One of the most heavily discussed aspects of Hollow Knight has to be its bosses and for a good reason. The indie Metroidvania that quickly grew from the whim of a small studio into a genre phenomenon has been met with praise for every almost aspect f its world, gameplay, characters, and of course, the difficulty and creativity of many of its bosses. But while there are a variety of bosses that could be considered the peak of what this game has to offer, I would venture to say that the Mantis Lords best represent what makes Hollow Knight‘s bosses truly special.
Found in the Fungal Wastes area reasonably early in the game, the Mantis Lords are a set of three bosses that the player must vanquish in phases once they enter the village if they hope to proceed through it safely. But there are various reasons why the Mantis Lords in particular, in my opinion, stand out from the rest of the bosses in Hollow Knight in terms of design and impact and serve as the epitome of why the game’s boss design that the rest of it tries to live up to. Here are five of those reasons.
1. The Set-Up
When you first enter the Mantis Village from the Fungal Wastes, it becomes that everything here is very much out to kill you. While you could say that about nearly every area in Hallownest, it’s readily apparent here due to just how intimidating the members of the Mantis Tribe are at first. They not only tower over the Knight, but killing them takes a lot more effort than most enemies up to that point and requires the player to master their skill so far to beat them. They make it rather challenging to progress through the village due to their relentless pursuit.
All of this combined with subtle things like the heads of dead beasts littering the decor of the village, the dark ambiance enshrouding it, and the many tight, trapped-filled corridors and passages the Knight have to progress through one that obtains the Mantis Claw and can progress through the lower area, even the many ways characters in the game describe the Mantis Tribe itself. These all serve to make the Mantis Village into a place that should be taken seriously.
And once you finally arrive in the chamber of the Mantis Lords, it already feels like you’ve accomplished a feat in and of itself just getting there – that, and the fact that instead of immediately fighting them, like in most games, it gives you a choice to “challenge” them. It may not seem like that big a deal, but essentially telling the player that they have the option to prove just how far they’ve come is absolute genius. You’re challenging them, not them challenging you, unlike most bosses. You are given the opportunity to show them that even despite everything you’ve been through up till now, you’re not afraid.
2. The Music
Hollow Knight is rather minimalistic with most of its music. This isn’t a bad thing, as this serves to make the game feel more atmospheric since most of the time, players will simply be exploring Hallownest rather than battling the game’s man bosses. One will often hear tunes that are more subtle and non-distracting, making the journey through this ruined kingdom feel even more immersive and somber. This is why, when you do encounter a boss or powerful enemy, the music serves to make the moment stand out, and perhaps the best example of this is the Mantis Lords.
When the room starts completely quiet, only for the loud, distinct and intense sound of the Mantis Lord’s theme to begin blaring out, it becomes immediately apparent that these guys mean business. And the theme itself is simply one of Hollow Knight’s more impressively composed pieces, with a variety of instruments like the piano, violins, and trumpets all accentuating each other incredibly well. In addition, the entire fight is often compared to a dance based on the rhythmic, repeated movements of the Mantis Lords themselves, considering it already sounds like an opera composition. It all serves to make the atmosphere of the fight both intimidating and fantastic to listen to.
3. The Lore
When it comes to the various groups that inhabit the ruined lands of Hallownest, the Mantis Tribe stands out as one of the only remaining examples of order and stability within the chaotic state of the kingdom. When you are first warned about the tribe and its history by characters like Cloth and Quirrel, you learn of their history with Hallownest and the Pale King and why they are unlike the previously Infected bugs you’ve encountered so far. Gradually learning more and more about the Infection and its effects on Hallownest’s history makes it all the more impressive that the Mantis Tribe (or at least a sect of it) managed to resist it and uphold the truce they made perhaps thousands of years prior.
This serves to immediately paint the Mantis Tribe, and subsequently the Mantis Lords, as a noble adversary, one that the player should respect as well as fear. Sure, they’ll try to kill you if you enter their territory, but that’s only because of their culture, not because they’re mindless husks that instinctively attack anything they see. Knowing they are opposed to Hallownest and exist outside of its now hostile and dangerous state gives a sense of grace and nobility to the Mantis Lords that wouldn’t otherwise be there if they were just regular enemies and makes it easier to appreciate the care that went into crafting this world.
4. The Fight
Most boss battles are pretty straightforward, even ones with multiple phases. This is especially the case in Metroidvania-style games, where the nature of the fight essentially boils down to breaking apart everything that boss can do and figuring out the best way to both dodge and counter it. In the case of Hollow Knight, many bosses fit this bill, but the main thing that sets the Mantis Lords apart is the way the fight almost effortlessly subverts your expectations.
When you fight the first Lord, you’re given the sense that this is probably the first “phase” of the fight. “Alright, a lot of fights have phases, and since there’s three of them, there must be three phases where they all do something different. All I got to do is memorize what each of them can do and prepare for it if I die.” Chances are most people were thinking something along those lines when they first faced the Mantis Lords and defeated the middle one.
Then the other two both stood up, and everything you thought about how the fight was going to go was proven very, very wrong. Even though the other Lords attack the same way, dealing with both of them is a massive challenge at that point and makes for a frantic, fast-paced battle that genuinely puts your skills to the test and forces you to adapt in a way you likely haven’t had to by this point in the game. This makes the Mantis Lords not only one of Hollow Knight’s more impressive boss fights but makes the rewards for beating them feel much more earned.
5. The Reward
Of course, no battle is worth it without a satisfying payoff. Although defeating the Mantis Lords may not be as satisfying as taking down bosses like the Radiance or the Pure Vessel, the player receives threefold: convenience, power, and pride. As per the lore, the Mantis Lords guarded the main entrance into Deepnest, another area of the game that the player just reverse through to advance the story. Although there are other paths into the domain, the one within the Mantis Lord’s chamber is perhaps the easiest to access.
Secondly, players also receive the Mark of Pride charm, one of the more powerful and valuable Charms one can find throughout the game. This Charm dramatically extends the reach of the player’s primary weapon, the Nail, making it easier to both hit enemies from a distance and subsequently keep your distance from them to have more time to plan out your next action. It can even be stacked with a similar Charm, the Longnail, for an even greater effect.
Finally, defeating the Mantis Lords changes the game world interacts with the player. Now, whenever you enter the Mantis Village area, not only will the Mantis remain passive and not attack you, they’ll also bow when you walk past them, as a sign that they respect you as an equal and no longer see you as an intruder. This detail doesn’t affect the overall course of the game too much. Still, it shows that by defeating the Mantis Lords, the players have proven that they are worthy of taking on anything the world of Hollow Knight throws at them and that they are ready to face any further challenges that may lie ahead.