Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery Review

Posted April 26, 2018 by Alden Diaz in Video Games

It has been almost seven full years since Harry Potter fans said goodbye to the beloved wizarding world as it was translated to the silver screen for the last time, and over a decade since that same final chapter first “apparated” into the hands of ravenous readers. Yes, really. Both of those instances emphasized finality and bittersweet change in the lives of thousands of people. But in the time since the dark and magicless aura of endings set in over the the supporters of the Boy Who Lived, the fandom has been treated to some unexpected trips back into J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World. In 2016, fans were able to cross the threshold from the muggle world two more times in two distinctly different periods in the timeline with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the latter being much more well received than the controversial and disappointing former. But now here we are, in 2018, approaching the canonical 38th birthday of Mr. Potter himself, and we find ourselves with a new glimpse of the celebrated modern mythology: Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery, a new mobile game from developer Jam City and the newly founded Potter label of Warner Bros. Interactive, Portkey Games. Rumors have swirled like dangerous winged keys for months about a Potter mobile game that would take the geek world by storm, and, well…it’s arrived, for better or worse.

The thing that fans will first notice about the new game is that instead of catching up with the wizard as he rapidly approaches 40, we’ve now been thrust back in time to the ‘80s, during the period after Voldemort failed at assassinating a helpless baby, but before Voldemort would return and repeatedly attempt to finally get the leg up on that same baby. I’m sure you’re all familiar with those events. So yes, we the player get to see Hogwarts during peacetime, before any key members of faculty could, for various tragic reasons, become unavailable for new stories. I have to be honest, I’m a sucker for a nice nostalgia trip, so it was wonderful to see the opening cutscene of the game featuring adorably realized depictions of Dumbledore, Snape, Hagrid, etc.

The opening moments of the actual gameplay are genuinely exciting. I mean truthfully, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to deny the warmth that a trip to this universe so naturally provides. The moment you start, you get to create and name your in game character. Some options are held off until later, which I guess makes sense since our character will age up, but some things really should just be available from the start. But you don’t even really have time to think about it, because soon you’re meeting your first Hogwarts friend (the quintessential sidekick). He isn’t a clone of Ron or Hermione and I like him for it. And just a few minutes later, you’re interacting with digitized John Hurt himself as he sells you a wand with a curious connection. 

And that brings us to the plot, and I think the story set up for this game is great. You, the player character, have a brother who’s gone missing. A brother who may or may not have gone mad after Voldemort fell. A brother who claimed that there are secrets within Hogwarts grounds, a revelation that won’t come as a shock to anyone who knows anything about the fictional castle. This brother, who for me was named Jacob Diaz (dastardly, I know), has cast a shadow over your family, and seeing the reactions and treatment you get by students and professors alike is a lot of fun. It’s a smaller scale storyline that works for the period the game is set in. That to me is the strength of the game. I’m not sure how much input Rowling had with the storyline, but it feels like it falls in line with the stories she’s already established. It’s especially cool to see some characters who are adults during Harry’s school years roaming the halls of Hogwarts themselves. There are a couple of things that get decided too quickly, like the aforementioned wand choosing the wizard, and the Sorting Hat sequence. Though I understand why to a degree when it comes to the sorting. I would have been furious if I didn’t get into Slytherin so it’s probably best that Jam City just let the nerds choose. 

Now of course, the gameplay needs to be addressed. And this is where the experience becomes frustrating. The game basics don’t raise any issues. The graphics are about what I’d expect from a mobile game, and they’re very reminiscent of the early game adaptations of this franchise. And the actual point-and-click mechanic won’t appeal to everyone, especially those with more of an affinity for action based games. But as a fan of a lot of old school RPGs, it works just fine for me. It’s simple and accessible for all ages. The best in-game mechanic is the emphasis on Courage, Empathy, and Knowledge as the three main characteristics for your character. You can emphasize whichever one you want and they play a role in determining your conversation options. You build relationships with NPCs around you and you can handle different situations, such as bullying from one Severus Snape, as you see fit. This is all very streamlined and effective.

The one immensely glaring gameplay problem, however, is the energy system. To do any task within an overall class or adventure, requires energy. Sounds fine, right? No big deal, we’ve all dealt with cool down in games before. But this system is pretty much broken and brings the fun to a screeching halt. So much so that you begin to wonder if the developers at Jam City actually want it to feel like you’re going to spend an entire real life school year playing this game. It takes four minutes to recover one point of energy, and sometimes just talking to a friend or professor can take three or four energy. And if you’re out, you just have to let your phone sit. Check Instagram. Tweet something. Go…outside? I guess? BUT, there’s also a ticking clock on these in-game events. It makes little sense to do it this way.

And sometimes you might even have full energy, but you can’t access the next part of the story unless you wait. Sometimes THREE HOURS.

Or, of course, you can pay. Ah yes, money. Beautiful thing. You can pay to open up the next parts of the game, you can pay for energy, you can pay to get gems to buy glasses (which I found sorta weird as a guy with glasses, can’t I just get them?). It’s microtransaction nonsense of the highest order. Lots of games have them, such as Pokémon GO, but even that game doesn’t STOP ME FROM PLAYING if I choose not to spend any money. I could always just grind it out. Here you get caught within the grind, just wishing you had a time-turner to accelerate the process. 

Overall, Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery is a really fun game, but only for little bursts. Unless you’re an orphan whose freedom fighter parents left them a vault full of gold, it’ll probably take you a long, long time to get far into the narrative, and it’s a true shame because I imagine all fans are going to want to know what happens. I imagine the wonderfully realized in game Hogwarts with its excellent fan service details (like Fang as a puppy) won’t be enough to engage for a long period of time, unless some serious changes are made by the developers. The fixes seem obvious, so fingers crossed from me personally. I want to love this, but right now it just feels like the thing I’ll check every now and then on the way to Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.

About the Author

Alden Diaz

Alden Diaz is a WTN writer whose roots go back to the site's two predecessors. So basically he has a seat on the Council AND the rank of Master? Right? He's a geek with lots of opinions on film, comics, TV, etc., a graduate of broadcasting school, a smark, and a shameless collector of Funko Pop figures. Ask him why pigs are the best animal.