Last week we finally laid waste to the Soul of Cinder and completed our exhausting, but invigorating, Dark Souls 3 run. While we likely won’t return for some time (largely due in part to so many other worthwhile games out right now), we do hope to crack open the New Game + mode at some point as we aren’t ready to close the book on the Souls franchise. FromSoftware delivered something truly memorable with this series from Demon’s Souls, Bloodborne, and of course Dark Soul 1-3. Yes, everyone harps on the pulse-quickening difficulty and utter catharsis that occurs with every milestone you accomplish in these games. For us though, there are so many other memorable elements from the Souls franchise that will stay with us for years.
Here are our Top 10 Best Moments from the Dark Souls Franchise
10. Prison guards in Demon’s Souls
The Souls franchise for us has set the high bar for enemy design. The monsters and bosses can be absolutely nightmarish but really no enemy has sent more chills down our spines than those damn prison guards that patrolled the Tower of Latria back in Demon’s Souls.
Up until this point a melee strategy has generally worked. Wait for the enemy to strike, dodge or block it, then swing away. That strategy falls apart with these guards. They’re brutal from a a distance due to some punishing lightning spells, but they can also stun and instant kill if they grab you in their horrid Cthulu face tentacles. Gamers learned quickly the value of a strong bow and arrow for this sequence as taking cheap shots of these guys from a distance was the way to get past this, but man what a painful lesson to learn.
9. My time as the Rat King
Despite being another great title in the franchise, Dark Souls 2 arguably got overshadowed by the other games. However my brief but impactful time joining the Rat King Covenant in Dark Souls 2 still resonates as one of my most enjoyable experiences in any Souls game.
Generally, we tend to avoid deathmatch (PvP) gaming since my early days of PC FPS titles like Unreal, Quake, and Duke Nukem 3d. By extension I rarely have bothered to invade or be invaded in a Souls game. That is until I randomly decided to join the Rat King’s covenant during a late night Dark Souls 2 session years ago. By doing so, suddenly I was thrust into the role of lord protector of the rat sewers charged with slaughtering any other gamer who happened to be wandering through at that same time. My encounters were at first awkward as I struggled to understand the pathways of the sewers and would occasionally stumble off a ledge or bridge giving my opponent an easy win. Eventually though, I learned to become one with the environment, a rat ninja, luring players into fights with my rat brethren they didn’t anticipate, and slowly started to turn the tide to rats’ favor. Sure, my goal was to grief players who were otherwise simply trying to progress in the story, but I was surprised by the levels of schadenfreude you can achieve by becoming a talented dark spirit.
Damn these guys. Easily the most notorious enemy type in the Souls franchise having appeared in three of the five games. Their design seems lifted straight out of The Real Ghostbusters cartoon and considering their attacks are extremely punishing and usually result in instant-death, gamers have grown weary of opening any chest ever again. Ever since these bastards popped up in Dark Souls 1 (protecting that coveted lightning spear), we’ve been forever smacking treasure chests just once to be sure they’re legit. Well played, FromSoftware.
7. Ceaseless Discharge
We’ll mention boss battles a few times within this list and though that won’t do FromSoftware justice for the incredible boss fights they’ve created. One of our favorites though came early on in Dark Souls 1 and was uncomfortably named Ceaseless Discharge. This monstrosity lived in a giant pit of lava and, well, we’re not sure what it really was besides a messed up combination of tentacles and horns. Considering his size and how powerful his attacks were, most direct confrontations would inevitably lead to your death. However you could trick this boss to chase you and it would inevitably fall to its death down a chasm in the lava thus immediately ending the battle. This was perhaps the first “cheese” moment in Dark Souls that we know of, and ever since we’ve been eager to find similar easy win options to overcome the extreme challenges of a Souls games.
6. Being Cursed in Dark Souls
There are so many punishing moments in the Souls games but perhaps none as brutal as getting cursed in the original Dark Souls. Eventually you find your ways down to the sewers as you seek out another ominous bell to ring and will shortly stumble upon the Basilisks. These bug-eyed lizards seem fairly harmless as they can’t take much damage and don’t outwardly attack you. They do, however release a toxic gas that after a while can cause you to become cursed. In subsequent Souls games, being cursed is an instant death sentence, but in Dark Souls 1 it meant losing half of your health. The problem is though that the status didn’t reset after you died. You maintained your curse into your next life.
Worst of all, the effect could stack so the seemingly harmless Basilisks could cause you to have almost no health very quickly. To get cured, you needed to find a special vendor in a completely different area and buy the purging stone to remove your curse. We were only cursed once, but traversing the Dark Souls landscape with a fraction of our overall health to remove it was one of the most arduous experiences we had in a game.
5. The Amygdala of Bloodborne
Bloodborne was a misfire (no pun intended) in our eyes. Sure, they game presented an equally surreal and frightening world in the twisted Dickensian London background as the Souls franchise did with its Medieval atmosphere. It also bravely tweaked combat to be a game of quick reflexes and counters, removing the tank strategy many gamers used to survive Dark Souls. But the flagrant foul was the removal of the Estus Flask system which sent us back to farming for health potions for bigger fights (that and the insane loading times).
We enjoyed much of the game though but our favorite moment is the reveal of an unseen enemy introduced in this game, Amygdala. This giant, spider-shaped, Xenomorph-headed demon confronts you in a very challenging boss battle towards the end of Nightmare Frontier area. While that fight is tough, that’s not why this enemy is memorable. Instead as you progress through the game you will inevitably increase your Insight stat. While it’s an innocuous stat on its own, at level 40 suddenly you will notice that there are other Amygdala creatures who have been sitting idly above areas you’ve played before. They don’t engage with you, but have simply been invisibly watching you… for the hours you’ve been running around this game completely unaware these horrifying beasts have been just out of reach studying you. Perhaps because the Amygdala fight is so damned hard, perhaps because they’ve been silently spying on you, or perhaps just because they’re shaped like giant spiders, the reveal of the Amygdala in Bloodborne was one of the most memorable moments we had in this game.
4. The Drake Sword
It had to make the list. Starting out in Dark Souls for many was an overwhelming experience. The world was completely interconnected, no longer broken up in levels like Demon’s Souls. You could go anywhere you wanted and with punishing difficulty presumably around any corner, many gamers hit the wall early. That is until someone discovered the secret of the Drake Sword.
In the early part of Dark Souls, you were attacked by dragon that would subsequently perch on a nearby castle wall waiting for you to return. You could bypass him by staying underneath the castle as the game intended. Or, you could purchase a bow and arrow from an early merchant, stock up on 99 arrows, then find a good sniper spot to shoot the tail off the dragon. Yes, 60-70 arrows to the tail of this dragon would make it pop off. Randomly, the game would reward you for your dedication by giving you the Drake Sword which was, for many, the only sword you needed in the game. It was substantially more powerful than any weapon you’d find for about half of the game and gave you a complete advantage for most of your early playthrough. For getting us through Dark Souls 1, we will forever remember the all-powerful Drake Sword.
3. The Stray Demon
When thinking back to all of the massive and challenging bosses we’ve had to fight across the Souls games, The Pursuer, Sif, The Looking Glass Night, Smough and Ornstein, the one we enjoyed the most, the one we found the most rewarding was the Stray Demon of Dark Souls.
The Stray Demon for us is one of the more fascinating bosses we’ve seen in these games in that it’s actually the first boss you see in the game but not one you will face for likely another dozen hours or so. He patrols the underground area of the asylum you wake up in at the start of the game but it’s only after you find out how to return to the asylum later that you can actually break through the ground to face him. He’s size and attacks are reminiscent of the first boss you fight, the Asylum Demon, but his area attack is new and fairly deadly. Because of this, this fight for us is one of the harder one-on-one fights you can have in the game and is completely optional to boot.
Still, finally slaying the Stray Demon, clearing out the rest of the asylum that imprisoned us, felt like a significant accomplishment. We were pleased to see the Stray Demon reappear briefly in Dark Souls 3 (once again as an optional boss fight) as he was perhaps our favorite boss we faced in this entire franchise.
2. Anor Lando
Midway through Dark Souls, you’ll face an Iron Golem at the top of the deadly, booby-trapped Sen’s Fortress. Finally killing this giant boss is a major milestone of the game but before you can catch your breath you’re grabbed by flying enemies that transport you to an area unlike anything you’ve seen. So far you’ve encountered dilapidated ruins, poisonous swamps, and a rickety shanty-town so the site of the pristine opulence of Anor Lando is striking. It also represents perhaps the strongest sequence of the Souls games to us. You’ll have the opportunity to explore a secret world hidden within a painting if you’re holding a certain item, you’ll face the dreaded Smough and Orstein at the end, some buxom but fictitious character will give you an item that lets you finally teleport across the game opening up the rest of the world to you. A lot happens at Anor Lando.
Yes, it’s yet another challenging milestone to survive but also is the end of a linear journey in Dark Souls you’ve been on since the start. Once you get the lord vessel, you’re finally able to pull together the pieces you need to take on the final boss. Everyone who plays Dark Souls remembers Anor Lando fondly and to revisit location, even if ruined, in Dark Souls 3 was certainly a highlight of the final game.
1. Champion Gundyr (aka Coop Fighting a Boss)
GD, this fight beat the hell out of me. Similar to the Stray/Asylum Demon’s of Dark Souls, Gundyr is a boss you fight initially and then revisit a much harder version of him as an optional fight towards the end of the game. I’m not going to lie; this boss almost forced me to give up on Dark Souls 3. I probably fought and lost no less than 30 times. I know, “GIT GUD!” I keep hearing in my head but sometimes you just hit a wall and Champion Gundyr was that for me.
That is until I broke my rule about avoiding other players in this game.
As a last resort, I stood at the fog gate for this boss, embered up to revive my character, then watched the floor around me light up with dozens of call signs for other players eager to jump into my game to help tag team this boss. I ended up pulling in a random stranger as well as a friendly NPC and marched into the Gundyr fight 3 vs. 1. This was a defining moment for me playing this game. Suddenly the boss battle was much more manageable as others could divert his attention long enough for me to heal up or back off to lob some heavy-duty fireballs.
Yeah, he still put up a good fight, even killed the NPC that joined us, but soon his health bar was a mere sliver and my coop partner and I charged him to put him to down at long last. It felt so good to watch him wither away that I almost forget to offer up a thankful bow to my coop partner before he/she too disappeared back into their own game.
From then on I almost always beckoned other players for help for each subsequent boss fight and even went back myself to help others take on some of their respective fights. Champion Gundyr was a tough enough boss fight to make me realize how much of these games I’ve ignored for so long.
These are hard games meant to challenge the best of gamers and the online components of cryptic messages, foreboding blood stains on the ground, the occasional ethereal vision of another player, or even the pulse-quickening invasion or two are inspired if not brilliant, however the element of partnering up with another random player or two to take on the hardest of boss fights is without a doubt our favorite experience we’ve had in any Souls game.