What Drives a Person to Make an Impossibly Hard Dark Souls Boss Even Harder

Most try to escape Fume Knight as soon as possible.
SotFS_Raime

Five hours and 20 minutes is a long time to do anything, but an especially long time fighting the same boss in a video game. And yet, I couldn’t stop watching this lengthy documentation of someone very slowly fighting Fume Knight, a notoriously difficult boss from the Lost Crowns DLC for Dark Souls 2. It’s a boss that gets people to scream into the void, a boss FromSoftware at point declared to be the hardest in the series. Fume Knight is a walking nightmare, a creature of devilish design that most people try to move on from as fast as possible.

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But the reason this particular fight takes so long, when it would typically take somewhere around 15 minutes, is because of the extraordinary conditions under which it took place. The title of the video is “Fume Knight NG+7 CoC Fists Only No Rings SL27 - No Damage (Segmented),” which includes a lot of terminology that, understandably, makes no sense.

  • Fume Knight? That’s the boss, the big meanie. He hits hard.
  • NG+7? New Game +7 means the player is on at least their eighth playthrough of Dark Souls 2. Every additional New Game + significantly increases enemy damage, and the game caps out at New Game +7.
  • CoC? Company of Champions, a faction in Dark Souls 2 that makes enemies, including bosses, deal up to 50% more damage.
  • Fists Only? You do not carry a proper weapon, and instead fight enemies with your pathetic bare hands. You do almost no damage.
  • No Rings? You cannot use equipment that would provide a buff or boost.
  • SL27? Soul Level 27, the player’s experience level, of which level 27 is absurdly low.
  • No Damage? The player does not take any damage.
  • Segmented? Well, let’s revisit that later.

Fume Knight is famous—well, infamous—because they’re huge, yet move incredibly fast. A single swing of their charged up sword can kill. Infuriatingly, Fume Knight can even heal. Unlike other bosses, Fume Knight does not give the player quarter. Typically, you can walk away from a boss and they’ll grant breathing room. Fume Knight, on the other hand, charges, and prevents players from taking a break. Fume Knight is not an optional boss, and yet they’re commonly referred to as the kind of boss even hardcore players will skip over, instead choosing to not finish the game’s DLC.

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The Dark Souls franchise attracts gimmicks. People play the game with Donkey Konga bongos, or a Dance Dance Revolution pad. Some gimmicks are merely that—a weird way to play—while others, like this, prompt existential questions about the universe. Why do this?

“I know [it looks] really tedious and some kind of torture,” admitted numbandroid, the player behind this video, to me recently.

numbandroid's fights didn’t start at five hours. That happened over time. While watching other Dark Souls players who emphasize unique challenges, numbandroid became fascinated by long, drawn out fights that physically and mentally drained the person holding the controller. At the time, numbandroid was playing Bloodborne, and so they loaded up a favorite boss, Ludwig, and tried fighting them with a weapon that didn’t have a single upgrade.

30 extremely long minutes later, Ludwig was dead—and numbandroid had a thirst for more.

You can see the escalation play out on numbandroid's YouTube channel, where they uploaded a series of “no damage” fights against various bosses. Three minutes, five minutes, maybe eight minutes. Then, it jumps. 30 minutes. An hour and 10 minutes. Three hours. Three hours and 25 minutes. Six hours. The longest fight on numbandroid's channel, up against Bloodborne’s fiery Laurence, plays out over a staggering seven hours and 50 minutes.

Seven hours and 50 minutes!

The reason these fights last for so long is because numbandroid's damage output is pathetic. A typical player might land around 300 points of damage on each strike. numbandroid does 10. You honestly have to squint at the screen to make out any dent in the boss’ health.

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It takes careful planning and nimble execution to land a single hit, and numbandroid has to land thousands of them in order to take Fume Knight down. This is a fight where most players, even seasoned veterans, come in with their best equipment, plenty of healing items, and possibly even teamed up with a friend. numbandroid has his fists—and lots and lots of time.

There’s a moment that happens when fighting a Souls boss that is familiar to every player. Towards the end of a battle, when it seems like you might be able to pull it off, your fingers tense up. You can feel victory, so you throw caution to the wind and try to get an extra hit. Inevitably, the boss bites back and kills you, sending you back to square one. What numbandroid is doing is experiencing that for every moment, for hours on end. It never stops.

But for numbandroid, the fingers weren’t the problem.

“The mind is the one that tends to get tired,” they said. “I tried to meditate or talk to myself so I could keep myself even more occupied.

The other issue was more existential in nature: time. The challenge of battling Fume Knight for hours on end has less to do with traditional skill than it does sheer endurance. The mind can wander, and that’s when mistakes can happen.

“I had a timer on the upper left side of my screen,” said numbandroid, “and sometimes I thought that 10 minutes had passed when only three or five had. Watching that can make it a bit tedious, so I decided to not look at it until I really felt like a really considerable amount of time had passed.”

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If, at this point, you’re wondering if there’s a trick, that’s because there is. Remember the one term I didn’t explain about the video? “Segmented”? That’s because numbandroid doesn’t do these fights all in one go. The experience is so psychologically exhausting that numbandroid came up with a system that allows them to play through the long fight in shorter segments.

Ahead of a fight, numbandroid spends time planning out how to break up his time with it. For Fume Knight, they arbitrarily decided every segment had to be at least an hour, and one segment had to be at least 90 minutes. Against Fume Knight, the longest segment is one hour and 44 minutes. If numbandroid takes a hit, which usually results in death, the segment starts over. This happened a number of times while trying to take down Fume Knight.

When a segment is over, numbandroid can’t just pause the game; Dark Souls doesn’t let you pause the game. (FromSoftware actually broke from this convention with last year’s Sekiro.) So instead, they look at the recording, and make note of where Fume Knight’s health is at. When it’s time to record the next segment, numbandroid puts a piece of tape on the monitor:

1580154813485-Fume-Tape

Then, numbandroid uses a normal weapon that’s capable of decent damage to get the boss’ health back into position. From there, they strap on those trusty fists and goes back to it. You can clearly see the cuts in footage, which makes it obvious numbandroid isn’t trying to cheat.

“I can't even imagine myself fighting for three or even more hours flawlessly with perfect damage avoidance,” they said, “which doesn't seem very doable. It is possible, but I don't find it to be healthy at all for me. The segmentation might come across as cheating or me being called a shit splicer, but I have to think about how to make things bearable and fun, and not grind towards things I find unhealthy for me that might wipe all the fun out of the game.”

Which gets back to the original question, what got me here in the first place: Why? Because it’s fun. It’s that simple, it turns out.

“It's tons of fun to spend a lot of time with a boss you love, because you learn the boss enough to a point you know all the stuff it can throw at you,” they said, “and you end up spending a lot of time doing something that you like, which is a pretty good tool to forget about everything else.”

Follow Patrick on Twitter. His email is patrick.klepek@vice.com, and available privately on Signal (224-707-1561).