Why The Mantis Lords Are (In My Opinion) The Best Boss Fight In Hollow Knight
The Mantis Lords are one of many boss fights in Hollow Knight. You encounter them underneath the Mantis Village, a subarea in the Fungal Wastes: the third main area that the player visits. After the dark and dreary Forgotten Crossroads and overgrown with vegetation Greenpath, the Fungal Wastes provides something unique, a fusion of organic and natural environmental design. But deep within this toxic wasteland is the Mantis Village, the residence of the Mantis Tribe, proud and fierce warriors, natural born fighters that don't hesitate to attack anyone trying to enter this village, the very same village that houses my favourite boss fight in the entire game: the Mantis Lords.
My praise for Team Cherry's work with the Mantis Lords can be divided into two parts: a) the design of the actual fight, and b) the lore building and world interaction that it creates.
The Mantis Lords is a fast paced fight. It consists of two phases, in the first of which you fight one Mantis Lord, and in the second you take on the remaining pair. The main power point of this battle is speed. The Mantis Lords are quick and nimble, forcing the player to string together dodges and jumps in order to evade attacks. Since the boss fight takes place in the still earlier parts of the game, the player probably still has only 5 mask shards, which completely removes the option of tanking the fight by standing still and continuously hitting the enemy. In addition, the minimum healing opportunities prevent the player from adopting this alternate style and channels the player into the heat of battle.
The Mantis Lords have 3 mains attacks: a side dash, a downwards dash, and a disk throw while perched on the side walls. Both the dash attacks can be evaded by moving out of the way, and the disk throw can be dodged by jumping over the saucer of death. Since the attacks happen so quickly with almost no breathing room in between, it creates a seamless and quick transition between the players response to each attack, complementing the sweeping rhythmic arc of the fight.
The Knight is not the most nimble protagonist and player character, this particular boss fight forces the player to try out a new acrobatic style of combat. Since this is the first boss fight after acquiring the Mothwing Cloak (dash ability), it introduces the player to a situation where the dash can be used to great effect, especially while dodging the downward dash attacks.
Evading and counter-striking each attack creates this "flow state" as the player nimbly dodges each and every speedy strike, a cm away from death, but a cm that is used to whittle down the enemies health bar, as the couples dance of dodge and hit continues.
When the player enters the surrounding areas of the Mantis Village, they are met by hostile Mantis Warriors, who attack them upon sight. Once the player makes their way through the village and into the mantis' throne room, they are met by the sight of 3 proud Mantis Lords, perched upon their triplet of thrones. There is a door on the other end of the room that slams shut, as a prompt appears on the screen: Challenge.
The Mantis Lords and their entire tribe aren't consumed by the infection, allowing the developer to create a reason for why the tribe attacks the player, and why the Mantis Lords don't immediately attack the player. According the the game's lore, the Mantis Lords guard the kingdom from the beasts of Deepnest, that reside just past the door. They grant passage into Deepnest, only to those who defeat them in battle.
The Mantis Lords is an optional fight, with the incentive to beating them being access to Deepnest through this particular route. If they player chooses to challenge them to a fight, all they know is that upon defeating them, the closed door to Deepnest will probably open. And while this is a great reward for an optional boss fight, the way the outcome of this fight changes the game world is its true gem.
If you die during the fight, you will have to make your way back through the village, all the way from the last bench where you sat, located conveniently outside the entrance. This journey will make you fight the Mantis' again, as they will attempt to prevent you from entering their village. After making it through and back to the throne room, you can challenge the Lords again. Little does the player know that after defeating the Mantis Lords, their experience within the Mantis Village will drastically change.
By reaching the end of the boss fight, you don't kill the Mantis Lords, instead you gain their and the entire tribe's respect. This respect, while not anything remarkable on the outside, is perhaps the greatest reward for defeating a boss. As the Mantis Lords return to their throne, and exchange honorary bows with the players, the doorway to Deepnest will swing open, but the true prize is discovered if the player returns to the Mantis Village.
Now that their leaders have been defeated in battle, and their respect given to this mysterious little bug with a nail and cloak, the Mantis warriors throughout the village will bow to the Knight, and won't attack the player. This is such a shock when first witnessed, it almost feels like a glitch in the game's matrix. Instead, it is carefully crafted world building and interaction that stems from the outcome of the Mantis Lords boss fight.
In addition, further parts of the Mantis Village are opened up, providing a bench to rest on, a Hallownest seal, the Mark of Pride charm: one of my personal favourites that increases nail range by 25%, and piles upon piles of shiny geo.
The Mantis Lords are a marvel in boss design, providing an excellent combat experience, accompanied by a pulsating soundtrack, while creating a layer of lore and meaningful world building that so many battles try so hard to do. The passive reward of respect from the Mantis Tribe, perfectly accompany the tangible rewards of unlocking a shortcut and reaping other benefits found in the village. The Mantis Lords is truly revolutionary, an incredible boss fight that will surely go down in my memory as one of the bests in gaming.
My Hollow Knight Review: https://platyview.blogspot.com/2021/03/hollow-knight-review.html