Since 2009’s Demon’s Souls, FromSoftware’s Souls games have earned a reputation for fearsome bosses. As of 2022, the loosely linked Souls series encompasses Demon’s Souls, the Dark Souls trilogy, Bloodborne, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, and current darling of the gaming world Elden Ring.
The games are directed and/or produced by Hidetaka Miyazaki and each contains similar design DNA that cranks up the difficulty and trusts the player to figure things out without handholding. The bosses test those skills, with Miyazaki’s philosophy that each should be a character in its own right, with their “personality” conveyed through move set, animations, and behavior.
Here’s a rundown of the best bosses in each Souls game and why they stand out.
The Old Monk – Demon’s Souls
The debut entry in the Souls series proved that Miyazaki was out to innovate. Demon’s Souls is primarily a single-player adventure, though it has multiplayer baked into with the now trademark ability to summon other players to your world (and be summoned in return), or “invade” as a red phantom and engage in battle with other players.
This blurring of the line between single and multiplayer is best seen in “The Old Monk,” encountered midway through the Latria stage. A desiccated body sits atop a teetering pile of chairs and summons a ghostly red warrior to battle against you. However, in a brilliant twist, this is another actual player brought into your game to “play” as the boss.
This means the difficulty varies depending on how skilled your opponent is, though once defeated you can return the favor and moonlight as the boss yourself. Miyazaki has described The Old Monk as the boss he’s most proud of, saying in February that:
“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.”
Great Grey Wolf Sif – Dark Souls
Some of the finest boss battles in these games aren’t mechanically challenging or flashy, but quietly emotional. Great Grey Wolf Sif isn’t an evil monster intent on destruction, but merely a faithful companion guarding her master’s grave in the hope that the curse that killed him won’t spread to others.
Unfortunately, she’s in your way and there’s no option of a peaceful resolution. With a sword clenched in her jaws, she attacks with wide swings that any seasoned warrior can dodge through. As you beat her down, she begins to suffer; her attacks slow down, she stumbles and whines in pain. Players at the time theorized that there was a way to spare her, but the only way you’re finishing Dark Souls is over her lifeless body.
The knife is twisted even further if you’ve played the “Artorias of the Abyss” DLC, which transports to you the past. Here you can fight alongside a younger version of Sif. If you do that before you meet her in the main game, you’ll get an alternate cutscene in which she recognizes your scent, causing her to miserably howl at the moon at having to battle her former friend.
Fume Knight – Dark Souls II
Fume Knight is perhaps the exact opposite of Sif. The only emotion you’ll feel during your bout with him in Dark Souls II’s DLC campaign “Crown of the Iron King” is despair. The first time you see him, you might not think he’s such a big deal; after all, by this point a big guy in scary armor with a giant sword is your bread and butter.
But by the fourth or fifth time Fume Knight has pancaked you into the dirt you’ll start to realize why he’s so feared. First up, if you haven’t thoroughly explored the environment around him, he’ll be healed by Ashen Idols throughout the fight. Secondly, the tried-and-tested tactic of summoning help to distract doesn’t necessarily work here as he can instantly switch targets and will prioritize anyone chugging down a heal.
To beat him, you simply have to (and don’t hate me for saying this) “git gud.” There are no shortcuts or cheese, you have to learn his moveset, read his animations, figure out how to attack, and when to defend and evade. There’s a purity to the encounter that makes him a highlight of the game and finally coming out on top will leave you with sweaty palms.
Lady Maria of the Astral Clocktower – Bloodborne
There’s a saying among Souls veterans that spotting a hulking monster in a boss arena is no big deal, though when you see a humanoid figure your size, you know you’re in for a tough time. Coming midway through Bloodborne’s incredible “The Old Hunters” DLC, Lady Maria is arguably the most memorable boss in the entire game.
Like you, she’s a hunter, and anything you can do she can better. The fight turns into a balletic duet as you dodge around one another, sneaking in attacks wherever you can and searching for a vulnerable spot. Then, as a choir rises in intensity, Maria plunges her swords into her own chest, augmenting her swordplay with her own blood. Get through a couple of minutes of that and she rises into the air, explodes in a bloody shower, and adds wreaths of flame to her arsenal.
It’s a combination of setting, soundtrack, style, and precise gameplay that make this a highlight of an all-time great game. Lady Maria pales in comparison to the Orphan of Kos at the end of “The Old Hunters” in terms of difficulty, though she shows that you should have listened when she advised that “a corpse should be left well alone.”
Dancer of the Boreal Valley – Dark Souls III
FromSoftware’s bosses are master classes in video game animation, though it’s often difficult to appreciate this when they’re tearing you a new one. But with Dancer of the Boreal Valley, you can’t help but goggle at the way she moves and attacks. The clue is in her name, her hypnotizing motion underlined by her diaphanous cape as she stalks you around the arena and attacks with graceful twirling swipes.
As you figure out her timings, this becomes, as you might predict given her name, a surreal dance. However, as the battle proceeds, her flaming swords gradually ignite more and more of the boss arena, with her motion and the very weird choral soundtrack (which all her attacks are in time with) adding up to one hell of a fight.
This is designed as a mid-game encounter, though in a sadistic twist, it’s possible for her to be one of the first bosses you meet. Most players will be very quickly eradicated by her at early levels, leaving her as an ominous warning for the rest of the game. You know you’ll have to take her down at some point…
Isshin, The Sword Saint – Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
This is the last thing standing between you and the ending of Sekiro, but you’re going to have to work damn hard to see those credits. Throughout the game, various bosses act as checks on your mastery of the game’s systems: whether you can deflect properly, execute counters, dodge attacks, and build momentum in order to secure deathblows.
Isshin is the game’s final exam and ⏤ appropriately for someone known as “The Sword Saint” ⏤ does not screw about. He has a dizzying array of attacks, practically no room for error, and rubs salt into the wound by occasionally pulling out a handgun and blasting away at you. It’s a sword fight, Isshin ⏤ no fair!
But if you can get to Isshin, you have the skills to beat him, it’s just a matter of execution. Perhaps the best proof is that you must defeat one of the early game’s trickier bosses to challenge him, though by the end you’ll swat him aside like a bothersome fly. Even so, he’s a substantial roadblock, but all that makes it incredibly satisfying to finally plunge your katana through his heart.
Warning: Spoilers follow for a mid-game boss in Elden Ring.
Starscourge Radahn – Elden Ring
This is likely to be a controversial pick, as Starscourge Radahn is making many players’ lives miserable this very second. He’s a mandatory boss needed to beat the game and is like nothing the Souls games have seen to date. For one, your battle is a big event within the story of the game, with various warrior NPCs converging on Redmane Castle for the “Radahn Festival,” where you’ll attempt to bring him down as a team.
Yup, this is more of an MMO-style raid than a traditional boss, with you summoning these warriors into the battle to fight alongside you. Even better, if (when) they die, you can resurrect them to continue the battle. Ordinarily being able to summon 10 other fighters into a Souls game boss would make a boss trivial, but there’s a reason you need the assist, and you’ll figure it out about two seconds after you step onto his turf and Radahn nails you with a magic arrow.
This dude is tough. He hits like a truck, is insanely fast, and the majority of his attacks will kill you in a single hit. Worse, midway through the fight he leaps into the air and disappears. Everything goes quiet for a moment, but keep an eye on the skies as Radahn turns into a comet and heads right for you. But tucked away in this nightmare is a fun little gag: the gigantic Radahn rides a regular-sized (and exhausted) horse named Leonard, which looks adorably silly underneath him.
For most players, this will be a grueling battle demanding many attempts and it’s likely that many will give up here. Fortunately, the rewards for victory are worth the hassle: you can now purchase his armor (one of the best in the game), forge his excellent twin greatswords or bow, and access the lost city of Nokron. Maybe Radahn is a little unfair, though this is absolutely one of the most epic battles in the Souls series.