The Sun Bro diaries, part II
More blogging about games.
The last time you heard from me, I was playing through “Dark Souls,” in between (and sometimes in place of) all the other stuff occupying my real life. Lots of people had quarantine projects. I had two: Cleaning junk out my guest room so that guests could use it again, and beating the three “Dark Souls” games. One of those tasks is complete.
Journaling about my experience with all these bosses was fun, so here’s a sequel, picking up from part one.
After defeating Ornstein and Smough, you obtain the Lordvessel, which allows you to warp from place to place (a few key hubs, anyway) to cross what is now a world too big to walk around. A dragon that looks like a “Rugrats” sketch informs you that you must slay four ancient lords. In a lovely little bit of design, two of these lords are waiting underneath the Firelink Shrine, your safe space throughout the game. You just have to navigate levels full of horror to reach them.
I took out Gravelord Nito first, and thanks to the online lore I did a side quest in the skeleton-killed Catacombs that ended with Nito giving me a sword that looks like a prop from David Lynch’s “Existenz.” Bad idea, as the sword made this fight pretty easy, a matter of staying close behind the villain and slashing away during one of his long, scary wind-ups.
This era-defining game has two clearly unfinished levels, both of which were pretty fun. Crossbreed Priscilla waits at the end of the second, and for the first (of two) times in this series, you’re given the choice to just let this boss chill out and live her life. Nothing changes if you do, and the fight itself isn’t very challenging, just a lot of waiting during her lengthy periods of invisibility followed by hacking away like Michael Meyers when you see her tail. I still don’t feel great about my decision.
The Four Kings lie in their own damn name: There are five of these guys, floating sword lords in an abyss that you must wear a special ring to enter, if you don’t want to die automatically. Getting there involves placing curses on yourself so that you’re able to destroy knife-wheeling ghosts, and that’s easily as hard as this, a fight in which you run from King to King, on a tight time limit, trying to kill each before the next shows up. Took me four tries.
The Centipede Demon is dead easy if you equip the Charred Orange Ring, which turns lava from an environmental effect that can kill you in three seconds to a minor nuisance that chips away slowly at your HP. Punchline: You need to chop this guy’s tale to obtain the essential item for killing him. (You get it if you are good enough to kill him without it, which I’m not.) I died grabbing the rig, held onto it during my resurrection, then had no real trouble hacking the guy to death. By this time in my playing I’d upgraded both a Claymore to +10 (and was pushing it to +15) and a Black Knight Halberd to +4, and could take these guys apart if I didn’t get greedy.
The dullest of these pair-shaped brawler demons is the Demon Firesage, who shows up on your journey into the lava-drenched Lost Izilith, and appears, cleverly, at the end of a little interregnum in which you’re navigating an abandoned castle. Maybe the lava stuff is over? No, here’s a demon who tries to sit on you and blasts fire waves that can knick you halfway across the area. Took a couple tries.
My proudest Souls achievement was probably navigating the Bed of Chaos fight in a single try. It’s one of the most hated in the series, because it’s not a fight, but a platform game, requiring you to run to three sections of a monster’s body, chop away at the branch-limbs protecting his weak spot, and not fall into a chasm as the floor gives way. These games are clunky platformers, on purpose; you can only jump by running and hitting the dodge button. But I had good luck and kept a shield up as I traversed the rim of the arena, right in front of this schmuck, where I could tell no floor panels were falling away.
The hardest of the four evil demigods to get to was my second one-attempt kill of the playthrough. Check the name: Seath the Scaleless does not have tough armor, and sponges up damage. I nearly killed him before I chopped off his tail for the Moonlight Greatsword, a gimmick in every “Souls” game (and its predecessor, “Kings Field”) which you typically get too late to do much with. Incredible walk-up to this guy, which involves defeating multiple crystal golems and walking on an invisible bridge whose bends are only detectable by the snow falling on them.
The Sanctuary Guardian comes right at you upon starting the DLC, and he keeps coming. I won here by being stupid a few times, then realizing how long he was open for me to whack him after his special attacks. Not too hard, and exactly the sort of horror you expect to be guarding an ancient sanctuary, so well done.
Knight Artorias stopped me from advancing for a good long while, which feels longer because I put the game down for weeks when I was busy at work. (That’s a euphemistic way of remembering 2020!) I broke through upon realizing that there was no grinding this one out, and the longer I took to kill him, the more energetically he moved. My solution: Using the spell “Power Within,” which increases your hitting power while slowly draining your HP, and using a ring that increased by stamina, and chasing Artorias down. When he bounced back to charge up his abyss-sword-thing, instead of healing, I dived after him and locked him into a pattern of getting owned. My biggest turnaround.
The H.R. Giger DeviantArt fanpage known as Manus, Father of the Abyss is tricky because he’s got the bulk of a slow boss and the hitting speed of a “duel” boss; it was impossibly hard for me to find the right moments to pound on him. I resorted to the summon, partly because I liked the lore so much, partly because I was lost without him. Remember Sif, the giant wolf with the big sword? This DLC takes place in the past, when Sif was a cub wolf accompanying Artorias on his Davey-and-Goliath adventures through the abyss. Once I summoned him, I got the breaks I needed to start hitting a distracted boss, and he went down in my second summon run-through.
Black Dragon Kalameet is the first of the game’s “real” dragons, bastards with impossibly high HP pools who can knock half health your health away with a tail swing and all of it away with fire breath. (You can kill the minor dragon in the Undead Burg, and I did as I cleaned up the game.) I experimented with Power Within again, because this is a fight when you take small stops to heal damage anyway, but didn’t use it on my lucky final playthrough. That involved a Havel ring (which allows you to carry heavier items without slowing down) and the Black Knight Halberd (which is heavy). I was so scrambling and desperate that I didn’t chop his tail off, which would have gotten me a sword I wasn’t going to use. Too happy to have navigated so many swings without getting flattened.
You have to make sacrifices to kill Dark Sun Gwyndolin, whose magic has been casting an illusion that makes Anor Londo look sparkling and prosperous, instead of the wreck that it really is. To fight her, you have to find a secret door; when you kill her, which isn’t that hard (running down a hallway to slash her as she teleports back), you enrage the city’s firekeeper, who tries to kill you when you return to her now-extinguished bonfire. I liked that twist, threatening to rob you of your souls (the game’s currency) when your guard is down, but didn’t fall for it.
The lore of “Dark Souls” is rich and confusing, and I wouldn’t have taken the time to understand it if a fun online community didn’t translate it all. Gwyn is a punchline, a god-king who built the world you just conquered, only to immolate himself by lighting the First Flame that kept life on earth from dying. You don’t realize what that means until you find him: Gwyn is a walking corpse, with a fraction of his old killing power, still plenty enough to kill you. I got stuck for a little while before realizing that Gwyn was hopeless if you hit behind one of the stalactites on the floor and kept moving around him. A cheap way to go out, and I punished myself by lighting that First Flame and startling the cycle all over.
Not literally, just in the game. New Game+ is for the next pandemic.