Sponsored By

School of hard knocks behind Demon's Souls design.

Demon's Souls was one of the most challenging games I've played in some time and in no small part thanks to its boss battles. They are a great example of designing unique battles to test the player on specific parts of the game design.

Josh Bycer, Blogger

May 27, 2011

10 Min Read

I have been replaying Demon's Souls on the PS3 and besides finding new ways of dying I've been noticing several design elements I missed the first time around. This will be the first part of hopefully several posts dedicated to Demon's Soul's game-play. For this one I want to talk about the boss fights, besides being incredibly challenging there is a method to the madness.

Each boss fight was uniquely designed to teach the player about Demon's Soul's game-play or a very specific challenge. Obviously this entry contains major spoilers as I will be detailing every boss fight in the game. For this entry I will be listing the bosses in order by stage such as 1-1, 2-1, 3-1 etc.

Vanguard: Players will meet this monster at the end of the tutorial and while it is shown as a boss you will meet it again in stage 4-1 as a regular enemy. At this point in the game no matter what class you chose, it will kill you in one hit. Even with that against you I've heard it is possible to beat it and players will be rewarded with a weapon that they won't find until later on. The lesson here is that you will die plenty of times in this game.

Phalanx: The first boss in the game is an important one. If the player can't win they will not be allow to level up or in other words improve their character. A trial by fire if there ever was one as the player is forced to use their character straight out of the tutorial to succeed. At this point in the game the only serious upgrade that is available is buying the heater shield which is the first shield to offer 100% physical damage absorption.

The lesson is on using alternate damage types to win, as the boss's outer shell is highly resistant to physical damage while surrounded by smaller monsters. It is weak to magic and fire which magic users will have an early advantage. For non magic users they will have to use turpentine to coat their weapons or firebombs which are found in the first stage.

Armored Spider: As the first boss of a world dealing with fire this boss can be a painful lesson in having fire resistance. It is also one of the few bosses in the game that can slow the player down and is the first boss to teach the player about tells. The spider's ultimate attack fills the tunnel with fire but is telegraphed warning the player that if they don't get away they are in a world of hurt.

According to the guide the preferred strategy is to use long range attacks but I found myself getting hit too many times by fireballs so I choose close range. As long as you can dodge or block its swipes you should be ok.

False Idol: Going by stage order she is the first boss to use magic against the player and boy does she use it: teleporting, magic shots, paralyzing seals and making clones of herself. Like classic boss design hurting the clones will not reduce the main life bar cluing players in on which one is the real boss. As a boss goes she is one of the easier ones as her tricks aren't as powerful as some of the later bosses.

Adjudicator: Going in stage order, Adjudicator is the first boss that requires a two step process to kill it in close range. Players will have to attack his stomach to weaken him so that his weak spot on his head can be attacked. Ranged and magic users can avoid this step as they can attack it directly however there are consequences to either choice. Adjudicator's sword and tongue attacks are very powerful and getting hit by either can devastate the player. His moves are telegraphed, like the spider requiring the player to focus on dodging and only attacking when the time is right.

Leechmonger: Another boss that has several lessons to teach. First if you fight him in close range you'll have to deal with the poison coming off him slowly reducing your health, an effect you'll see more in 5-2. Leechmonger is also one of the few bosses that can regenerate its health requiring the player to constantly attack it. You can fight it at range but unless you have enough magical power or arrows to keep attacking it you may not be able to kill it.

Tower Knight: One of the biggest bosses in the game and is the first boss to offer the player two viable options to beat it. Either go for long range attacks on the ramparts after dealing with the archers or get up close and attack. This is also one of the few bosses where it is dangerous just to be near him due to the fear of being stepped on. His imposing size was also a great way to inspire fear in the player which the designers will do with several other bosses later on.

Flamelurker: Arguably one of the hardest bosses in the game. If the spider didn't clue players in on the importance of fire resistance Flamelurker drives the point home. His attacks can create mini explosions that can devastate anyone without adequate protection. He is also incredibly fast and a pain to fight in close range. Like Phalanx he is a gateway to another mechanic, this time enhanced item crafting. By handing over its soul to a blacksmith you'll unlock higher item crafting including unique items. The other lesson about fighting him is the importance of dodging attacks instead of outright blocking as he will destroy you before you can out damage him.

Maneater: If Flamelurker is one of the hardest bosses in the game, Maneater is one of the cheapest. Not only do you fight it on a narrow ledge several hundred feet up but after a few minutes a second Maneater joins the fight. This is thankfully the only boss that is made up of fighting two enemies at the same time.It's the environmental constraint that makes this fight so challenging as even fighting two at a time isn't that big of a deal. However with the threat of falling off and the dark obstructing vision turns this fight into a major pain.

Old Hero: Similar to Adjudicator, Old Hero can almost kill the player in one hit if he connects with any of his attacks. Thankfully he has one major flaw; he is blind and wanders around swiping randomly at the air. As long as the player equips the thief ring they can move around without attracting attention. This battle is all about getting quick hits in then getting away as the longer you attack him the quicker he'll be able to determine where you are. This boss was actually relaxing to fight after dealing with the grim reapers in the level whose magic attacks can kill a player in one hit.

Dirty Colossus: For such a difficult level this boss is somewhat easy. Its trick is launching bugs at the player to give them plague status, which is a stronger form of poison. Other then avoiding those attacks the boss isn't too much trouble and can be taken out either through close range or ranged combat. This fight reminds me of the Old Hero battle, in which the level itself is more difficult than the actual boss fight.

Penetrator: For players who are staying offline, this boss is the only one that you can have a partner providing backup. Rescuing a fighter from a dungeon in stage 1-2, he'll repay the favor by assisting you with this boss. As for the actual fight, his attack has a habit of sending out shockwaves and is a precursor in a sense to 1-4's boss.

Dragon God: For most players this will be the first arch-demon they will face. This is an unusual battle as the player is not trying to fight the boss; instead they have to sneak around to reach a ballista at each end of the room to hit the dragon. If the dragon spots the player, they will only have a few seconds to get behind cover before he attacks, which is powerful enough to usually kill any player in one hit.

This is the only boss fight in the game where the player has to use an object in the environment to beat the boss. Players who have ranged attacks have an advantage here as they can use them to attack debris as opposed to leaving cover to attack it at close range.

Old Monk: An unusual fight as the challenge is only demonstrated if the player is online. What happens is that the game will pull another player into the game and use them to fight in the boss's place. For people playing offline they will fight a stock phantom that just uses fist attacks. Now technically the summoned player can be a good sport and let the other guy win, however if the summoned player wins they will get a unique item that can't be found any other way.

Storm Lord: Another unique boss fight and one that becomes easy when you learn the trick. At the far end of the map the player will find a special sword that creates shockwaves when used on this particular stage. The challenging part is dealing with the minions, but the sword attacks can kill them in one or two hits. Overall as long as the player can get to the sword this is another easy fight.

Maiden Astraea: This can be one of the hardest fights in the game and the best part is the player is not actually fighting her. She is sitting in a swamp at one end of the map and will not react to the player's attacks. For close ranged characters they will have to deal with her bodyguard. He is equipped with one of the strongest weapons in the game and one of the best sets of armor that renders him highly resistant to magical damage. Sticking and moving is the best strategy for taking him on in close range and to make matters worse he stays in a choke point the entire battle making it near impossible to get around him.

However for characters that went with long range attacks they will find this fight to be very easy. Since Astraea just sits in one spot the entire time, the player can just attack her with arrows and avoid dealing with her bodyguard entirely. The only thing the player has to watch out for is that she regenerates health but that is a small price to pay for avoiding the alternative.

False King: While there is one more fight after this one, people who've beaten the game know that this is the final boss. This battle is the culmination of the biggest lesson in Demon's Souls: That it is better to avoid damage then to absorb it. A direct hit from any of False King's attacks will do major damage and getting hit by his full attack combo is deadly.

One of his most used attacks is a charge at the player, requiring a well timed dodge to avoid it and set up for a counterattack. Personally I found a combination of quick close range swipes and hitting him from range when he sets up his area of effect skill to be the most potent.

The variety of boss fights in Demon's Souls is an example of great design. Looking over the list I don't see any tricks of one boss repeating for another. The unique tactics behind the Storm Lord and Dragon God fights were developed specifically for these specific bosses. I always enjoyed games that have unique boss fights such as Shadow of the Colossus

Coming down the pipeline I intend to take a look at Demon's Souls rogue-like influence along with my thoughts on its post game content.


Read more about:

Featured Blogs

About the Author(s)

Josh Bycer


For more than seven years, I have been researching and contributing to the field of game design. These contributions range from QA for professional game productions to writing articles for sites like Gamasutra and Quarter To Three. 

With my site Game-Wisdom our goal is to create a centralized source of critical thinking about the game industry for everyone from enthusiasts, game makers and casual fans; to examine the art and science of games. I also do video plays and analysis on my Youtube channel. I have interviewed over 500 members of the game industry around the world, and I'm a two-time author on game design with "20 Essential Games to Study" and "Game Design Deep Dive Platformers."

Daily news, dev blogs, and stories from Game Developer straight to your inbox

You May Also Like