Alright. So, let’s pretend you’re a kid sitting in front of the living room tv playing Mega Man 2 on NES, or a grown-ass adult playing the Mega Man Legacy Collection on your Nintendo Switch, it makes no difference. You’ve guided the Blue Bomber through Wood Man’s stage and will be squaring off against yet another one of Dr Wily’s robotic rogues. Wood Man’s attack pattern begins by sending a group of leaves into the air. You try not to take too much damage from this weaponized foliage as it floats back down towards you; at the same time, Wood Man will fire his leaf shield directly at you, providing yet another obstacle to avoid. The battle can prove even more daunting as you realize your Buster Cannon in its default form doesn’t deal a ton of damage; however, you’ve already defeated Heat Man and have absorbed his Atomic Fire ability. This weapon upgrade proves all the difference in the contest as it takes roughly two charged shots to defeat Wood Man.
Every enemy in Mega Man games have a set of specific strengths and weaknesses against a particular type of weapon. Identifying which upgrades are effective against which enemies – essentially a rock-paper-scissor match with each robotic foe, makes an ENORMOUS IMPACT in combat rather than simply jumping, shooting and dodging your way through each level. This has become one of the central gameplay elements to Mega Man games and was something that I routinely thought of as I played through Dark Souls over the summer. It was during many of the boss fights contained within From Software’s dark fantasy epic that I realized the similarities in how most boss encounters, while intimidating at first, can be made to feel much less so once you discover and exploit an enemy’s distinct weakness(es).
One of the earlier boss fights in Dark Souls is the Bell Gargoyle. You come across this enemy on the roof of the Undead Parish before reaching the bell tower. The fight itself is pretty straightforward – dodge and attack. Once the Bell Gargoyle’s health reaches the halfway point is where the real fun begins; you will be promptly be joined by ANOTHER Bell Gargoyle and have to face off against not one, but TWO of these winged assholes. I spent several attempts trying to get the attack patterns down and generally testing my own patience in the process. I was ultimately unsuccessful as I just couldn’t avoid the near-constant onslaught of fire breath attacks from both gargoyles. It wasn’t until I randomly looked in my inventory for any consumable items that may be of use to me that I noticed I had accumulated several gold pine resins, which when applied add a healthy dose of lightning damage to your weapon. On the VERY FIRST application of gold pine resin to my weapon, I completely annihilated both Bell Gargoyles in about a minute flat…well, shit. I had spent so long grinding away at this boss fight, hoping to finally get the attack patterns down and picking the ideal time for a counterattack that I was actually caught completely off guard by how some seemingly small detail like applying lightning damage to your weapon could have in, what had been a difficult fight. It was actually this moment that made me begin to understand the way most boss fights can be approached in not just Dark Souls, but most From Software souls-like games.
Moving on to another example…
You get your first glimpse of the Stray Demon in the opening minutes of Dark Souls as you make your way through the Northern Undead Asylum. The (optional)fight doesn’t actually occur until you return to the Asylum a little later in the game – another fight that gave me a fair amount of trouble in my first several attempts as this thicc bastard can absolutely wreck your chance at earning that ‘W’ with some potent magic AOE attacks. In doing a bit of research on the fight that I learned of its Achilles heel – bleed effect. The Stray Demon fight can be trivialized by the fight you can stroll, well…fall, more precisely into the boss arena with nothing a base level Bandit’s Knife capable of causing bleed damage(as well as a shield with magic resistance) and emerge victorious, which is EXACTLY WHAT I DID. Is the Stray Demon an imposing enemy? Yes. Does it have a not-so-obvious weakness to be exploited to the point of being (almost)laughably easy? Also, yes.
Ornstein & Smough
Of course, there’s times when you simply WILL NOT have the upper-hand against a particular boss – either because you never picked up the weapon/ammo to gain the upper-hand or they…just don’t have any distinguishable weaknesses to exploit. Reaching the level boss in a Mega Man game without the weapon giving you the upper-hand usually means you’re stuck using nothing but the Mega Buster and having to memorize every single movement and attack if you wanna win the fight. This happened to me MANY more times than I’d like to admit in Dark Souls, making the game feel even more similar to the Blue Bomber’s various adventures. The example which comes to mind first during my playthrough of Dark Souls was the infamous Ornstein & Smough fight. I had made my way through Anor Londo, dealing with a dozen sentinels and a whole goddamn army of silver knights before finally coming face-to-face(-to-face) with the proportionally mismatched duo. This fight took me what felt like the better part of a week. One of my biggest disadvantages, outside being outnumbered, was the fact I knew there was a weakness to exploit – FIRE. I just had no way of doing so. I didn’t have any weapons or consumables to deal fire damage, with no souls to make a quick detour and acquire any either. This meant If I was going to take on both Snorlax AND Pikachu, I had to do it the hard way – patience and pattern recognition. Just like with Mega Man, it IS possible to go through the entire game without using elemental attacks to give you an edge, but it makes an already uphill battle even steeper. The fight against Ornstein & Smough wasn’t exactly pretty and took me an eternity, but…I did it, dammit!
Of course, I’m morally obligated to mention Bloodborne in at least one blog post a month and a number of boss fights could apply to this as well, though most end up falling under the basic “BEASTS = USE FIRE” guidelines as established by the Hunter’s Workshop…which could be an entirely different post for another day.
Thanks for reading!