Cursed App?: A Review of the “Hogwarts Mystery” Game

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You know how we all dreamed of going to Hogwarts? Well, earlier this year, our letters finally came! Er, sort of. They came in the form of a role-play game. Still, that’s more than we’ve gotten from previous games where we simply went on Harry’s journey. In this game, titled Hogwarts Mystery, you get to play as an original character going on your own original adventure!

Your journey (which takes place sometime after the first fall of Voldemort but before Harry attends Hogwarts) starts as you prepare for your first year of Hogwarts. You’re already under scrutiny from your professors and classmates because your older brother was recently expelled and is now MIA. Rumors abound, but one thing most people agree on is that he was searching for the mysterious Cursed Vaults. However, everything past that is up to you.

You get to choose which House you’ll be in (Slytherin FTW!). You decide what you’ll say during each interaction (albeit from a list of choices, some of which are occasionally locked to you for various reasons I’ll get into later) and decide how you’ll proceed in each situation (again, from a list of choices). You make friends with classmates and get to go on side quests. All-in-all, once you become invested in your own story, you’re hooked.

As you attend classes, nurture your relationships, and go on your quests, you earn HP (which dictates your overall level), gold coins, gems, energy points, and points for courage, empathy, and knowledge (which you also level up in as you go). You also earn (and lose) House points. You earn HP with every action, so it’s not hard to rise in those ranks. However, only in certain classes and adventures can you earn courage, empathy, and knowledge points (though you do get to choose rewards when you do well). It can be a little confusing at first, but you get the hang of it fairly quickly.

Sometimes you need to be at a certain level of HP, courage, empathy, knowledge, or friendship in order to select an action from your list. This sometimes limits you, but doesn’t stop the story in any way. There are a few activities outside of classes and adventures to help you in leveling up. You can play Gobstones or have a meal with a friend. You can also buy more outfits, accessories, and pets using your gold coins and gems. Plus, you can always attend extra classes!

While I’m pretty obsessed with this app and love my “life” at Hogwarts, I do have a few complaints. In fact, the biggest issue I have with this game is that it’s almost impossible to play without spending real money. You see, when you go to class or on an adventure, you use up your energy points (you have about 30 at a time). Basically, you’re tapping people and objects lit up in blue to get speech bubbles and earn stars (which determine whether or not you pass the lesson or complete the task). Each tap uses one energy point. To get more, you buy them with gems. While you can earn gems, you never earn many. This means, if you want to continue, you need to buy gems so you can get more energy points.

Now, the energy points do self-replenish— one every four minutes. That sounds like a good rate until you actually play. I suppose it is possible to play the game without ever using real money, but any progress would be incremental at best. So, if you don’t want to drop real coin on this game, don’t bother playing it.

I get why the game has in-app purchases. I mean, it’s free. The app developers and JK Rowling have to make money somehow. I just wish it wasn’t the energy points that require this. Some tasks are locked by time, so you have to wait a few hours before you can continue the story. However, you can unlock these with gems. This seems like a reasonable way to make money. If you run out of gems but just have to know what happens next, then you buy more gems. The same can be applied to actions. After all, your actions dictate the story. It’s up to you to decide what your story is worth.

But what about those gold coins? You earn coins every time you activate something blue in a class or during a task. They’re super easy to earn. And yet, there’s hardly anything to use them on. You can buy some of the clothes, pets, and accessories, but that’s it. If the energy points have to be restricted by something, why can’t it be those?

This becomes an even bigger issue with the classes. There are spells and potions you learn each chapter; however, often you can’t take the lessons right away. You have to earn enough stars to unlock the lesson. The only way to unlock it is by going to that class and earning stars. You will almost always have to do this three or four times before you finally unlock the new lesson. This wastes the hell out of energy points, which in turn forces you to spend more money on gems. I propose instead having time locks on these lessons (i.e. “You can take this lesson in two hours or take it now for X amount of gems”). Once again, JK Rowling and the app developers will be able to make money without taking advantage of the players.

Another issue with taking the classes over and over to unlock a new lesson is the repetition. It’s the same lectures and practices over and over again. So, not only are you wasting money, but you’re still practicing Lumos or summoning your broom in Year 3 before finally getting to take the level-appropriate lesson. It can be a bit of a drag.

I also have a concern for future years. I’m currently a third-year student, but something that has already come up is dating. A classmate offered to help me find a date, to which I declined. He then replied that most students don’t start dating until their fourth year. This implies that dating is something you’re able to do in the game. My concern is that won’t give me the option to date a girl. I mean, I’m a lesbian and so my character is by default also a lesbian. And she has a huge crush on her friend Penny (technically I haven’t been given the option for this yet, but she does). Even if I can’t date Penny, I don’t want to have to date a guy. You can probably forgo dating, but why should I have to do that just because I’m gay? I thought homosexuality wasn’t an issue in the wizarding world, Joanne. (UPDATE: I did some research and the app developers are talking about including same-sex relationships in the game. As of now, only the first five years are playable, so this potential update won’t come into effect until the next two years are released. There is not currently an option to date anyone in the first five years.)

As for the graphics and specs, I don’t have much to say. I’m not a gamer and don’t know anything about graphic design or animation, so I don’t have any authority to judge it. I think it looks pretty good for a mobile game. I also find the game to be user-friendly and intuitive. Sometimes it can be difficult to trace the wand movements for spells, but otherwise it’s a pretty simple game. However, I am loving the story. I also love my friends (except for Ben, a coward afraid of everything. He’s clearly supposed to be a proto-Neville Longbottom, but where Neville was driven by insecurity and a lack of confidence (that he slowly overcomes with a beautiful character arc) Ben just has an exhaustive list of fears he doesn’t do anything to overcome.). I hope to be able to love a girlfriend later in my story. I love all the inter-House friendships and how the unmitigated hatred of Slytherin is nonexistent. I love my “life” as a Hogwarts student.

Only one question remains: would I recommend this game? I say it’s worth it if you’ve been saving most of your paychecks and therefore have a little spending money. It’s also worth it to get that Hogwarts experience. I just wish it wasn’t so repetitive and didn’t take monetary advantage of its players. Ultimately, I would say it’s worth one full play-through. You get your wizarding education and have your magical adventure and then move on with your life. Then you can finally justify wearing one of those “Hogwarts Alum” shirts. And isn’t that the real dream?

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