This is the kind of statement that needs to be shouted from the highest rooftop and/or mountain peak, but due to an aversion to heights and hiking, I've decided to go with their modern equivalent: the Internet! So here I am, arms outstretched in my best Rocky pose, sun streaming at my back, voice trembling with raw emotion as I shout through the beard I've grown for some reason:
That's right. I beat it. Full-on, Walter White-level "I won." I've rung the bells, gathered the Lord Souls, slayed Gwyn, Lord of Cinder and did... whatever it was I was supposed to do. I don't know. Burn, I guess? I'm sure that ending is chock full of subtext, but I was a little too busy getting rocked by all manner of dragons and weirdly sexy lava spiders to figure out what the point of it all was.
So here I am, emerging from my long, harrowing journey a new (better?) man. Sure, I've got some scars. I wake up at night in a cold sweat, thinking I'm still back there in Blighttown, wondering if it's going to be the giant mosquitos that get me, the toxic water, or the framerate. I can't go near a treasure chest without thinking it's going to sprout legs and try to eat me, though I'm not sure that's something I have to worry about on a regular basis. But at least I can say I did it. At least I can look a man in the eyes and tell him I've been to Hell and back. Yeah, maybe NG+ is somewhere out there, lurking just out of sight, but I've still got stories. Stories that'll make your skin crawl. That'll make you want to call up your mother and tell you that you love her. I've got...
*I do not in any way condone violence against children. In this case, the baby serves as a metaphor for a universal conduit of impotent frustration, and my fist serves as a metaphor for my fist.
All the bosses on this list did, at some point, make me experience an incomprehensible level of rage, but the Gaping Dragon may just be one of my favorite bosses ever. While victory in Dark Souls is usually contingent on being the last man standing in a war between your head and a stubborn wall, the act of vanquishing the Gaping Dragon feels less like success through attrition and more like a white-knuckled blaze of glory. At first blush the massive vagina dentata appears too big to even scratch, and finding openings to attack usually involves a lot of sitting back and allowing your two Sun Bros to act as big, glowy diversions for the dragon's insatiable maw. But when you're standing knee-deep in acidic bile with your health perilously close to running out and you finally manage to nick the H.R. Giger nightmare to its final wheezing gasp for breath, the feeling of triumphant catharsis is unmatched. It's like the first time you slayed a dragon in Skyrim, only if you did it with your bare hands and in real life.
The Capra Demon fight is all about a lack of personal space. He's that guy on the Greyhound bus you always get stuck next to, the one who can only regale you about his meth-fueled weekend in Newark while leaning in three inches from your face. The battle starts with a ten-foot cross between Pyramid Head and a Southwestern art project bearing down on you with his two hellhounds from the back of an alleyway smaller than a recently divorced dad's studio apartment. If you try to do anything but run up the nearby set of stairs like a teenage girl that's just been told they can't go out looking like that, you will get eviscerated. The process of dashing in, getting my clock cleaned, resurrecting at the nearby bonfire, and dashing in again felt like one of those never-ending Three Stooges acts. The ones where Curly keeps rolling up his sleeves only to repeatedly get jabbed in the eyes by Moe because he has too little self-esteem to stand up for himself. At least later on in the game I got to trounce a whole pack of these guys in a more open environment, but I couldn't escape the feeling the game was patronizingly pointing out my progress. It was like having Hidetaka Miyazaki over my shoulder cooing, "Hey, look who's not curled up into a fetal position and crying anymore! I'm so proud of you, champ!"
Boss battles in Dark Souls are a lot like elaborate Punch-Out!! fights. They follow the basic gaming tenants of recognizable attack patterns that can be dodged and countered. Artorias the Abysswalker, meanwhile, is like one of those cheap pansexual nymphs you face at the end of Street Fighter games. The ones that spam the same super mega hyper combo until you're cowering in the corner waiting for the continue screen to pop back up. All of his attacks involve hurtling himself and his gigantic compensating sword directly at your face, leaving only a split-second window to stop, drop, and roll yourself to safety. Though, to be fair, when you figure out that his shadowy burst attack is actually a Super Saiyan power-up move that you can interrupt, the fight becomes manageable. But excuse me for not realizing I'm supposed to run toward him when he's about to jizz dark energy all over me.
I beat Ornstein and Smough on only my second try, but my victory was marred by the stupidest thing I've ever done in a videogame. So gather around, children, and hear tell of how I lost 90,000 souls because of idiocy as profound as it was beautiful.
It all started when I sought the last refuge of the damned by looking for help on a GameFAQ message board. Some benevolent Internet citizen recommended slinging dung pies at the ample target afforded by the merged Smough's fat ass and then just waiting things out, as if letting him succumb naturally to time and diabetes. Only I didn't realize the on-screen status bar I was filling every time I chucked a pie reflected my own blood toxicity levels until it was too late. Being all out of medicinal purple moss clumps, I was forced to finish the fight with a slowly draining health bar. I prevailed against all odds, but fearful for what unknowable danger laid ahead, I made a mad dash for the safety of the Anor Londo bonfire to staunch my wounds.
But thinking I couldn't make it all the way back, I decided instead to go for the fire at the bottom of a rotating platform at the area's halfway point. I then proceeded to waste precious seconds forgetting which way I was supposed to turn the handle to drop the platform. By the time I finally got to the fire, it was too late -- I died only a few feet away from salvation. It was like the ending of Das Boot, only with far fewer sympathetic Nazis.
But, hey, no big deal, right? All I had to do was go back and scoop up all those precious souls right where I dropped them without dying a second time. Except by lowering the platform, I had inadvertently undone the shortcut that allows you to circumvent a dangerous detour rife with opportunities for cheap deaths. So there I was, standing on the edge of an incomplete bridge, my path to redemption a few feet below me. And that's when it happened. That moment of rationalization that precedes every bad decision ever made. That hubristic mental lapse of thinking, "Y'know, I could totally make that jump."
I totally did not make that jump.
My body hit the platform with all the cat-like grace of a wheelbarrow full of hallowed cinder blocks. And as I sat there with the glow of the grayscale "YOU DIED!" screen washing over me like hot shame, I was overcome with the kind of despair reserved for bad break ups and news of The Big Bang Theory's continued success.
But my humiliation was not yet complete. When I returned to where I originally fought Ornstein and Smough, I discovered that a bonfire had only been a short elevator ride away the entire time. If I had pressed on a little further instead of trying to go back, I would have reached sanctuary instead of wasting an hour of my life with nothing to show for the whole terrible ordeal.
That's what Dark Souls does to you. It makes you seek solace in that which you know and fear that which you do not. It replaces rationality with paranoia. It changes a person, and what comes out on the other end is neither man nor beast, but a howling shade of humanity whose only recourse is to punch an infant right in the kisser.
A lot of people say Ornstein and Smough are the toughest Dark Souls bosses. Those people are wrong. Ornstein and Smough are a less edgy Laurel and Hardy compared to the grueling test of sanity that is the Four Kings fight. Ornstein and Smough are a walk on a sunset-lit beach with your honey. Four Kings are a hundred miles of razor wire and broken glass. Set on fire. Backed by an infinite loop of Tom Waits reading the complete works of Thomas Pynchon.
The rule of thumb in Dark Souls is to always try and fight enemies one on one. Even the weakest monsters can ruin your day if you let them swarm you. The game knows this, and yet it throws you into a boss battle with four One-Winged Angel wannabes at once anyway. It's the biggest slap in the face in the entire game. Even worse than a level comprised entirely of invisible walkways across a gaping crystalline ravine. Even worse than making summoning another human player as difficult as connecting to AOL circa 1994, and yet allowing enemy players to invade as easily as a politician uploads self-incriminating photos to Twitter.
The key here is to kill a King before another one appears, but it's practically impossible to off them quickly without taking a significant chunk of damage. What results is a frantic juggling act of attacking, blocking, pounding Estus Flasks, and hoping to whatever is considered a god in this unholy universe that one of them doesn't start firing their stupid heat-seeking projectiles.
I spent three hours trying to beat the Four Kings. Three. Hours. I could have watched Amour in that time and experienced a magnificent spectrum of grief and devastation, and I still would have had an hour left over to ruminate on the impossible power of love. But no, I spent it raging at a bunch of androgynous virtual spectres, which is the kind of wasted effort that would have even Buddha stomping around cold clocking toddlers.
Now it's your turn, dear reader! Share with me your tales of despair. Which Dark Souls boss gave you fits? Let us commiserate, because only by giving voice to the horrors we endured can we begin to move forward.
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