At long last, the series reaches its illustrious top 50. The high quality of these boss fights only goes up from here, so without further ado, let’s address the beginning of the list’s top 50.
50. Bloody Crow of Cainhurst (Bloodborne)
In the same way as Demon’s Souls’ Old King Doran is massively overstated, Bloody Crow of Cainhurst has similarly proven a potent challenge. He was even strong enough to have Eileen the Crow inches away from death! The player will fight him at the end of the latter’s questline.
Challenge is predictably pretty extreme. Even if overleveled, the Bloody Crow has the power – even at a distance – to end the fight in two hits. He wields the terrifyingly powerful Chikage and a Repeater Pistol with unlimited ammunition. He also has the Old Hunter’s Bone to enhance his dodging capabilities. To top it off, he may seem to only wear a leather coat without any real armor, but his skin must be quite thick because he takes hits like a champ. Over the years, niche strategies like using a Wooden Shield or trying to stall out the Chikage’s self bleed on him have eased things slightly, but only proves to show how difficult he can be to fight if such random, obscure methods are being developed in the first place.
49. Tower Knight (Demon’s Souls)
Time to bust out the nostalgia cap for this one. This is likely the first non-Phalanx boss the player will face after the game’s tutorial, so the player will still be new to the game. Knowing this, Tower Knight is a gimmick fight that tests not just the might, but the mind, of these fresh faces.
Challenge for this fight is high for newcomers, mostly because the answer to winning this fight isn’t just walking up to the knight and attacking him until he dies. There is a cutscene cinematic that will showcase the knight’s support system, consisting of about a dozen archers residing to the side, one floor higher than the player. The player is usually best off killing the archers while wading around the knight’s soul arrows. Even after clearing them out, the knight is still an imposing figure to face directly.
While Demon’s Souls did unfortunately develop a slightly negative reputation for making a lot of gimmick fights, this was definitely one of their better ones. It’s a simple gimmick that isn’t too complicated to where it would frustrate people, but it still at least asks a little more from the player than just mashing buttons. In that sense, it is perfectly positioned as an early game boss, the quintessential “welcome to Souls” type boss that every game in the series has and needs.
48. Knight Artorias (Dark Souls 1)
The average Soulsborne fan may be surprised to see such an iconic character not appear closer towards the top. Artorias is on the cover art of Dark Souls 1 and is mentioned frequently throughout the game until he is fought. The fight itself was masterful for it’s time; if this list was made in 2013, Artorias would’ve been in the top 10, maybe even 5. That said, it has aged somewhat and, though it is still a really well made fight, it doesn’t stand up to more modernized boss fights too well.
Artorias does two things that can make his fight quite difficult: he has a mechanic to greatly punish passive players, plus he has a series of attacks which punish a very common defensive maneuver (at it’s time). For the former, every 60 seconds the fight goes on, Artorias will retreat from the player and spend a moderate period of time channeling the Abyss to strengthen himself permanently. These permanent buffs can allow his power to progressively grow to the point where it overwhelms the player easily, meaning they need to close the fight out before this can happen. For the latter, all of Artorias’ attacks were meant to easily catch players who react by rolling backward, and away from the aggressor. His attacks mostly cause him to extend a sword or body part far and quick enough to catch such a roll, forcing the average player in 2013 to improvise.
Artorias’ impact on Dark Souls 1 lore is felt and seen in many different ways. His backstory is also intentionally vague in a really cool way. Basically, early game lore will depict Artorias as a total bad ass without an equal, a man who ventured into the Abyss and didn’t immediately die. That said, late game lore will show that Artorias isn’t the knight in shining armor he was depicted as, and this is where things get vague. The lore seems to somewhat imply that Artorias struck a deal with the Darkwraithes to aid him somehow. Artorias’ pet, Sif, guards a ring the player needs to enter the Abyss known as the Crest of Artorias. Combine this with the fact that Artorias’ main hand, his left arm, seems to be broken, and Sif’s refusal to allow the player to subject themselves to the same thing as Artorias suggests that he suffered quite a bit in the Abyss.
47. Maneaters (Demon’s Souls)
This right here may not be the greatest gank fight ever, but it is one of the most important ones as a From Software blueprint they would go on to follow for thirteen years across six different original games. It is a fight whose fingerprints are all over even fights which showed up in Elden Ring. It’s a simple concept: one enemy greets the player as the fight begins and, not long afterward, the second enemy shows up to present the complete package of the boss fight.
Difficulty is high for this one, mostly because there’s a lot of pressure on the player right from the start. One Maneater comes out, and the player will want to kill it quickly before the second one arrives. As well, the platform provided for fighting is overall treacherous, and falling lethally is all too easy of a way for this fight to end. Both Maneaters have the ability to fly as well as roar projectiles at the player. However, as Demon’s Souls is very primitive compared to modern Soulsborne entries, the AI behind the Maneaters can be a little bit quirky. Sometimes, for no reason at all, often when there’s only one Maneater present, it will just fly in a straight line, back and forth, for nearly a minute endlessly.
Overall, gank fights like this are wonderful ways to provide a simple, good skill check to the player. If the player is aggressive enough and has a strong build, it’s possible to kill the first Maneater before the second one can even arrive. This is excellent game design because it rewards skill by organically making the fight easier, as the player would never be at a numbers disadvantage in this way. If this fight was designed using more modern technology, it would’ve appeared higher for the sheer historical impact it has had in Soulsborne. Alas, the 2020 remake of the game did not provide this boss with the new, up to date AI it really needed, which is a shame.
46. Bell Gargoyles (Dark Souls 1)
This is basically the Maneaters, only the Bell Gargoyles don’t fly when fighting. When thinking about the impact this type of fight has made historically, the Bell Gargoyles are overall more memorable. This likely has to do with Dark Souls 1 simply being viewed as the better game between the two by most of the community, but also because the Bell Gargoyles are just slightly more polished than the Maneaters in general.
In terms of challenge, it’s very similar to the Maneaters. Likewise, this fight begins with just a single gargoyle attacking the player and getting supported by a second one 30 seconds into the fight. More experience and slightly better technology showed here, as the AI for the gargoyles is much better than the Maneaters. To give an example, if one gargoyle is attacking the player up close, the other will hang back and breathe fire. This maintains the challenge of a numbers disadvantage, but it doesn’t suffocate the player and make it impossible to get hits in without having to trade blows. At times, the gargoyles can ‘switch’ and have the passive one get in the player’s face and vice versa. This is well telegraphed and the player has ample time to mentally visualize this taking place, but again, it still keeps them at a numbers disadvantage they have to deal with.
A ‘good’ gank fight is often characterized by the two or more enemies in question synergizing well with one another. Elden Ring’s Godskin Duo fight doesn’t achieve this because the two enemies in question have been balanced to be fought solo, and are then just slapped together in the same room without much effort. Here, the Bell Gargoyles were obviously made to be fought in a group, as their AI acts in this way and wouldn’t let a coherent fight occur if there was only one gargoyle at all times. Like Maneaters, this would set a blueprint for future Soulsborne games to follow.
45. Oceiros, Consumed King (Dark Souls 3)
This fight is the absolute best in the game, maybe in all of Soulsborne, at showcasing just how effective having good script writing and a voice actor can be. The fight and lore are strong as is, but they get elevated greatly by a phenomenal voice acting job by William Houston that helped Oceiros to stand out immensely.
The fight itself isn’t too difficult, but presents unique challenges that will test the player. The way it’s presented is really cool as well. Oceiros starts off relatively sluggish and passive, slowly swinging his staff at the player, slowly casting a Pestilent Mist which is easy to dodge, and sometimes trying to jump on top of the player. If this was all the fight was, it’d be the easiest in the game. However, once Oceiros reaches about 80% of his health, he has a mental breakdown and goes absolutely ballistic. He gets down on all fours and turns into one of the fastest bosses in the game. He also wields a breath attack that inflicts Curse build up. Finally, Oceiros has an absolutely massive resistance to Magic, meaning he is actually generally viewed as the hardest boss in the game for sorcery builds.
William Houston’s stunning performance on the mic really lets both the fight and Oceiros as a character stand out, when they’d both otherwise be somewhat generic and forgettable. Oceiros’ obsession with an invisible or possibly outright dead Ocelotte tapping into his deteriorating mental state is made all the better by Houston’s performance. As well, script writing really thinks outside the box and is well done. Both of these elements lend into From Software doing what only they can do- using the environment to tell a story. Prior to this fight, the game has given nothing in terms of lore or info regarding Oceiros, so the player will know nothing about him. Why is he caressing nothing in one arm while the other swings a staff at you? Why is there a sound of baby crying being heard nearby? Better yet, who exactly is Oceiros? As it turns out, he is the former king of Lothric and the father to the Twin Princes Lorian and Lothric. He apparently had a third son somewhere along the lines whom he is much more interested in.
44. Dancer of the Boreal Valley (Dark Souls 3)
Funny enough, the Dancer is typically fought right before Oceiros in Dark Souls 3, yet appears right after him on this list. Dark Souls 3 has understandably been frequently criticized for being very linear, having very straightforward progression pathing and, as such, playthroughs will tend to consistently have an order bosses are fought in. Dancer is perhaps the one boss who breaks the mold in that regard, as she can be fought as early as being the player’s second boss, or she can be fought as late as the point where the player will have three Cinder Lord souls. While most players will tend to wait until the latter occurs, those wishing to really test their skills can embark upon the former.
As far as strictly fighting goes, Dancer is an excellent stressor of paying close attention to visual cues. All of her attacks have incredibly generous telegraphs and reaction timings, but most of them are very punishing if the player doesn’t react properly. During second phase, she has a lethal combo where she rapidly swings both of her swords in a circular arc several times which, again, can be mitigated through observing visual cues and reacting in time. As such, Dancer is a challenging boss but not for anything unfair.
Bosses across Soulsborne, perhaps excluding Elden Ring, tend to take up a ‘flowchart’ approach- if the player does this, the boss will be coded to react a certain way, and so on. This tends to force the player to weave in and out between dodging or blocking and attacking, similarly to a dance. It is therefore slightly amusing that the boss who encapsulates this concept the most is called ‘Dancer’. It’s interesting to wonder if From Software did that intentionally or not.
43. Radagon of the Golden Order/Elden Beast (Elden Ring)
Note: Though these are two very different fights, the game presents them as a package; if you beat Radagon but lose to Elden Beast, you’ll need to defeat Radagon again until you then beat Elden Beast in the same sitting. Because of this, I decided it would be best to rank the two together.
This fight is a bit unfortunate. Radagon himself alone would’ve probably cracked the top 25, but he is held back by a much less impressive display put on by the Elden Beast. As the very last boss in the massive world of Elden Ring, this was a little unfortunate. Still, the Elden Beast isn’t particularly offensive and Radagon is designed very well. The fight is definitely challenging enough to where calling it a final boss makes sense. The fight opens up with Radagon facing the player, and when he’s defeated, the boss room changes completely and Elden Beast comes out to play.
Challenge for this one is pretty massive, but perhaps not in the absolute best way. As things are, this is basically a mini gauntlet asking the player to defeat two end game bosses in one sitting. However, that’s probably the only thing that really makes it challenging, as the player may want to think twice before using too much of a limited resource, such as healing flasks or FP, on Radagon lest they not have enough to finish the job against Elden Beast. To compensate for the mini gauntlet, Radagon wasn’t given much health and is less potent than most end game bosses as a result. Still, Radagon has an impressive display of ranged holy powers, a grab attack to keep greatshield users honest and he doesn’t stagger against anything at all, making him out to be at least a competent roadblock for Elden Beast.
As for Elden Beast, this is a fight that’s mostly challenging due to From Software giving it attacks that can potentially put the player in an unwinnable, undodgeable scenario. As well, this is a massive boss arena, one of the biggest, and the Elden Beast will frequently flaunt this by moving all over the area, forcing players to have to chase it around quite a lot. Melee only players are in for a marathon, while spellcasters may have trouble actually hitting the beast as it submerges underneath the watery boss area and causes spells homing in on it to accidentally hit the ground or go veering off to the side harmlessly. There is one glaring AI oversight on From Software’s part; the Elden Beast can use its version of Elden Stars, an attack which basically demands the player use all of their stamina not rolling, but running away from the projectile. While this is happening, the beast can still target this player with attacks that mandate rolling to avoid, forcing the player to have to take damage from either Elden Stars or the beast’s other attack, unfairly punishing them for something they had zero control over.
Overall, the fight is challenging, maybe isn’t the fairest fight in the game by any stretch, but one thing it does beautifully is graphic design. The beast has several attacks which cause massive holy explosions or outbursts that are visually mesmerizing to look at. It can also use a power where it floats high, chooses a target, and spawns the Elden Ring logo around them, with it closing in on the target and exploding when it has done so. Radagon himself was given some compelling visuals, as his holy powers all look visually cool and his grab attack is simple yet amusing, showing him using one arm to pin the player to the ground as the other arm uses the Marika’s Hammer to simply beat their face in.
This fight is immaculate from a graphics standpoint, checks out on difficulty for a final boss, but has glaring errors that stop it from reaching the top 25.
42. Ebrietas, Daughter of the Cosmos (Bloodborne)
A truly demanding fight and sometimes even thought of as the base game’s hardest, Ebrietas is also a tragic tale with a compelling backstory. She is an optional boss fought in the Upper Cathedral Ward, accessed shortly after the Celestial Emissary.
Ebrietas has numerous dangerous attacks, including but absolutely not limited to gaining access to the nuke A Call Beyond that can end the fight in seconds during her second phase. While it is true that the old adage of “stick to that booty” or, remain positioned behind Ebrietas to best avoid her attacks works here, A Call Beyond can hit from anywhere, and Ebrietas has other maneuvers that can make keeping behind her hard. Most of her attacks will two shot a reasonably leveled player, and she is quite tanky. This is a very basic but honest and appreciable setup to make a challenging boss.
Ebrietas’ tale is tragic, and this is even conveyed through her boss fight. Basically, Ebrietas is a Great One, but the only Great One who seems to want to live among humans. As it happens, Ebrietas is one of a few Great Ones who was left behind in the old labyrinths. She was later discovered by the Healing Church, who used her for deeper knowledge on Blood Ministration. By the time this is done, she’s just a large, sad blob in the depths of this random cavern. She doesn’t even attack the player when they initially gets close, and will only fight back when they start attacking. Overall, we are either heartless monsters for continuing to subjugate a mistreated, unfortunate soul, or we are benevolent for putting Ebrietas out of her misery. Your call!
41. Lawrence the First Vicar (Bloodborne)
This is one of the more controversial bosses in Bloodborne and certainly for a Soulsborne DLC boss. On one hand, Lawrence starts off being a Cleric Beast reskin. He has the same moveset as the Cleric Beast, and is visually the same thing only being on fire unlike the original. This gives off a Blue Smelter Demon vibe, which would’ve been unforgivable and definitely would have had this boss closer to the bottom 50 than the top. However, Lawrence has a compelling second phase that changes things up completely. Plus, his impact on the game’s lore is incredibly high, being the literal founder of the Healing Church.
Challenge for this fight is high, and for some surprising reasons. First, Lawrence is on fire and incorporates fire into all of his attacks. This is a problem, because up until this point, the player has been shown that beasts are weak to fire. Lawrence is certainly not, so the player will have to change tactics here. To add to that, Lawrence has by far the most HP out of any boss in the game, and the fight takes place in a fairly small area where the player doesn’t get much room to breathe.
As the founder of the Healing Church, one could competently argue that all of the horrible things going on in Yharnam and across Bloodborne in general can be at least somewhat blamed on Lawrence. Additionally, it is somewhat amusing seeing Lawrence get some type of karmic justice, as he turned into a beast directly due to unethically performing experiments on people to try and weaponize the scourge of beasts. As well, in transitioning to second phase, we see a classic From Software instance of Lawrencing ripping off his legs and somehow getting stronger for doing it.
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