[Hollow Knight]‘Hollow Knight:’ Anatomy of a boss fight

  While watching the Nintendo Direct early last week, I kept wondering one thing: Where’s the news on “Hollow Knight: Silksong”? Officially announced back in early 2019, there have been very few updates on the hotly-anticipated sequel’s development. Hoping to fill this void, I revisited the original “Hollow Knight,” which happens to be one of my favorite games of all time. It still holds up. Well, “holds up” is not quite the term. From the gorgeous art style to the tight, responsive combat to the stellar soundtrack, everything about the game works to create a one-of-a-kind experience. Yet, what brings me back, again and again, is the diverse challenge that every unique boss fight brings.

  If you have never played “Hollow Knight,” first of all, go play it. Second, the game is hard. Most bosses will take at least a couple of tries to beat, while the hardest ones may take 20 or 30 attempts.?

  There are three different phases when heading into a boss fight in “Hollow Knight” or any other game. The first phase is the blind first attempt, relying on brute force and reaction speed to do as much damage as possible before your inevitable death. The second phase is the analysis, learning the bosses’ movesets and patterns with each attempt in order to get a little further each time. After countless deaths and lessons, you reach the third phase, where everything clicks. Having learned all their attacks and movements, you go in confident and ready to win. This part is the most fun, because your goal is no longer to learn and die, and you get to whoop the boss’s ass. This cycle of learning and winning creates an engaging gameplay loop. Each triumph feels more cathartic than the last as the difficulties increase and you improve at the game.

  There are a plethora of challenging bosses, yet one duel sticks out among the rest: The Sisters of Battle. At first, the fight feels easy, as it is nearly identical to an earlier fight with The Mantis Lords. The expectation from that fight is present: You will fight one Sister of Battle, learn her attack patterns and then face the other two at once for a more intense conclusion. If you’ve done it before, you can do it again. The Sisters fight starts off the same way as the Lords fight, with a single combatant. You already know all the patterns and have the confidence of beating two Mantis Lords at once, so you are soaring on the high of the third phase. Except this time when you beat the first Sister, there’s an even bigger twist: You have to fight all three Sisters simultaneously.

  When all three Sisters jump down, you must switch back into phase one, relying on reaction and raw skill to stay alive. But this switch comes with a catch — since you are already familiar with their movesets, it never truly feels like you are overwhelmed. Yes, you are reacting and guessing on which way to dash or when to jump, but you already know what might come next. Rather than learning from scratch, you subconsciously use the information you already gained to make the fight easier. Relearn and rewrite what you know, and you’ll have them beat in no time.?

  All of this culminates in the ultimate boss battle, where you become so good that you can counter any move without thinking. You can dodge and weave through three different attacks and still manage to get your damage in. Eventually, the Sisters fall one by one, each successful win more satisfying than the last.?

  The design of the fight flawlessly incorporates the full engagement cycle throughout the battle. Raw reaction paired with knowledge and skill allows for full domination of one of the most challenging bosses in the game. It’s as if something goes off in your brain, where everything clicks together like a puzzle. There is never a dull moment in the fight, where a single mistake can cost your life, no matter how well prepared you are. But when the Sisters bow to you at the end to show their respect, it’s as if you achieved something beyond a video game. Like reaching the top of Mount Everest, you’re on top of the world.?

  “Hollow Knight” has some of the best boss battles in recent memory. Whether you’ve never played the original or you’re a veteran waiting for any news of “Silksong,” take the time to truly appreciate the iconic game. The art, the music, the gameplay and the story are all developed so thoughtfully, but what makes this game so special is what it pushes you to do for yourself.?

  In order to triumph in this game, you have to be persistent, yet it never feels like a chore. Losing the first or the hundredth time makes it feel like you only need one more try. These games are once in a decade, and every victory feels as if conquering the world.?

  So, what are you waiting for? Go beat some bosses.

  Daily Arts Contributor Maxwell Lee can be reached at maxclee@umich.edu

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