Game Review: Hogwarts Mystery

This game should have been every Harry Potter fan’s dream. And in a way, it is. You get to design your own character and send them to Hogwarts, where they attend classes, form friendships, and go on exciting quests. It’s incredibly fun to play – until you run out of energy.

The storyline so far follows the younger sibling of a former Hogwarts student who was expelled as they navigate their first year at school. You get to pick your character’s name, gender, and Hogwarts House, as well as designing their physical appearance. The game provides several options for hairstyle, skin tone, and facial features, but the animation style is just a little unnerving at times, in the way that old CGI movies like The Polar Express can be unsettling to watch. Here is my character:

Hogwarts Mystery 1

And here’s a picture of the Ravenclaw common room:

Hogwarts Mystery 2

The game is set after Voldemort’s defeat but before Harry starts school. However, most of the characters are stand-ins for ones from the book series. Awkward, nerdy Rowan, who offered to tell me a comprehensive history of Ravenclaw house right after the Sorting ceremony, is a lot like Hermione. “Cowardly” Gryffindor Ben Copper reminds me a lot of Neville, and Merula Snyde is essentially a female Draco Malfoy. The teachers are all familiar ones. So far, Flitwick seems very impressed by my character and Snape seems to hate her with a burning passion, but that might change depending on which House you’re in and which subject you choose as the one you’re most excited about.

A lot in the game depends on your choices. You gain “attribute” points for courage, empathy, and knowledge that affect who your friends are and what choices you can choose to make. Then based on those choices, you get even more attribute points. I’ve been trying to mostly make the decisions I think I really would, but there’s nothing saying you have to. I’m curious how the game might be different if I’d chosen to be in a different House or to make decisions in a different way.

My biggest complaint so far is that you only get a certain amount of energy and can’t continue playing once it runs out unless you buy more (with real money). I normally don’t mind this in app games and see it as a sort of screen time control to keep me from wasting too much time on my phone. However, it’s really annoying when it happens in the middle of an activity. It’s totally possible to start a game or a lesson with a full energy bar and still not have enough to finish it. You get one new energy point every four minutes and several hours to finish each activity, so it’s pretty much taken for granted that you’ll start, run out of energy, put it away for a while, and come back when your energy is full. Or just pay for a refill, which I’m sure is the point. I’d much rather only be able to do a certain number of activities before my character has to rest than get stuck with Devil’s Snare wrapped around my neck for half an hour because I ran out of energy points.

Hogwarts Mystery 3

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What Makes Half-Blood Prince So Important?

Between the darker tone and heavier themes of Order of the Phoenix and the all-out epic conclusion to the series in Deathly Hallows, it’s easy to overlook Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. It seems lighter, softer, tamer, and far less significant. The movie was rated PG, while all the others from Goblet of Fire onward were PG-13. Its plot spends a great deal of time focusing on teenage romantic drama and day-to-day life at Hogwarts, while Voldemort himself never appears except in flashbacks and in the looming threat of danger that remains in the background until the end. It’s certainly not the most exciting Harry Potter book, and I’ll admit it’s not my personal favorite. But it does have a significant role to play.

Order of the Phoenix is about loss of innocence. Not that Harry has ever been totally innocent, at least not in the “sheltered and naïve” sense of the word. But in Order of the Phoenix, he has seen his parents’ killer return from the dead and murder one of his classmates, barely escaped with his own life, and attempted to warn his fellow wizards, only to be mocked, ridiculed, and viewed as either delusional or a liar by almost everyone. He sees the most trusted adults in his life fighting in secret to protect the wizarding world from a threat it won’t acknowledge exists, and at school, he does the same with his friends, forming a Defense Against the Dark Arts study group that grows into a full-blown resistance movement. Meanwhile, his dreams are haunted by that night in the graveyard and by visions of what Voldemort is doing, leading him and his friends into a battle against the Death Eaters where Harry loses one of his father figures and has to withstand being possessed by Voldemort. Harry has certainly endued hardships before, but this is different.

Order of the Phoenix is about loss of innocence, and Deathly Hallows is a high-stakes war story. In contrast, Half-Blood Prince is a last chance for Harry and his friends to just be teenagers. The world believes them now; the adults in power are doing their best to defeat Voldemort; Harry has heard the prophecy and knows he will have to face him someday, but that might be years in the future; and in the meantime, he has tests to pass, Quidditch games to win, and a growing crush on Ginny to deal with.

That doesn’t mean it’s filler, though. I would argue that Harry needs the chance to be a teenager before he sets off on his quest to defeat Voldemort. He needs to understand and experience the normal life he’s giving up in order to be the Chosen One. More importantly, he’s fighting to allow others – perhaps not his classmates, who mostly get drawn into the war along with him, but the younger students and the next generation – to live in a safer world where they will be able to live normal lives, and where teenagers will not have to fight in wars against Dark Wizards. Those moments “out of someone else’s life” that he spends with Ginny matter more than they seem to at first. Ron, Hermione, and to an extent all the children of Hogwarts are also given one last peaceful year before the full-fledged war portrayed in Deathly Hallows.

I said that Order of the Phoenix is a loss-of-innocence story, but so is Half-Blood Prince – not for Harry himself, but for Draco Malfoy. Like Harry, Malfoy has never been entirely innocent – he’s a vicious, mean-spirited bully – but in his own way, he’s incredibly sheltered and naïve. He doesn’t seem to have had an independent thought in his life and has never been through any real hardship. In Half-Blood Prince, he’s recruited to work for Voldemort and given a special mission to kill Dumbledore, which does not go according to plan. He becomes increasingly sullen and withdrawn as the year goes on, before finding himself unable to commit murder when the opportunity finally arises. In the same way that Harry transformed from child hero to pariah to resistance leader, Draco goes from playground bully to Death Eater to a conflicted young man incapable of either true good or true evil. Their stories are parallels that come to opposite conclusions, which makes sense since they are foil characters.

Finally, Half-Blood Prince sets the stage for Deathly Hallows. In Harry’s private lessons with Dumbledore, they explore flashback memories of Voldemort’s past, which allow them to figure out what kind of Dark Magic he used to make himself immortal and how to reverse it. His journey in Deathly Hallows revolves mostly around this, ending with the revelation that Harry himself must die in order for Voldemort to die – and, of course, the further twist that he doesn’t die at all. Dumbledore’s death at the end puts Harry in a position of having to face Voldemort alone, without his most powerful protector, while Snape’s actions seem to establish his role as a villain rather than an ambiguous character in Deathly Hallows, thus subtly setting the stage for the revelation of his true loyalty.

While the threat of Voldemort is present only in the background, it’s still there, and it casts its shadow over the whole story. Students are pulled out of school by parents who are afraid the school is not safe. Shops in Diagon Alley close down when the shop owners go missing. Bridges mysteriously collapse, morally-lacking opportunists sell bogus protective charms, and thanks to Polyjuice Potion and the Imperius Curse, you can never be quite sure who might not be who they seem. The war against Voldemort is raging in the background, a student is plotting to kill the Headmaster, Harry is learning and preparing to eventually fulfill the prophecy, and by the end it’s clear that he will have to do so sooner rather than later. All of this leads directly into Deathly Hallows, which in turn builds up to the Battle of Hogwarts and the final confrontation between Harry and Voldemort.

 

Happy Birthday, Harry Potter!

Wow. It’s Harry Potter’s (and J.K. Rowling’s) birthday again, and it just hit me for the first time that I’ve now had this blog for over a year. It’s amazing how much has happened since then in the Wizarding World. Cursed Child, Fantastic Beasts, a patronus quiz on Pottermore, the 20th anniversary of Philosopher’s Stone, and the epilogue date quickly approaching … Harry Potter is always relevant to me, but it’s been a long time since Deathly Hallows, and this year it’s like someone opened the blinds and dusted away the cobwebs a bit.

That’s not to say everything this past year has been well-received. Cursed Child in particular – I personally enjoyed it, but yeah, Voldemort having a daughter is going a little too far. And I don’t think Newt and Tina will ever take Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s place in my heart, but they don’t have to. That’s not the point.

If nothing else, it’s nice to have an excuse for the nostalgia.

Happy birthday, Harry. And happy birthday, J.K. Rowling. Thank you for creating a world that means so much to me and to many, many others.

Twenty Years Later: Looking Back on a Childhood Shaped by Harry Potter

Twenty years. That’s hard to believe. Harry Potter been around almost my entire life. I was just starting school when kids were opening up the first book for the first time, and I don’t think any of us knew what all this would become. For so many people of my generation, childhood is synonymous with Hogwarts. We grew up reading the books, waiting impatiently for each one, and going to see the movies even though they could never do justice to the stories in our heads. Deathly Hallows marked the end of not just a book series, but a phase of life that we can never go back to, no matter how hard we try. And trust me, we’ve never stopped trying.

They say that in difficult times, you learn who your real friends are, and maybe that’s why it’s so easy to think of the Hogwarts kids as old friends. Middle school isn’t a fun time for anyone, but they were there beside me every step of the way. Simply by opening a book, I could practice spells with the DA, laugh at the Weasley twins’ jokes, fly on a broom next to Harry, and find my way to Ravenclaw Tower, where I was certain I’d belong. It’s always been so easy to imagine myself as a part of that world, even as a muggle who has never set foot in England, let alone Hogwarts.

I can’t credit Harry Potter with teaching me to love reading. I was an avid reader long before I got caught up in the Potter craze. But hearing so many stories from other kids who hated it before these books came along has taught me something just as important: that all it takes is one good book to change a child’s world. Now that I’m all grown up and working as a teacher, I’m constantly on the lookout for that book. And it warms my heart to know that for so many kids today, that book is still Harry Potter.

The series has brought me true friendships and memories worthy of fueling a patronus. I’ll never forget taking Harry Potter books to summer camp, knowing they’d be the perfect icebreaker, because I might not have known anyone there or had much else in common with them, but we all had a favorite character and a House we were sure we’d be sorted into. I’ll never forget when all the kids at school had an opinion about whether Dumbledore was really dead. I’ll never forget how I couldn’t stop smiling as I held Deathly Hallows in my hand and carefully turned the first page, savoring that feeling of starting a new Harry Potter book for the last time. I’ll never forget bonding with college classmates over Pottermore and Hogwarts houses and favorite characters. It was like being in middle school again, but without all the awkwardness and drama.

I don’t think I’ll ever be done with the wizarding world. There’s just so much there, and as I’ve grown up, the world has gained more and more complexity. I’ve asked questions about the ethics of Slytherin house, the symbolism of Quidditch, and everything in between. I’ve made artwork and written poetry inspired by the books. I’ve got a Pottermore wand that I love and an awful patronus that I’ve mostly made peace with. Even during the times in my life when other things have taken precedence, Hogwarts has been there in the background, slowly simmering like a potion, and I’ve known it would be all the better when I returned.

There may not really be a Hogwarts out there, or a Ministry of Magic, or a Grimmauld Place or a Burrow. But that’s okay. They exist in our collective imagination. The characters may not be living, breathing people, but they live in our hearts. They’re our friends and foes and mentors. As Dumbledore says, “Of course it is happening inside your head … but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” Likewise, no matter how far-fetched and fanciful the goings-on at Hogwarts are, we imagine them in our mind’s eye, we pour out our sympathy into these fictional characters as if they were people we knew, we escape again and again into their world. That’s what makes it all come to life. “It’s real for us”, and although it ended a long time ago, it’s not really over. I don’t think it ever will be.

Look what I found!

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I found this at the grocery store yesterday, and of course, I just couldn’t resist. It’s actually pretty cool. Although I will say, I did find a big mistake in the section on magical creatures. They apparently didn’t think the green-skinned, fishlike mermaids from Goblet of Fire could possibly be mermaids, so they’ve got one labeled as a grindylow instead. I found the section on the actors really interesting, though, and there’s an article near the end about how Harry Potter has defined a generation, which I think is absolutely true.

Always

Earlier today, I saw a car with “Always” spelled out on the back window in Harry Potter symbols: the sign of the Deathly Hallows for the A, a magic wand for the l, and so on. It was very cool, and I was tempted to stop and take a picture, but taking pictures of a stranger’s car would have been too creepy.

It did make me think, though, about the way Harry Potter has become such an ingrained part of modern American culture. I get comments from fellow fans every time I go out in my Hogwarts t-shirt. I once made a friend at summer camp exclusively based on our shared love of Harry Potter, and I bonded with countless college classmates over the series, even though by that point the movies had all been made. I’ve even seen people with Harry Potter-themed tattoos.

“What’s your Hogwarts house?” is more than a fun question to think about. For my generation, it’s one of the ways we think about our personalities, just as much as formal personality types like Meyers-Briggs or Five-Factor or Enneagram. It certainly makes for a good way to break the ice and learn more about someone, but I think – certainly this has been the case for me – it’s also a source of self-reflection and a lens through which to understand myself. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way.

When I was in middle school, Harry Potter was a frequent topic of discussion, one of the few things almost everyone in my class had in common. What do you think will happen in book 7? Is Snape good or evil? Should Hermione end up with Ron or Harry? Do you think Harry will have to die? There are no more endings to be speculated on, but that doesn’t mean that aspect of near-universality has faded, especially with those of us who grew up with the series.

That is proven by just how common things like those “Always” stickers still are. I don’t think “always” is such a popular Harry Potter quote just because of Snape and Lily. I think it’s also a statement of how long we’ll love Harry Potter.