FromSoftware is legendary for its incredible bosses. Thrilling combat, captivating creature design and haunting settings have given us over a decade of unforgettable encounters. As we ready to see what awaits us in Elden Ring this month, we reached out to PlayStation Studios developers to ask them their personal favourite moments from across Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Bloodborne, the Dark Souls series and Demon’s Souls.
But to kick us off, we posed the same question to the creator of the Souls series himself, Hidetaka Miyazaki.
Old Monk | Demon’s Souls
“If we’re talking about a boss that I’m ‘most proud of’ (to use those specific words), it would probably be the Old Monk from Demon’s Souls. The reason being is there was a lot of pushback against that design and what we were trying to do with it. But it was something I really, really wanted to do. I wanted to get that boss concept into the game, both from a visual design perspective and gameplay perspective, including the multiplayer element. From both the implementation and fun factor, we got a lot of pushback, and no one believed in it at the time. But in the end, we came through, and I think it turned into an intriguing boss that the fans appreciated.
With Demon’s Souls, there were a lot of mechanics throughout the development that were difficult to design. For instance, the asynchronous online features were complicated, but I think the Old Monk encompasses those tribulations and how we pushed through and made something we were proud of.”
– Hidetaka Miyazaki, President and Director, FromSoftware
“It’s 2009. I’m hours into my Demon’s Souls playthrough when I encounter the Old Monk in world 3-3. It differed completely from all the bosses that came before: he was small, and he dodge-rolled everywhere, nearly mirroring how I played. Almost instantly, he would parry, backstab, and kill me. “What crazy A.I.”, I thought.
It wasn’t until our second battle that I suspected how truly unique this encounter was. This time, he had completely changed his look and was casting magic! After a second death, I looked online for tips. “How can I learn a bosses’ patterns if his fighting style changes each encounter?” I grumbled.
I was hit with the revelation that I wasn’t fighting a computer… it was other players — a PvP boss fight! Mind blown!”
– Thomas Hart, Associate Community Manager, Insomniac Games
Great Grey Wolf Sif | Dark Souls
“When the cinematic started, Sif jumped from behind the tombstone, grabbed the giant sword and braced itself for an intense battle. Just before I defeated it, Sif started to limp a bit. His attacks started to slow down and I started to feel sad about it. It seemed like Sif was willing to fight to the very end. Upon defeating the wolf I received the Soul of Sif. When I read the description I felt even worse, finding out that this wolf was once a loyal companion, protecting the grave of his master. After that I started reading more about the lore of the game, which changed the way I looked at the bosses. I felt sorry for a lot of them. All bosses within the series give a great sense of achievement, but their defeat makes you think even more about them as each boss has its own, mostly sad story attached to it.”
– Tom Clercx, Animator, Nixxes Software
Dragonslayer Ornstein and Executioner Smough | Dark Souls
“Finding out you’ll need to fight BOTH at the same time was incredibly daunting and seemed impossible!
Ornstein is quick and electrifying, constantly attacking you with no rest. All the while hearing Smough’s huge body shake the ground as he stomps towards you, threatening to squish you like a bug with his equally huge hammer.I had hope of winning when I finally beat just one of them, but then saw the remaining enemy transform into an even stronger form! Exploring how they each change depending on which I beat first was an extra treat to an already great fight.”
– Dzan Wong, Senior QA Tester, Firesprite
“The Dark Souls of” is a reductive throw-around to indicate something is challenging, doesn’t play nice, fights the player, etc. Ornstein & Smough is the Dark Souls boss fight of Dark Souls: They’re uncompromisingly aggressive; they’re able to land attacks that clip through each other; they force players to repeat everything they learnt in the game, and that’s kind of the point. They tell players to not get too comfy in thinking they’re the best – that they have to adapt and get used to being kicked around if they want to enjoy and progress through such a laboriously engaging title.”
– Duncan Tyrer, Embedded QA Analyst, Firesprite
Knight Artorias | Dark Souls
“Nothing says ‘Go back to Anor Londo’ like the first leap-and-smash of Knight Artorias – His opening gambit is enough to make even the most ‘chosen of undead’ pray they have enough stamina to roll all the way back to Firelink Shrine. Contrary to the tales told of the most heroic and noblest of the Royal Knights, you’re forced to negotiate the clumsy, animalistic swings and stabs of his brutally unpredictable move-set.
The fight throws the hardest punches in the art department, telling the story of a once golden age, fallen into the abyss: The colosseum decrepit and overgrown, Artorias’s armour scratched, dirty and torn – his main-arm broken and swinging limply by his side as he spanks your greaves with his weaker-hand. Whether it’s his heartbreaking backstory or the merciless difficulty, Artorias left me weeping into my Estus Flask – exactly the punishment I deserved for daring to venture into the DLC.”
– Matthew Kemp, Game Designer, Firesprite
Dancer of the Boreal Valley | Dark Souls III
“When you enter the Lothric chapel, the door closes, and the darkness engulfs the room. For me, one of the most memorable moments in games unfurled before my eyes. The Dancer, dangling from the pooled darkness, dropping down and sinuously moving to stand before my character. I still get chills thinking about that fight starting. The battle is smooth, yet the feeling is frantic at times, and the lethality of that creature is clear from the start. It was the first boss fight I ever felt like was truly a dance between two forces trying to dominate one another. It reminded me a lot of the first time I encountered Penetrator from Demon’s Souls, but even more refined. When I prevailed, it was the first time I was sad to have finished a Souls boss fight. I wanted more… more stages to the fighting, more fire spreading throughout the arena, just more. With Elden Ring, I’m looking forward to what will stir that thrill again.”
– Randall Lowe, Producer, Bluepoint Games
Nameless King | Dark Souls III
“Battling the Nameless King is both a struggle and a spectacle. The battlefield is fashioned of storm clouds, and the boss descends to it on the back of a great dragon. While mounted, the king strikes with steel and lightning at those who contend with his fire-breathing companion, showcasing a regal elegance and majesty befitting of his title. After dispatching the dragon, the player must face off against the Nameless King in a proper duel. The boss commands his weapon and the powers of the storm in equal measure; his offense is a stunning array of steel, wind, and lightning that can easily overwhelm his opponent. Perhaps as intimidating as his offense is his tendency to walk calmly towards the player between attacks, displaying the patience and composure of a seasoned warrior. Defeating this formidable foe imparts a comparable sense of mastery, along with the pride of having defeated the boss that stood at Lothric’s absolute peak.”
– Tucker Cole, Technical Artist, Bend Studio
Lady Maria of the Astral Clocktower | Bloodborne
“Entering into a vast abandoned clock tower with a single corpse awaiting us on a chair, surrounded by sunlight being cast from the ornate window…I knew what was coming. Little did I know how this’d be the most difficult (and yet most beautiful) boss battle I encountered in the whole game. Lady Maria has to be my most favorite boss in all of these games because of how much it felt like a dance, with Lady Maria leading me.
The environment is mostly empty, however the church-like candles on the sides and white flower petals littered on the floor with a gorgeous clock tower window lighting the environment was atmospheric and fitting for this kind of boss battle. The music, beautiful, with the right amount of tempo to get your adrenaline pumping. The way she merely walks towards you without a care in the world, knowing she will utterly demolish you, wonderful animation set up for her character design.
The transition between each one of her fighting phases felt so well balanced and flowed so well into each other. Phase one is a rhythmic dance to her quick attacks. Phase two is a faster pace with longer-range attacks where she uses her blood as a whip of sorts. Phase three…she’s using blood AND fire that you must dodge until you miss a step and you’re dead. What a wonderful experience it was to fight her for the first time.”
– Ivanna Liittschwager, Environment Artist, Santa Monica Studio
Ludwig the Holy Blade | Bloodborne
“What starts out as the typical hunter versus beast ordeal, suddenly reveals itself as something truly special halfway through.
Ludwig stumbles to the ground, wounded. By his side, he finds his long-lost Moonlight Greatsword. Rage makes way for clarity, wiping away Ludwig the Accursed. Weapons that deal extra damage to beasts, no longer do so. The screeching beast is replaced by a monstrous man.
Welcome home, Ludwig the Holy Blade.
What follows is one of the best songs composed for Bloodborne. As Ludwig begins to swing his blade, the fight turns into a violent waltz of blood and cosmic starlight. Every attack follows the rise and fall of the music, giving the fight a dance-like rhythm. What began as an erratic fight ends as an elegant duel between hunters in a blood-soaked ballroom.
Ludwig is the perfect summary of the Bloodborne experience, shaped in the form of a boss; capturing the struggle between hunters, beasts, and the Old Blood.”
– Keano Raubun, Narrative Designer, Nixxes Software
Owl (Father) | Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
“In Sekiro’s life, nearly every monumental decision was made for him by the Owl. Indoctrination into The Iron Code, becoming Kuro’s retainer, this all in effort for his path to the Dragon’s Heritage. You come back to the moment everything changed in Sekiro’s life as an adult, the beginning of the end of Owl’s plan. The confrontation at Ashina Castle is about staying loyal to a friend but this fight is about a Father forsaking his son. This Owl is in his prime and will use everything in his power to prevent you from foiling his plan for immortality. There is a compression before and subsequent explosion of emotions once the fight begins. The anger of betrayal, the pain of abandonment, the joy of revenge. The clashing of blades expresses what words cannot. The speed, intensity, emotional weight of the fight perfectly translates into the musical theme. Owl (Father) is a prime example of what FromSoft does best, blend narrative and functional play into an unforgettable encounter. I can’t wait to see what Elden Ring has in store.”
– Israel Rey, QA Analyst, Bluepoint Games
Guardian Ape | Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
“Picking one boss fight out of FromSoftware’s amazing catalogue is a little agonizing. The Bloodstarved Beast will always have my heart, but I have to give props to the Guardian Ape from Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice as an experience I love to retell.
This is not the undead knight or eldritch monstrosity you come to expect from these games. It’s a big monkey that throws feces at you. At first blush, he feels like a joke boss.
But the joke’s on the player after you cut off its head. The victory screen pops up, you start to walk away, and then… he stands back up – a sword in one hand, his decapitated head in the other.
The thing I love most is how From animated a fairly credible gorilla in the first phase, then completely flips the script in phase two as this ape torso slithers and slinks around – part snake, part ballet dancer.
Somehow, pulling a giant centipede out of its neck-hole in the end starts to clarify things. You were fighting a bug, living inside a gorilla, tugging it around like a marionette. No cutscene explains that. No scribbled note. It’s all told through arresting visuals.”
– Joe Pettinati, Narrative Lead, Naughty Dog
Lady Butterfly | Sekiro : Shadows Die Twice
“Its unusual to see older women in games, particularly as able combatants, so I was a fan of Lady Butterfly even before the fight started; a tough, hyper-skilled martial artist bringing decades of experience to bear on her former pupil, a fight she’d rather not have but is duty bound to deliver. The fight is a masterclass in melee combat – the telegraphing, balancing, cancelling… it’s all completely spot on. Rarely can I truly say luck did not play a part in beating a boss, but the Lady Butterfly fight is so impeccably set up and animated, the rhythm and flow of attacks prompting deflections, evasions and just the right windows of attack opportunity, beating her felt like 100% hard won skill. And all done without a flashy huge demonic form, just a regular shaped human. One of my favourite bosses of all time.”
– Anna Marsh, Associate Design Director, Firesprite