen (Dark Souls II)
When you first approach Elana, she is standing quietly at an altar with her back to you. Slowly, she turns your way and becomes one of the few Dark Souls bosses to actually speak directly to you by informing you that “You are not worthy of the mire.” In typical Dark Souls fashion, these words will mean nothing to most players, but the intro does an effective job in conveying the presence of the Squalid Queen.
Sadly, the fight itself is a fairly standard affair. Elana can shoot magic and summon skeletons with the best of them, but this is a fairly generic boss fight that again speaks to Dark Souls II’s overreliance on boss encounters.
64. Ancient Dragon (Dark Souls II)
Like any good dark fantasy series, Dark Souls has a bit of a love affair with dragons. Some of these dragon encounters are great (we’ll get to those soon enough) and some are less than spectacular, but by and large, they tend to represent at least some good qualities of a Dark Souls boss fight.
Ancient Dragon represents the value of character in a Dark Souls fight. As a particularly old dragon, this boss doesn’t exactly make the greatest effort to see you killed, but what its fighting style lacks in challenge it makes up for in personality.
63. Vanguard (Demon’s Souls)
As the tutorial boss in Demon’s Souls, Vanguard is there to teach players a very valuable lesson that they will carry with them throughout the rest of the franchise. These games hate you and care more about seeing how your face expresses confused misery than they do entertaining you.
While Vanguard can technically be killed, most first time players will die fairly quickly and find that the game doesn’t truly start until they do. While later Souls bosses would do a better job in the valuable first boss role, Vanguard was a tremendous introduction to the nature of Demon’s Souls and eventually the franchise at large.
62. Blue Dragon (Demons’ Souls)
Blue Dragon is a perfect example of style over substance in a boss fight. This battle is an incredibly simple – some would argue tedious – affair that doesn’t come close to testing the considerable skills the player will have acquired by the time that they encounter this dragon in Demon’s Souls.
But damn is this a cool fight. Taking place upon the ruins of an ancient castle, this is the picture perfect atmosphere you always imagined when fighting a dragon. The Blue Dragon itself does an excellent job of fighting like you’d want a dragon to fight. It’s a little disappointing that the combat isn’t more epic, but this scratches that dragon fight itch in a big way.
61. Adjudicator (Demon’s Souls)
Of all the hulking masses in the Soulsborne series, I have a particular fondness for Adjudicator. Maybe that’s because he was one of the first of his kind, but the bosses’ broken weapon and ghoulish design do a fair job of announcing him as a threat. The fight itself does a good job of validating those claims, as the small space you have to work, combined with his sweeping style of attacks, can easily turn him into a nightmare worthy of his frightful appearance.
60. Dark Sun Gwyndolin (Dark Souls)
Dark Sun Gwyndolin is one of those bosses that becomes even more interesting when you really dive into the lore of the series. As the last god of Anor Londo, Gwyndolin has learned to become a master illusionist in order to preserve certain mystiques of the famed city.
She uses these tricks in her battle against you and also harkens back to the Armor Spider fight, as you must pursue Gwyndolin down a hall in order to finish her. Again, the unique nature of the pursuit isn’t fully taken advantage of and the fight itself is largely – though appropriately – window dressing, but it is a visually stunning encounter dripping in story.
59. Gaping Dragon (Dark Souls)
If personality goes a long way in making a Souls boss fight great, then the visual design can run the whole race. A cool-looking boss can overcome a lot of weaknesses in the fight.
The Gaping Dragon fight is actually a pretty solid one, but even if it weren’t, this imposing monstrosity and its constantly agape jaw filled with sword-like teeth that encompass nearly its entire being would still find itself a few spots higher on the list than most. Gaping Dragon will stick to your memories long after you’ve beaten it.
58. Ceaseless Discharge (Dark Souls)
Despite being named after the worst sounding STD ever – or perhaps because of it – Ceaseless Discharge proves to be a fairly memorable encounter. This giant beast bathed in flame and smoke accomplishes the first job of a Souls boss: making you say “Holy shit” with relative ease. This monstrosity uses its many arms and deadly fires to make quick work of even the best Dark Souls players. Well…ideally, anyway, as there is a fairly simple trick to beating him that most are quick to discover. It’s still a great design, though.
57. Iudex Gundyr (Dark Souls III)
It’s not easy being the first boss in a Souls game. They’ve got to welcome the player to the game in typical Souls fashion without being so tough that they’re discouraging. At the same time, they can’t overshadow what is to come.
Gundyr isn’t the best first boss in series history, but he’s not far off. The set-up to this fight – a statue picks up its spear and prepares for war – is fantastic and the battle is a great way for veterans and new players to get into a rhythm before the really tough stuff begin.
56. Lud and Zallen, the King’s Pets (Dark Souls II)
Amid a blinding snowstorm, the beast of darkness known as Lud descends upon you. From his first burst of magic missiles and quick strikes, he makes it clear that you are not in for an easy fight. It’s a statement that becomes all the more imposing when his twin brother, Zallen, joins the fray after you do a little too much damage to Lud.
This is certainly a case of a multiple boss fight done right. Not only is the atmosphere and combat incredible, but the relationship between the two bosses, as well as with a boss that you’ll fight later in the game, adds a sense of scope to this fight that you should get from the best Dark Souls bosses.
55. Velstadt, The Royal Aegis (Dark Souls II)
Draped in the golden armor of a Spartan king and wielding a gilded mace that’s as big as he is, Velstadt is an absolutely imposing figure that is somehow even tougher than he looks. This boss’s range of attack is frightening and the speed at which he arrives there is even worse. Try to hide behind the pillars in the room and you’ll find them quickly turned to dust with you shortly joining them.
A great boss fight tests your skills without feeling cheap. While Velstadt’s incredible athleticism and dominating power leave him very few weaknesses, there is a pattern here for the player to discover and exploit in such a way as to best him. Doing so is a great feeling, though it carries with it a ping of regret for seeing a great boss go.
54. Guardian Dragon (Dark Souls II)
Trapped like a rat in his cage, you encounter Guardian Dragon trapped in his…ummm…cage. This giant canary cage will soon become your prison, as you face a dragon that seems especially pissed off at his predicament.
The confines of this dragon fight certainly help to add to its grandeur, but the boss itself proves to be one of the more lovably traditional dragons in the series. He’s spry, he flies, he breathes fire, and he does it all while forcing you to make the most of your slightly limited space to beat him. This isn’t the greatest of the Souls dragon fights, but it’s a fairly good standard for them.
53. Iron Golem (Dark Souls)
After dodging the many traps, tricks, and general troll antics that plague Sen’s Fortress, you would think that finally making it to the top of that twisted domain and going face to face with a lumbering iron guardian would be a welcome change of pace.
Instead, the Iron Golem proves to be the last trap of the fortress, as his absurdly high health pool and fondness for taking half of your life in a single hit become immediately apparent. There are summon and elemental options that can make this fight a bit easier, but if you’re going in solo, then you will find a tough – but doable – fight ahead of you.
52. Dancer Of The Boreal Valley (Dark Souls III)
The next few bosses from Dark Souls 3 are difficult to rank given the degrees of excellence that separate them. The Dancer of the Boreal Valley fight is odd in that the boss itself doesn’t move particularly fast. However, if you happen to get caught by one of his attacks, he launches into a swift flurry of follow-up swings that will likely kill you an instant.
That system makes defensive strategies more important than ever, which will either drive you crazy or make you appreciate the simplistic beauty of this battle. Regardless, it’s a clever boss battle.
51. Manus, Father of the Abyss (Dark Souls)
Although the text specifically refers to his elemental standings, I’m always fond of pointing to the section of the Dark Souls guide on Manus that simply states: “Weaknesses: None”
As the final boss of the Dark Souls expansion, Manus most certainly holds his own against the difficulty of any fight that has come before by giving players a fight that will ask absolutely everything of them. Unless you have built specific character skills to insane degrees, you can be guaranteed that you will be pounding your fists in frustration at least once before the Father of the Abyss finally goes down.
50. Old Dragonslayer (Dark Souls II)
Ah, now here is a callback that I can certainly get behind. Old Dragonslayer is little more than a gussied up version of Dragonslayer Ornstein from Dark Souls, but do not be so quick to believe your fight against him will tread the same ground. Even without the help of his best good friend, Executioner Smough, Old Dragonslayer proves to be a more than worthy opponent on his own, thanks to his blinding speed and incredible attack range via his spear.
49. Champion Gundyr (Dark Souls III)
Champion Gundyr is one of the few instances of a repeated boss in a Souls game done well. As the more “advanced’ version of the first boss in Dark Souls 3, Champion Gundyr brilliantly expands upon everything the game’s excellent first boss fight does well while standing on his own as an excellent encounter.
The one possible knock against this boss is that it skirts that line between “cheap” and “tough.” His attacks are insanely fast and perhaps a touch too powerful. Still, every Souls game needs a fight or two like that, and Champion Gundyr is a great example of the style.
48. Demon in Pain & Demon From Below & Demon Prince (Dark Souls III)
Considering how high the bar is for multiple enemy boss fights in the Souls universe, there’s no room for a multi-foe fight that feels anything less than special. Fortunately, Demon Prince clears that bar.
What makes this boss fight work is how fair it is. That’s an odd compliment to pay to a Souls boss, but this is one of the few multi-opponent fights that doesn’t feel like it was designed just to make you angry. Instead, it’s a brilliant use of foes with complimenting styles that will challenge you without making you wish the fight was just over with.
47. Abyss Watchers (Dark Souls III)
It’s tempting to rank this boss fight much higher than this. The problem with this boss fight is that it ultimately plays out like a standard battle against a “dude with a sword.” My god, the man even utilizes flaming sword attacks.
The really, really cool thing about this fight, though, is the lore behind it. The Abyss Watchers are bound by some kind of curse that forces them to battle forever. In lieu of an actual opponent, they will just fight each other. The sight of these foes alternating between attacking you and each other is a wonderfully chaotic – and memorable – piece of boss design.
46. Soul Of Cinder (Dark Souls III)
Outside, of Bloodborne’s memorable final battle, there’s arguably no better final boss in the Souls universe than Soul of Cinder. That’s kind of a backhanded compliment, but it should take nothing away from the quality of this encounter.
Actually, Soul of Cinder is one of the best one-on-one battles against a single weapon-wielding boss in series history. Soul of Cinder’s ability to change his attack patterns based on what weapon he’s wielding means that players must be able to read and react in a way that even the most challenging of Souls fights don’t demand from you. It’s also kind of awesome to see Soul of Cinder adopt Gwyn’s moveset and music during the final phase.
45. Aava, the King’s Pet (Dark Souls II)
Aava is a white tiger in a snowstorm, and that alone makes this fight automatically pretty impressive. Aava fights in the way you would expect a tiger to fight, meaning a lot of incredibly deadly lunge attacks complemented by devastating AOE abilities and ice magic spells. You know, just like you expect a tiger to fight…in Dark Souls.
44. Darkeater Midir (Dark Souls III)
Dragons in Dark Souls DLC release have traditionally been humorously difficult. Darkeater Midir is arguably the most absurdly difficult of all the Dark Souls DLC dragons.
After spending quite a large portion of a level dodging Midir’s attacks, you finally get to do battle with him. At this point, you’ll likely discover that Midir can kill you in just a few hits while you don’t’ seem to be able to do much damage to him at all. However, across the multiple encounters that make up this fight, you’ll find that Midir is just as tough as he needs to be to make this boss feel as epic as he is.
43. The Last Giant (Dark Souls II)
Dark Souls II may have had a few too many boss fights, but they certainly started things off right with this encounter. The Last Giant is not particularly difficult in comparison to other first Souls bosses, but there is an emotional element to this encounter that elevates it above many others. The Last Giant’s painful wails tell a story of its tortured past and painful obligation to fight on once more. It’s a memorable showdown.
42. Darklurker (Dark Souls II)
Darklurker is a demonic angel that’s only accessible if certain conditions within the Pilgrims of Dark covenant are met. Like many bosses that Dark Souls hides deep within its adventure, he’s quite the challenge.
Darklurker is one of the best magic-based bosses in the franchise due in part to its incredible variety of attacks that follow a pretty erratic pattern. Taking down this foe can be done easily if you build your pyromancer attack to its highest level, but everyone else will soon discover why Dark Souls II was not eager to present Darklurker so openly.
41. Afflicted Graverobber, Ancient Soldier Varg, Cerah the Old Explorer (Dark Souls II)
There’s just something about bosses with great names, and I’ll be damned if this isn’t a memorable series of names.
Each of these bosses perfectly encapsulates the three kinds of deadly in Dark Souls. One is a highly skilled archer, one is a powerhouse bruiser, and the other is a speed-based assassin that will most likely kill you when you’re focusing on the other two. It’s a fantastic example of how to take full advantage of a multi-character fight setup.
40. King Vendrick (Dark Souls II)
Much like The Last Giant, a big part of what makes King Vendrick great is the implied story of the battle. This decrepit old king attacks you slowly with a great sword that was perhaps once as mighty as he was. Beating him isn’t a challenge from a combat standpoint, but getting past the emotion of having to topple a former great, as he enters one more fight for survival that he probably no longer wishes for, is a challenge in and of itself.
39. Demon of Song (Dark Souls II)
Although I’m not sure how a giant toad creature earned the title of Demon of Song, this is still one fascinating boss. The gimmick with this fight is that the Demon of Song is able to shield its skull-like face from the player by tucking into its armor skin. The only time it’s really vulnerable is when it is attacking you, which means that your dodging game has to be on point. It’s not that different from most fights in theory, but the fantastic visual design boss does the job of selling this fight as something special.
38. Nashandra (Dark Souls II)
This franchise has something of a reputation for the final boss in the game not being the best boss in the game (although we will get to a notable exception to that rule soon), and while that holds true for Nashandra, this is still a good fight.
After beating Throne Watcher and Throne Defender, you are immediately thrust into a battle with Nashandra. As if her giant scythe wasn’t a big enough issue, she also possesses some truly wicked dark magic that can kill you in an instant. The threat is real during this fight, which keeps you on your toes until the very end.
37. Maneater (Demon’s Souls)
Uh oh, here they come. It’s the Maneaters.
Couldn’t resist. As the first real Souls fight to force players to face multiple bosses at once, this encounter managed to frustrate the very best of players. Many players resort to fairly cheap measures to defeat them to this day. True joy comes from beating these painful reminders of just how much Demon’s Souls hates you.
36. Penetrator (Demon’s Souls)
Somewhat dubious naming aside, I have a soft spot in my heart for Penetrator because I have a soft spot in my heart for more traditional one-on-one boss fights, and this one is one of the very first – and best – in the series.
The penetrator is one of those bosses that just make you say, “What a badass,” the moment you see him. His massive blade is capable of covering an almost absurd amount of real estate, and he has the speed needed to punish those that think of running. Penetrator may not have many tricks up his sleeve, but he doesn’t need them to serve as one of the greatest bosses in the franchise.
35. Old King Allant (Demon’s Souls)
With his white and gold military outfit and angelic wings made of light, your first impression of the old king may be that he is a gentle soul fighting for good. In reality, he’s a real hard ass that’s fighting to kill you as soon as possible. Old King Allant’s attack pattern is a fairly simple one, but every move he uses is simply devastating. The range he is able to cover with his blade strikes and area attacks is simply absurd. Regardless, the set-up to this fight makes it feel so very suitable for a final encounter.
34. Fume Knight (Dark Souls II)
Fun fact about the Fume Knight: according to statistics released by From Software, he was responsible for more player deaths than any other boss in Dark Souls II and defeated 93% of challengers.
Beyond that astounding difficulty, a big part of what makes Fume Knight stand out is his giant smoke and flame sword, as well as his dark knight armor. This is one of those great fights where you really do have to die a few times before you stand a chance of beating this intimidating foe. As punishing as he may be, he never feels all that frustrating to fight, which is a tremendous accomplishment.
33. Black Dragon Kalameet (Dark Souls)
Though a part of me is glad that someone at From Software finally decided to make a dragon a contender for the toughest boss in the game, a larger part of me just hates Black Dragon Kalameet.
Kalameet is the kind of boss that would invite you out to dinner and then ask you to pick up the check. He’s just plain mean, and if his high health pool doesn’t get you down, the fact he can easily trap you into a number of killing moves will. Beating this boss makes you feel like you should feel after beating a legendary dragon.
32. Capra Demon (Dark Souls)
I love Souls fights that make you feel like you’re solving a little puzzle, and that’s exactly what we have here. As soon as you enter the Capra Demon’s tiny domain, you are attacked by both the Capra and his hell hounds. The challenge here is to discover how to defeat these fast moving enemies in such a tiny space while they are attacking you with uncommon ferocity. It’s a subtle concept, but it adds a lot to this fight, as most remember being caught off guard and instantly killed by this boss at least once.
31. Old Iron King (Dark Souls II)
Ah, now this is how you do a giant flaming demon in a pit of lava right. Old Iron King certainly isn’t the most difficult fight in the franchise, but the moment this hulking demon rises from the depths of a lava pool and stares you down, a sort of Zelda-like vibe washes over you. Like Amygdala, Old Iron King is a throwback boss in many ways that provides a welcome break from the series’ tendency to rely on more agile enemies.
30. Burnt Ivory King (Dark Souls II)
To borrow a comment I’ve heard elsewhere, what makes the fight against Burnt Ivory King so special is that it’s not really a fight at all. It’s a battle. It’s a war.
You start this battle by having to take down a legion of knights devoted to the king. Now unlike some other fights of this nature, what makes this one different is that the mob and the boss are not entirely separate. You must be able to manage both the mob and the Ivory King at the same time at some point even though they are arguably equally formidable. This slight twist to the formula results in a memorable battle with one of the game’s very best.
29. Pontiff Sulyvahn (Dark Souls III)
Another personal favorite of the Souls bosses, it’s hard to figure out exactly where to place Pontiff Sulyvahn. While it’s difficult to identify the individual elements that make him so special, it’s the way that everything comes together that makes this battle one of the best.
Not only is Pontiff Sulyvahn an incredibly important part of Dark Souls lore, but he’s one of the absolute toughest bosses in series history. Pontiff Sulyvahn’s elegant dual-sword attacks are a quick as they are deadly. His combos follow no easy-to-learn pattern and there’s almost no way to “cheese” him. In other words, he’s everything a Souls boss should be.
28. Executioner’s Chariot (Dark Souls II)
Sometimes Dark Souls can try too hard or get too cute with its more creative boss fights. While ambition is always admirable, the worst of these outside the box fights will just have you wishing for simpler times.
Executioner’s Chariot is a great creative boss fight, however. This giant Roman chariot piloted by a demon traverses a circular room and can instantly kill you if you get in its way. Defeating it is a matter of working your way up the room slowly until you are able to flip a switch that will derail the chariot and allow you to fight the tough demonic horses that pilot it.
27. Old Hero (Demon’s Souls)
Your mileage regarding the actual fight with Old Hero is going to depend on your use of an item known as the Thief’s Ring. With this ring, the fight is a rather easy one and without it the encounter is arguably one of the more difficult in the game.
Regardless of your decision, Old Hero manages to impress through his character. This blind behemoth glows radiantly from infused power and walks slowly just listening for you to approach so he can smite you. The Thief’s Ring can help you mask your steps, but even with it, this fight proves to be memorable simply because of how the character’s attacks are derived from his personality.
26. Gravelord Nito (Dark Souls)
Not only does Gravelord Nito have arguably the greatest nickname of all Dark Souls bosses (Ravelord Nito knows how to party y’all), he also serves well as essentially the series’ grim reaper.
The master of death looks the part of a Dark Souls boss with his giant hair coat covered with bones, and he lives up to the expectations we have for the battle itself by infuriating players with his ability to summon an army of skeletons at will. Brimming with personality and backstory, Nito is an incredible addition to the Souls universe.
25. Crossbreed Priscilla (Dark Souls)
Residing over the secret painted world in Dark Souls is Crossbreed Priscilla. Priscilla was exiled due to her crossbreed origins and distinguishes herself from other bosses both through an almost pleasant personal demeanor and an ability to stay invisible through much of the fight, forcing you to watch her footsteps in the snow.
Priscilla may technically be an optional boss, but both her and the world she calls her domain are so fascinating that she must be pursued despite the lack of obligation to do so.
24. Chaos Witch Quelaag (Dark Souls)
As Dark Souls players make their way through Blighttown cursing all the while, they are also thinking that the area’s boss had better end up being something pretty special. Luckily, Chaos Witch Quelaag is special. This beautiful woman that so happens to have the body of a spider is one of the more visually striking bosses in the game and backs her memorable looks up with a rather tricky fight that often requires assistance or a particularly strong weapon to beat. The fact that losing to her makes you trek through a portion of Blighttown again makes her especially cruel.
23. Gwyn, Lord of Cinder (Dark Souls)
Oh, Gwyn. Opinions will always be divided as it concerns Gwyn.
While Gwyn can be beaten fairly easily using your parry ability, it’s important to consider that the parry maneuver itself isn’t that easy to pull off and that the fight is set-up incredibly well. The atmosphere of this fight is an oddly peaceful one that only adds to the classic sword fight nature of this encounter. Gwyn can certainly destroy the unprepared player, but even if you manage to defeat him with relative ease, this is one final fight that nails the feel of an epic encounter.
22. Seath the Scaleless (Dark Souls)
Few bosses in Dark Souls have as interesting a story as Seath does. Born an albino dragon without scales, Seath betrayed his fellow dragons and was granted immortality that he would have otherwise never enjoyed without his scales.
The first time you meet Seath, he cannot be killed. The next time you meet him, you must destroy his source of health regeneration before engaging with this dragon in a tight area that makes his already powerful area attacks all the more devastating. Seath was the facilitator of a great many events in Dark Souls lore and toppling him feels significant because of that.
21. Sinh, the Slumbering Dragon (Dark Souls II)
At the risk of spoilers for those who have not already figured it out, Sinh is the final dragon on this boss list and therefore my favorite dragon in the franchise.
The reasons why are numerous, but ultimately boil down to the way that Sinh encapsulates the best parts of other dragons throughout these games. He fights like a dragon, he’s tough like a dragon should be tough (seriously, Sinh will straight up destroy you with ease), and his background and position as an end-boss are both worthy of the mystique these creatures carry. He’s everything you want a dragon boss to be.
20. Asylum Demon (Dark Souls)
I mentioned earlier that being the first boss in one of these games is one of the toughest jobs in the Souls universe. It’s a position made all the more difficult by the fact that all first bosses will have to be compared to Asylum Demon.
Asylum Demon asks a lot out of Dark Souls players early on. You’ve barely had time to discover how the game works by the time you face him. Yet, the difficulty of this boss is so perfectly balanced as to force the player to engage in a trial by fire without completely burning them to the point of never wanting to play again. He is the perfect introduction to one of the greatest games ever.
19. Smelter Demon (Dark Souls II)
There is a legitimate argument to be made that Smelter Demon is the most difficult Souls boss ever designed. His attacks are capable of covering nearly the entirety of the arena you fight him in, leaving you with very little options in terms of escape. Twice during the encounter he is able to increase his already notable defense and strength skills to the point where you begin to wonder if he is actually broken. A single mistake can cost you everything. Perfection is the only way past this optional monster.
18. Sir Alonne (Dark Souls II)
I love the idea of a samurai in the Dark Souls universe, and that’s exactly what this boss is. Decked out in samurai armor and wielding a samurai sword, you encounter Sir Allone in a cathedral-like setting at dawn (or perhaps dusk) atop a mirrored tile floor.
Everything about this fight just feels so right from a presentation perspective. Of course, it should be noted that Sir Alonne is incredibly difficult. Though not cheap by any means, you could easily go into this fight with two companions and have a tough time beating this warrior.
17. Slave Knight Gael (Dark Souls III)
Considering that Slave Knight Gael is a fan favorite boss, and arguably the final boss of the Dark Souls series, his ranking might be questioned by a great many Souls fans. However, there are just a couple of bosses that improve upon what makes the Slave Knight fight so great.
Still, in terms of what is asked of the player, this is as good as final bosses get. Slave Knight is a relentless foe whose multiple phases somehow only expand the boss’s already imposing power level. He’s theoretically interesting, his arena is fantastically designed, and Slave Knight’s animation is some of the best of any Souls boss.
16. Lorian, Elder Prince & Lothric, Younger Prince
Lothric, Younger Prince and Lorian, Elder Prince, more commonly known as the Twin Princes, join forces to offer one of Dark Souls 3’s most memorable battles. This multi-boss fight also offers some of the best visual storytelling in the game.
There’s a certain tragedy that accompanies the image of Lorian crawling on his knees, even if he is still more than capable of defending himself. Once Lothric joins the fight by riding on Lorian’s back and contributes his bag of tricks, this fight instantly becomes one of the most challenging and intriguing of any Souls game. It’s an emotional experience that is bolstered by some excellent music.
15. The Pursuer (Dark Souls II)
The easiest way to describe The Pursuer is that he’s the Nemesis of the Dark Souls universe. Much like Resident Evil 3’s resident stalker, The Pursuer can be encountered several times during Dark Souls II. Although his glowing red eyes, floaty movements, and intimidating stature may never fail to impress, you’ll begin to dread these encounters as this boss is no joke to fight. The fear of when you might encounter The Pursuer next elevates him above more prominent foes.
14. Maiden Astraea (Demon’s Souls)
There is no boss like Maiden Astraea in the entirety of this franchise or in all of gaming. Maiden Astraea isn’t a boss in the traditional sense. She doesn’t attack you and in fact admonishes you for trying to kill her. The only real challenge in this fight is a fairly tough, lone guardian knight. The maiden herself can be killed in a few hits. But the way that this fight makes you question the nature of your actions as well as the position of this potentially innocent character also makes it a lone voice of morality in the Dark Souls universe.
13. Looking Glass Knight (Dark Souls II)
Not every Souls fight has to present itself as epic in order to be epic. Yet, there is something to be said for fights that feel like something special before the battle even begins.
Such is the case with Looking Glass Knight. Atop a crumbling stone summit in the midst of a lightning storm, you fight this giant, metal knight and his mirrored shield. The reflection of the lightning off of the knight’s armor as well as his ability to make dark minions emerge from his shield make this one of the more visually pleasing fights in the series and goes to show that not every great Souls fight needs to make you want to tear your hair out.
12. Sister Friede & Father Ariandel (Dark Souls III)
It’s honestly a coin flip between this boss and the final Dark Souls 3 boss on this list. While there is one Dark Souls 3 boss I like slightly better, this is still one of the best-designed boss fights in Souls history.
Sister Friede and her incredibly scary companion Father Ariandel will test the best Dark Souls 3 players in a way that few other bosses in the game do. Each phase of this three-phase fight is vastly different, thematically amazing, and build off each other in ways both subtle and grand. Defeating Friede’s final form is a true badge of honor.
11. Bell Gargoyles (Dark Souls)
Given that many fans of this series got their first taste of these games courtesy of Dark Souls, the Bell Gargoyles have a special place in many gamers hearts as the first time they felt they had accomplished something impossible.
The first Bell Gargoyle you must fight is tough enough, but by the time that the second joins the battle, you will swear that you have been given an impossible fight to win. Slowly, though, you begin to get closer and closer to victory and realize that you can do this. When that victory blow finally occurs and you get to ring that bell that you know will echo into other worlds, the feeling is indescribable.
10. Flamelurker (Demon’s Souls)
Given that I’d like to elaborate on these final ten picks a little more, I almost moved Flamelurker out of the top 10 considering that the words I have to say about it may not be fit to print.
Nevertheless, you can’t talk about the greatest bosses in these games without including the Demon’s Souls boss that made nearly every single player regret their purchase at least somewhat. Flamelurker is as close as From Software can come to designing a simply unfair boss fight without making it actually impossible. He can close the gap on you in half of a second and the few hits he allows do little to impact his overall health.
This is a brutal, punishing fight that just so happens to make you feel like you can beat anything these games can throw at you. You’re not wrong.
9. Nameless King (Dark Souls III)
There’s a strong argument to be made for Nameless King’s title as the best boss battle in Dark Souls history. That argument won’t be made here, even if the research that went into this list left me wondering if he is perhaps worthy of that honor.
Here’s what I will say about Nameless King. In a series that doesn’t often dip its toes into the waters of traditional grandeur, the idea of an ancient dragon slayer riding his tamed dragon companion amongst his kingdom in the clouds is about as beautiful as a Souls fight gets.
While Nameless King is also a very challenging boss fight, it’s the ways that this fight challenges you that make it so special. Nameless King’s ability to swiftly strike with devastating AOE attacks will leave you wondering if you’ve somehow stumbled into a truly impossible situation. You haven’t, but beating this boss does make you feel as great as any victory in any Souls game.
8. Storm King (Demon’s Souls)
Storm King is not a difficult fight. It always feels necessary to get that out of the way before praising a Souls boss, given that the easier boss fights tend to hold a less than favorable position among many.
The thing about the Storm King, though, is that it is anything but forgettable. The Storm King itself is a giant flying manta ray surrounded by a small army of manta rays. Though they may seem largely invulnerable to attack – or even impossible to attack at first, you’ll find that what you need to do is grab a special sword in this area that allows you to successfully damage your enemies with powerful ranged strikes.
The concept of a boss specific weapon is a fascinating one, and combined with the aerial army you must take down, helps to ensure that this fight is one that you will never forget long after that frustrating generic beast has left your mind.
7. Four Kings (Dark Souls)
The Four Kings were the rulers of New Londo before they succumbed to an evil power. Now they rule over the ruins of a formerly great kingdom and have taken a ghostly form that barely resembles their former selves.
The mechanics of this fight are interesting. Taking place in the almost total darkness of the abyss, you really don’t have a sense of location or scale to work with. Furthermore, the Four Kings share a health bar and – based on how you deal damage – can appear all at once or not at all. All of this makes for a confusing fight that easily overwhelms players who are trying to adjust to a battle that none other has quite prepared them for.
What really makes this fight special, though, is how it scales. No other fight in the game scales in difficulty on subsequent playthroughs quite like this one, giving it a special place in the hearts of many hardcore Dark Souls players.
6. Lost Sinner (Dark Souls II)
Had the Lost Sinner not had a special mechanic, I believe she would still be ranked high. She’s not only pretty awesome looking but so happens to be one of the most accomplished swordsmen in a series with no shortage of them.
But again, the Lost Sinner’s mechanic does certainly elevate it. See, if you fight Lost Sinner before fighting the Belfry Gargoyles, you will have to do so in the dark. This not only makes tracking the boss difficult, but it also makes locking on impossible. If, however, you beat the Belfry Gargoyles first, then you will receive an item that lets you light the room and make the fight a little more manageable.
This is a fascinating twist on the on the Metroidvania style of gameplay. Here your progress isn’t directly impeded by choosing one path before another, but rather indirectly so as to encourage you to explore the game further for a better option.
5. Old Monk (Demon’s Souls)
Did your friend’s ever play that trick on you when you were younger where they used the second NES controller to move the ducks in Duck Hunt just out of your reach? The Old Monk is a modern take on that concept.
See, Old Monk is just a vessel. When you enter the arena, another player is summoned to take over as the old boss and attempt to kill you. Your fight against him, then, is actually a PvP fight. Depending on the player that inhabits the vessel, this fight can be quite challenging. At the same time, getting to play as The Old Monk yourself can be a particularly rewarding experience if you get to take out the frustrations you endured against the next player in line.
The unique nature of this fight means that it doesn’t always work as intended, but it’s such an incredibly innovative concept that to not remember it as a truly great moment in game design would be a crime.
4. Sif, the Great Grey Wolf (Dark Souls)
Sif is the loyal companion of Artorias the Abysswalker who died long ago. This great wolf guards the grave of its former master and even holds Artorias’ greatsword in its mouth during this battle.
Even if you don’t know this going into the fight, there is a tragedy to this encounter that cannot be ignored. Sif may be a truly challenging boss, but due to the beauty of the wolf’s design and the excellent aesthetic qualities of the battleground, you do feel that striking down this great wolf is somehow wrong. It doesn’t help that Sif starts to visibly limp and suffer when it gets low on health
Elements of character and lore have turned otherwise decent fights into memorable ones, and this is a truly great fight that becomes special when you consider those aspects. It’s impossible to forget.
3. Knight Artorias The Abysswalker (Dark Souls)
Sif may be an excellent guardian, but it is nothing compared to its master. This is one of the greatest characters in the entirety of franchise mythology. This is Knight Artorias the Abysswalker.
Knight Artorias was either an incredible hero or a tremendous villain depending on your time and perspective. What was never denied was his prowess as a warrior, which will be made abundantly clear as you try to tangle with this expert of sword and shield. Implemented as part of the Dark Souls additional content, Knight Artorias was designed to tax even the most capable of players and does so with seeming ease.
Given the incredible amount of lore surrounding this character, you would think that it would be impossible for this fight to lie up to expectations. It doesn’t. It exceeds them triumphantly.
2. Tower Knight (Demon’s Souls)
Tower Knight is special to the franchise if you played these games in order of release. He was the boss that invoked the greatest feeling a boss in these games can invoke. The feeling of helplessness. The feeling of “What now?”
This incredible giant wields a spear and shield that is nearly as large as he is. Even better, he is flanked by archers that are able to take you down before the Knight ever gets a chance. Beating him is a multi-step process, but there is no real gimmick or trick to this fight. For sure you will need to accomplish certain goals before the boss can be toppled, but the brilliance here is that the game manages to present you with a series of seemingly insurmountable obstacles and forces you to deal with them one by one.
Yet, the really special aspect of this fight is the daunting scale of the Knight itself. This design has been copied many times, but no other hulking giant has ever inspired as much well-deserved fear as this Souls standout.
1. Dragon Slayer Ornstein & Executioner Smough (Dark Souls)
In a way, it feels unimaginative to name Dragon Slayer Ornstein and Executioner Smough the greatest boss fight. Doing so is tired, a little boring, and even a cliche. It’s like saying that Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all-time.
But do you know why people say that? Because it’s true. Ornstein and Smough are two bosses designed to perfectly complement each other while being individually intimidating. The fight against them comes after you’ve made it through one of the game’s toughest areas and the battle takes place in a majestic cathedral setting. These bosses are designed to be able to kill you from a million different angles and will have done so many times over before you finally beat them.
At the start of this list, I said that ultimately these decisions come down to a feeling. While I was speaking abstractly – as I’m fond of doing – here I mean a very literal, very specific feeling. The feeling of finally toppling Ornstein & Smough is unmatched in the entirety of the franchise. Their greatness is a universal acknowledgment that may never be topped or equaled.
Matthew Byrd is a staff writer for Den of Geek. He spends most of his days trying to pitch deep-dive analytical pieces about Killer Klowns From Outer Space to an increasingly perturbed series of editors. You can read more of his work here or find him on Twitter at @SilverTuna014.