You know how people often say that they get an unparalleled amount of enjoyment out of "curling up with a good book?" Well, that's how I feel when I curl up with a good videogame. It's rare that something connects with me on an emotional level in practically any medium built for entertainment, but when it hits, it's powerful.
For me, that feeling often materializes in the form of a boss fight, whether it's the final emotional encounter in Metal Gear Sold 4, or running for your life from Resident Evil's unrelenting and terrifying Tyrant. It's these moments that can define a game, and often, they're the ones I recall the most fondly when thinking about them.
So without further ado, here is one of my most memorable boss fights in the last decade of my gaming career.
Dark Souls is a game about survival, pure and simple, and I love it to death for that. You're dropped into an open world with no sense of direction and told to make your way to an ambiguous "end goal," in a hellish world where everything is out to get you. Since I was playing the game by myself a week before release, I was completely alone -- both in and out of the game -- with no other players to help me, or any strategy guides to tell me what to do. Despite the fact that online play is a huge part of the experience, it's probably my favorite way to play a Souls game the first time through, and I'm looking forward to that isolated experience in Dark Souls II.
But even with my lone wolf level of satisfaction, not everything was smooth sailing. Specifically, my most trying moment came at a part of the game that took me complete off guard. You see, I actually thought Dark Souls was close to ending after I had conquered the maddening maze of Sen's Fortress, and defeated the innocuous Iron Golem -- but it was only just beginning.
I was immediately transported to Anor Londo -- one of the most treacherous parts of the game -- but also one of the most beautiful areas I've ever seen in a game. This sprawling demonic city is a sight to behold, and I was immediately taken aback, unaware of its subterfuge. But of course that innocent honeymoon period wouldn't last, as I walked through the palace's giant boss door for the first time.
I wasn't ready for what was behind it.
Ornstein & Smough are the two fellows in the image above. While they don't look particularly menacing, the kicker is that you have to fight them both at the exact same time -- wait, what?! Since both of them have completely different tactics, they can catch you off guard if you aren't keeping them in your field of vision on a constant basis. Ornstein is a lancer, and he has a lunging move that can reach across the entire screen if you're not careful. Smough on the other hand is predictable slow, but so easy to get caught up in avoiding one, that you completely ignore the other. If that happens, it usually spells instant death in the form of an epic butt smash from the gentle giant Smough.
Naturally due to his lack of mobility (and my innate hatred of butt smashing), Smough seemed like a perfect target, so after a handful of deaths I went after him first. I thought I was home free, with the ability to gradually whittle down Ornstein, and almost popped a bottle of spirits to celebrate (seriously). But it wasn't meant to be, as Ornstein actually absorbed his fallen foe's life force, went super saiyan, grew three sizes to tall (Grinch style), and wrecked my shit. I was completely taken aback, and quickly perished.
So, I went back to the drawing board, got my equipment in order, and went back in.
10 or 15 more drawing boards later, I finally decided to take out Ornstein first, in which case I eventually bested Smough after a lengthy, cautious, and soul draining encounter. I threw down my enemy (and my controller) and smote his ruin upon the castle floor. I had finally won. It was intense, and went out and celebrated a bit with my wife before I got back to the game.
Then I went back into the game, completely alone. Just the way I wanted it to be.
One of the greatest aspects of the Souls series is the fact that everyone I know has a completely different experience with the game. Many people have told me that Ornstein & Smough were actually one of the easier encounters for them, and some of the bosses I thought were a joke were the challenging ones.
Almost every encounter in the game is memorable, and I'm not just talking about boss fights. "That one asshole skeleton hidden in the corner," or "that one toad that cursed my health bar into a a shadow of its former self," are all things I can recall from various playthroughs of Dark Souls. Even on my third adventure I was hearing completely different stories from some of my friends who had started playing -- things I had never experienced.
To me, that's a sign of great design. If you can account for so much variation in your game to the point where everyone is encountering something different, you're creating stories that will last a lifetime. With many modern games, an emphasis is placed on forgettable experiences that are "one and done" affairs. In other words, it's easy to play them one day, and completely forget everything they stood for in a week.
But not the Souls series. I'll never forget practically every facet and area of that game and the experiences I had both alone, and with friends. Heck, even the recent Dark Souls II beta areas are still burned in my mind. It's crazy to think that over two decades later, I can recall the maps of all of my favorite NES games, as well as distinct story details and characters -- and in two more decades, I'll no doubt remember my time with the Souls series.
If you haven't played a Souls game yet, please do so, as you're really missing out on a great piece of gaming history. Go on, forge your own memories, and oh yeah -- prepare to die.
The Memory Card Save Files
.01: The return of Baby Metroid (Super Metroid)
.02: Palom and Porom's noble sacrifice (Final Fantasy IV)
.03: The encounter with Psycho Mantis (Metal Gear Solid)
.04: The heir of Daventry (King's Quest III: To Heir is Human)
.05: Pey'j is captured (Beyond Good & Evil)
.06: The Opera House (Final Fantasy VI)
.07: Attack of the zombie dog! (Resident Evil)
.08: A twist on a classic (Metroid: Zero Mission)
.09: A Christmas gift (Elite Beat Agents)
.10: To the moon, Mario! (Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island)
.11: The Solitary Island (Final Fantasy VI)
.12: Wander's brave friend (Shadow of the Colossus)
.13: The submerged letter (StarTropics)
.14: The legend of Tetra (The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker)
.15: Snake pulls the trigger (Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater)
.16: Riding under the missiles (Contra III: The Alien Wars)
.17: Hover bike madness! (Battletoads)
.18: Syldra's final cry (Final Fantasy V)
.19: Death by ... grappling beam? (Super Metroid)
.20: The message in the glass (BioShock)
.21: Crono's final act (Chrono Trigger)
.22: Ganon's tower (The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time)
.23: It was all a dream? (Super Mario Bros. 2)
.24: The assimilation of Kerrigan (StarCraft)
.25: A McCloud family reunion (Star Fox 64)
.26: The return of Rydia (Final Fantasy IV)
.27: The battle with the Hydra (God of War)
.28: Fight for Marian's love! (Double Dragon)
.29: The Hunter attacks (Half-Life 2: Episode 2)
.30: The Phantom Train (Final Fantasy VI)
.31: The end of The End (Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater)
.32: In Tentacle We Trust (Day of the Tentacle)
.33: Peach dances with TEC (Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door)
.34: Learning to wall jump (Super Metroid)
.35: A leap of faith (Ico)
.36: The Master Sword (The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past)
.37: Thinking outside the DS (Hotel Dusk: Room 215)
.38: Running outside the castle (Super Mario 64)
.39: Del Lago! (Resident Evil 4)
.40: In memoriam (Lost Odyssey)
.41: The tadpole prince (Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars)
.42: Pyramid Head! (Silent Hill 2)
.43: Waiting for Shadow (Final Fantasy VI)
.44: Solid vs. Liquid (Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots)
.45: The birth of the cutscene (Ninja Gaiden)
.46: Insult swordfighting (The Secret of Monkey Island)
.47: A castle stuck in time (The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker)
.48: 'That's the magic flute!' (The Wizard)
.49: Saving Santa (Secret of Mana)
.50: A shocking loss (Half-Life 2: Episode Two)
.51: The flying cow (Earthworm Jim)
.52: Blind the Thief (The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past)
.53: The nuclear blast (Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare)
.54: Microwaving the hamster (Maniac Mansion)
.55: The fate of Lucca's mother (Chrono Trigger)
.56: A fiery demise? (Portal)
.57: Jade's moment of silence (Beyond Good & Evil)
.58: The Great Mighty Poo (Conker's Bad Fur Day)
.59: With knowledge comes nudity (Leisure Suit Larry III)
.60: Flint's rage (Mother 3)
.61: The dream of the Wind Fish (The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening)
.62: Leaving Midgar (Final Fantasy VII)
.63: Auf Wiedersehen! (Bionic Commando)
.64: Death and The Sorrow (Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater)
.65: A glimpse into the future (Space Quest: The Sarien Encounter)
.66: Taloon the merchant (Dragon Quest IV)
.67: Scaling the waterfall (Contra)
.68: Anton's love story (Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box)
.69: TKO! BJ! LOL! (Ring King)
.70: Giant robot fish! (Mega Man 2)
.71: The rotating room (Super Castlevania IV)
.72: The collapsing building (Uncharted 2: Among Thieves)
.73: Death by funnel (Phantasmagoria)
.74: Crono's trial (Chrono Trigger)
.75: The blind fighting the blind (God of War II)
.76: Brotherly love (Mother 3)
.77: Prince Froggy (Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island)
.78: The statue of a hero (Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride)
.79: Inside the worm (Gears of War 2)
.80: The return to Shadow Moses (Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots)
.81: A prayer for Ness (EarthBound)
.82: Yuna's empty embrace (Final Fantasy X)
.83: Blast Processing! (Sonic the Hedgehog)
.84: A royal assist (The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker)
.85: You have chosen ... wisely (Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis)
.86: Death is final (Fire Emblem)
.87: A Snake in a microwave (Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots)
.88: The mark of a THIEF (The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening)
.89: MEAT 'SPLOSION! ('Splosion Man)
.90: In her father's Shadow (Final Fantasy VI)
.91: A sniper rifle and a telephone (Grand Theft Auto IV)
.92: Sacrificing Yoshi (Super Mario World)
.93: Language barrier (Uncharted 2: Among Thieves)
.94: Death is impossible (Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge)
.95: The jeep chase (Metal Gear Solid)
.96: Farewell, Klonoa (Klonoa: Door to Phantomile)
.97: Geography lesson (Little King's Story)
.98: Killing Medusa (Final Fantasy Adventure)
.99: The Marston legacy (Red Dead Redemption)
.100: Where it all began...
.101: Ornstein & Smough (Dark Souls)
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