Soulslike bosses are hard. One of the genre's big selling points is challenging boss battles that will push you to the edge, demanding that you learn and adapt your play style and habits in order to conquer them, and also be prepared to temporarily back away from the challenge to grind and level up. My experience with Lies of P was no different, apart from having a specific philosophical twist.
It was one particular boss fight in Lies of P that had a strange effect on me. As someone who has only dabbled in soulslike games before, the parade of challenging bosses, side bosses, and mini-bosses I came up against gave me some stiff trials that I really had to apply myself to. To overcome these battles, I had to learn every facet of them and exercise no small amount of patience. This might sound like a familiar story: ‘non-regular player of soulslike games finds game difficult’. However, my time with the game took a bit of a turn when I came up against one particular boss and I ended up turning to an ancient school of philosophy to beat it.
If you haven’t tried the game, the main bosses at the end of each section in Lies of P are wonderfully varied and imaginative but do peak and trough wildly in terms of difficulty. In the first third or so of the game, there are a couple of memorable encounters that embody this difficulty change. While I overcame the Scrapped Watchmen near Krat City Hall with relative ease, the next boss, King’s Flame, Fuoco located in the Venigni Works factory absolutely had me, beating me to an embery pulp time and time again.
I embraced the soulslike way of angrily stomping off somewhere else to level up but my efforts were haphazard, and I was only fuelled by frustration and anger, my mind occupied by thoughts of wasted time and effort. Of course, despite a bit of leveling up and restocking, my Pinocchio continued to burn in Fuoco’s fires. I realized that I needed something else, something that I’d eventually find in the famous Stoic quote from Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius: “The impediment to action advances action.”
It so happened that, at the same time as I was matching wits with Fuoco, I was also reading and learning a lot about the philosophy of Stoicism, applying it to my life where appropriate in a bit of push for self-betterment. Philosophy, after all, is something you actually practice not just learn about. I found that putting it into practice against Fuoco, in particular, proved to be a turning point.
In brief, Stoicism is the idea that the practice of four ‘virtues’ (courage, justice, temperance, and wisdom) day-to-day will lead to life satisfaction and flourishment. It’s not an emotionless philosophy, warmly encouraging the practice of qualities like excellence, patience, knowledge, calmness, and so on. It also offers guidance as to how one might prepare for and react to events, in my case: video games - one particular bit of one particular video game, to be precise.
Helping me digest and apply Stoicism to my life - and then to Lies of P - there are myriad wonderful quotes and sayings that distill the philosophy and approach to life succinctly. Ryan Holiday’s book, The Obstacle is the Way, and his Daily Stoic YouTube channel and newsletter proved brilliant ways to understand and inject these into my life. Holiday applies quickfire analysis and modern-day applications of the tenets as well as bringing to life the to translated original quotes by the likes of Marcus Aurelius, and philosophers such as Epictetus, and Seneca.
It was that aforementioned Marcus Aurelius quote that struck me most when channeling stoicism into my (many) battles with fiery hardman Fuoco. To repeat it: “The impediment to action advances action”. What’s in front of you appearing to halt your progress is actually the focus and route of your continued progress. In the context of Fuoco this was, of course, literally true as it was the way to progress the game, but, in a more abstract sense, he was the obstacle I needed to overcome in order to be better, learn more, and hone my skills.
The idea of being patient and learning in a soulslike game is hardly new, of course, but feeling the clarity of channeling those virtues, realizing that Fuoco was not merely an obstacle but, in fact, was the very route to overcoming it compelled me in a big way, opening my mind to new possibilities.
Applying this thinking, I realized I wasn’t actually permanently stuck, even though I felt like it. The path going forward remained open at all times; I wasn’t totally grounded. Fuoco couldn’t stop me (forever) from grinding, leveling up, or trying something new. I always had the opportunity to practice virtues like patience (waiting to level up or learning more of his moves) or excellence (honing my own skills and timing). While it was incredibly annoying repeating the same bit of a game more than 15 times (and putting my DualSense’s life at risk in the process), as Holiday says, “It’s okay to be discouraged. It’s not okay to quit.” And quit, I did not.
Previously letting anger and frustration misguide me, I let those Stoic virtues and key quotes sit with me and then dictate how I played. For temperance, I went away and did some grinding, patiently redoing a run while meticulously calculating how much Ergo I acquired and needed for leveling and for purchases. For wisdom, I read up all the lore on weapons and beasts that I could, while swotting up on weapon techniques and potential combat edges I could gain. For courage and excellence, I honed my skills, learning the timing and moveset of my weaponry and enemies, and, naturally, thrust myself back into Fuoco’s lair to put these skills to the test. And, for justice - something that often feels hard to come by in soulslike games - I concentrated on the fact that what I, and P, was practicing was for the greater good of the NPCs I made friends with along the way and for progressing the well-made banger of a game, and continuing the gripping investigation into what had befallen the city of Krat. I’ll say the obvious too: I also wanted to get justice for each time that Fuoco had absolutely Fuoco'd me up over the preceding hours.
Taking the time to allow this change of mindset, based on thinking from 2,000 years ago, had tangible results, and was ultimately what led me to success. The fact that Stoicism can be applied to video games so many centuries after those great thinkers first spoke of the virtues and tenets made for a deeply satisfying and interesting discovery, too.
Applying such virtues and habits to Fuoco, and then the bosses that came after got me closer to ‘getting’ soulsborne games and embracing the ‘try, die, learn’ loop than I’d ever been before. Holiday also says: “The path of least resistance is a terrible teacher”, and Lies of P epitomized that for me. I wouldn’t have learned as much as I did about the game - and myself, truthfully - if the path I was facing wasn’t so difficult.
All the protagonists, and us players by extension, have it in us to overcome these sorts of games and the challenging bosses within. After all, “Nothing happens to anybody which he is not fitted by nature to bear.” as Marcus Aurelius says, as was, inevitably, the case for me and my version of P.
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Rob is Deputy Editor of TechRadar Gaming, a video games journalist, critic, editor, and writer, and has years of experience gained from multiple publications. Prior to being TechRadar Gaming's Deputy Editor, he was a longstanding member of GamesRadar+, being the Commissioning Editor for Hardware there for years, while also squeezing in a short stint as Gaming Editor at WePC before joining TechRadar Gaming. He is also a freelance writer on tech, gaming hardware, video games, gardens, and landscapes and is crowdfunding a book on video game landscapes that you can back and pre-order now too.