Of the many horror stories I ingested as a child, the ones that linger in my memory featured an unexpected turn of events. Tales where the main character believes they understand the entire scope of a situation, only to discover the true nature of a threatening scenario is right behind them.
As I traversed the Hemwick Charnel Lane area of Bloodborne, I was regularly accosted by a unique enemy- old crones brandishing crude weaponry. Appropriately called the Hemwick Grave Women, these hags were often found celebrating around the numerous decrepit tombstones of the Charnel Lane. Whenever I would try to sneak by their gruesome revelry, these shrews would attack in a mob; lashing out with dagger, scythe, and even a bloodied sledgehammer.
These coordinated strikes implied that the Grave Women must have some sort of leader guiding their movements. After seeing the mutilated faces and bestial proportions of this flock, I could only imagine how monstrous their shepherd must be.
At the top of a hill, I found the well-worn remains of an old farm manor that seemed to be a place of status within this massive graveyard. I entered the building and descended into a large basement storeroom, where a lone creature stood on the opposite side. This thing was nearly twice my height, with long skeletal limbs and skin that resembled aged leather. Thick matted hair grew from its head to cover most of its upper body, and two glowing eyes gazed out from this mess of decay. As this beast brandished a sickle and lumbered towards me, I knew this must be the leader, the Witch of Hemwick.
The game identified her as such, displaying a health meter at the bottom of the screen with her title. I took this as my opportunity to launch my first attack at the ancient witch; repeatedly striking her with my threaded cane. Despite the fury of my blows, the witch made little attempt to defend herself. This gaunt creature quickly fell to my assault, but this victory seemed hollow. Then I noticed: throughout this short melee, the Witch’s health meter remained untouched.
Something was wrong. Why did my attacks deal no damage to the Witch? The room was now empty, but the sense of dread was stronger than ever. The music in this area matched my emotions perfectly. What started with soft and haunting strings had swelled into a menacing chorus of otherworldly chanting. The once beguiling sound of a single violin became a threatening symphony of brass and percussion. With the music reaching a violent crescendo, I knew something must be stalking me. I frantically searched the room, but to no avail. The room seemed devoid of such a predator.
It was only when I stopped to take a breath that I noticed her. Lurking just behind me, close enough to reach out with her dagger caked in blood, stood the true Witch of Hemwick. A ragged little crone, hunched over from a life of horrors, wearing a cloak with all manner of eyes sewn into the patchwork fabric. It was she who had summoned the gaunt monster from before. She would be the real threat on this day.
So far, the Witch of Hemwick has been my favorite boss encounter, and perhaps my favorite moment, in Bloodborne. It subverted my expectations, just like the preferred horror stories from my youth. The music particularly contributed to the foreboding atmosphere of this encounter. The team of composers for Bloodborne (Ryan Amon, Tsukasa Saitoh, Yuka Kitamura, Nobuyoshi Suzuki, Cris Velasco, and Michael Wandmacher) did an amazing job crafting a song that would match the emotional course of the player; from a lulled sense of security, to heightened foreboding, and finally, the feeling of being threatened by an unexpected otherworldly menace.