By Jonathan Wojcik and Rev Storm
2022's Elden Ring is actually the first time I've ever "been there" for the release of anything in the broadly defined "Souls Series," that is, the first time I've actually witnessed a souls game in person while it was still brand new, thanks to my spouse buying and playing it through over the course of its first few months. All the while, I was left in charge of hitting the screencap button throughout, collecting our own original shots of many creatures and characters before some of them even reached the fandom wiki.
While the game isn't quite as stunning a monsterfest as Bloodborne or any of the "Dark Souls" titles, it has its share of creative, sometimes deeply disturbing monsters that, as usual, sometimes come with pretty fascinating backstory to unravel. Others, of course, are just really neat-o crazy critters, and we've narrowed down our favorites to fill this website's usual 31-day October review feature. One or more Elden Ring beasts, every single day of the month!
I know that for some of you, these reviews may even be your only interaction with the game at all, so it was important to pick something truly worthy of your day-one introduction to its fantastic world...
ENTRY 01: THE LAND SQUIRT
I was excited the very instant I saw one of these magnificent beasts; a fleshy, lumpy, egg-shaped sack that slowly, slooowly creeps along on a ragged meaty base as if someone inflated a half-salted slug like a balloon, seemingly minding its own business until it catches whiff of you and spews a thick, green, noxious gas from the lower of its two sphincter-like nozzles. Could there ever be such a beautiful child of nature? The answer is yes, more or less, since it draws mostly from a real animal.
Photo by Xiang Li
The common name "sea squirt" refers to a group of animals more technically known as Ascidians, though these actually belong to a number of loosely related groups within the Tunicata, a subphylum of the Chordata. Maybe you know that all of us vertebrates are part of another Chordate subphylum, in our case Craniata. Tunicates are basically our siblings, beginning life with the same central nerve cable, the notochord, that gives Chordata its name!
In humans, lizards, eels, frogs, pigeons, stingrays and all the other Craniates, that chord develops into a spine by the end of embryonic development. In tunicates, the chord remains the same for life or gets absorbed completely as the animal matures into little more than a filter-feeding bag of flesh that either drifts through the water or anchors itself to a solid surface. Instead of a mouth, it simply has an intake siphon on the top, and instead of an anus, it has an exit tube on the front. Why, that's the same hole the Land Squirt uses to smother you in warm, moist toxic fumes!
So in Elden Ring's world, at least one sea squirt lineage has re-evolved mobility and taken to an amphibious lifestyle, inhabiting beaches and the many, many poisonous swamps you can decompose in. What they're feeding on is difficult to say, unless they now vacuum flying insects, pollen and other airborne biomaterial down their siphon, but their rancid defense mechanism isn't terribly far fetched; many real-world squirts are poisonous to consume, and they even have high concentrations of sulfuric acid in their cells that may also serve as either a deterrant to predators.
Land squirts also come in multiple sizes, the largest often overgrown with different combinations of vegetation, fungi and lichen, depending on their location. Like all sessile organisms, many sea squirts often build up a layer of other biota such as algae, hydrozoans or small sponges, especially those squirts with thick, leathery rock-like hides. It's likely that land squirts specially adapted to encourage epiphytes as natural camouflage, and it may also reveal just how long their lifespans can be; lichens in particular can take many years to spread only a few inches, but some of the largest squirts are heavily encrusted with them.
Tunicates are a large, ancient, highly unique and fascinating animal group one can find positively everywhere in the sea, but I believe this is quite possibly their first-ever appearance as fantasy monsters anywhere, and it's only the second time I've seen them referenced in any kind of media whatsoever since a single species became collectible in Animal Crossing.
It's fascinating to me that this humble creature's biggest pop-culture role is now as a common enemy in such an impactful gaming series; that people all over the world are might now be more aware of Ascidians entirely because their Elden Ring character died huffing land squirt flatulence.
Come back every day of October 2022 for another Elden Ring creature review!