Dark Souls Bosses are concepted to perfection, their difficulty varies for every player that comes through, depending on how you behave as a player. And while there’s always many ways to succeed, there are also plenty of ways to fail miserably and everything kind of depends on yourself.
Out of all these unique experiences, one will go down in my personal history books of playing video games and I guess that runs true for many who have fought their way through the unrelenting world of Lordran.
Dragonslayer Ornstein and Executioner Smough
Even if you haven’t played Dark Souls yet, there is a good chance you have heard these names before. I personally can’t stop talking about them at times, hell when I faced them, I couldn’t even stop thinking about the fight. It’s safe to say that I felt through almost my entire emotional scale of feelings fighting O&S, from rejoicing the first time I was able to kill Smough and was just left with Giant Ornstein to losing my cool when I was killed by an invader on the steps to the boss door, having to say goodbye to my last humanity and the chance of summoning Solaire. The first time I saw their opening sequence, I was in awe of the beautiful presentation, the slowly ascending soundtrack left me in goosebumps and in tense anticipation of what’s about to go down and if this really is the pinnacle of difficulty in an already difficult gaming experience.
It is. But that’s kinda awesome.
Just the presentation is already one for the legends. The scenery is arguably one of the most beautiful sights in the entire game, the mood and feel through the cathedral room filled with the warm and brilliantly golden sunlight is sure to aesthetically please your eyes after you walked through the not so pretty areas of the game.
I might be a little fangirl-ish but it’s hard to not get sparkly eyed when looking at Dragonslayer Ornstein, the golden Lion knight armor is just the single most beautiful armor design I’ve ever seen. His moveset adds to the aura of knightly elegance while simultaneously being a smooth dance of death, his luscious red plume complements his golden attire in a perfect way and I call heresy if you don’t admire him. Smough is equally well designed but plays on the other end of the spectrum, his look is intimidating and kind of repulses me, from the absurdly small headpiece to his fully rendered feet armor, everything is there to trigger you to feel disgusted and terrified. Still he wears the same golden colour as Ornstein and with his into precise detail decorated giant hammer, he still radiates an authority, though it’s not in admiration but more in abhorrence.
This ties in wonderfully with their background story. To simplify, Ornstein is the honorable first knight of the four knights of Gwyn, famed for his prowess and bestowed with many honors. Smough on the other hand is a moral less executioner and a cannibal, hence he was not fitted for the prestigious knighthood but still assigned to guard the cathedral because his brutality knew no bounds and he would kill anyone without batting an eye.
Not only their character design is complementary. Their fighting style is in a perfect state of synchronicity demanding the entire focus that you can possibly give. There is no cover from the lightning fast Ornstein who will cross the entire arena within less than one estus frame, pursuing you recklessly and with hardly any moments for you to safely heal. He even has some ranged attacks to make running away for cover an impossibility.
Ornstein is a hard foe on his own, we know that from fighting the Old Dragonslayer in Dark Souls 2. But dodging his Spear is even harder, when you also have to balance Smoughs unrelenting hammer, ready to crush you beneath it, if you just stay in one place for too long. Victory feels virtually impossible at first, yet you see a small slither of hope on the horizon and you begin to challenge yourself and your beliefs in what you can and can not do.
This carnage is supported by one of the most memorable scores in a game that seems so silent except for the sounds of your suffering. This powerful piece of soundtrack is the perfect balance between melodious memorability and strong adrenaline filled heights sure to raise your blood pressure.
Every minute I spent fighting O&S was with a fast beating heart and holding my breath whenever I tried to go in for an attack. You have to keep so much in mind at once, balancing all your actions perfectly. Where are they both and what are they about to do? How much stamina is left? Can I still roll out of the way? Am I running somewhere where they can corner me? And that is just what you have to constantly ask yourself while you’re fighting! In breaks where you are boss-rushing back up the stairs you have to analyze all your mistakes into detail to understand what you have been doing wrong and if you need to rescale something or use a different weapon or if you need to get better armor. All of this has to be taken into consideration, thoroughly examined and get taken care of.
Now I see where this would put a lot of players off. Video Games are supposed to be your “chill” down time, not demanding you to have a notepad with weapon damage output or having you almost faint because you’re just a couple hits away from winning. And I definitely understand why that is but I’d argue that we’ve been looking at the concept of failure wrong. In our society many of us are afraid to fail to the point of not even trying to avoid failure altogether. In Dark Souls in general but especially against Ornstein & Smough, failure is a normal part of your road to success and every time the sound cue drops and the big red letters flare up on your screen, you have just become a little better at this whole thing. And with every time you get crushed, impaled or electrocuted, your victory pot gets a little sweeter. And if you persevere and attempt again and again you WILL reach that pot.
The moment I knew I was just about to land the final hit on giant Ornstein, an unfathomable wave of gratification rushed over me and I knew all of my jaw clenching, loud cursing and losing consciousness was worth it. I finally climbed my Mount Everest and didn’t even leave my room.
It was in this moment, that my otherwise sometimes a little fragile sense of self worth got granted Ornsteins shiny golden Lion armor and I had proven to myself that I cultivated and refined my skill to press buttons on a plastic controller long enough to overcome a challenge I thought was impossible. Of course it was not just the fact that I defeated a fictional boss in a fictional world, it was the fact that I had beaten my inner critic, tirelessly working against my weaknesses and my desire to turn my back on souls games and abandon everything that I love about them just to avoid failure.
I left that cathedral with a smirk knowing that now I can defeat any boss in any video game ever. And I have a different perspective on challenges now. It’s not about natural talent or luck. It’s about your willingness to beat your frustration over and over again to get to your goal. And I guess that’s a real life lesson right there.
You don’t have to get all philosophical about this thing, but I would strongly recommend to give Dark Souls a shot if you haven’t played it already. Its difficulty is not here to punish you but to challenge you in a safe way, I mean nothing’s gonna really happen in real life when you die in a video game. And Dragonslayer Ornstein and Executioner Smough have shown me that things that are hard to get are likely worth having.