By Andrew Baillargeon and Michael ”Mango” Givigliano
InReview Gaming Editor and Special to InReview
Andrew Baillargeon: From Software has been particularly active since the late 2000s up until now. They started with Demon’s Souls, went through the Dark Souls Trilogy, Bloodborne, then Elden Ring. They also went through a few of them in the process and refurbished them.
Over that time, the company has developed hundreds, if not thousands of hours of content between map design, combat design, the story and, of course, the bread-and-butter: boss fight design. These games have been renowned over the years for their difficulty. Typically, the big bad awaiting the player at the end of a given level is the main source of that challenge.
Today’s piece, as well as pieces in the future complementing this one, will seek to rate every single boss fight ever found in the aforementioned From Software games. It will not include anything from Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. A judgment system has been designed for these boss fights that will try to judge them as objectively as possible.
Every boss will be “graded” on the following three attributes:
Difficulty- 20 points. This won’t throw everything in a vacuum and rate how hard or easy everything is, it will instead ask “how easy was this for an average skilled player playing through the game at a ‘normal’ level, without other players, using what the game gives them?” For example, nobody would really argue that a tutorial boss would be harder than a boss fought in the middle of the game- but if that midgame boss was made out to be pathetically easy for the average player, it would get a lesser rating than the tutorial boss would.
Lore- 30 points. From Software games have notoriously been ambiguous on how they choose to tell their story. Having said that, there are boss fights which do have a tendency to either add into the game’s lore or play off of it. This category will be for how impactful a particular encounter was at doing exactly that. If the player has to go through a hundred Google searches to get anything of narrative meaning out of one fight, it will get less points than if the fight’s narrative meaning was immediately clear with very little, if any, third party assistance needed to interpret it.
Fun- 50 points. At the end of the day, video games in general need to be entertaining for them to be a part of our free time, since the vast majority of gamers do it as a hobby, not as a job or source of income. If a boss is an absolute drag to fight because it’s too tedious, too slow (or even fast) paced or is a simply regular or underwhelming experience, it will lose points in this category. Obviously “fun” is a very subjective concept, meaning this category will give up the most objectivity of the three.
With that out of the way, it’s worth clarifying that these fights are all being judged from the perspective of someone who plays through them without a fellow gamer playing with them at any point of that particular playthrough. As such, if a particular item can only be obtained in the late game and we’re talking about an early game boss, we will assume that the player has no way of accessing that item, so it won’t be factored into judging that particular encounter. Additionally, the existence of NPC summons will be taken into account, assuming the player would use them if it’s a good idea, or go without them if the particular NPC summon wasn’t a good idea to include for that fight.
Joining me for these rankings will be longtime Soulsborne player Michael ”Mango” Givigliano. Givigliano has several years of experience with these games, including solo playthroughs of every game, ”Soul Level 1” challenge runs and is an expert in player-versus-player combat. The list will be created and ordered by me, and Givigliano will be providing his own ratings and commentary on each one that will not necessarily be in agreement with my rankings.
Now, with that all out of the way, let’s begin! Today’s piece will specifically begin with the bottom of the barrel: numbers 199 through 190!
199. Demon Firesage (Dark Souls 1)
Andrew: One of just two boss fights to get a complete zero for a rating, Demon Firesage is the epitomization of everything wrong with the second half experience of Dark Souls 1. It’s a lazy reskin of a lazy reskin of the tutorial boss, found deep in the Demon Ruins.
In terms of challenge, forget about it. As a reskin of the tutorial boss, this encounter is not even slightly mechanically challenging. If you aren’t going into it grossly under leveled, you could probably fall asleep and win this fight easily. It’s even more of a bore if you have a shield with good physical absorption.
Lore wise, this fight couldn’t offer less than it does. It’s an optional boss fight that clearly had no real thought put into how it impacted the game around the player.
In terms of fun- if you like having a big punching bag for a boss fight that’s very passive and lacking any serious threat, this fight will be for you. Of course, nobody plays Dark Souls so they can get that- you typically prefer your target to actually credibly threaten a kill or at least good damage if you make a mistake.
Michael ”Mango” Givigliano: This is a fairly easy boss that even a newer player shouldn’t have any trouble with. It doesn’t have much lore behind it. It is fun to beat up giant demons with whatever you pick up. I gave this a 10/20 for difficulty, 5/30 for lore and a 20/50 for fun (total of 35)
198. Red Dragon (Demon’s Souls)
Andrew: Step 1: Get yourself atop the castle building where you fight Tower Knight, just before entering the boss fog door.
Step 2: Equip your bow and arrow or crossbow
Step 3: Spend fifteen minutes standing there doing nothing but shooting this dragon every 30 seconds it flies into your view
That’s this fight in a nutshell. It’s difficult to even really call it much of a fight, because the Red Dragon won’t ever actually fight your character back from where you’re positioned.
As far as challenge goes, there is simply nothing challenging about standing still and shooting something every once in awhile. A character at level 1 could do that, as could a character at the maximum level.
As far as fun goes, who wants to spend time in a live action video game of any sort standing still and doing nothing? The fight doesn’t even seriously reward the player for winning. As a result, the vast majority of players won’t even bother and are content to just let this dragon go.
Mango: I’d rate this a 15 in difficulty, it isn’t a very easy thing to kill especially at the level you first see it at. As far as lore goes, I would give it a 5 as this boss doesn’t have much lore behind it. As far as fun goes, I’d give this fight a 10. It’s quite unremarkable.
197. Bed of Chaos (Dark Souls 1)
Andrew: It’s probably pretty surprising finding two boss fights which were somehow more poorly constructed than this one. The Bed of Chaos is infamously known as one of the worst boss fights From Software developed. The reason for this reputation is the dynamic in fighting it: this is basically a platformer fight, where the only way the Bed of Chaos will ever kill the player is by knocking them off the battleground and causing them to fall to their doom. Unfortunately, while this would’ve probably worked just fine in a game like Super Mario 64, Dark Souls is absolutely not a game about platforming. The first iteration in particular has the clunkiest movement bar Demon’s Souls of any From Software game. As a result, it just doesn’t work.
As far as lore goes, the only even remotely redeeming part about this boss, the Bed of Chaos is essentially the Witch of Izalith, a rebellious woman who tried but failed to link the First Flame, the central goal for the protagonist here. So that’s pretty cool, though in that case, it’s not entirely clear why we’re fighting her since our goals are quite literally the exact same thing. Is it perhaps the player has to basically kill her brother (Ceaseless Discharge) on the way here?
As far as fun goes, you can forget it. There is nothing fun about the game abusing a mechanic against the player in a way the game does not allow them to play around. You win this fight because you get lucky. It doesn’t require any skill; anything the player is meant to hit or smash breaks or dies in one single hit, including the Bed of Chaos when the player is in position to finally damage it.
Mango: In terms of difficulty, this one gets a full 20 for being one of the most difficult and clunky bosses as far as maneuvering the area goes. Lore gets a 20 since this is a narratively important fight due to the Bed of Chaos giving a Lord Soul when you defeat it. Because of how notoriously annoying this fight is, I was only able to give it a 5 for fun.
196. The Brainsucker (Bloodborne)
Andrew: A good example of why the Chalice Dungeons were flawed, we have a boss fight who is a reskin of a regular enemy seen throughout the rest of the game. The Brainsucker here is only different from its brethren in its higher HP bar. It otherwise functions in the exact same way.
In terms of difficulty, you won’t be finding any here. The Brainsucker staggers easily, can be parried, and only has one incredibly telegraphed attack to watch out for. It should be noted that if it connects, the Brainsucker will steal one Insight from the player, so don’t get too complacent.
This fight doesn’t offer anything as far as lore goes. In terms of fun, it is pretty funny hitting this thing hard and listening to its weird gurgling sounds every time it gets hit. Yep, that right there is what got it one single point.
Mango: For this fight, difficulty gets a meager 5. It isn’t all too difficult as this is just a regular enemy with slightly more health. Lore gets a 5 as well for it not making much sense why they made this enemy a boss. Fun gets a 10, since it is a little bit fun fighting a regular enemy converted into a boss.
195. Stray Demon (Dark Souls 1)
Andrew: The Demon Firesage’s distant cousin. Wait, maybe they’re brothers. Or are they the same exact person? It sure is hard to tell considering that the two fight in the exact same way and are reskins of the game’s tutorial boss. What’s more- the Stray Demon’s boss fight is quite literally directly underneath where the Asylum Demon is fought. Guess the apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree, huh?
As far as difficulty goes, the Stray Demon copies the Asylum Demon’s moveset, then adds a single AoE attack where it jumps up and smashes its hammer down, causing a small explosion. That one move could throw a player off who expected a complete copy/paste from the Asylum Demon. While this isn’t enough to meaningfully distinguish the Stray Demon, or come anywhere close, it at least gives it the tiniest edges for the difficulty category here.
In terms of lore, this fight offers nothing whatsoever. As far as fun goes, it can be a neat experience to take this boss on if you’re very underlevelled. This can be done by leaving the Undead Asylum, traveling to Firelink Shrine, then simply returning to the Undead Asylum. A player in the middle of their first playthrough would not think to do this, though, and as this boss is optional anyway, it’s likely that not many would do this at all. Still, giving it one point for being an okay enough experience for a player who had to use the internet or a friend to discover it was even a thing seemed appropriate.
Mango: I want to talk about the fun aspect of this boss first- it gets a 10 as it is fun to beat up big demons. Lore gets a 10; it is interesting to theorize how a demon got to the Undead Asylum in the first place. Difficulty gets a 10 as it is not a very difficult boss. It’s movement is very predictable and even a newer player shouldn’t have a problem with this fight.
194. Soldier of Godrick (Elden Ring)
Andrew: On paper, it makes sense to assume that a brain dead tutorial boss hits home on what From Software is trying to achieve in showing the player the basics of the game. After winning this fight, the player will know what various buttons do, but that’s it- it’s a very poor teacher otherwise. Juxtaposed to other tutorial bosses- the Asylum Demon teaches the player to use their head on the fly and observe their surroundings for an advantage. Iudex Gundyr teaches the player how to observe an opponent’s telegraphed moveset and react to it with an appropriate dodge roll or usage of a shield. Bloodborne’s two tutorial bosses do a good job previewing roughly how the experience of facing a massive beast or a NPC hunter will go. Soldier of Godrick doesn’t do anything other than provide a tiny speed bump for the player, simply being a regular enemy with a slightly higher HP bar.
As far as lore goes, this boss’ name offers anything of narrative value that you might hope to get- gee, there must be a guy named Godrick and he must be important somehow. That’s it.
Mango: As far as fun goes, the Soldier of Godrick gets a 5 given how this is simply a regular enemy with slightly more health. Lore gets a 10 it’s interesting to theorize why he is in the Stranded Graveyard in the first place. Difficulty gets a 5- he is mechanically just a regular enemy with more health, so he is fairly easy to beat.
193. Ancient Wyvern (Dark Souls 3)
Andrew: In the realm of gimmick bosses, this one would have to be one of the more curious iterations From Software developed. While the Wyvern can be fought head on, the player will probably begin to notice that their attacks are doing next to no real damage. As it happens, the Wyvern has extreme damage resistances to almost everything, and there are only two ways to deal quick, significant damage to it. The first is through the use of the sorcery Pestilent Mist. The second? To call this thing’s weakness to plunging attacks to the head ’significant’ would be an understatement, as even an unarmed strike plunged onto this thing’s head will be an immediate kill. The way to achieve a position where this is possible would be to travel through a large temple to the side of the Wyvern, fighting off or evading a swath of small enemies, get into a position at the top of the temple, jump and then do the deed.
In terms of difficulty, this boss doesn’t have much going for it. The run through the temple to get into position mostly just involves a bunch of small enemies getting in the player’s way, hardly providing a speed bump. There is one larger enemy with a ball & chain weapon combo found about 2/3rds of the way, often considered to be the ’true boss’. It can be difficult to handle, but if the player is so inclined, there is little to stop them from simply running past this enemy and getting out of its detection/aggro range.
As far as lore goes, you really have to dig deep to find anything of interest here. The best we can do is use the boss’ title, specifically this Wyvern being ’Ancient’, to deduce that it must’ve been here for a long time. A boss found later in this area, the Nameless King, has the slightest of slight theoretical attachments to that duration of time, which suggests perhaps the two forged a pact of some sort to protect the area. That’s incredibly vague and possibly optimistic, so this fight gets a 1 for lore.
As far as fun goes, feeling like an action hero as you plunge your weapon into this beast’s cranium for an immediate kill is pleasurable. The cinematic value of the Wyvern wailing in agony as it dies from your swift blow is amusing. That’s about it.
Mango: Difficulty get a 15 since this boss arena is basically an entire area. There are a lot of enemies to run through to get to the spot in the temple where you can kill it. Lore gets a 15. The Archdragon Peak is essentially the land of dragons, but at this point there aren’t many dragons left in the world. How did the Ancient Wyvern survive all the dragon hunts? Fun gets a 20, for the simple reason that it is really fun to jump on a dragon and one shot it with any weapon.
192. The Mimic Tear (Elden Ring)
Andrew: Another gimmick boss, but a gimmick that’s at the very least theoretically amusing. The boss for this fight is quite literally yourself! To be specific, once the player enters the area, they’ll find nothing but a giant blob of goo in the middle of the battlefield. Upon approaching it, this blob will transform into a carbon copy of whatever the player has equipped at the time. From then on out, the player will get a reality check on how good or bad their build for the game is, and at least in theory they can see how best to approach a fight against their own build.
Unfortunately, due to the fact that we assume the player is optimizing themselves as much as reasonably possible, this fight cannot provide any real challenge. All you have to do to completely trivialize the fight is to unequip all of your weapons, let the blob transform into you, then re-equip them and go to town. The Mimic Tear can only copy the player once, so in doing this, the boss fight becomes an unarmed naked character trying to fight the same character with armor and presumably strong weapons. This is fundamentally impossible to make truly challenging, as the only time a boss tends to be particularly hard is when their overall capabilities exceed, not fall short of, the player.
In terms of lore, there isn’t any to be had of the Mimic Tear. As far as fun goes, though, watching the Mimic Tear do silly things with equipment you let them have can be hilarious. In my fight with the Mimic Tear, it randomly decided to drop three Warming Stones while I was right in its face attacking it. That type of thing is hilarious, and is why this boss gets a few points in this category.
Mango: For me, this fight gets a 15 because the boss changes depending on what build you have. If you have a strong build, the Mimic Tear is equally strong. Lore gets a 15 because the concept of a boss turning into you the player is very interesting. Fun gets a 25 because it’s funny how you could take all of your equipment off and fight the Mimic Tear like that.
191. Maneater Boar (Bloodborne)
Andrew: Lurking in the realm of regular enemies turned boss, the Maneater Boar is a highly aggressive damage sponge that can do quite a good deal of damage. Like the Brainsucker, this boss can be found in the game’s Chalice Dungeons.
An incredibly minor amount of difficulty is what this boss has going for it. A player who knows of nothing but brainlessly spamming attacks will struggle, but a perceptive, patient player who knows how to look for and react to tells will dominate. Once the Maneater Boar charges and misses with an attack, it leaves itself wide open for massive punishment, potentially backstab loops that could end up killing it right from full health in about 30 seconds.
As this boss is modeled after a regular enemy, it’s not terribly surprising that it has zero narrative value whatsoever. As well, it’s difficult to truly enjoy a glorified regular enemy as a boss fight. Traveling through an area, with all the grit and grind that entails, is done with the hopes that the closure of the experience, the boss fight, is fun and captivating. When the boss is just something rehashed, it removes that element entirely.
Mango: Difficulty gets a 10 for me; it isn’t a super hard boss, as it’s very predictable. For lore, I’ll give it a 5 for it just being a random giant boar as a boss. The fight isn’t very engaging, so for fun, I’ll give it a 10.
190. Pinwheel (Dark Souls 1)
Andrew: Poor Pinwheel, the butt of almost every Dark Souls 1 joke. The issue with Pinwheel isn’t so much it’s mechanics or how it deals damage to the player- it’s moreso that neither of those things tend to ever get seen at all since Pinwheel will end up dead in about four hits. Pinwheel’s HP stat is so embarrassingly low for a late game boss, that a fresh level 1 player from the tutorial could still kill it in about 30 seconds. For a character properly leveled for the area, the first time they see Pinwheel will probably be the last, as it should die right then and there.
Pinwheel has some vague but relatively interesting lore that keeps it from being a total waste of space in the game. Pinwheel is found deep within New Londo Ruins, isolating itself away from the rest of Lordran, because it is trying to hide apparently powerful books from Gravelord Nito. Beyond that, it isn’t clear what these books would do, why Nito would want them, and why Pinwheel dedicated itself to protecting them. Still, a connection to a major name found later in the game at least gives Pinwheel a small amount of narrative value.
Mango: Difficulty for Pinwheel gets a 5, as this is a very easy boss and nobody should have problems beating him. Lore gets a 25 due to the fact that Pinwheel drops the Rite of Kindling when defeated. This will help make an impact on the rest of the game by allowing you to better strengthen your Estus Flasks wherever you go. Fun will get a 10 as it is kinda fun but it’s just a really easy boss
Tune in next week for our bosses ranked #189-180!
Michael ”Mango” Givigliano, is a woodworker residing in the town of Alvin, Texas. He has managed to finish a ’Soul Level 1’ playthrough of Dark Souls 3, a run where Mango did not at any point spend Souls to level up his character before finishing the base game and DLC. He has also finished a ”broken-broken straightsword” play through, where he used the game’s weakest weapon with even weaker stats as a result of depleting its durability to beat the game. His favorite From Software game is Dark Souls 3, and his favorite boss fight would be against Slave Knight Gael. You can find his YouTube channel, where he occasionally uploads Elden Ring and Dark Souls 3 content, here
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