GIANT SPOILERS FOR THE GAME –HOLLOW KNIGHT— endgame bosses are spoilt here

The world of Hollow Knight is a rather unique one as far as most modern video games go. Both in its actual level design and its distinct worldbuilding. When you think of a game where you go around, exploring the world, beating up bosses, and collecting power ups, you probably think of a large fantasy setting, not a small bug mound. In Hollow knight, you don’t take the role of some soldier, mercenary, or otherwise customizable character, no, you take control of a small bug. Now, the bugs of Hollow knight aren’t actual bugs, that would be rather strange to play around, but are based on them. From spiders to moths, stag beetles, and bees, you’ll find all sorts of enemies and allies alike living within this world. These people who had once made an ancient kingdom that has since fallen to ruin, are now succumbing to a plague that ruins their minds, turning them into seemingly mindless beasts.

In this game, you play as the Knight, a bug who has come to the ancient kingdom of Hollownest for a purpose that reveals itself as you progress through the caverns and lakes of the world. Like any Metroidvania game you collect abilities as you wonder around, that help you to unlock new areas of its sprawling and interconnected map, as well as dispatch the many enemies and bosses that inhabit said areas.

There are so many things that you could talk about when it comes to this game; the enrapturing gameplay loop that doesn’t lose its charm as you progress, even getting more fun as you play thanks to the various abilities and equipment that you obtain; the deep and interesting worldbuilding and lore that is never shoved down your throat, leaving you to discover it on your own, making your own conclusions and theories as you find new information; Even the various loveable allies you will make as you traverse the world. But today, we aren’t talking about any of those. Today we are talking about the world itself. Today we are talking about the beings that will serve as the blockades to new paths, new abilities, and new allies.

As you move through the kingdom of Hollownest, you’ll go through many beautiful, calm, creepy, exciting, eerie, awe inspiring, and enchanting locations. From the melancholic City of Tears, to the skin crawling Deepnest, there are a plethora of attention-grabbing zones within Hollownest’s reach, each with their own enemies, and, of course, bosses. But obviously, since each of these locals are so unique from one another you couldn’t just take a boss from one area and put it in another. The disgusting maggot-esque Flukemarm would just look out of place within the endless dark of the Abyss or amongst the shimmering prisms of the Crystal Peak. There has to be some structure. Flukemarm fits right in with the rest of the creatures who you could easily imagine making a horrid squelching sound and the wriggle across the floor in the Royal Waterways, the sewers of the City of Tears.

This leads into our topic. In Hollow Knight there are many examples of this, and we will be focusing on three in particular: Nosk, The Broken Vessel, and The Radiance. Starting with Nosk, we will go over how each of these bosses fit within where they are found and how either they or the level they are found in embody the other.

Nosk is a very skittery boss. There really isn’t a much better way to put it. They run from one end of their arena to the other, crawl on the ceiling, and try to jump on you, all with their horrid spider like legs, and all while making a terrible sound reminiscent of a thousand needles tapping glass and bones breaking. If that sounds like it shouldn’t fit in a level full of lush plants and cute bush creatures, that’s because it doesn’t.

You will find nosk hiding within the arachnophobe’s worst nightmare: Deepnest. This level is full of all the worst parts of Hollownest. Creatures that you kill only to come scuttling right back at you, their lifeless corpse carried by thin, black legs. Spiders crawling across the foreground without a way to be rid of them. A darkness that cannot be alleviated without a special item that you could go the whole game without getting. And finally, perhaps worst of all, we have Nosk. When you first see Nosk, you won’t see some horrid amalgamation of limbs, but rather, a doppelganger of yourself. And it’ll be out of reach. You have to search to figure out what you just saw, and that’s the worst part. You willingly go in search of it. You always see it just out of reach. And if you probe into the lingering memories of the cadavers that you’ll come across as you follow, you’ll learn that they all saw something different. Whether that be themselves, or someone from their memories, Nosk would assume a form that would make its prey follow it to their demise. When using the Dream Nail, the ability that allows you to pry into the thoughts of other characters, on said bugs, one will say “…You were dead?…” another “…Brother…” and one more saying “…Missed you…”, all things that clue you in on what is going on. If you continue to soldier forward, you will enter a long corridor where the way back will close off behind you as you go, getting closer and closer until you enter the room where the fight takes place.

You see yourself standing in the middle of the arena, and when you come close, a horrid screech mixed with the cracking of joints will be heard, as the creature cracks before you, head snapping to the side and its true body bursting forth. A large, strange, skittering bug that will charge you, spit at you, and jump at you. Long, black, spindly legs attached to an equally thin body, spines on its back, and an infected orb held within by its ribs, Nosk would be genuinely terrifying if not for the art style of the game making it slightly more palatable. Behind you, in its lair, you can see the various victims it has in strung up, dangling from the ceiling, but interestingly, not cocooned like a spider would, simply hung there, like a strange, twisted trophy. Defeating this creature will make its main body explode and the head it had when impersonating you will become a lose object, letting you bounce it around if you want. The reward for beating them is a Pale Ore, the resource used to upgrade your weapons damage.

Next up on our list is the Broken Vessel. Above the Abyss lies the Ancient Basin, a strange, muted area of the game, consisting mainly of greys and blacks, inhabited by very few creatures. What does seem to live here seem to be animalistic or mindless in nature, largely being small, infected bugs, or a few huge, bulbous, spitting creatures that work more like obstacles than enemies. Deep in its bowels, on the opposite side to the ruins of the White Palace, lies a long, winding passage to an alter surrounded by tiny, white, fluttering creatures called monarchflies that form the Monarch Wings, the double jump power up for the game. At the entrance to this passage is the shattered shell of a vessel, a failed experiment of the Pale King left in his attempts to keep his kingdom eternal. When you enter the chamber with the shell, strange neon orange bugs, filled with the infection, will begin to fill the hollow corpse, animating it to fight against you. Throughout the fight the broken vessel looks like a hand puppet, its head limp and its movements floppy and exaggerated, further giving you the feeling that what you are fighting isn’t truly alive, which is actually foreshadowing one of the final bosses, who was also once vessel who was used in an attempt to try to completely seal the infection away.

Much like Nosk, The Broken Vessel is a product of its area rather than the other way around. The Ancient Basin is just above the Abyss, where the vessels were cast to remove their “heart” and later, all the failed vessels, to hide the evidence of the deed, implying that the broken vessel somehow escaped, only to fall at the start of their journey, before they even got to see the colour of the rest of the world. Them serving as foreshadowing of a later boss is also amazing, both bosses coming from the same experiment, but one the hope of the kingdom, doomed to fail, and one of the many discarded failures, fated to never see the beauty of the world above its head. It’s like a lesson in showing tragedy with almost nothing, as no characters involved in this conclusion speak, in fact, they can’t. They literally cannot speak as they have no voice with which to do so. Yet despite this, there is a truly, either heart-warming, or heart-wrenching moment depending on how you interpret the interaction. Once you finish the Broken Vessel off, and the infection leaves the body, what little remnant of its soul animates itself you share a look with it, another one of the failed vessels, one fated to see all that it could not and fated to either mantle the responsibility of keeping the infection at bay, or destroy the infections source, before then going limp once more. Yet if you defeat its spirit in a strange recreation of the fight in a dream world, it seems to bow to you in thanks, making that final gesture seem like one of thanks for freeing it, or maybe one of them entrusting their hopes to you.

Moving onto the final boss of both this list and the game itself we have The Radiance. The Radiance, the source of the infection that has brought the kingdom to ruin, the former empress long forgotten to time. The Radiance looks like a huge, shining Silkworm Moth, and is the manifestation of light and dreams. When fighting the presumed final boss of the game, The Hollow Knight themselves, having also completed a string of events that lead you to inherit the Kingsbrand, the sign that you have the power to shoulder the kingdoms fate, just before the final phase, Hornet, a character you have been interacting with throughout your journey, and technical sibling to both you and The Hollow Knight, enters the fight to hold The Hollow Knight down for a few seconds, allowing you to enter the dreamscape within The Hollow Knight’s mind.

You enter onto a platform within a seemingly infinite sea of clouds, gold light streaming from a distant sun, casting everything in a rich glow. Curved pillars reminiscent of bug horns pierce the clouds from bellow and soar into the golden sky above, and the intense music from the fight you were in just moments ago disappears and transforms into a serene yet ominous piece. Climbing up a few platforms to the peak, you land on the final platform, and you see the prompt “CHALLENGE”. If you interact with it, the Knight will draw their nail and stare into the sun. After a few moments the “sun” will unfurl its enormous wings and the entire screen will begin to violently rumble as The Radiance will burst onto the screen, giant halo at its back, and the screen will flash white with “THE RADIANCE” in bold letters appears on the screen, one of only two bosses in the entire game to have such a privilege, and the fight begins, breaking the serine music with an extremely intense beginning to the final boss’s theme. The Radiance also never uses physical attacks, instead firing beams of light and summoning swords from the sky as projectiles.

As the fight goes on the floor is taken away, leaving you with only platforms to get your footing on as you dodge and attack as best you can. When you finally manage to deal enough damage, The Radiance will disappear high into the air, and you must chase them up, dodging beams of light as you climb higher and higher until you finally manage to land the final blow, transforming to tear into the radiance in a final scene in which all the void shades of the failed vessels bear witness to its destruction.

The dreamscape in which the radiance is fought is beautiful and is clearly based around the radiance themselves rather than the other way around, which makes sense in story as well as dreams and the radiance are one in the same, so of course the dreamscape without an ego would manifest to the whims of The Radiance with one. The dreamscape is seen scarce few other times throughout the game, and the few times that you do, you see incredibly little, but the version you see within the Radiance boss fight seems infinite, much like the concept of dreams themselves. All in all, the way the radiance inspired the design of the dreamscape is basically its entirety, and that’s all it has to be. It exists in tandem with The Radiance, and it would feel wrong if it were too distinct from them.

In conclusion, I feel that these bosses show quite well both the worldbuilding skills of the developers, Team Cherry, and their ability to make every aspect of the game fit together as though everything belongs where it is. Each boss in the game feels like it should be there, and every area feels influenced by the more powerful entities within them, and if I could, I would go even further into detail for other bosses, but instead, I’d rather ask you to play the game yourself and experience its world to the fullest, and think about what it takes to make a game about bugs so enthralling to its audience.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *