Written by Jonathan Wojcik, most images from the series wikidot!

The Souls Series!

   Since the debut of Demon's Souls and its spiritual successor, Dark Souls, I've heard on an almost weekly basis that its monster designs seem like my cup of tea, and they are; I just held off on reviewing my favorites until A) some better screenshots were available and B), Dark Souls II was out to broaden the selection even further. These games really are chock full of grim horror-fantasy fiends, and some marvelously inventive weirdos I couldn't even improve upon myself, though as kind of a non-game-player, I have to rely on wiki entries and youtube videos to learn much of anything about these cuties. Regardless, here's a slew of Souls monstrosities that speak to me the most, all mixed up in a nice wet pile for your perusal.

Chaos Eater (Dark Souls)

   We'll start off with the cutie-poot I've already shown off, the Chaos Eater! Subtly calling to mind one of Lovecraft's Great Race of Yith doing a hand-stand, this thing is just a giant, fleshy cone with rubbery hose-feet, sucker hands and dozens of randomly arranged googly-eyes, a winning combination of features hearkening back to the Bug Eyed Monsters of early 50's sci-fi pulps. That's one of my favorite things for anything to hearken back to, and it's a critically under-appreciated motif in today's gaming world. The best thing about the Chaos Eater, however, is that the top of its head is just a gigantic, bladed maw, so the monster is essentially a huge, biological smoothie maker. It pops you right into its top, pulverizes you into mush, and then expels that mush back out of its hose-legs. That's right. Its arms are its butts. It grabs you with the same thing it is subsequently going to shit you back out of. I don't know what any of this has to do with eating chaos, but I know it's positively darling.

Bear Bugs (Demon's Souls)

   "Bear bugs" are huge, heavily armored, subterranean arthropods who generate enormous amounts of heat and live comfortably in magma. They are also quite clearly giant tardigrades, also known as "water bears" and famous for their ability to survive in brutally harsh conditions. I honestly never thought I'd see giant, lava-dwelling tardigrada in a mainstream video game, and if you had asked me to guess what game series they were going to crop up in, I'd have been 90% certain it would be pokemon. Now, I do appreciate how accurate Bear Bugs are for the most part, but some of them can fly, with insect-like wings, and now they're just getting silly. Only the Insecta have wings like that! They evolved from the gills of ancestral aquatic insects! Tardigrades don't have those! They aren't even evolved from anything that would have had those! This is like putting feathers on an amphibian. What do they think this is, a FANTASY setting!?

Gaping Dragon (Dark Souls)

   Definitely one of the more interesting dragons in the gameniverse, this thing was apparently so consumed with gluttony that its body just split open into one giant mouth, directly into its stomach, with its rib cage mutating into rows of insane teeth. To top things off, its wings are degenerated, so it can't fly, but it can flap them to assist it in leaping, which is exactly what some crickets and grasshoppers can do.

Mimic (Dark Souls)

   A fan favorite, Dark Souls offers by far one of the most outrageous looking and hilariously terrifying "mimic chest" monsters I've seen in...well, pretty much ever. The needly fangs and dangling tongue are fairly standard to "generic" mimics in more lighthearted settings, but the simple addition of that pallid, filthy humanoid body and arms propels it into deranged nightmare territory, especially considering its towering size. I love how, in its open position, the "tongue" is just exactly where you want the human figure's head to be. Just like mine! I don't feel so alone, now.

Flame Salamander (Dark Souls II)

   Our first monster from DSII, there's a lot to like about the flame salamander. For starters, its overall body structure is accurately salamanderous, with a broad, flat skull and nubby limbs straight off the real amphibians. Of course, the similarities end where the rocky lava skin begins, and where its eyes ought to be are a pair of swiveling, volcanic nozzles. Does it shoot fireballs out of those or something? I can't really find any footage or description, but I should hope it does. It's still cute if it doesn't, but then they'd have still wasted a good opportunity.

Depraved One (Demon's Souls)

   These gross goblinoids inhabit a place called The Valley of Defilement, which we'll be talking a lot more about here, trust me. I take it the depraved ones are former humans, apparently warped and mutated by disease, resulting in their hideous faces akin to the masks of plague doctors. The crooked teeth, dangling tongues and bulging eyes fused over with flesh are all pleasingly wretched, appropriately like a human crossed with a rotten bird fetus. I think I'd be most creeped out to encounter these guys out of everything we'll be seeing here, honestly.

Crow Demon (Dark Souls)

   There isn't a lot to say about the crow demons or "harpies" of Dark Souls, except that they're amazingly disturbing for simple bird-headed, bird-winged humanoids. It just goes to show how even the most generic sounding concept can be memorably weird and frightening with just the right artistic touch.

Crag Spider (Dark Souls)

   It's interesting that they call this giant, firebreathing arthropod a "crag spider," when there's actually nothing really spider-like about it besides some long, jointed limbs. It even has fly wings, indicating insect descent (or do I need to explain that all over again?), so "spider" is just sort of a local colloquialism. I'm reminded of how certain flightless, bloodsucking flies are sometimes called "sheep ticks" just because of their tick-like lifestyle. Also interesting, of course, are the crag spider's human-like hands. Just where did this thing come from?

Parasitic Wall Hugger (Dark Souls)

   I enjoy almost any monster that can be described as "sack-like," and the parasitic wall hugger, a completely unique and massive sessile enemy, is a mighty fine sack, with whip-like tendrils at one end and sucker-tipped legs at the other. I'm not sure what's supposed to be "parasitic" about it, however, since it doesn't appear to be feeding on any other, larger organism, but "parasitic" does get tossed around to describe a lot of fantasy monsters who never actually display any parasitism. Shame. I'm going to pretend the parasitic wall hugger lets go of the wall now and then to hunt for dragons or giant demons or whatever and suck some of their body fluids while they're sleeping.

Man Eater Shell (Dark Souls)

   Yes. Good. I like this. Bivalves seldom get a chance to be threatening monsters, and here we have a bivalve that runs around on spider legs and keeps a big pile of human skulls in its shell instead of pearls. There's little else to say about this walking, carnivorous scallop but I had to show my deep appreciation for the inclusion of such a thing at all.

Vile Maggots (Dark Souls)

   Vile maggots themselves are basically just your run-of-the-mill giant maggots with inaccurate chewing mandibles (really not as interesting as the corrosive drool and walrus-tusks of real maggots) but their brooding habits are nothing to sneeze at, transforming humans into gruesome-as-hell "egg carriers" who can pass an "egg head" status on to player characters, which is exactly what it sounds like. Your head becomes an egg, and it can produce vile maggots as an attack. It actually does nothing but look cool and penalize your collection of souls (by half) but it is clearly worth it.

Wheel Skeleton (Dark Souls)

   How funny and how awesome is the Wheel Skeleton? It's exactly what it says on the box. It's a skeleton in a wheel. And I probably don't need to tell you that it takes all the advantages you expect from being in a wheel, such as rolling, and...well, that's it, but that's plenty good enough. I like to imagine there must be entire roving gangs of punk-ass wheel skeletons wheeling it up in the streets of skeleton city, deliberately rolling exactly where the skeleton police put up "NO ROLLING" signs. Why should they care about rules? They're skeletons stuck in wheels, there's little else life can throw at them at this point. You just can't keep a wheel skeleton down. There's nothing they can't roll with.

Chained Prisoner (Dark Souls)

   "Chained Prisoner" is an awfully unremarkable name for what is actually a huge, harmless blob of flesh with legs. Officially described as a "bizarre mass of filth," any discernible features it may have are completely obscured under its mummy-like wrapping of chains, one particularly massive, rusted ball and chain draped in place of "arms" and a huge wooden pole impaled through its tumor-like torso. As we'll see, this series really likes its meaty, faceless hulks and I couldn't agree more with its sensibilities.

Demon of Song (Dark Souls II)

   Gorgeously creepy, this thing is basically a huge, greasy, eyeless toad with a decrepit, humanoid face and arms concealed within its mouth, which you really have to see in action to appreciate. Check out how it actually has to pull the frog mouth open and shut with its arms! It's a minor touch, but one that just adds so much personality.

The Rotten (Dark Souls II)

   This huge, corpulent quasi-humanoid monster is formed entirely from normal-sized human bodies which have "rotted together" into one disgustingly fused mass. Again, it's the little touches that make a simple concept stand out; the two faces where its eyes should go, the rusted cage holding together its head-like region, and especially the fact that it crawls around on dozens of little limbs instead of one big pair of legs. Also, when not engaged in combat, it keeps its giant, bloody, rusted cleaver completely inside its body for safekeeping.

Bloat Heads (Dark Souls)

   Formerly human, these residents of the land of Oolacile were corrupted by a demonic entity, losing their humanity in exchange for vastly sexier faces, and I'm sure the first thing on your mind is whether you, too, can be that sexy. Apparently, yes, because when you kill a bloathead you can collect their bloated head and wear it as an item. It's described as hollow anyway, but "lined with mucus." Are they really their "heads," or just semi-living masks?

Poison Jelly (Demon's Souls)

   This is another enemy from the Valley of Defilement, and I know it's basically just a giant, freshwater jellyfish, but I like just how unpleasant it looks, almost more like a big open sore drifting in the rancid ooze. I wish these actually existed. I wish there were at least tiny gross-colored jellyfish that lived in stagnant filth. I'd need very little else for a pet, except maybe the phosphorescent slugs that also inhabit the valley, but nobody seems to have ever taken a half-decent screenshot of them. How can nobody appreciate giant slugs enough to document them in high resolution?

Phalanx (Demon's Souls)

   One of the most inventive bosses in the series, Phalanx is actually a collective of roughly man-sized slimes, each fused to a shield and a spear. By fusing together, they become one virtually impenetrable, sea-urchin-like mass, defending their otherwise helpless, shadowy core! Coincidentally, this also looks almost exactly like the cambrian invertebrate Wiwaxia. Look it up!

Dirty Colossus (Demon's Souls)

   This was actually the first monster I ever saw from this franchise, and it was instantly endearing. You know how I love any monster whose entire theme is being dirty, rotten and malodorous, and this craggy mass of blood-stained spikes is an interesting look for a filth-monster whose major mode of attack are its dense swarms of flies. Most of dirty's charm, however, lies in his burlap scarecrow-head, dangling off to the side where a head really doesn't belong and looking rather miserably bored even as it attempts to murder people. Dirty Colossus, The Rotten and the Chained Prisoner really seem like they'd make a great trio, don't they? They could just form a giant, smelly metal band, called Dirty Rotten Prisoner.

Vagrants (Dark Souls)

   This is one of the oddest, most original things in all of Dark Souls, which is saying quite a bit at this point. "Vagrants" spawn only where someone else's player character has died in your game, I guess representing corrupted remnants of the souls they've collected, and come in both "good" and "evil" forms. "Good" vagrants look like little, round white eggs with short, spider-like legs, and flee in terror when approached. "Evil" vagrants, on the other hand, have fiddler crab claws and shadowy chaos roiling in their broken shells. Why do misplaced souls turn into fiddler crab egg monsters? What didn't we know about souls all this time?

Basilisk (Dark Souls)

   Like the mimic, these have become pretty iconic to the series, and they definitely deserve it. They easily rival the basilisks from Final Fantasy as my favorite interpretation of the legendary beast. These basilisks have it all; weird bird-like talons, little chicken-wing fins on their forelegs, toad-like bodies, and most importantly, those preposterous giant "eyeballs" to give them a dash of cartoonishly surreal horror, though their anatomy isn't quite as it might appear. The "eyeballs" can actually inflate and deflate, like the throat sacs of a frog, and on closer inspection, their retinas are only markings. They're not eyes at all! The basilisk's actual eyes are so tiny, they're barely even noticeable near the corners of its mouth, while its inflatable false eyes are just glands full of the toxic gas it spews over its prey!

As you may know, basilisks in mythology can kill things just by looking at them, which usually translates into some sort of deadly eye-beam in fantasy games, but the Dark Souls team decided to forego the obvious supernatural powers and gave us a believable, biological explanation for their basilisk's "death gaze." It doesn't really kill with its eyes, but it's very easy to interpret that way - especially in a setting knee-deep in the dark ages.

Plague Baby (Demon's Souls)

   The star attraction of the Valley of Defilement, these beautifully disgusting, mushy-skinned little undead are exactly what you're possibly hoping they're not: a seemingly infinite supply of either miscarried or aborted fetuses who've all been dumped in what is essentially an enormous open sewer, bobbing along its many shit creeks until they all end up in a single, central pit. Creepier still, they're watched over by (and in turn protect) a woman whose relationship to them is left completely open to interpretation. I'm just glad there's any game where you get to fight off swarms of rotting fetuses in a giant diarrhea swamp. You don't even get to do that in The Binding of Isaac, though you certainly almost do. That's a pretty good game too.

Darksucker (Demon's Souls II)

   Finally we come to my very favorite Souls monster of any I've seen, just narrowly beating out the plague babies. I both love and resent this thing, because a giant leech-like organism closely resembling a creepy, alien hand is a concept I've literally been doodling off and on for a while now, but now nobody is going to believe me if I use it in a monster concept. I guess nobody can really own the idea of a hand-shaped leech, though. Heck, the multi-headed leeches in Silent Hill were basically giant arms too, weren't they? Maybe I'm good. Maybe I can still draw a hand-shaped leech without accusations and ridicule. Right? Right?

You know what, I don't even need your approval. I'll draw all the giant hand-shaped leeches I want, when I want, where I want. Try and stop me. I will break into your parent's house and draw one directly on your mom.

Halloween 2014 Archive: