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.
Having completed my venture through the Nightmare Frontier, it was now time to return to the Lecture Building and vacate the premises via the second-floor doorway, taking me to what is essentially the penultimate area of the game – the Nightmare of Mensis. The area begins with a relatively short hike uphill to Mergo’s Loft, an ominous castle containing some powerful(and frustrating) enemies. There’s also two more boss battles – Micolash, Host of the Nightmare and Mergo’s Wet Nurse(I’m still impressed with only 50% of these).
I mentioned previously that this is where I feel like I fail to grasp, not completely anyway, where I am and what the hell is going on. My understanding is…<deep breath>both Nightmares – Frontier and Mensis are realms existing within another plane, one which cannot be accessed in any physical form? Micolash and the other students of Mensis(scholarly slugs in the Lecture Building) sacrificed their physical bodies, but inhabit the nightmare in mind and are typically identified by the Faraday-like, Mensis Cages on their head. Their offering was a way of gaining access to the Great Ones through Mergo, child of the formless Odeon and Queen Yharnam…or something like that. I don’t know. I feel like half of the fun(?) of replaying Bloodborne has been the accompanying homework assignment(NOT sarcasm, actually) of researching and attempting to keep track, both on paper and mentally, of the game’s bafflingly dense lore. Shoutout to r/bloodborne for the many bullet point explanations posted for individuals like myself who lack sufficient Insight to comprehend all of this!
The Nightmare of Mensis begins with a relatively short uphill hike to Mergo’s Loft, an ominous castle containing some powerful(and frustrating) enemies to contend with. I managed to avoid the few silverbeasts and rock-tossing yetis before reaching the entrance to Mergo’s Loft, which is divided into three parts – Base, Middle and Wet Nurse’s Lunarium. Once inside, I ran straight past the swarm of spiders and Mergo’s attendants. Going through the next doorway, I finally met up with Micolash, Host of the Nightmare. The fight itself is pretty simple, but you spend most of the time chasing this fuckin’ weirdo through a series of hallways avoiding endless skeleton enemies as he rambles on about “Kos…or some say, Kosm” or sometimes just begins howling like a wolf. Once you finally corner him at the end of a hallway it’s only a matter of avoiding his attacks, of which there’s only two, one of them being an annoyingly strong barrage of seeker projectiles. After Micolash had been awakened from his nightmare mind palace, it was time to continue my ascent to the top of Mergo’s Loft.
Mergo’s Loft also has one of the best blood echo farming spots in Bloodborne. Starting from the Mergo’s Loft: Middle lantern, you can take out seven different Shadows of Yharnam(much easier at this point in the game) and three gigantic pigs with a set of eyes like those of a spider <insert ‘Peter Porker’ joke here>. Making a short trip through the neighborhood, you can rack up an easy 40-70k blood echoes, so I spent a few minutes doing a little bit of farming. I believe I was around level 85-90 at this time.
Once I had leveled up a few times, I took the third and final cage lift to the Wet Nurse’s Lunarium atop Mergo’s Loft. Upon reaching the lunarium, you will see the area is completely vacated except for a black stroller in the center of the courtyard. You can hear the sound of a baby crying – Mergo, child of Odeon and Pthumerian Queen Yharnam, who can be seen just outside the boss arena. As you approach the stroller, a short cutscene plays showing the arrival of Mergo’s Wet Nurse, guardian of the infant Great One. The menacing boss is covered in a black cloak, resembling a ringwraith and brandishing not one, but six curved blades. Wet Nurse also has the ability to shroud the area in an arcane mist and will summon a duplicate of itself to teleport around the area and attack. This can be a tricky boss fight, fortunately I remembered its biggest weakness is to eletrical attacks…and I had a fistful of bolt papers and had become quite adept at timing charge attacks with my threaded cane. Nightmare slain.
Moving into endgame stuff now, so consider this the obligatory spoiler warning…
It was at this point, I returned back to the Hunter’s Dream, now ablaze after defeating Mergo’s Wet Nurse, indicating I had reached the endgame of Bloodborne…well, kinda. Despite how little it appeared I had left of the game, I still had a couple quick errands to complete before moving forward I looking through my weapons and blood gems, I realized that I had never found the tool to equip any of the Odeon runes I had been acquiring since the early areas of the game. I honestly didn’t remember where I picked this up during my previous playthrough. It turns out that I needed to return to Hemwick Charnel Lane as the very next room after the one I fought the Witch of Hemwick. Oh, right…got it.
In doing some preparations to get all three of Bloodborne’s endings, I realized I still hadn’t unlocked the back entrance to Iosefka’s Clinic. I had meant to do this probably a dozen gameplay hours ago, but had gotten distracted and forgot about it…story of my life. There’s a locked door immediately behind you when you first begin the game which leads to the upper areas of the clinic. This can only be accessed coming from the opposite direction, which is accessed through a lengthy detour in the Forbidden Woods. Once I found my way back to the Forbidden Woods and crawled through a poison cave(of course), I was able to take a series of ladders that eventually lead to the back of Iosefka’s Clinic. I took out the sole celestial emissary wandering the hallways before meeting up with Iosefka. This not the real Iosefka, but an imposter, and is found lying on an operating table seemingly delirious with pain and can be heard saying “God I’m nauseous… Have you ever felt this? It’s progressing. I can see things… I knew it, I’m different. I’m no beast… I… Oh… God, it feels awful… but, it proves that I’m chosen. Don’t you see? How they writhe, writhe inside my head… It’s… rather… rapturous…”. She then drops a One Third of Umbilical Cord, which would imply having been impregnated by a Great One. Uh….huh…
There was still one final area to visit before moving on to the final boss fight(s) and chalice dungeons – Castle Cainhurst. This frigid estate is home of Annalise, Queen of the Vilebloods whose bloodline have been at war with the Healing Church. This area can only be accessed after picking up the Cainhurst Summons, found in the upper rooms of Iosefka’s Clinic, and catching a ride on the spooky carriage crossing the lake on the edge of Hemwick Charnel Lane.
Similar to most other areas found in the second half of Bloodborne, Cainhurst isn’t particularly large. The main objective is to reach the roof of the castle and the next boss fight – Martyr Logarius. After making your way through the castle grounds, you find a throne at the far end of the roof sitting in darkness and snow. Logarius sits there, looking like a two hundred year old corpse, before standing up and unleashing swift hell upon you…as one would expect. Nine out of ten times squaring off against any matter of human(oid) enemies will feel much more difficult than facing a giant, Monster Hunter-like beast, for me anyways. Logarius is no exception to this as he casts a number of spells that can attack from a range as well as some vicious sword/scythe combos that can quickly end you. It was a tough battle, but I again emerged victorious…and after only two attempts. Back to the Hunter’s Dream…
My previous playthrough of Bloodborne had been on an alternate PSN account that I use primarily for streaming purposes, so this would be my first time playing through the game in its entirety. As such, I made the decision while playing that I would maybe….possibly go for the platinum trophy so I’d have that on my main account, which meant I would need to collect every weapon and defeat every optional boss in the game. This also meant I would need to go through the gauntlet of chalice dungeons…again. The chalice dungeons consist of 3-5 layers, each one requiring you to find the lever to unlock the door leading you to the boss fight before you can descend to the next level. I’ve decided to skim over my time with these for the sake of brevity –
Pthumeru Chalice – “E.Z.”
Central Pthumeru Chalice – “Still pretty easy this late in the game”
Lower Pthumeru Chalice – “Starting to present a challenge”
Ailing Loran Chalice – “Just here to find the Bastard of Loran”
Defiled Chalice – “Fuck this place. Seriously”
Great Isz Chalice – “Everything’s covered in slime. Got any Red Jelly?”
Pthumeru Ihyll Chalice – “The Queen lives here, right?”
Well, the time has finally come. The final boss showdown awaits. As soon as you clear Mergo’s Loft, you return to the Hunter’s Dream and see the workshop has gone up in flames. You are then informed that Gehrman, the old wheelchair-bound hunter who has been there to provide vague information and guidance through your journey so far is waiting to speak with you. Making sure I had weapons durability checked and fully upgraded, Odeon runes set, blood gems equipped, and a plentiful stock of blood vials and Quicksilver Bullets, I ventured through the courtyard of the Hunter’s Dream to speak with him. He sits waiting for you in an open area that feels reminiscent of the flowery field where the final Boss fight takes place in Metal Gear Solid 3. The stage is set as Gehrman offers you a choice: submit your life or refuse, with each choice corresponds results in a different ending. Accepting the elder hunter’s offer shows hunter Dude waking up to the morning sky as if the entire ordeal was but a nightmare, this unlocks the “Yharnam Sunrise” ending. Refusing the offer causes Gehrman to basically shake his head and stand up, pulling out a sword and scythe as you now get the pleasure of fighting yet another hunter. The fight can be pretty challenging as the old man is deceptively agile and can dish out the pain(see above comment about fighting hunters vs. beasts), but I had spent roughly 10 hours scouring chalice dungeons so being under-leveled was definitely NOT a concern. After defeating him, hunter Dude looks into the sky as the blood moon is in full view, suddenly the Moon Presence appears. This elusive entity simply floats midair, tentacles flowing(of course, wouldn’t be Lovecraft-inspired without it) for a moment as it closes in and embraces the victorious hunter. The game then cuts to hunter Dude, who is now in a wheelchair, being pushed up to the Hunter’s Dream workshop, indicating the cycle has began anew. This unlocks the “Honoring Wishes” ending.
Time to call it a night then, right? Nope. There’s still one more ending in Bloodborne to unlock. As you make your way through the latter areas of the game you will come across items called “One Third of Umbilical Cord”. These consumable, yes…consumable items are needed to access the third(secret? true?) ending of the game. Three of these are to be…used before defeating Gehrman – lucky I’ve had plenty of practice, which allow you to fight the Moon Presence. The battle actually feels a little easier than the prior one against Gehrman, I’m guessing the fact that it’s fairly susceptible to fire, bolt and arcane damage is a big factor here and reminded me a bit of fighting Majora’s mask form on the N64. It only took me a single attempt to defeat the Moon Presence. Once the fight it over, a cutscene takes place showing no trace of the Moon Presence or hunter Dude, except for a small squid-like creature that is shown lying on the ground, unlocking the “Childhood’s Beginning” ending. My hazy understanding of this is: the Moon Presence attempts to embrace the hunter after defeating the current watcher of the Hunter’s Dream and was able to sense the “inside eyes” as a result of the One Third of Umbilical Cords used. This caused the Moon Presence to become enraged and fights the hunter. The little squid creature shown indicates the hunter has transcended everything and become an infant Great One. The trophy description kinda says that one outright…
And Bloodborne is complete once again, along with another platinum trophy for the collection! Coming off Elden Ring I was curious to see if my feelings about the game have changed at all. If anything, I’d say it’s made me appreciate the game even more. There’s so much to absorb in Bloodborne that I could spend nearly as much time reading and attempting piece together what everything means as playing the game itself. I have the Old Hunters DLC downloaded on my PS5 and will be playing through that next before finally moving on to something other than a From Software game.
“You have the whole night to dream. Make the best of it.”