Okay, so first – there are people who think that if you’re playing Steel Soul at all, it’s legitimate to pause just before you lose a boss fight, and quit the game to get to a bench. I’m not going to judge them. What I am going to say is that that’s the worst imaginable experience with playing SS. As for why? The run makes things exciting again! Knowing that you can lose everything gives the battles you’re least sure of heart-pounding excitement. It’s an experience you can’t get through normal play.
Beyond that, the benchquit style makes getting an ancillary achievement – Speed Completion – a pain in the♥♥♥♥♥- it shouldn’t be. I casually played through my SS run, and finished at 89% with a comfortable 4 hour margin to get those last 11% of completion to get SC. The “trick” here, was that not needing to walk back to the bossroom over and over again from a bench made even my totally non-optimized playthough fast enough for that to be easy.
Ah, and, for whatever reason, Steel Heart, which is the achievement you get for having a Steel Soul run at 100% or higher is a rare achievement. Again, it shouldn’t be.
The world in Hollow Knight isn’t really lethal. Not if you keep you head, play things safe, and … atually, there is no third part.
If you’re reading this guide, I hope that you’ll forswear the save-quit method. If you won’t, then you really don’t need this guide. If you’re using save-quit, then just quit at two masks for 1-mask bosses, or 3/4 masks for 2-mask bosses, and your success at Steel Soul is all but guaranteed just from that. Nothing I say below will help you more than that advice, because that advice is enough to turn SS into a normal playthrough in terms of completion difficulty.
What Can You DO, Through?
Some challenge content in the game is content that’s isn’t harder in SS runs, because permadeath doesn’t meaningfully change it.
These are the things that SS runs make exciting, by demanding your excellence:
- Beating Hollow Knight
- Beating the Radiance
- The Colisseum of Fools
- White Palace without Cheese-Charms
- Path of Pain without Cheese-Charms
Some of these will vary depending on your level of experience coming into this, some or all of these might end up boring anyway, but in general, if you’re part of the audience for this guide, hopefully, at least sum of it will be challenging enough to stay fun.
As for why Godmaster content is absent from the list, sadly, dying in Godhome will never end your SS run. So there’s no special meaning in, for example, beating Absrad on SS. Team Cherry missed an opportunity to give us some heart-pounding excitement, here.
If you don’t have Godhome unlocked on your normal save – if, for that matter, you don’t have a normal save – go get one and beat every boss but the Radiance (and, perhaps, NKG), then unlock Godhome. If you’re not aware of it, Godhome is in the Royal Waterways. You will need a Simple Key, and the Dream Nail.
Once you’re in Godhome, in the lowest part of it, there are a bunch of arenas where you can challenge every boss in the game as many times as you like. If, during your SS run, you even have cause to doubt that a boss you’re intending to fight is one you can overcome? Use Godhome to practice. This is no more illegitimate than the old way that people practiced, which was by playing normal mode over and over and over again. If some oldschool♥♥♥♥♥♥gives you♥♥♥♥♥♥about it, ignore them, they’re salty that getting good is no longer pointlessly hard.
With Godhome set up, you’re ready for a successful Steel Soul run.
The first thing that you have to keep in mind is that spells are a lie. Yes, even when fighting Primal Aspids – the things don’t actually shoot at where you are, but where you will be, so dodge only a few pixels, and the attack will always miss unless you screwed up the timing, and god into its face.
But, okay, more seriously, there are 3 types of enemy in the game. Short range aggro, long-distance aggro, and mobile hazards. Mobile hazards are enemies that crawl on a set path and which don’t really react to your presence. Don’t walk into them. Short range aggro are enemies that will react to your presence in a moribund way – you basic husks, guards, rich bugs, ground-mantises, etc. Engaging these guys usually isn’t a problem, because you can usually bug out and heal if the going gets tough.
Long distance aggo is bad news. These guys are predominantly flyers, but a lot of the mobs in Deepnest also qualify. For these enemies, getting them offscreen means they’ll follow you, get back onscreen, and keep on ruining your day. Most of them have a short initial aggro range – you need to get close to them before they’ll begin trying to ruin you day. Only three long-distance mobs don’t do this – the two things that hide in dead husks in Deepnest, and grub mimics. As far as I can tell, thoseenemies are aware of you from anywhere on the map, just like a boss.
For Long distance aggro bugs, try, if at all possible, to attract one at a time if they’re anything you have problems with. Especially Primal Aspids – the trick for dodging can fail, when you’re dealing with more than one, and typically does fail once you’re dealing with between three and four. Any more than that, and you should run to a different room.
Now, returning to the top of this section? Health is god, and soul is its messiah. Do not, under any circumstances other than an absolute last-ditch effort to salvage the run, spend soul for spells when you could spend it to heal. And, even when your masks are full, give yourself a 2-mask margin for healing. Things can go bad, fast. Once you have a Soul Vessel or two, you can spend soul more freely – once you have three, you should save a full half of your soul at any given time for healing purposes, unless healing is completely pointless – generally, that means during a bossfight, where safe-windows last long enough to restore 2 masks, where staggers take mnore than six hits. In that case, you should only save up 2 masks.
You’ll have noticed that the advice I’m giving more-or-less forces you to adopt a nail focused playstyle, and yes that’s precisely correct. Nail focused is the way to go in SS, because it ensures that you’re fueling your healing ability with every attack.
Beyond this – nail arts. Nail arts are great when your fighting an enemy that forces you to measure their pace, like a mantis petra or a primal aspid. They’re also a great way to hurt a boss during a stagger. However, not all nail arts are made equal. Particularly, the zelda-reference nail art is the wrong answer in any given situation. I link I’ve seen the thing used productively once, by a speedrunner, who was also using both Fragile Strength and Fury of the Fallen. This use was in Godhome, and wouldn’t be possible in the normal game, because you can’t get the zelda-reference attack without killing Hornet in greenpath, who is the boss it’s especially good against.
The reason why the Zelda Reference attack is bad is because it locks you into it in a way to other Nail Arts don’t. Environmentally, this is often OK, in the sense that you probably won’t end up dying because of it It’s still worse that a normal attack, though: you lose your ability to dodge! On the other hand, bosses will typically walk into the attack and give you damage. Something you’ll notice as your skill increases is that you’ll go from trying to do a lot of damage really fast to trying to do a lot of damage really fast in ways that won’t lead to you losing health. Ultimately, the zelda-reference attack is the former trend personified. Avoid it.
Dash Slash and Charge Slash are both better, and both of those are still situational. They’re not to be used casually! If you have a choice between hitting a boss three times and hitting them with a Nail Art, hit them three times. It will do more or the same damage, and reward you with more Soul, to either heal with, or with which to use a zero-charge spell.
Speaking of spells – there’s also a hierarchy of usefulness for those. The No-Direction spells which fire a bullet are the least useful, but the safest. Down-Direction spells are the absolute best spells overall – they hit twice, and give you tasty invinicbility frames! In fact, the invincibility frames they give you last a little after the spell, and you can do anything you want during them. It’s a short window, but it’s better than the Shade Cloak for that reason. Up-Direction spells are the best damage-dealers. They hit four times if the boss doesn’t get out – and generally, only dream-bosses or very fast-moving ones will – but they leave you totally vulnerable. If you have a bright idea for using Up-Direction spells to make a bossfight short, test those ideas in Godhome, because a lot of them are bad ideas: I’ve had them, too!
Up-Direction spells are better than the Zelda Reference attack for one huge reason – bosses and enemies cannot just walk into you to punish you for it. This is why they are not disfavoured.
… however, there’s more than one way to worship. One of your focuses in the early game should be getting the Fragile series, because in a steel soul run, they are just as good as the Unbreakable series – dream bosses won’t shatter them, and everything else is a game-over. if you’re going to neglect a Fragile charm, neglect greed – Confessor Jiji is replaced by an NPC who buys rancid eggs, so getting Geo is easier in a SS run.
Your top tier charms are going to be nail-focused. Minion builds don’t really do enough damage to be worth it. Top-tier charms are (in no particular order) Grubsong, Fragile Heart, Fragile Strength, Quickslash, Longnail, Mark of Pride, Quick Focus, and Nailmaster’s Pride (this one, however, is the least useful). Lifeblood charms are situationally useful – never, ever use them during random, unstructured exploration, or during a bossfight in which you routinely lose more than 1 full set of masks. Soul Catcher… maybe? Everything else? Not worth the slots that a top-tier charm would otherwise occupy. Use them if you have slots that are open, but no top-tier charms to put there. Two things I would advise against are Thorns of Agony and Sharp Shadow. Thorns adds a (small) random recoil after it punishes enemies for hitting you, which can ♥♥♥♥ up platforming. Sharp Shadow will♥♥♥♥ up platforming, and I’ve confirmed that every boss that it’s useful against, with the exception of Flukemarm, can still be dashed through with vanilla shade-cloak with tight, precise timing and staying close to the boss.
My working build is QN, LN, MoP, and FS. Prior to entering Godhome, US was replaced with QF, and LN with either GS, NMP, or SC. Ealier in the run, I focused more on the Fragile series.
Mark of Pride is the most essential charm, I think. It extends your nail’s hitbox to be two player-body-widths in frontal attacks, and one in vertical. The nice thing about this is that it’s often the case that when a boss has parriable attacks, this allows you to both parry and hit them. In the field, if gives you a much larger margin of safety to dodge and flee.
…but how does that apply to strategy? Well, it’s basically me saying that you should take your damn time and explore. Mask fragments. Vessel containers. Rescuing grubs so you can buy cool♥♥♥♥♥♥with Grubfather’s blood money! Bosses can get you cool♥♥♥♥♥♥ and often the coolest♥♥♥♥♥♥ but before going for that♥♥♥♥♥♥ focus on mildly cool♥♥♥♥♥♥instead! I mean, really. Strip the areas you can go to bare. If you play the game safely, the environment won’t kill you – note that being out of soul with a missing mask in an area where you can’t get soul back is not safe!. It’s really, really not safe. You have one life, don’t take unnecessary risks.
And beyond even that, there’s precisely no shame in being over-levelled. If you want to do a challenge run, that’s your business. This guide, though, is written for people going for the achievements for the first time. There’s no shame in collecting every advantage you can accumulate: It’s there for the taking for a reason.
Just remember. Keep you heath as high as possible, always, even if it means retreating. When you can heal one mask safely, heal one mask. Don’t wait to build up enough soul for three. Heal, heal, heal, and the world won’t kill you. Train with Ascended bosses in Godhome on another save, and the bosses won’t kill you either. Steel Soul on the first try is exciting, doable, and extremely fun if you treat it with the respect and calculation it demands of you.
- Hollow Knight: Charm Tier List Guide
- Hollow Knight: All Charms Guide A-Z
- Hollow Knight: Geo Farming Guide
- Hollow Knight: Stuttering and Tearing Fix