One of the biggest fandoms of the 21st century, Harry Potter has become what some would call a worldwide phenomenon. Despite the last book of the series being published in 2007 (and the subsequent movie in 2011) the franchise is far from dead. From plays to AR gaming, the fan base keeps getting more and more components added to its midst. On the 25th of April 2018, a long-awaited addition joined this universe. This was Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery.
A single player mobile game released for both Android an iOS, Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery Looked quite intriguing. As is the case with all other Potterheads, I too joined the fray and downloaded the game.
The first thing I noticed was that Hogwarts Mystery incredibly beautiful. If you’re not a Potterhead, it would look like any other game to you. But if like me, you grew up reading the books, watching the movies, playing the games and even reading the fanfiction, you would start to notice all the elements reminiscent of the original franchise.
From the loading screen to the typography and even the music, even the loading screen, everything has a familiar vibe to it. As soon as the game is loaded, you can go about creating your character or avatar, starting from the gender. From there, you can customize skin color to hairstyles to noses. This can even be done later on in the game so if you don’t like your character’s look, you don’t have to worry about it too much.
Once that was done, my character starts off in Diagon Alley, where I meet my best friend to be, Rowan Khanna. Interestingly, Rowan’s gender depends on your avatar’s gender. With Rowan’s help, I got my books, chose a character name for myself, and got my first wand, in that order.
In Ollivander’s, I got to learn about my character’s backstory, which already seems interesting. A missing brother who was expelled from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry? A pursuit of something called the cursed vaults? What’s the connection? Things were already off to an intriguing start. Needless to say, I was hooked.
The backstory marks the end of the first chapter. From there, the game took me to Hogwarts, where, true to form, the first thing to happen is for me to be sorted into my house. Fortunately, the sorting hat in the game also takes choices in the account and allowed me to choose my own house. Going with my Pottermore house, I chose Ravenclaw.
Once the sorting is over, we are sent to our common rooms. After that, our lessons are ready to begin. For the first year, there’s only three classes. Charms, Potions, and Flying. Second years get transfiguration, third years get herbology and so on. My character started off with charms.
In keeping with the tradition of the game, lessons in Hogwarts Mystery are conducted by the original teachers themselves. Potions would be by (shudders) Professor Snape, Transfiguration by Professor McGonagall, and Charms by Professor Flitwick. Madam Hooch makes an appearance as well in the school grounds to teach us flying.
Once lessons started, I started to get the hang of the game. My character has an energy bar, which starts off holding 25 energy. For lessons or tasks, we’re required to do a series of motions (like read, brainstorm with friends, glance at the professor, take notes) which all cost energy.
So what does spending energy do? It simply fills up a star bar for that class which you have to complete to successfully finish that lesson. The problem is, however, that once my 25 energies were done, I had to wait 4 minutes for one energy to refill. This essentially means that I have nothing to do for 1h 40mins.
There are only two workarounds for that problem. One is getting free energies from various locations in the castle you discover if you explore a bit. The other, more controversial method is to buy more energy by exchanging them for gems. If you’re low on gems, you can buy more gems for real-world money.
For me, this is where the problem began. I was not going to fork over money just so I can complete tasks. Me, being the patient one that I am, chose to wait it out. This, however sometimes means that you might miss out on classes if you forget to check back in with the game. So you’d have to start all over again.
To make it worse, energy is not the only thing we have to wait for. Turns out, there are many story tasks that require waiting as well. Like talking to your best friend (3 hours, or pay gems) or meeting Dumbledore (8 hours, or pay gems), which forced me to simply load the game every two hours, spend my energy on whatever I could do, and close it again.
In addition, it also leads to its fair share of absurdities where you would have to wait for your energy to be refilled so that you can save your friend who is being strangled by Devil’s Snare. Just take a moment to let that sink in.
In addition to the lessons and the story progression which mainly involves looking for my brother, there are also more aspects to consider.
Attributes: My character has three attributes or personality traits. These are courage, knowledge, and empathy.
As well as our character level, we have to level up these attributes as well. Different attributes can be gained from different classes. For example, courage can be gained from flying class, Knowledge can be gained from Potions class and Empathy can be gained from Charms.
Apart from your main storyline and lessons, you may be called on my friends and professors for special side tasks that give XP, gems and attribute points for completing them. These may include helping Madam Pomfrey in the hospital wing, helping Prof. McGonagall find the broom wax, or rescuing Fang from his latest misadventure.
Hogwarts Mystery is set right after He Who Must Not Be Named goes into hiding after killing the Lily and James Potter and the attempted (and failed) murder of Harry Potter. As such, you will meet some familiar characters such as Bill Weasley and Nymphadora Tonks.
Time is dedicated to my character to develop the relationship with these NPCs through small activities and occasional pep talks.
Hogwarts being Hoggy Warty Hogwarts, is about teaching us something. Needless to say, it will also teach you to pick your battles where you end up making a few enemies. Thes are (obviously) mostly Slytherins. For defending against attacks, we learn to duel.
The system is a simple rock paper scissors mechanic, where we have to choose between three stances, aggressive, defensive and sneaky. A certain level of knowledge about the character you’re dueling wouldn’t hurt in this case.
The storyline is, in fact, quite interesting. Your character is searching for their brother, and to find their brother, they have to find the cursed vaults. This occupies all your time aside from your lesson times, with you slowly understanding the clues and figuring out how to reach the vaults, along with help from your friends.
Until last week, however, you could only play up until the start of character’s third year at Hogwarts. However, the developers of Hogwarts Mystery, Jam City has since released an update which has made further chapters available. While no one is sure how many chapters have been released, theoretically we can assume that the entire third year is available.
On the other hand, the interesting storyline is hampered by a few glaring plot holes. For instance, a Firebolt, one of the fastest brooms in the wizarding world is mentioned in one of the lesson questions, despite it being invented years after the events of this game. In another instance, a character that goes missing mysteriously turns up to linger while you’re off doing a side quest in the courtyard.
I also noticed that Hogwarts Mystery seems to be following the events of Harry Potter a little too closely. Rowan is a brainy genius, very reminiscent of Hermione Granger. Then there’s Ben Copper, a cowardly Gryffindor (Neville, anyone?) and the primary antagonist is of course, a Slytherin, Merula Snyde. These similarities are a little off-putting, especially for fans expecting a little creativity.
After playing this game for a few weeks, I wouldn’t say this game has no potential. The story is interesting, the graphics look nice, and the way I have to interact with people and make my own choices is very novel.
On the other hand, if this game wants to go forward long term, they should tweak the energy system a bit. For me, it works as a time filler, since there’s lots of waiting for a few minutes of gameplay. For other, not so casual players, however, it’s time-consuming and worse, boring. Jam city would need to focus on the pleas of the fan base if Hogwarts Mystery is to survive, particularly as Wizards Unite, the AR game, is released later in the year.
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