Hogwarts Mystery: My Thoughts
I have had a very long history with Harry Potter games. Being an avid fan of the series myself, I was always very excited when a new movie came out and when a new game came out, and I would always ask for that when my birthday or Christmas came around. The earliest Harry Potter games were among the first video games I ever played, and throughout the years I have come to play most Harry Potter games on most platforms with the exception of a few releases on platforms I didn't own and the Deathly Hallows installments, but having seen and read quite a bit about them, I don't think I'm missing much.
It's a commonly held opinion that of all those games, the ones related to the first three movies are the best ones on most platforms, or at least the most popular. Those are the ones that served as the introduction of the video game aspect of this franchise and most of us played them as kids, so there is quite a bit of nostalgia to be felt for those days.
But there is something truly special to be said of those earlier games that sort of changed as the series went along, and I think it is a big part of why people say they were the best, and that is: they were fun games. There is an important distinction to be made when I say this. These weren't just fun Harry Potter games, these were fun games, fun to play, fun to go through and get to the end, especially for young kids.
They also weren't amazing games, they borrowed several mechanics from other more successful and better productions, nor were they great adaptations of the movies or books, because at the end of the day, we didn't want great adaptations of the story in video game format. That's what the movies are for. What we did want was a fun game in this world, and these game developers presented that by focusing on what was truly important: a solid gameplay experience. In many ways that meant throwing the notion of Hogwarts we were presented in the books and movies out of the window and introduce stranger things that didn't make that much sense but that enhanced the gaming experience for the player, like classes that were true death courses, dangers and creatures in every corner of the school and spells that were learned in an instant.
These were things that the later games kind of sacrificed to a large extent and that diminished the fun had with the games. Weird motion controls were introduced to cast spells, there was little difference in them in application or looks, the quests were painfully basic with little challenge. I don't think I died even once while playing Order of the Phoenix or Half Blood Prince and when I got to the end of both I didn't feel the grandious end of an adventure that I did with Chamber of Secrets for example, because there was little challenge in getting to the end. It felt like being a passive agent just moving Harry through the story rather than being the decisive factor on whether he failed or succeeded.
To conclude this introduction, I believe Harry Potter games were at their best when they focused on gameplay and the player experience, simply put, the game has to be fun to play, not just watch. The player needs to enjoy the activities he's performing on whatever console the game is played on so as to come out having had a good time in the Wizarding World.
And all of this brings us to Hogwarts Mystery (HM). Even though I was optimistic about a new Harry Potter game, with slim hopes that we might get something that remotely harkened back to the first installments, I also had a healthy bit of scepticism, mainly due to the fact that, well, it was a mobile game. At their best, mobile games are for most of us fun short ways to pass the time when you have nothing else to do, so I didn't expect HM to go much beyond that. I just wanted to have fun playing the game, because I knew that as a big fan, I would probably enjoy playing in the universe, even if it wasn't on the level of a console game.
So what is Hogwarts Mystery? Well in it, you create a new Hogwarts student shaping its appearance and its name and the Hogwarts House you get into, you start by going to Hogwarts at the age of eleven and then you play through the seven years of your education, making friends and enemies, going to classes and going on adventures. The game takes place some time after Voldemort's first downfall so things are pretty chill and of course there is no Harry, Ron or Hermione at Hogwarts, so it's you with some familiar and unfamiliar faces. The game mostly plays out with the same story for most players despite certain deviations and the story itself is broken up into chapters, each year has a certain number of chapters and you complete them by going to all of the classes designed for that chapter and whatever other activities that progress the story.
All in all, it seemed kind of promising. It's an entirely new story, that could bring some new interesting characters into the Harry Potter mythos, the adventures sounded promising and it was certainly going to be cool to explore Hogwarts from a pair of shoes that aren't Harry's.
However, much like several of the games in this franchise before it, Hogwarts Mystery suffers from the same lack of quality gameplay as its predecessors, and in this instance, it's even more tragic since this game is not based on any other source material and the story here actually showed promise.
Essentially, the game functions on a tap-to-win system. You complete activities by tapping the screen about 90% of the time, whether you are in a class, or going on an adventure with your friends. Performing these activities costs you energy, which is regained over excruciatingly long periods of time at which time you can go back into the game to tap some more and continue the activity. That's essentially the whole game. Occasionally you might need to draw a symbol on the screen to do a spell or participate in duels which work on rock-paper-scissor basis, but these also lack any kind of depth or challenge, making the entire gameplay aspect of the game itself basically a chore to move the story along which is the only reason why anyone would ever keep playing.
To add to all of this, the game's story is one that is likely to take a very long time to complete. You have seven years of classes and adventures to play through and to put it in context, I was invested for around a month and a half before I lost my patience with the game and I didn't even finish year one. This game is expecting its players to show a level of loyalty that is, at the very least, unusual for a mobile game and, in my opinion, unsustainable for this kind of gameplay, because it gets old very quickly.
But, talking about the game's other features, there are good things to say, even though they don't redeem the game as a whole. Hogwarts, despite being a relatively small space (it's a mobile game so it's understandable), is recreated with a good level of authenticity and it looks quite good, especially each of the four common rooms which all look really cool and true to each House. The character models are a bit cartoony, they look a bit like Sims, but it works for this environment, which is quite colorful in it of itself, so no complaints there either. The dialogue is pretty simplified and to the point, a bit too obvious and childish at times but I didn't mind, it made me smile and laugh a lot so I guess that's good, and whoever made the lines for Snape deserves major props because they are so true to his character in how mean and despising they are that I actually loved going to Potions just to have him call me an idiot in about five different ways.
Finally, I'll talk a bit about the story because I think that is the best thing in the game, and it's wasted on this gameplay, making it so that many players (myself included), don't experience it in its entirety because they get tired of playing. It's not groundbreaking by any means, but it's at least engaging enough for you to want to know what's going to happen next. The characters are also not bad and the promise of meeting more as the story goes on was another incentive to keep playing especially when these characters include familiar faces like Bill and Tonks. On top of that there was a degree of mystery present, at least in the first year, with rumors of Cursed Vaults within Hogwarts that housed wealth and power and that your (the player's) brother got lost in before your arrival at the school, prompting you to find him and rescue him. There was also a rival from Slytherin that kept causing trouble for you which made things fun and interesting.
All of this is cool and makes you want to keep playing until you get a notice that you have to wait 3 hours to do the next activity, or until you can't finish a class because you don't have enough energy, so you wait to get more energy, but you wait too long and the time limit for the class runs out, forcing you to repeat the whole class again, for which you don't have enough energy to finish again. After this happens a few times you start not wanting to play anymore, since the only thing you're really doing is tapping the screen over and over again. And then you stop playing alltogether and here we are.
All in all, this game was never going to be amazing, or great, maybe not even good, but it could have been playable and a way to pass the time, and it is not that either. Instead this game doesn't even let you play most of the time, forcing you to wait and wait, and when you finally get to play, you are rewarded with the thrilling activity of tapping the screen and little else. I would rather just watch the cutscenes, and that's probably what I'll do.
So those were my thoughts on Hogwarts Mystery, what do you think? Do you still play the game? Leave your thoughts down in the comments and consider checking out my other Harry Potter articles. Thank you for reading.