The Souls series is notorious for punishing its players. And nowhere is more apparent than in the franchise’s epic boss battles. The high-fantasy RPG began with the release of 2009s Demon's Souls, but it wasn’t until the release of Dark Souls a few years later that the series really took off.
Two more installments have been released since — all of which have received critical acclaim thanks to their immersive worlds and challenging gameplay. But while many of these boss battles are frustrating, what keeps players coming back to the Souls series is just how sweet victory can taste after taking down one of these unforgiving foes.
The Ancient Dragon is far from one of the most enjoyable fights in the Souls series. But that doesn’t stop it from being any less challenging. Unless you’ve dedicated the entirety of the game toward building strength, this massive beast can defeat most players in one shot. Therefore, a majority of this battle involves running away from the Ancient Dragon before you can get caught up in its fiery breath.
Its melee moves may be a lot easier to dodge, but the Ancient Dragon also presents very few openings — leaving players to chip away at the dragon's massive health bar one or two blows at a time.
The final boss of the first Dark Souls game, Gwyn wasn’t nearly as hard to beat as many players may have feared. But the Lord of Cinder was still one of the hardest bosses in the series.
Gwyn is an extremely aggressive fighter; his attacks are quick and relentless. How a player fairs in this fight will largely depend upon how much time they've spent leveling-up for this epic showdown. One thing Gwyn does have going against him is that his attacks can be parried. But missing even one of these parries could open the player up to a devastating combo.
Darkeater Midir is an optional boss who appeared in The Ringed City DLC for Dark Souls 3. Despite being one of the larger bosses in the game, this dragon is actually easier to fight head-on rather than simply going for his feet or tail.
This will inevitably put you in the path of Midir’s fiery breath and slashing claws. While these moves aren’t hard to see coming, they can still be extremely difficult to dodge. Not to mention that Midir is surprisingly fast for his size and the dragon makes good use of his entire arena throughout the fight.
One of the hardest bosses in Dark Souls 3, Sister Friede and Father Ariandel appeared in the game's first DLC.
This battle includes three distinct stages, each of which is more challenging than the last. The relatively-easy first stage may give the player a false sense of confidence, as Friede’s moves are well telegraphed and easy to dodge. Things ramp up a bit when Father Ariandel enters the mix, but it’s ultimately the third phase that is the most frustrating. Blackflame Friede is ridiculously fast and extremely aggressive. Trading damage is really the only way to win; so don’t square off against this boss without the appropriate amount of strength, health, and stamina.
Most Dark Souls’ battles require a lot of patience on the part of the player. But patience is definitely not a virtue when facing off against the Four Kings. This boss battle is a race, as the bosses spawn on a timer. Therefore, taking out one king before the next appears will greatly increase the chances of emerging victorious.
The Four Kings also do less damage the closer you are to them — which is yet another aspect of this fight that might seem counter-intuitive to many players. Players who have solely focused on building strength may also realize just how much stamina they're lacking during this battle.
Once again proving that some of the hardest bosses in Dark Souls are found in the DLC, Fume Knight is the final boss in Crown of the Old Iron King. There’s basically no margin for error when facing off against the Fume Knight, as many of his attacks can single-handedly drain the player’s health bar.
The fact that he wields two distinct weapons during the first stage means that no one side of this boss is safer than the other. The Fume Knight’s greatsword also has an unusually large hitbox, which might leave many feeling that this fight was a bit unfair.
One of the most important characters in Souls lore, Knight Artorias’s reputation really proceeded him in this epic battle from the Dark Souls DLC. Having been corrupted by the Abyss, this fallen knight’s moves are often erratic and unrelenting.
Knight Artorias also wields such power that trying to block this boss will result in nothing more than wasted stamina. Instead, the player is forced into dodging many of Artorias’s swift attacks under the hopes that the enemy won’t one-shot them into an abyss of their own. That being said, defeating Knight Artorias can make for one of the most satisfying fights in the franchise.
In Souls games, sometimes the safest place when facing off against a giant four-legged boss is to stay directly underneath them. But Black Dragon Kalameet doesn’t let the player linger below him for very long. This intimidating dragon is fast and flighty.
Kalameet also has a long list of melee and ranged attacks — which aren’t always the easiest to see coming. Any of these combos could quickly drain the player of their health and stamina. To make matters worse, Black Dragon Kalameet leaves very few windows long enough for the player to heal and collect themselves.
If you thought squaring-off against one Dark Souls boss was hard enough, try taking on two at once. This is exactly what happened during the halfway point of Dark Souls, where players must face the lightening-fast Dragonslayer Ornstein and the massively-overpowered Executioner Smough.
The move sets of these two bosses perfectly compliment each other in the most frustrating of ways. Waiting for the right opening is paramount to winning this fight; though openings are few and far between. Headed into battle with another player is always an option. But it won't give you the same satisfaction as defeating these two bosses alone.
Like so many bosses in the Dark Souls series, how difficult you found Manus, Father of the Abyss will depend on a wide range of variables — including your character's build and fighting style. But all things considered, Manus checks all the boxes of what makes for a challenging boss; he’s relentless, versatile, and extremely intimidating.
Even the most seasoned of Souls players will likely only be able to get in one or two hits at a time. Otherwise, the majority of this battle will be spent dodging Manus’s barrage of potentially life-ending melee and magic attacks.