“FUCK,” I shout, as I stomp my foot in anger. I hope my housemates can’t hear me, but they probably can.
I’ve lost to this Titan Souls boss for something like the 25th time in a row. Some of the losses came after minutes that felt like they stretched on for hours, gruelling dances where a single wrong step meant immediate, brutal doom. Others were like this:
Walk in, get flattened, reconstitute my thoroughly pulped bones and musculature outside. Walk back in, last a little longer (or shorter), repeat. It’s those insta-death moments — those times where I roll right into an obvious attack like a total dope, despite the fact that I’ve done this more times than I can count with both hands — that make me upset.
But soon I realise that I’m not actually upset at the game. I’m upset at myself. It’s a common refrain when dealing with tough yet fair games that draw their menacing spirits from the likes of Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls. But while Titan Souls does share some similarities with the games from which it very nearly steals a name (note: Titan Souls is from an entirely different developer, if you couldn’t tell), it’s also a uniquely focused beast of its own sort.
The majority of Titan Souls is this:
And so on.
Boss fights. Big bosses, little bosses, and… well, mostly big bosses. There aren’t really any other enemies. But while these behemoth bastards pack a punch that suggests they have been storing up their rage for the countless ages they have been lying dormant, everything else comes down to the number one. Bosses have one hit point. So do you. You also have only one attack: a solitary arrow that, thankfully, you can call back to you after you’ve fired it off. Be careful, though: bosses won’t politely take a breather just because you decided to summon old faithful back to its quiver.
As a result, everything is over in a flash. Fights tend to end — one way or another — seconds or, at a most, a minute or two after they begin. Most of the time, like this:
But one in every five or ten or twenty or fifty times, this happens, and it’s glorious:
And then your tiny dude, your rolly polly pillbug of a combatant, briefly grows larger than life.
Ethereal light surrounds him, engulfs him like a firework show, a thousand shooting stars. The crowd goes wild. Grown women and men weep openly. For a brief moment, Kit Harrington displays an emotion other than Pout.
It is glorious, and again, it happens in a flash. That’s key. That is THE THING about Titan Souls: each boss fight is like the fever pitch final seconds of a boss fight in any other game. The tension, the stress, the sweat, the knowledge that a single, perfect blow will end it all. Those tales of valor and glory, failure and tragedy that live on in the “badass game moments” portion of your brain for years to come. Titan Souls is an entire game of those. And it mostly works. It mostly manages to capture that drama again and again and again in unique ways, even if it’s hard not to feel like there’s a sizable element of trial-and-error to it.
Thing is, there are also lulls. Moments where you’re just doing stuff like this:
Or trying to figure out how to make a boss wake the fuck up from its eons-long slumber for that mortal appointment you two agreed to over coffee a couple ages back:
I don’t know how to feel about those moments. On one hand, I like the element of discovery. I like that Titan Souls isn’t just a boss rush mode wearing grown-up video game pants. There are a few nicely hidden bosses, too — including one that made me feel so shitty and guilty (in a good way) that I had to put the game down for a bit. There were shades of Shadow of the Colossus all about. Those things give the world a sense of identity, a feeling of mournful mystique. That’s excellent.
Problem is, most of my time spent playing Titan Souls has consisted of either a) fighting/dying or b) walking back to where I last fought and died so I can fight and die again. As a result, little hikes between respawn points and boss rooms — pleasant though they initially were — quickly became tedious. Ant hills grew into molehills which grew into mountains which grew into, like, 20 mountains trying to be a huma — er, mountain pyramid.
That, too, is why I get mad. That, too, is why I stomp.
It’s like when you’re pissed off or upset about something and a friend ardently tries to make you feel better, even though you’ve told them repeatedly that there’s nothing they can do. It’s just like, ugh, I get what you’re trying to do and it’s nice, but leave me alone for a bit, OK? Let me just do the thing I’m trying to do. Stop getting in my way.
But those moments are also why I calm down. Why I stop stomping. Those moments let me compose myself, if only for a brief moment. Turns out, when battles are this short, when I have to redo so little, a few seconds is all I need to feel better about losing.
One stomp followed by one deep breath. There’s that number again: one. Then I trudge back to the boss’ lair, and — if I’m lucky, if I’ve finally assembled the thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle that is my brain and reflexes working in tandem — I fell the foul beast in one perfectly timed blow. One solid tug later, my arrow is mine again.
“FUCK YOU, YOU DEAD IDIOT,” I want to shout, to find catharsis after all the trouble this stupid monster put me through. But then I… don’t. Just as quickly as my rage and adrenaline kick up, they subside.
And that’s it. Seconds later, the room I’m in loses its colour, its light, its life.
I took it, stole it, really. The smoking embers of my rage turn to strange sadness. I can’t help but feel a little guilty, like I did something bad to this big weird thing I just met, that I woke from sweet dreams to swiftly and decisively murder. That feeling, however, fades quickly. The time I spent with these things — whatever they are — every second counted. Each arrow shot, each dodge roll, each life, each death. Because again, they were such intense moments, even if they were relatively brief. I have almost no doubt that each of these bosses will live on in my memory for a long time to come.
Actually, I know it for a fact. I played the original version of Titan Souls back when it was an itsy bitsy game jam game in 2013. Fighting those bosses again in the full version was like greeting old friends. It’s a very video game mindset, I think, to cherish such hated rivals so fondly. But hey, it’s like they say: with enemies like these, who needs friends?
So in a way, when you’re killing a Titan Souls boss, you’re not really killing them at all. You’re making them live forever.
That is, however, the killing blow for my rage. I can’t stay mad at a game that gives me so many great moments, so many bitter enemies turned happy memories.