By Mento 12 Comments
Greetings, all Curse Bearers and Bear Cursors, to the final part of Dark Souls II: Bosswatch: a tour guide to the bosses of Dark Souls II as delivered by a tiny, bitter man wearing Jester gear who should've either stuck with a Dex or Str build instead of half-and-halfing it like a scrub. It's been quite the journey so far: when I last left you, I had just taken down the Looking Glass Knight of Dranglaic Castle and was preparing to bash out the rest of the game when Go! Go! GOTY! happened. Now that I have my free time back, I speared and sliced my way through to the game's conclusion. Was I whelmed? Or decidedly un- so? Is that even a sentence? If a rhetorical question falls in the woods, does it land on my character mere feet away from the next bonfire?
As before, there are spoilers here aplenty, now in new "end game boss" flavor. Don't read if you want Dark Souls II's many foes to be a surprise to you (but man, you might be barking up the wrong ancient tree full of elderly firekeepers if surprises are what you're after).
Royal Rat Authority
I must've missed this guy when going through the Doors of Pharros the first time. I actually didn't realize there was more to this area until the game mysteriously hinted at all the missing bonfire locations after talking to Nashandra in Dranglaic, presumably this game's equivalent to Dark Souls's Princess Boob Window herself, Gwynevere. Most were behind illusionary doors before boss fights I'd already done (that'll teach me to be thorough), but this one in particular was a whole new section of Doors of Pharros with a boss at the end. And oh man, what a boss. The Royal Rat Authority is essentially the Great Wolf Sif battle, only you aren't hesitating to strike the final blow from pangs of regret and sympathy for your enormous canine foe. There's absolutely nothing likable about this enormous rat-like mongrel, nor how its gang of smaller rat-dogs can quickly give you the Toxic condition before the big one deigns to drop in and kill you in two swipes.
There's a very specific strategy here, one that closely resembles how best to fight Sif, and that involves staying the fuck away from its mouth. Most of the attacks are charges and paw swipes, so you're technically safe behind it or, if you don't mind getting peed on, directly underneath. I hacked at its back legs while it was busy swiping at nothing with its front. That is, on one of the brief occasions when I wasn't immediately (and literally) dogpiled on by its very fast pack of venomous vermin. That's a good way to turn a very memorable boss fight from your previous game into an obnoxious free-for-all with zero emotional attachment. I mean, beyond the satisfaction of butchering the ugly jerk.
Shrine of Amana
Hey everyone! Welcome to the worst part of the game! I didn't think anything would top Amazing Darkness Treehouse Pit or Pea Soup Poison Nightmare Land, but I think Bottomless Lake of Magic Snipers and Hidden Leapers might have just pipped it. The Shrine of Amana rests between the Undead Crypt, the game's next story destination, and Dranglaic Castle. It's a quiet, reflective area of holy significance and the home of the Milfanito, an unfortunately named and unfortunately cursed group of singing sisters who sits in this swamp sending monstrosities to sleep. It's actually a very attractive area of the game, irrespective of the singing milfs, though it certainly doesn't make me feel welcome.
Best part of Amana though? Jeff Green has just entered this area on his always entertaining stream. It'll be fun to see how his compromised depth perception fares with a lake with no bottom.
Demon of Song
Now this is a proper Dark Souls boss. Pure nightmare fuel. The decaying face and arms of a woman, jutting out a frog's mouth like someone trying to put on a turtleneck like an idiot. I can't tell if it's all supposed to be one creature or if the frog skin is the protective coat for the entity inside. Truly, the greatest amphibious costume mystery since Frog Suit Mario. Most of its attacks appear to revolve around its long arms, including a hilarious grapple that continually rams you against the floor, though it does charge around, leap and spit hexes at you too.
I figured out how to avoid all its attacks in the first fight, though I misjudged one of the leaps and ended up dying at full health. Yeah, one of those situations. My bad, I had all the time in the world to roll away, but you want to be as close as you can afford to get as much stabbin' in as possible before they recover. The second time went off without a hitch. Didn't even need to heal. So while the fight wasn't all that exciting, I'm super on board with more creature designs like this. Dark Souls II does have a spark of originality here or there, but you have to dig deep for it.
The last stop on the Dranglaic Castle path, the Undead Crypt is where the former King of Dranglaic is interred. He's protected by both the crypt's usual deterrents for would-be thieves (that would be some badass wraiths and zombies that summon same) as well as the King's own personal guard, which includes a dozen or so Syan knights from Dranglaic and the following boss. The Undead Crypt isn't as bad as something like Dark Souls's various crypt areas, as there's no regenerating skeletons to worry about, but there's still plenty of traps here. The zombies that ring the bells to summon the wraiths are the worst, because they'll just crawl out of the ground and make a bee-line for the nearest bell before you even know what's happening, and there's usually a dozen gravestones to smash apart between him and you. Still, though, it's the sort of trap Dark Souls excels at: You'll fall for it a few times, but then you'll learn and adjust your tactics accordingly. Can't fault it.
Velstadt, the Aegis
Sigh. It's not that there's anything wrong with fighting giant suits of armor all day, it's just I wish there was a little more variation than "we gave this one a mace, and maybe he'll cast dark magic once or twice". Velstadt is the last in a defensive line of guards between the player and what remains of King Vendrick, an apparently insensate and near-indestructible zombie stomping around his tomb. Why anyone would want to protect an eight foot tall beef jerky skeleton is anyone's guess. Annoyingly, you have to fight past the rest of the King's guards to get back to the boss room each time, and there's like six of them plus whatever wraiths got accidentally woken up.
As stated, Velstadt just kind of swings his big mace around, most of these blows deplete stamina completely if they connect and thus require evading if you hope to capitalize on the brief counterattack window. However, despite taking chip damage the whole fight, the asshole then drops to his knees to cast some kind of buff that appears to double his defense, as well as slightly increase his speed and damage. It took me three tries overall: the first time he surprised me by casting some nasty offensive hex bolt after I figured he was re-applying his buff after dropping to one knee again. The second was pure carelessness. The third was the money melon, so to speak, but it could've easily been the first given how he had a handful of different attacks that took seconds to memorize. A boss with neither interesting attack patterns nor interesting visual design. Entirely milquetoast. Even his name is kinda boring and overdone: vaguely Germanic knight name with a title meaning "shield" that's been seen in a thousand other pieces of fiction? Sure. Memorable.
The game goes a little off the rails here. Finding the King's Ring in Vendrick's articles of clothing, which he left in a pile to go walking around in a loincloth (hey, enjoy your retirement while you can), a few new areas open up. One is the scary sounding Throne of Want, which sounded a bit final to me, and another is a door in the Forest of Fallen Giants that lead to a few items but not a whole lot else. The third and final King's Ring door was at the crossroads in Shaded Forest, and led to this Keep area. It's quite short, but interesting too. Lots of caged creatures, and kind of gave me that same uneasy feeling Duke's Archive did. Turns out there were two crazy scientist Dukes in Dranglaic, and Aldia was putzing around trying to figure out how to bring the Ancient Dragons back. The ones from the intro of Dark Souls 1. Interesting idea, at least. I won't spoil much more of this place, because it has a few nasty secrets, but for as minimal as it was it did pack in a lot of lore, and a lot more questions that the lore didn't feel like filling in.
Ah, yes, the classic dragon fight, though it's really more of a wyvern. The trick to this battle, not that there really is much need for one, is to not use the lock-on. The erratic flight of the dragon, and how it'll often be directly over your head or, at the very least geographically speaking, be closer to you laterally than vertically means that the lock-on will have the unfortunate effect of sending the camera below your feet and into the cage floor looking straight up at the boss, which makes it easy to focus on what the dragon is doing ("breathing fire" is the answer to that query nine times out of ten) but not so much on what your character is doing. Without the lock-on, it then behooves the player to use the manual camera controls to keep track of the dragon, but it fortunately doesn't move too much. At least, not when it's about to strike. It'll frequently be jumping, launching into a hover and occasionally latching onto a wall, but then it'll stay in that position for a second or so before breathing fire or stomping on you, giving you ample time to adjust the camera and prepare for an impromptu roasting.
I died the first time because I underestimated the damage the breath was doing when sustained for several seconds (though I still had my fireproof gear from the Smelter Demon fight if push ever came to shove), but the second shot was a cinch. If you're quick, and its on the ground, you can get to its legs and tail before it does its firebreathing and score around five or six hits as it completes the long animation, using the relentlessness of its stream of fire against it in a way. Since there's very little point to a shield if it doesn't have amazing fire resistance (the dragon's only other move I saw was a stomp that ignored my shield completely), double-handing the weapon for all those free hits just made things worse for the poor lizard. I think I healed once during that whole second encounter. Like the Demon of Song, it wasn't a particularly tough encounter nor did it involve a lot of strategizing and pattern memorization, but at least it looked cool and gave me something to worry about other than strafing around some big knight guy. I will continue to take what I can get in that regard.
Memories of Giants
There's not much to say about the rest of the dragon path. At least, not in terms of bosses. The Dragon Sanctuary is kind enough to not give you a (compulsory, anyway) boss fight, because in order to get to the end you have to fight a lot of really tough Drakekeeper enemies, which are sort of like the Heide's Tower giants only these guys don't mess around. Anyway, the Ancient Dragon at the end gives you a weird misty artifact that lets you access the memories of the various Giants you can see in the Forest of Fallen Giants. What follows are three interesting "invasions" that took place in the Forest of Fallen Giants before it became a ruin, and you have a limited amount of time to fight a specific dead Giant and claim its soul. I believe the story-reason for these souls is to grow more powerful, but they're also necessary for doing any damage to Vendrick. Yeah, I had to look that one up. Anyway, one of those three memories puts you up against this next boss:
Well, what can I say? It's another big dude with a sword. He actually feels a lot like a remix of the first boss of the game, The Last Giant, and could well be the same entity given the odd memory-travelling aspect of this part of the game. It's gotten a little Remember Me around here, to put it another way. Like the Last Giant and all those Guardian Dragons I've been fighting, the trick appears to be simply sticking around near his feet and hacking away, watching out for the handful of moves he'll do to knock you away to a more advantageous (for him) distance. Essentially, a stomp and a leg sweep that seems to be part of a sword swing that doubles as an attack for either close- or mid-range. Feels kind of cheap to attack a boss where he can't hit you effectively, but given the alternative is the reverse scenario, well, better him than me.
Throne of Want
The last region of the game. Like the Kiln of the First Flame from Dark Souls, it's essentially a long dash to the final boss's arena. It's actually fairly unremarkable besides that, other than getting the biggest plot dump of the game from the Emerald Herald, who finally spills the beans on what's happening around here. Nashandra, the Queen who's been telling you where to go for the latter half of the game, is actually the big bad: the one who brought both Vendrick and Dranglaic to ruin, and the one eager to gain more power by taking control of the first flame. Gee, I wonder if that giant cursed painting of her in Dranglaic Castle wasn't a big tip-off. There's no enemies here, just an absurdly long jog to the following boss fights:
Throne Watcher & Throne Defender
Yay, two more knight bosses. That resurrect each other. I almost want to just leave it at that, such is my spite for these two. There's really nothing to this fight: they're the same enemies we've been fighting throughout the entire game. Both will enchant their swords when low on health, but besides the Watcher being slightly faster and the Defender being slightly stronger (or vice versa? I wasn't really paying attention), it just seems like another pair of large knight enemies. In fact, they were probably less trouble than the knights at the Dragon Sanctuary were: at least these two never broke my guard in one hit. Being able to resurrect their friend once they were down was annoying but hardly elevated the difficulty of the battle, just kind of extended it unnecessarily. I guess I might've been a little overpowered for them, what with the extracurricular trip to the aforementioned big lizard palace and all the Giant hunting I'd been doing.
Lore-wise I'm sure there's some interesting backstory here. I mean, they were guarding the Throne of Want, the most powerful position in the entire kingdom. They aren't the final bosses (though that comes immediately after if you were an idiot like me and grabbed the right quest item first) but I'm sure they're significant. More significant than some husband and wife knight team at least. Then again, maybe not. Maybe they really were just glorified night security watchpeople. One of them did try to pepper spray me for loitering, come to think of it...
So here she is, the game's primary antagonist. Apparently a fragment of the thoroughly destroyed Manus/The Furtive Pygmy that went off on her own to seek power, her backstory is mirrored by that of the Emerald Herald: both were created from the ether to serve a purpose, and Nashandra's was to spread the dark introduced to the world by Manus and grow ever stronger while the Herald's job was to somehow transfer the powers of the Ancient Dragons to a worthy Undead vessel? Hence the leveling? I dunno. I guess since I've beaten the game now, I can refer to the big YT groupthink for what the many tiny offerings of lore that this game provides may or may not mean.
As a boss, Nashandra's a lot like a cross between Dark Souls's Nito (big dead thing, minions, dark magic) and Priscilla (tall lady thing, scythes), but more annoying. I guess that's a given, right? I've decided not to Ctrl-F this master document for the term "annoying", largely for the sake of my own sanity. She starts the fight by summoning four hardcore versions of those curse jars, the second most annoying entities in the game after the poison-spitting statues, and then just kind of swings her scythe around a bit whenever you get close. Easy enough to avoid those scythe attacks, and I figured out early that she can only have four wisps around at once: if you remove the one closest to you and then coax her towards a different region of the boss arena (which is fortunately quite big, but of course has a giant pit that I fell into a few times) then the wisps are no longer an issue. There's a big hex laser that's easy to avoid if you can see it coming, though you're pretty much dead if it hits you, and a big AoE hex that will surprise you exactly once. After that, it's easy street. I did like the visual design at least: Nashandra can be added to the likes of the Demon of Song where I might not have thought much of her predictable tactics (though she did switch it up a lot) but I can enjoy that creepy giant corpse queen look she has going on. It was almost like fighting the skeletal form of Persona 4's Izanami again, but in real-time.
Had to happen eventually. I mean, there's an achievement for it and everything. Sure, it's another tall guy with a sword, but it's THE tall guy with a sword. The erstwhile King of Dranglaic and this game's Gwyn equivalent, albeit in the form of a totally optional fight. Vendrick doesn't have a whole lot in his repertoire except sheer stats: he has more health, does more damage and has more defense (until you find all the souls of Giants, one of which requires a debatably tougher fight with a friendly NPC which I'm not up to, largely because getting there is too much of a hassle) than any other boss in the game, barring perhaps this following optional guy I've been putting off. He doesn't need more than a few swipe attacks and a vertical strike with all that going for him.
I see parallels with Vendrick and both the Hollows and the Undead hero in particular. He looks, moves and acts just like the weakest of the Hollows you meet, with a slow zombie-like gait and a few all-or-nothing desperate swings with whatever big chunk of metal he's holding. It's kind of like those secret superbosses in JRPGs where it's just a way bigger version of the weakest enemy (usually a Dragon Quest slime, or some kind of hyper Prinny) and insanely tough. He also has a similar moveset to the hero, just the regular light or heavy attacks and a running jump variant. Kind of plays into this whole "every King was a former protagonist who grew old and feeble and corrupt after thousands of years" cycle of destiny thing the Dark Souls games have going on.
But man, you gotta imagine what this guy was like at full power and fully armored. Gwyn too, for that matter. You get the impression they'd have zero problem with any other foe in the game. Raises the question of how they got this way in the first place, I suppose. Still, I can take away one thing from this fight: Vendrick looked tired and defeated. After all these samey, unimaginative and often terribly-conceived bosses, I'm right there with him.
Dark Chasm of Old
Bonus time! The Dark Chasm of Old are a series of small bonus dungeons available to a specific covenant, which requires some searching to find. There are three big circular daises scattered around the world, and each is a portal to a different "Dark Chasm of Old": essentially a boss rush against a bunch of very tough NPC phantoms, which you have to defeat without exception before lighting a sconce and falling down a specific hole to exit. I believe the multiplayer trailers for Bloodborne are suggesting something similar will be in their game, though this time procedurally generated.
The final foe (well, besides DLC nonsense), and one I'd been putting off because I hear these optional covenant dungeons are no joke. Still, I'm not eager to wipe the slate clean just yet, and acquiring all the hexes is one of the few magic-based trophies that don't require two-and-a-half playthroughs or hundreds of online invasions (kudos to whoever on the development team decided "forced NG++" was a fun requisite to add to the achievement list again).
It's around now I start describing what this boss is about and his tactics, but given how asinine these dungeons are and how it requires a priceless item just to attempt one, I'm going to leave this guy a mystery. There are tough games out there that require 100% effort which I'm am happy to provide, so that I might see it through to the end despite the many hardships. Dark Souls is this. Then there are games I eventually become entirely apathetic about and can no longer drum up the enthusiasm when it gets super hard like this. Dark Souls II is that, I've discovered. Might just be I'm burned out on the Souls formula, but fighting effin' Havel on a thin bridge over an abyss while his backstabbing friend Ricard could pop around the corner at any moment is not something I intend to spend any more of my finite time on this Earth partaking in. Up with this I will not put.
Darklurker's big and scary. Probably. Bye.
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