Two Terrible, Two Furious: Part II

First of all, we’re not gonna talk about the fact that I wrote the first part of this little discussion in MAY of 2022. Good lord, I’ve been neglecting my poor blog so badly. Also, please forgive the title. If you missed the first part of this twofold deep dive into FromSoftware’s approach to duo bosses, or have forgotten it entirely (I mean, I almost did) you can catch yourself up here. The short version is that, while playing through Elden Ring, I noticed a certain lack of care, a missing piece in the normally meticulous design of these games when it came to the multi-boss showdowns. That signature FromSoft intention seemed to have disappeared entirely. I wanted to explore the studios previous iterations of these types of fights, and how their approach has evolved over the series. When it comes to Elden Ring, there are several factors for me personally that make these terrible twos a big miss. But we’ll get to that later – for now, resuming my stroll through the series with Dark Souls 3.

Lothric Princes & The Nameless King (Dark Souls 3)

Clearly I’m cheating a bit here and talking about two bosses from this game – and while they’re sort of duos, they’re a little bit different. Dark Souls 3 went ahead and changed the formula when it comes to duo bosses; there are some of the more traditional style (where you have to manage two separate bosses at the same time) like the Demons in the Ringed City DLC, or the Champion’s Gravetender in Ashes of Ariandel. However, there are also some duos that fight as one. I’m thinking of the princes, Lothric and Lorian, as well as the Nameless King. I personally love the way that these ‘duo’ fights work – they’re unique characters with memorable fights, and they’re easily stand-out encounters in the Souls series overall. While these fights may not feel as overwhelming initially, they do come with their own set of challenges. They’ll test your ability to time your dodges and blocks with intention – when you’re forced to account for multiple attacks coming from the same front, you need to be precise, or else be caught in a constant state of panic-rolling, and Estus-chugging (no, I’m not speaking from experience, why do you ask?) And so, watching for these flurries of attacks is the real challenge – a new brand of multitasking!

The Lothric Princes

When it comes to the princes, you’ll be fighting Lorian exclusively in the first phase – he can’t use his legs, and shuffles around on his knees, but his brother, Lothric, will teleport him around the room so he can wail on you. And let me tell you, Lorian is a strong boi. When you think you’ve defeated Lorian, Lothric will teleport himself down into the main arena and revive him. Lorian then rises, with Lothric on his back, and suddenly, you have to contend with the both of them. Though Lorian’s moveset stays more or less the same, you’ll have to watch for Lothric’s ranged magic attacks and their new combos. Both Lothric’s homing missiles, and the single kamehameha can kill you if you aren’t careful. With Lorian’s brother riding shotgun, this fight feels demanding in a different kind of way.

Source: Fextralife

In some ways, this still flows like a one-on-one fight, because Lothric and Lorian technically move together, but having to pay attention to the different styles of attacks coming your way changes the encounter significantly. Creating distance is tricky because of Lorian’s ability to teleport; this makes backing off to heal nearly impossible once you add ranged magic into the mix. Though their arena is similar to the cathedral where you face Ornstein and Smough, and the pillars can give you some cover, it’s a bit more of a risk here – there are tons of chairs and other objects around the edges of the room. Apparently royalty is not above hoarding. Everything is breakable, sure, but you risk getting yourself stuck and demolished by Lorian. And then there’s the whole revival mechanic – there’s no option to fight these brothers one on one. When Lorian’s HP reaches zero, Lothric will simply revive him (he gets knocked down, but he gets up again… unfortunately) until you defeat both of them.

The Nameless King

I consider the first phase of the Nameless King fight to be a trio showdown, rather than a duo, because you’re fighting the King, his dragon mount, and the camera. Sure, one of those three doesn’t have a health bar, but it does make the initial part of the battle really fucking hard. I prefer not to use lock-on during this first phase, because the camera simply goes insane, and I am not here for it. You’re going to have to keep an eye on the King of the Storm (aka the dragon) as well as the King on his back with the giant spear. The Nameless King is all to happy to skewer you if you’re paying too much attention to the dragon, while the dragon is content to roast you like a rotisserie chicken if you get too greedy.

Source: Fextralife

Once you’re clear of the first phase, the second is your typical boss showdown – just you and the Nameless King. This is genuinely one of my favourite boss fights in the entire Souls series (despite my issues with the camera in phase one) and though it’s not the conventional version of a duo fight, it sure is memorable. I found it interesting that Dark Souls 3 stretched the concept of the duo showdown, and played around with different versions of what it might look like. This created a sense of surprise, and a unique layer of intensity to the combat compared to duos past. And these aren’t the only bosses who reimagine this style of fight – Pontiff Sulyvahn, for instance, can create an apparition of himself that shadows his every move. Your dodging skills have to be nearly perfect to avoid both the Pontiff, and his clone. Sister Friede and Father Ariandel are another example of a more unique duo fight. I appreciated these innovations that Dark Souls 3 tried, and the way they managed to focus on integrating both lore and challenge into their battles.

Mr. and Mrs. Ape (Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice)

Still a better love story than Twilight. On my first playthrough of the game, I almost missed this fight entirely. When your mission becomes finding the tools for immortal severance, Sekiro prods you in a certain direction – toward the Bodhisattva Valley, and the Guardian Ape Boss. That way, when you head towards Mibu Village, and pass through the Ashina Depths, the second showdown with the Guardian Ape is set and waiting for you. Being the shithead that I am, I went to Mibu Village first. When I passed through the cave where this boss eventually resides, I remember thinking to myself, “huh, this sure looks like a boss room” and then forgetting about it entirely. A friend and I were playing through the game at roughly the same pace, and one of our conversations went something like this:

Him: “That Double Ape fight was super hard!”

Me: “…what Double Ape fight?”

In the first phase of this battle, you’ll only have to contend with the Guardian Ape – he behaves almost the same as he does in his second phase of the original fight, though some of his patterns are slightly different (just to throw the player off, I’m sure). When you strike the first deathblow, the Ape will retreat and call for backup – that’s when Mrs. Ape joins the fray. HE ASKED FOR NO PICKLES, OKAY?

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You can fight these two anytime, using the Reflection of Strength option!

This particular boss arena is pretty unremarkable – its a cavern, without any defining features, like the pillars or headstones of duos past. It’s also a little cramped, given the gigantic size of these apes, without a ton of room to maneuver. This can make things tricky – both the Mr. and Mrs. can easily destory you if you get trapped against a wall or in a corner. The arena for this fight isn’t much of a factor in getting that win – it all comes down to capitalizing on the behaviours of these two bosses. No doubt there are a million and one strategies for fighting these two, but here’s mine: I focus down Mrs. Ape first. If you manage to kill Mr. Ape, the female Ape simply says “alright, fuck this shit” and passes away (relatable, honestly) – however, I’ve always found that targeting the Guardian Ape first to be quite difficult; I prefer to eliminate his companion, and then simply focus on the 1 v. 1 with my headless pal.

Now, Mrs. Ape is fairly passive throughout the fight, but there is one specific time when she charges you, and you’re able to get a few free hits in with the help of the single greatest Shinobi tool (aka the Firecrackers). When the Guardian Ape does his scream attack, where he slaps his severed head back onto its stump (gross), his Mrs. will move in to attack. While he’s busy, you can stun her with your Firecrackers and swing away until the Guardian Ape is back in action. Her posture meter builds up quite quickly, so if you’re able to bait out Mr. Ape’s scream attack, you can dispatch her with 2 or 3 rounds of firecrackers. Once she’s out of the way, it’s simply a fight against a familiar foe.

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Must… be… patient…

Really, this fight is all about timing and patience – even more so than some of the other duo fights we’ve discussed. It’s about choosing your openings, and trying not to rush. If we want to be boring and talk difficulty, I’d say this is one of the ‘easier’ duo fights – even though Sekiro’s combat is geared toward one on one showdowns, the fight is manageable once you understand how to handle it.

The Crucible Knights & Godskin Duo (Elden Ring)

Well, its only taken me about five thousand words to get to the game I initially wanted to talk about – the one that sparked the idea behind this post. To reiterate what I said many moons ago, the duo fights I’d encountered in Elden Ring were quite disappointing; there didn’t seem to be any intention behind their design, beyond adding an additional layer of challenge that felt fairly arbitrary. Though at that point, I had yet to face the two duos that I’d heard the most about – the two Godskin apostles, and the pair of Crucible Knights. The latter fight is optional, but for completionists and explorers, it probably feels like a necessary obstacle. 

The Crucible Knights

The room for this fight is pretty familiar for any player who’s faced the horrors of duos past, simply because it’s a variation of the same style that FromSoft has used for many a bro-down showdown (beginning with Ornstein and Smough). The fairly spacious, hallway-esque room with pillars framing both sides is once again a huge boon when facing attacks from multiple fronts. The pillars can be used to separate the pair of knights, while the scale of the room itself is helpful for creating distance to heal, or attack more safely without worrying about taking damage from the knight you’re not focused on. There’s both the spear variation of the Crucible knight, as well as the sword version. Theoretically, at this point in the game, you should be familiar enough with both of them (they appear frequently as bosses or regular enemies in various areas throughout the Lands Between) that nothing about the fight should throw you off or surprise you. As always, the challenge comes from having to manage both at the same time.

I must admit, forcing myself to become proficient with parrying these annoying knights made this fight a million times easier than it probably could have been. I found the best approach to be eliminating them one at a time – because they both have second phases (where they get much more aggressive, and have attacks with increased range) I figured trying to whittle their health down equally would be a bad idea. I murdered the Sword Boi first, then dealt with the Spear Boi solo. Individually, they’re underwhelming this far into the game. But even together, they weren’t exactly exciting. The fact that this is one of the more memorable duo fights in the game is pretty telling. But we’ll get to more Opinions™ in the conclusion.

The Godskin Duo

Ironically enough, this is the only duo I’ve faced across the Souls series and their spinoffs where I wasn’t alone – turns out, I was the real boss all along. It was a nice change of pace. I ended up conquering the Godskin Duo with my blogging pal, Kate, and her partner, Eric, while doing some co-op. After seeing the fight firsthand several times (as we fought this boss in both Kate’s game, and mine) I’m glad I had the help of the homies, because I don’t like the way this fight is structured at all. Not only are the two Godskin bosses unimpressive – they’re not unique, as you can encounter both of them at least once before – but the boss room is also a bit of a letdown. It’s another version of the pillared room we’ve discussed several times thus far, and it doesn’t feel like it was designed with the nature of this fight in mind. Sure, you can rely on the tried and true method of using the pillars to separate these two, but they feel noticeably less useful. It’s really down to both Apostles having incredibly annoying abilities in their second phases. While one can cover distance extremely quickly with a murderous roll that immediately ends the fight if you’re caught in the open (or not fully, entirely DIRECTLY behind a pillar), the other can stretch out like a cooked spaghetti noodle and slap you from across the room. Of course the pillars are still helpful, but this fight can quickly get out of hand, and this arena style doesn’t feel quite right.

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Not a huge fan of this room.

Personally, I felt that a room similar to the main cathedral in Anor Londo from the original Dark Souls (where you fight Lautrec and his goons using the Black Eye Orb) might have been more conducive to a fight like this. The key there is the elevation difference – when facing Lautrec, you have three NPC’s to account for, and using the stairs to kite them around was extremely useful. For the Godskin Duo, having a room with this kind of style would have been helpful for two main reasons: the first being your ability to simply isolate each Apostle, and briefly face them alone before the other caught up. The second, more importantly, would help cut off their ability to reach you from afar – I’m thinking especially of the chonky boi’s rolling attack. Being able to move up or down a level would provide a huge, much needed safety net for avoiding some of their trickier moves. Ultimately, I felt that doubling down one of the Apostles was the best strategy, as of course, they respawn after you kill them. Having both of them in their second phases at once puts you in a real pickle, so ignoring one entirely to focus on the other is the best play. Alternatively, you can squad up with friends and murder them both, then jump them as soon as they spawn in so they don’t have time to do anything at all (highly recommend). I know a lot of players relied on the Sleep status to help with this fight, and while that’s a great strategy, I think it would have felt less “necessary” if this boss arena were designed differently. Then again, I’m also not a game developer, so what do I know?

I did want to also make a quick mention of the double Gargoyle fight in the Siofra Aqueduct – though I won’t spend too much time here, because I’ll just be reiterating the same points I’ve already made. Again, these are enemies/bosses that are fought multiple times throughout the game. The second Gargoyle will join the fight once the first one is at about half of its health. This particular arena is once again lacking any kind of pillars or helpful terrain to separate these two goons. And because of their size and attack range, they’re able to cover so much space. All in all, it’s a tough fight in what feels like a slightly unfair way. Though I can’t say this particular arena has nothing to help you out, as there is a very convenient and deadly drop-off by the doorway; in my playthrough, I was able to get the first Gargoyle to yeet himself into the abyss pretty consistently, which certainly made this feel like a much easier fight. Follow me for more pro strats.

The end of an age

So we’ve gone through each game and some of their multi-bosses to discuss what elements of design make each fight unique, yet manageable for the player. Even though these battles can be extremely challenging, there are always allowances made to carve out an advantage; oftentimes strategy is more important than having the ‘proper’ stats, or an uber powerful weapon. If players are able to identify these factors that can potentially make their lives a lot easier, suddenly, these duo bosses don’t seem so bad. However, I found that with Elden Ring, FromSoft seems to have thrown a lot of these principles out the window. While Demon’s Souls was a bit rough around the edges, and Dark Souls 3 played around with crafting more interesting duo encounters, Elden Ring did, well, nothing really. In my humble opinion. I mean, take the duo Abductor Virgin fight underneath Volcano Manor – it’s just two regular enemies that we’ve encountered before, in a completely empty cavern. These enemies have a notoriously evil charging attack, and depending on the variant (re: pizza cutter or swinging axe), some pretty lethal sweeping moves. Not to mention their ridiculous grabs. So, what does this arena have to help you deal with those? Absolutely nothing. Nary a pillar in sight. Not only is this boss completely dull and forgettable, it can be quite difficult if you’re underleveled, as there’s no real advantage to be found. It was yet another disappointment in a slew of already disappointing duos in FromSoft’s latest title.

Design aside, I think my other main issue with Elden Ring‘s duos was their lack of story significance. Though I wasn’t as obsessed with the lore of this game as I had been with previous Souls titles, it was a bit strange that none of the group bosses managed to be particularly relevant, narratively speaking. Many of them were simply rehashed enemies (like the Crucible Knights, Gargoyles, Misbegotten Warriors, etc.) that just didn’t make for any kind of memorable encounter. When I think of Ornstein and Smough, guarding the princess of sunlight in the city of the gods, or the Lothric princes, refusing to do their duty as Lords of Cinder and waiting for the world to succumb to darkness, I can’t muster any kind of enthusiasm for the duo bosses of Elden Ring. They all feel like throw away fights, an obligatory inclusion for a series that has always had them, rather than an innovative way to get the player strategizing, and mastering the essentials of combat. I think you could argue that Elden Ring doesn’t make the same allowances because of Ash Summons, and the fact that the player has more options for help compared to previous games. To which I would say, in short, no with no heart. That doesn’t excuse thoughtless design. I think in the massive scope of Elden Ring, with its multitude of bosses, locales, and combat options, certain elements got lost in the shuffle. Unfortunately, for me personally, these happened to be elements that I look forward to, and sorely missed in this otherwise impressive title. I’m not mad, just disappointed.