Bloodborne (and Dark Souls/Demon’s Souls) will make you feel like a million different emotions, most of them different forms of frustration. But what about when you’re successful? I’d argue that’s a little different. During my time playing From Software games I’ve taken down my fair share of bosses, and I’ve managed to isolate the five distinct types of euphoria that come with that success.
They vary from calm, composed satisfaction, to swearing at the TV like a wild, drunken hobo.
For me, surprisingly, it’s usually the former.
Example Boss Battle: The Capra Demon
When people think about Dark Souls I’d wager this is the reaction they expect to have after beating an extremely difficult boss: the outburst of rage, a trash-talking vomit of negative emotions. You’ve been frustrated and denied for hours and hours and now you’ve finally defeated your nemesis. ARGH I’M GOING TO SWEAR A LOT NOW.
But the truth is, despite being your prototypical angry Scotsman, I’ve only had this reaction one time: the first time I beat the Capra Demon.
Why the Capra Demon? I have a theory. It’s an argument that centres around the idea of ‘fairness’.
The Capra Demon is one of the few bosses that, when you first stumble across it, feels inherently unfair. Players typically get to The Capra Demon early, under-leveled, with crappy gear. In that moment they come face-to-face with a boss with the ability to kill you stone-dead after one or two attacks. In short: players are not ready for The Capra Demon. They are never ready.
Combine this fact with how cheap the whole scenario is: The Capra Demon attacks alongside two dogs. On their own, these dogs are easy to kill but, combined with the sheer might and terror of The Capra Demon, those dogs are utter bastards that slow you down and distract you long enough to get your sorry arse beaten to a fine goulash in seconds by the big daddy Capra Demon. Those dogs will trap you in a corner, they’ll attack you long enough so that you can’t move.
TL;DR: frustration levels are high in The Capra Demon boss fight. The stakes are high, the intensity is high. It’s a feeling akin to being bullied. The Capra Demon is the bully in question, the dogs are those two pathetic lackeys that hang around with him doling out insults. When you finally beat them all the temptation is to fall to your knees in a fit of pure, teary stored-up rage.
My reaction was pure unfettered anger: I literally stood up and pointed at the screen screaming “FUCK YOU FUCK YOU FUCK YOU” over and over again. Then I sat down feeling a little embarrassed with myself.
Example Boss Battle: Ornstein & Smough
People often talk about Dark Souls and Bloodborne in terms of its fairness: that typically you die because it’s your fault. You haven’t learned the game, you got overconfident, you didn’t pay attention, etc. Generally I think this is accurate. It’s also the reason why we’re less likely to react to victory with a violent, visceral rage.
The most common reaction, for me at least, is the calm, zen-like focus of understanding. You’ve fought this boss many times. You are now aware of his/her/its patterns and you know how to react to each one. You are currently in the zone. You are having the dream run of dream runs and you feel utterly invincible.
This happened to me during perhaps the most notorious boss battle in Dark Souls: Ornstein & Smough. Not even The Capra Demon boss battle gave me as many problems. I died far more often and frequently in this boss battle, but my reaction after victory was far different.
I’ll never forget it. Ornstein & Smough is a powerfully difficult boss battle. You face off against two behemoths – one small and fast, the other large and powerful. When you kill one, the other inherits the other’s powers. I was at the point where I had killed the lightning quick Ornstein and was now focusing all my attention on Smough. Normally this was a terrifying experience, but for some reason, on this particular occasion, everything just clicked. I remember darting in and out of super-charged Smough’s attacks and thinking, ‘this guy can’t hurt me, he can’t catch me, there is no way I’m going to lose’.
I was just literally unbeatable in that moment. Pure zen.
So when I finally beat Ornstein & Smough I felt nothing. And I mean that in the best possible way. I was in a meditative state. I was at peace with the world and everything in it. All that was left in me was one powerful, relieved exhale of breath. I was in an elevated state of mind.
Example Boss Battle: The Unborn One
This is a new one for me. I literally had this feeling for the first time on Friday night. I had just defeated The One Reborn. This wasn’t a super difficult boss battle, but by no means was it easy.
I did, however, work out a super effective way to ‘win’ relatively quickly. This made me feel like a super cool dude with massive muscles and a big ol’ brain.
I won’t go into details on how I beat The Unborn one, mainly because Bloodborne has only been out for a week or so and I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. Here’s what I will say – it’s one of the few boss battles that, when I finished it, had me actually swearing at the television like a crazy person.
I wasn’t screaming and shouting in a weird Capra Demon-esque rage. I was calm, self-possessed. Here’s what I said:
“You should have known better than to fuck with me.”
I actually said those words. God, I’m such an embarrassment.
I can’t explain it. I just felt like a badass. I felt so goddamn cool for taking out this boss, for not having to Google it. For being able to read the situation and react accordingly. It felt good.
Example Boss: Gaping Dragon
A large number of bosses in Dark Souls II fall into this category, but the Gaping Dragon from the original leaps out as the perfect example, mainly because I remember being so disappointed at how easily I dispatched him.
I’ll never forget seeing the Gaping Dragon for the first time. He crawls out of the sewers. Initially he looks like a reasonably-sized lizard, but nah. That’s just one of his heads. The rest of him clambers out from the depths and for a good minute the sweat is leaking from your eyeballs. LORD JESUS CHRIST WHAT THE HELL IS THAT THING?
But tragically that adrenaline pumps down to a trickle when you discover that the Gaping Dragon is a relatively ho-hum boss that can be dispatched fairly easily.
Some of this is elitism, part of it is a boring old humblebrag. But I truly enjoy the challenge of a difficult Souls boss and every so often a battle can sort of underwhelm. I remember feeling a slight bit underwhelmed with the Gaping Dragon. My reaction when I defeated him? A little bit hollow if I’m being honest.
Example Boss: Any of them really! (Most recently for me: The Cleric Beast)
I think I might enjoy this one the most.
It’s exhausting. You’ve been going toe-to-toe with some goddamn hellspawn creature for 30 minutes. You’re taking risks here. You’re using up all of your resources and if you die now you are totally buggered. But it’s the heat of the moment. You know you can do this! You’ve got this.
By Christ. He’s almost dead. You can’t handle the pressure of this situation. Like a goddamn buffoon you just charge in swinging damn the consequences. You only have to hit the boss two more times so bugger the last vestige of patience you have and just swing for the fences!
(Note: I have died doing this way more times than I’ve been successful.)
But when this works. Oh dear God when it works. It’s amazing. Close to the ‘white hot rage feeling’ but not quite.
This is more about relief; it’s almost traumatic. You’re far more likely to collapse into a pile of your own stress-tears. You probably don’t have the energy to swear at the TV.
The magical thing about this is the constant stress. In this particular case you haven’t yet earned that feeling of pure mastery. Most likely this is happening: you are flying by the seat of your pants and said pants are on fire. You’re having a dream run. You are in way, shape or form ready to beat this boss but you just did and WHAT A GODDAMN FEELING IT IS TO BE ALIVE.
I think, of the five, this feeling is by far my favourite.
This post originally appeared on Kotaku Australia, where Mark Serrels is the Editor. You can follow him on Twitter if you’re into that sort of thing.