Soulsborne Boss Fight Rankings #20-11 | Column from the Editor

Today’s penultimate edition takes a look at a few truly amazing ones, all being A+ quality and even one gathering an “S” of sorts. Let’s get right into it, with #s 20-11!

20. Malenia, Blade of Miquella/Goddess of Rot (Elden Ring)

Undeniably and objectively the hardest boss in all of Soulsborne, Malenia’s mark on From Software history has been stamped in with force. Her face was plastered all over promotional artwork during pre-release hype. She is the boss of Miquella’s Haligtree, one of Elden Ring’s Demi-Gods and in possession of a Rememberance.

Difficulty for this fight is clearly quite extreme, arguably a tad too high to be reasonable. Despite the fact Malenia is very weak to Blood Loss, by far the strongest status affliction in Elden Ring, she can feel virtually unkillable at times between her devastating damage output, agility, sizable health pool, and most importantly, her self heal mechanic. Every time Malenia hits the player, she will heal for slightly more than 1,400 damage, which will most likely be more damage than the player can make up in a single hit consistently. As such, trading blows absolutely does not work here, and greed to get in just that last hit of a player’s combo must be kept in check, no questions asked. All of Malenia’s attacks deal massive damage, but none instill fear quite like one of her two signature moves, Waterfowl Dance. This long-lasting, extremely fast attack must be almost entirely, if not perfectly be dodged or it will end the fight on the spot. Her second signature move, Scarlet Aeonia, can end the fight just as fast. While it is slightly easier to dodge, it is still a move which absolutely must be dodged at all costs. A boss this purely demanding is arguably overtuned, but since it’s an entirely optional boss and it isn’t necessarily cheap per se, this is forgivable and is truly a memorable fight for it.

Supplementing Malenia’s difficulty is particularly strong lore. Malenia’s presence can be felt all over the world of Elden Ring courtesy of her actions during the Shattering of the Elden Ring. After fighting Starscourge Radahn to a stalemate, she opted to obliterate all of Caelid with Scarlet Aeonia, causing her to fall into a coma in exchange for causing irreversibly catastrophic damage in many ways to her rival in Radahn. As the player finds Malenia, it is likely she is awaiting the return of her brother, Miquella, to reinvigorate the Haligtree and ideally develop a way to remove the crippling, festering rot from her body.

Finally, Malenia’s title change between first and second phase is driven by lore. According to lore, Malenia had ‘bloomed’ previously twice and needed a third blooming to become a full fledged Goddess. She blooms once in annihilating Caelid, there’s evidence of a second blooming just in front of her boss room, and the third blooming comes when she will target the player with Scarlet Aeonia and finishes the ascension to godhood. This was a fantastic presentation that added a lot of quality tension to the fight, making Malenia a no brainer for the list’s top 25.

19. Black Dragon Kalameet (Dark Souls 1)

The first properly done dragon boss From Software ever made, Kalameet would go on to be the standard for these types of fights for years to come. He can be fought at the Royal Woods, an area just off to the side of Knight Artorias’ boss room. He is an optional DLC boss, but one no player should skip out on.

Difficulty for this fight is extremely high. Dark Souls 1 as a whole is known for harboring slower, slightly chunkier gameplay compared to the rest of the franchise. As a result, a slow moving, hard hitting boss fits perfectly. This isn’t just a generic beastlike fight though, as Kalameet has some unique tricks up his sleeve. For one, his signature curse attack doubles all damage taken by the player for quite awhile. For another, Kalameet’s ground mobility is surprisingly good and he has numerous different ranged options to harass the player with. A fairly straightforward tilt, but given the player’s lack of options relative to the rest of the franchise, it’s enough to make Kalameet arguably the hardest boss in the game.

One of the trends Kalameet would be most well known for starting stems from his size. Kalameet is noticeably smaller than the giants and other dragons From Software has thrown at the player to this point. On paper, you might assume this makes Kalameet less intimidating and less overall impressive. In actuality, this simple change was brilliant as it serves to counteract the biggest problem these fights have tended to have: the camera. Kalameet is very challenging, but if he was three or four times bigger and his head couldn’t be seen by the camera when the player is up close, it’d be more challenging but also quite cheap and unenjoyable. The player wouldn’t be able to properly identify an incoming attack and this would make Kalameet’s moveset artificially harder to deal with in a non-skillful way. Being smaller doesn’t actually reduce Kalameet’s threat in the slightest and maintains his command of the player’s respect, but it also gives the player a fair chance and gives the fight credibility. For that, this is a fantastic dragon fight that belongs this high on the list.

18. Manus, Father of the Abyss (Dark Souls 1)

Ah, remember when this list said Kalameet is arguably the hardest boss in the game? Meet one of his biggest competitors for that title. Manus is a hyper aggressive boss who serves as the final DLC boss of the game. He is unsurprisingly fought at the deepest, darkest depths of the Abyss.

Manus is hard because he brings forth something that hadn’t been seen since Demon’s Souls’ Flamelurker- pure, unrelenting aggression. As previously stated, Dark Souls 1 is a bit clunkier than other entries of the franchise, and this plays into Manus’ favor big time. He has an endless amount of multi hit combos, he can constantly throw Dark Orbs at the player, he can rain down dozens of them to surround the player in a circle which can be virtually impossible to dodge. Finally, Flamelurker in Demon’s Souls was made manageable by having a massively exploitable weakness to offset his aggression, but there is no such relief present when fighting Manus. Simply put, the player’s mechanical skill will be stressed every second of this fight to an extreme extent.

Manus’ influence on Soulsborne’s lore extends well beyond Dark Souls 1, seeping mostly into Dark Souls 2 but also creeping into Dark Souls 3 somewhat. When destroyed, Manus’ body will explode into ‘shards’ which will go on to basically turn into their own separate, malevolent entities who’d turn into their own boss fights in Dark Souls 2. The Abyss which Manus watches over had a large impact in Dark Souls 3 as well, influencing several different boss fights, most notably Aldrich, Devourer of Gods. Overall, Manus’ existence made an enormous impact on the Dark Souls Trilogy, making him a standout entry into this list.

17. Beast Clergyman/Maliketh the Black Blade (Elden Ring)

Malenia is viewed as objectively the hardest boss in the game, and Maliketh is thought of as a distant second place in similarly dominant fashion. Maliketh will jump a bit ahead of Malenia on this list because his difficulty is handled slightly more effectively in a way that will be discussed. He is the boss of Crumbling Farum Azula, and is one of the game’s few mandatory bosses at that.

Challenge for this fight is suitably extreme. The Beast Clergyman opens up, and the Clergyman himself would be enough to give the player a good fight. The Clergyman is extremely agile, has numerous fast attacks to threaten damage up close and from a distance, and he’s lacking in any serious defensive defiencies apart from a small health pool. The small healthpool was likely a balancing maneuver, as a Clergyman/Maliketh with the longevity of Malenia would have been absurd.

Things start really getting wild when Maliketh shows up. Maliketh, even more than Malenia at times, can put pressure on the player faster and more thoroughly than any fight seen in Soulsborne. Wielding Destined Death and being extremely agile, Maliketh’s attacks will all absolutely kill in two hits max, and he will be hard to nail down for the player to retaliate.

Difficulty is a bit more appropriate here juxtaposed to Malenia for two reasons. For one, Maliketh is basically Elden Ring’s Grim Reaper. He has the ability to permanently kill Gods and Demi-Gods, something only he can claim. A being like that should be really, really hard to kill. As well, Maliketh’s brutal offensive capabilities are, again, balanced by his modest healthpool. For another, this is one of the game’s last boss fights, so it should be really hard. Again, his difficulty seems fitting for someone with his background, and really isn’t overbearing or overtuned, hitting a nice sweet spot. Maliketh is an amazingly crafted boss fit for the top 25.

16. Margit the Fell Omen/Morgott the Omen King (Elden Ring)

Note: They are clearly different boss fights, but since they’re the same person and I’d graded both fights identically, it seemed appropriate to merge them together.

Whether a classic “welcome to Souls” experience found within Margit or a climactic mid game showdown at the Elden Throne, Morgott is a compelling figure narratively with very complex mechanics that make both of his personas a joy to fight.

Challenge for either fight is quite high. Margit is the poster boy for Elden Ring’s  trademark enormously long windups, as the majority of his moveset contains attacks with agonizingly long start up animations. Morgott carries bits and pieces of this, while incorporating speedier attacks, a little more range and much more mobility. Both iterations also have the capability to conjure spectral, holy versions of a few different melee weapons out of basically thin air. Margit can use a spectral Erdsteel Dagger and a Noble Slender Sword, before introducing a Giant Crusher in his second phase. Morgott gets these same weapons while adding a Tree Spear he can conjure a holy spectral version of. They can do this pretty much on a dime, which can make them very unpredictable in close quarters especially given how drastically different those weapons are from one another. The one saving Grace is that their attacks don’t deal a whole lot of damage, especially Margit’s. However, second phase Morgott can be the exception, as he can now start to use a lethal grab attack to go with slightly enhanced damage output on the rest of his moveset in general. Overall, this fight is a large hand/eye coordination stressor, forcing the player to ‘git gud’ and learn dodge timings of these boss fights.

While Margit and Morgott provide stiff opposition on the battlefield, Morgott’s overall impact on the game’s narrative is even more impactful. Morgott is the king of Leyndell. When realizing he is an Omen, a largely subjugated race of societal castaways, this is quite surprising. This is even more shocking when reading how Leyndell specifically treats Omens, simply locking them away in a sewer to rot for their lives. Even worse for Morgott, royalty born as an Omen gets it even worse, as they’re confined to a cell within the sewer, restricting their freedom even more thoroughly. In spite of this, Morgott escaped the sewer and eventually took the throne in Leyndell. He guards the Erdtree that the player strives to access in order to become Elden Lord. The reason he has an alternate identity is so he may find aspiring adventurers like ourselves, slaughter them, but so that his bloodlust wouldn’t stain his image as the king of Leyndell. This was likely also done to conceal the fact that Morgott is an Omen. It’s a bit amusing that his idea of an alternate identity changes a whopping four letters in his name, but nevertheless, Morgott has an otherwise very interesting backstory. We haven’t seen a figure who acts as a rival to the player since Dark Souls 2’s Pursuer, and this one was handled just as well, arguably even a tad better given that the fights are undoubtedly more challenging.

15. Mohg, Lord of Blood (Elden Ring)

Like Dark Souls 3’s Pontiff Sulyvahn, Mohg inherited the mantle of an objectively, truly evil character that isn’t typically seen in Soulsborne games. What Mohg has that Sulyvahn lacked is a genuinely amazing atmosphere for the fight to take place in, along with lacking a particularly exploitable weakness that makes the fight easier.

Challenge for this fight is extreme, and unless you’ve done some really specific exploring of the world’s map, specifically Altus Plateau, challenge can easily overwhelm even the most grizzled of players. Mohg is scaled for end game, meaning he does a motherlode of damage, is fairly tanky himself and has multiple phases to deal with. His unique mechanic is known as the Blood Curse. When hitting 75%, 65% and then half his health, Mohg will apply a curse to all combatants on the field. After doing it for the third time, he will raise his Mohgwyn Sacred Spear and cast a devastating Bloodboon Ritual, a guaranteed kill on even a max level character from full health unless they either rapidly chug multiple healing flasks or have a very specific Wondrous Physic active to largely negate the damage. Even if you have the latter, this will immediately transition Mohg to second phase while also healing him greatly, so the fight is still far from over. In second phase, Mohg’s attacks now all have Bloodflame, dealing even more damage and creating a constant environmental hazard to work around. To top it off, if the player or even Mohg himself suffer a Blood Loss proc, his damage output will be even further increased for a moderate period of time. Simply put, Mohg can be a brutal challenge that could potentially take a very long time for the average player to clear.

Like his fellow Demi-Gods, Mohg has quite a massive impact narratively. As his opening cinematic reveals, Mohg has kidnapped Miquella, brother Demi-God of Malenia. His motivations are really twisted. To sum it up, he wants to impregnate Miquella, to become his consort and ascend to godhood via the offspring. This is really messed up for two reasons: one being that Miquella is obviously not okay with being involved in this, being forced totally against his will, and the second being that Miquella is cursed with forever harboring the physical appearance of a child. That’s right, it’s not inaccurate in the slightest to label Mohg as a pedophile and a rapist at that. This was a pretty enormous risk on From Software’s end, crafting such a polarizingly evil character, but it worked to make him extremely hateable. This combined with his brutal difficulty simply adds to the triumph the player experiences when finally overcoming him.

Finally, Mohg’s fight is perfect because of the atmosphere. The setting is very hell-ish, as the sky is very dim, the aesthetic of the Mohgwyn Palace is very dark, with a lot of red, crimson and even some orange splattered around the area. Given Mohg’s intimidatingly demonic aesthetic and his tendency to lean on fire based attacks and this fight very much feels like fighting a major demon in Hell. This was overall the edge that propelled it on this list.

14. Dragonslayer Ornstein and Executioner Smough (Dark Souls 1)

Best boss fight in Dark Souls 1

I have been waiting for a long, long time to get to talk about this one. This is the golden standard, literally and metaphorically, of gank fights. When discussing a gank fight, you will often hear people compare it to this one, as trying to be the “next Ornstein and Smough.” The fact that this was the highest ranked Dark Souls 1 boss on this list was no mistake. Out of all the fights in the game, this one has definitely aged the least and represents a crucial part of Soulsborne history narratively to boot.

Challenge for this fight is incredibly high. Having to balance the player’s attention between two combatants with polar opposite fighting styles is incredibly hard. Smough is sluggish and easy to outmaneuver, but Ornstein can easily harass the player with his own agility and effective range. Having said that, the player could afford to be greedy and aggressive against Ornstein, as his attacks don’t do too much damage. However, if they do that, they risk getting flattened by Smough’s massive hammer, which predictably dishes out a lot of pain.

This fight was actually the first From Software ever designed to have a second phase. When Ornstein or Smough are killed, the other one regains all of their health and absorbs their fallen ally’s power, growing in size and becoming much, much stronger in the process. This fight overall boasts a very compelling second phase and provides a very fair and balanced fight that manages to be incredibly high in the process.

The narrative impact these two have cannot be understated, mainly Ornstein. Ornstein is one of four Knights of Gwyn, joining Artorias, Hawkeye Gough and Ciaran. What’s most interesting about Ornstein is what takes place with him after this fight, as there is endless speculation even to this day. As we know, Anor Londo is bright and sunny because of an illusion crafted by Dark Sun Gwyndolin. Having said that, despite seeming to have been killed, we see traces of Ornstein in Dark Souls 2 and 3- was he actually slain here, or was he also an illusion? The same can be asked about Smough, though his story arc has definitely come to an end at the very least given that we can confirm he was ultimately cannibalized by Aldrich, Devourer of Gods.

Overall, though this isn’t actually the highest ranked gank fight on this entire list, it’s definitely the most historically impactful and arguably the most memorable gank fight im From Software history. The fact it isn’t top ten has more to do with just how incredible the bosses ahead of it managed to be.

13. God-Devouring Serpent/Rykard, Lord of Blasphemy (Elden Ring)

This fight takes the spectacle and ability to use a uniquely awesome weapon seen fighting Yhorm the Giant, the voice acting and script writing of Oceiros the Consumed King, meshes them together and then makes the fight actually challenging. The result is a completely perfect amalgamation of the best of all three worlds, making this one out to be a thriller. Rykard’s “pet” of sorts, the God-Devouring Serpent, is initially fought before the big man himself shows up once it is defeated.

Challenge for this fight can be quite high. The God-Devouring Serpent isn’t too, too imposing, proving as mostly a warm up for Rykard. Rykard moves unnaturally slowly, which at first glance may seem to make him a pushover, but his tempo is so initially slow that this can easily catch a player lacking the discipline to adjust their dodge timings as drastically as this fight tends to demand. This only remains the case for a short while however, as Rykard’s signature Rancor Storm attack can quickly dial up the pressure, sending dozens of flaming skulls at the player and forcing them into a flurry of dodges to survive. Rykard’s big ticket attack, Taker’s Flames, is also a gargantuan nuke that will annihilate even max level characters, and the sluggishness of the windup animation can make it deceptively hard to dodge. Simply put, Rykard is a perfect challenge for the player.

Rykard’s second phase cutscene is incredibly grotesque yet is immaculately crafted. Voice acting performed by the esteemed Simon Gregor, a man who also appeared in the popular movie Pennywise and TV Show Doctor Who, is simply jaw droppingly perfect. Rykard’s raspy, unsettling voice perfectly suits the unnerving notion that you are looking at and listening to a man who fed himself to a giant snake and whose face formed on the creature’s body. As well, the cutscene utilizes a classic From Software strategy of using the environment to do the heavy lifting as far as storytelling goes. As Rykard rips a sword out of his dead serpent’s mouth, reveals that the sword has human remains splattered all over it, then asks the player to join hi ‘family’, the implication that he wants to murder the player and add their remains to his sword is conveyed beautifully. It’s also a really twisted concept, again exhibiting From Software’s success in taking a risk.

Finally, the fact that we finally got a spectacle fight that’s actually a challenge is award worthy all by itself. Yhorm the Giant would’ve probably ended up close to this spot on the list, but he’s a total joke. Oceiros the Consumed King has immaculate voice acting but has slightly flawed combat and isn’t too imposing. This Rykard fight, as previously stated, takes two S tier performances with well defined shortcomings, and finds a way to eliminate them. A position this high on the list makes perfect sense as such.

12. Ludwig the Accursed/Holy Blade (Bloodborne)

To this very day, anyone who has ever played Bloodborne and experienced this fight will get chills down their back just listening to the liner “Ah, you were at my side along. My mentor, my guiding moonlight.” If this list was “best second phase cinematics in Soulsborne” then this fight would be at the tippity top, no questions asked. Ludwig is just one of countless bosses to come from a DLC that reinforced the notion that From Software really knows what they’re doing with added content. He is the second boss available in Bloodborne’s Old Hunter’s DLC.

Challenge for this fight isn’t actually that high at first. Ludwig’s Accursed form is another fairly generic beastlike boss and the player should be well prepared to handle this, making it relatively straightforward. It’s possible, maybe even likely that this uninspiring beginning was intended to make the second phase even more shocking and generally awesome as second phase really turns up the heat in terms of difficulty. Ludwig will now begin to fight more like a humanoid with large size, gaining access to the Holy Moonlight Sword. He will do much more damage, have more effective range while retaining his beastlike agility.

The main value of this fight is the spectacle, which is just top notch. As Ludwig the Accursed goes down, a faint glow appears in front of his weary gaze before he delivers the epic liner mentioned in the introduction. This turns out to be the Holy Moonlight Sword. This is Bloodborne’s moniker for the Moonlight Greatsword, a weapon which has been in every single From Software game dating back to King’s Field in the early 1990s. Before DLC released, there was no indication this weapon would ever appear in Bloodborne, making its reveal out to be even more climactic. As well, this is the first time From Software would actually give the weapon to an enemy, a boss no less. This really gave them creative freedom animation wise, which just served to make contending with Ludwig’s second phase attacks all the more cinematically amazing.

As if that wasn’t enough, Ludwig is a crucially important character to the game’s narrative. While Gehrman is the first hunter, Ludwig was the first hunter representing the Healing Church. Given his association with the awful organization, yet his willingness to hunt the beasts it created, he is ethically in a very grey area, perfectly befitting a From Software game. His association with the church is likely what also contributed to him eventually declining and turning into the monster we see here. Interestingly, given that he has actual dialogue and fights like a human in second phase, it’s an instance of a beast seeming to regain its human like capabilities. This is something not seen anywhere else in the game, yet it doesn’t really have any concrete explanation. Did Ludwig regain his humanity? If so, why does he fight us? Even still, Ludwig is masterful narratively as well as on the battlefield, making his appearance here justified entirely.

11. Sir Alonne (Dark Souls 2)

As a bit of a disclaimer, I personally believe this fight to be completely perfect and lacking in any flaws whatsoever. As has been said before, the standard for boss quality has simply gotten higher, and I had to look for the absolute tiniest of things to separate bosses. Here, Sir Alonne was edged out of the top ten for a reason not even related to his fight as a tiebreaker- the horrendous run up to get the chance to fight him is a drag. It was only used as a tiebreaker however, as the fight with Alonne himself is perfect in every way. He is found within the Crown of the Iron King DLC. He is technically optional, as defeating him isn’t necessary to get the Crown of the Iron King, but he does guard one last Soul of Nadalia, so if the player wants to eventually piece together all twelve of these, they will need to come here.

Challenge for this fight is quite high, and for all the right reasons. Alonne is the absolute king of deceptive telegraphs, as he will often use dash attacks to close any significant distance the player makes on him. The speed of his dash is entirely dependent on how he holds his sword just before the dash, and the player only has a split second to identify how he is holding his sword in order to time their dodge correctly. Alonne also has a deadly grab attack that, if he lands, will significantly buff his damage output for quite a long time. He has an arsenal of standard slashing attacks to go with a jump attack as well. Finally, Alonne has the Fume Knight/Champion Gundyr classic AI that allows him to aggressively respond to player attempts to heal. Given how agile he is, this makes windows to heal even more limited than the player might be prepared for. None of what makes Alonne difficult is cheap or unreasonable in the slightest. This is a thrilling showdown where the player’s mechanical skill will be tested.

One thing this fight really nailed was atmosphere. The soundtrack is incredible and really fits the theme of an honorable one on one duel with a samurai such as Sir Alonne. The scenery is captivating too, a reflecting marble floor that has been thoroughly cleaned synergizes well with a beautiful sunset that shines in on the boss room. When approaching Sir Alonne, he is found sitting cross legged until he stands to fight the player. Interestingly, if the player manages to beat Sir Alonne without getting hit, he will perform a seppuku animation with his sword before going down. From Software did an exquisite job paying fine attention to detail with this one, really allowing Alonne to stand out.

Predictably, Alonne has a decent narrative presence. He lived far to the east of Drangleic and came to the Iron Keep when the Iron King was a very lowly lord and helped ascend his kingdom into prosperity. Eventually, Alonne left the kingdom once it was well established. The Iron King named all of his knights, most of whom Alonne himself trained, after Alonne. The King even emulated Alonne within the Smelter Demon of his vision, as the demon itself powers up after it sticks its sword in its body, resembling a seppuku. Alonne’s influence is all over the game, and paired with the amazing presentation and incredibly choreographed fight, makes this one a boss for the ages. It is indeed worth the horrible trek up to face him in every way. Had there been a bonfire right outside Alonne’s boss room, this fight would’ve probably cracked the top five.


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