Think FromSoftware and your mind instantly flies to a skeleton rolling forward, right? Or an electrified goat that rolls. Or a bald man who giggles as he throws you in a hole. And, of course, the tough boss fights with misshapen dragons and fallen omens from the West Country.
Since playing Monster Hunter Rise, which is largely a succession of escalating boss fights with large lizards, I’ve started comparing these scuffles to Elden Ring boss battles. And I think a lot of their differences come down to simple health bar, or lack of it.
Wander through a foggy door in Elden Ring – or any Souls game – and you’ll come across a horrific What and its equally horrible health bar. You will attack the boss with your halberd and watch closely to see if the health bar reacts the way you want. Either you will see a nice big piece evaporate, at which point you will charge yourself with renewed energy, or you will barely see a dent in it, at which point you will probably open your arms and accept the warm embrace of death.
Obviously, the health bar is not an Elden Ring exclusive feature, I understand that. But it’s something I’ve become a lot more aware of since bouncing between Monster Hunter Rise and Lands Between. In the midst of battle, not only am I crouching and weaving between some claws, but I am also gathering information from a horizontal red stripe. At the most basic level, it tells me how much pain I am delivering with each stroke, but beyond that it is also a timer that does not tick unless it acts accordingly; a reminder that if I want to emerge victorious, I have to punch the hourglass and make that sand move.
Large lizards in Monster Hunter Rise have no health bars. Hit their scales and some damage numbers appear. At first, it’s a strangely esoteric process, where you are crossed out with 7 and 31 and 14 and have no means to glean its meaning, other than occasionally turning orange if you’ve tickled a sweet spot. But then you learn to follow your intuition and figure out how to make those big orange numbers appear, which is the first step from amateur trapper to Gon Freecs. And as you learn to follow your instincts, you learn that the monster’s behavior is the equivalent of that red health bar and also the complete rejection of it.
At first, the monsters in Monster Hunter are like athletes who are taught not to give anything away emotionally, absorbing blows as if it were nothing. Make those numbers pop up, though, and they’ll start to tire, falter, and even run away from the scene entirely! Elden Ring bosses don’t do anything like that, they only get stronger and stronger if you knock them down enough.
Both games see the challenge differently, I think. The leaders of Elden Ring want you to feel like you’re facing insurmountable difficulties and use its health bars as a tool to exert pressure and encourage courage. At all times you can see the finish line dangling under your nose and the key is – literally – to hit the bad guy and not get hit by the bad guy. Meanwhile, Monster Hunter brawls are messy psychological fragments that can last up to an hour, where the challenge lies more in defusing a beast’s behavior and knowing it’s just as vulnerable as I am: the person who hits them in the head with a horn. big hammer.
The leaders of Elden Ring are gods and rulers. Spooky beings and dog statues orbiting an almighty tree. As soon as the health bar appears, it’s a cue that you need to prove that you can survive a gauntlet with a creature that demands excellence. Beat them and you will erase an irreplaceable being. Compare this to Monster Hunter, where monsters, no matter how threatening or large, are assets. Build a routine to harvest them more efficiently, even wearing your own skin to optimize the process. They are scary and powerful, but they are not out of reach.
While I love Elden Ring and Souls and appreciate the ecstasy of belittling a nightmare boss for the first time, I’m starting to understand Monster Hunter’s distinct lack. Yes, they are two very different games with fights that serve a different purpose, but without the health bars you really tune in to the beast you get on with. Sure, Elden Ring has beaten Monster Hunter in terms of the size, size and importance of its creatures, fueling the fantasy of beating people like a monstrous and misshapen earwig, but I’d say their health bars keep you at a safe distance, reducing any interaction. with these supreme beings in a one-way deal.
Aside from a transition to a state of anger or a snippet of dialogue, Elden Ring – and many bosses from other games as well – rarely show any signs of weakness. You might get the primal snot out of each other, but other than the health bar that says their health is low, you wouldn’t know. They are emotionless, swinging towards you as if you haven’t already been involved in this fight for twenty minutes.
Switch to Monster Hunter, though, and you really feel like you’re in a wreck with a being who recognizes the situation. Take off the health bar and it’s as if the big lizards have been emotionally and physically unlocked, showing their strengths and weaknesses through a behavioral change, instead of standing and pointing a meter down.
Look, I’m not saying I want all health bars to go away. I love the exhilaration of emptying a bar down to zero. I just think that Monster Hunter’s rejection of such an element of a video game adds more than it subtracts, making the battles a true demonstration of the character of both sides, not just one.