In case you’ve been living under a rock or just (un)lucky enough to not discover it before now, Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery is the latest release in the Wizarding World, available on iOS and Android. This spoiler-filled post serves to highlight what parents need to know about Hogwarts Mystery. Skip to the TL;DR at the bottom for a spoiler-free summary.
Upon launching the game for the first time, the player creates their own witch or wizard to experience the wizarding world through. There are many options for customizing characters, with more options unlocking over time.
Exploring Diagon Alley
The game starts off with the player entering Diagon Alley. You make your first friend and begin exploring as you buy your supplies for school.
Your new acquaintance Rowan could use some fashion advice. After you return from shopping, you’ll find that Rowan has followed your advice. He reveals that he doesn’t have friends, giving you an auto-response claiming you’ll be his friend. Rowan will always be the same assigned gender as the character you create.
To go shopping, players explore Flourish and Blotts and Ollivander’s to buy their supplies. Tapping on an exclamation point (!) allows you to start an activity, and energy is required to complete it. As you tap on the items (such as books), energy is consumed to fill the taskbar.
Ollivander’s shop gets a little more complicated. Like Harry, your player must try various wands in order to find the right fit.
The first thing about the story which parents need to know is that, much like the books, Hogwarts Mystery has darker themes running through the silly and frivolous action. In order to find the correct wand, Mr. Ollivander gets to know you a bit better. After filling you in on your missing brother, you’re offered a chance to express an opinion. Your choice determines what you say, and the wand Mr. Ollivander offers you. Since he knows you a bit better, you’ll find the perfect fit this time. This is the only time you can see which wand combo you have. It is not available to review later.
Element of note: A missing brother, a minor himself, can be a sensitive topic for some kids.
Once you’ve finished up in Diagon Alley, the story forwards to your trip on the Hogwarts Express.
Your first task in Hogwarts is to navigate to the Great Hall for the sorting ceremony. These tasks will show up in a menu on the left. These buttons can be difficult to use for small screens, but the app runs just fine on any screen size. The second screen you’ll see is a summary of tasks you must complete to advance the story. You cannot do anything else in Hogwarts until you’ve been sorted. Head to the Great Hall in order to join the other first years.
Inside the great hall, Dumbledore greets you and fills you in on house points, reminding you to follow the rules and earn points for your house in order to win the House Cup.
Dumbledore introduces the four houses before students are called forward for sorting. The Sorting Hat was the first major disappointment for me. The player simply chooses their house. There is no quiz or significant interaction with the Sorting Hat. You just pick a house.
Once sorted, players visit their House Common Room. They will immediately discover (regardless of which house they choose) that Rowan has been sorted into the same house. Unfortunately, not everyone is friendly. A third-year student immediately begins bullying the player based on the character’s mysterious brother. Rowan sticks up for you right away, but it’s still bullying on your first day at Hogwarts.
Story element of note: Bullying is a consistent theme, with the player often being the victim.
Unfortunately, the bullying doesn’t end in your own House. Merula, a rival from day one, is found bullying Rowan. This interaction serves to introduce the attribute system which rewards your choices with improved skills. Higher attributes are required to make certain choices or tackle certain challenges.
The player can explore Hogwarts in a limited fashion. From the start, five areas are accessible, with Hogsmeade, Lower Floor – East, and the Forbidden Forest being unlocked over time.
In your first class, you meet Professor Flitwick. Another hint at your brother pops up, and this is the first time we see someone fondly remember the mythical missing brother. Flitwick is quite encouraging, though. Your first lesson is to learn Lumos, the wand-lighting charm.
Like in Flourish and Blotts, you tap objects to fill your bar. Once you reach the first star, you may select a reward. These minor rewards are standard at first. Each star reward is followed by a task or question.
Element of note: The questions can be challenging, though. Most questions are not actually answered within the game, and players need knowledge from the books. This can be frustrating for kids not steeped in the lore of the Wizarding World.
Players can sometimes interact with their friends to become more close with them. Rowan introduces this concept with a game of Gobstones in the Courtyard. Specific attributes will help in any given interaction, and a warning is posted before you start any friendship activity. If your attributes aren’t high enough, don’t start the class just then. Go take “extra” lessons in Potions, Charms, and Flying to raise your attributes first.
For any friendship encounter, you will have different objectives to win. For Rowan, you merely have to distract him. Usually, this is pretty innocent stuff. For other friends, you may need to tease or frighten them. Unlocking new levels of friendship allows your friends to help you in future adventures as well as other rewards. Rewards are usually gems (a rare currency) or energy. If your energy bar is full, you won’t gain “extra,” though. Save those friendship tasks for when you need energy.
Element of note: Sometimes, the player has to participate in bullying behavior in order to win contests with friends. This is not avoidable over time.
Certain story elements will grab the player and prevent them from doing other tasks. At one point, the player is stuck in everyone’s (least) favorite magical plant: Devil’s Snare. Unfortunately, the character isn’t aware of the danger and is captured handily. Players must case Lumos to free themselves.
Frighteningly, the player will always run out of energy while trapped by the Devil’s Snare. This is a matter of waiting it out, but players have the choice of spending an exorbitant 55 gems to refill their energy bar.
Element of note: Physical danger for the character.
Element of note: Compelling consumerism in the form of fear. While the character is trapped, they’re offered the chance to buy more energy, but they can’t have earned enough gems to do this. The only option is to wait it out or spend real money to escape the danger.
Thankfully, if you don’t escape the Devil’s Snare, you don’t simply expire, consumed by the usually deadly plant. You can begin the same challenge from the beginning, (cast Lumos to escape a bit at a time) again running out of energy partway. On the second try, though, you’re likely to level up, which refreshes your energy bar completely, guaranteeing you’ll have enough energy to complete the challenge.
After you escape the Devil’s Snare, you’ll run into the wonderfully kind character of Hagrid. Despite his famed haggard appearance, he will counsel you to change into more appropriate clothes. As you can see in the image above, the player is wearing terribly tattered robes and must change to be presentable.
Strangely enough, this removes the tattered robes from your inventory, and you cannot unlock them again until level 18. In the last panel, you can see how expensive some of the outfits are. Note the current currency level of the character after escaping the Devil’s Snare. You’re not likely to be able to buy anything here. Thankfully, you have some muggle clothes to wear until you can change into something more appropriate.
Element of note: Another early enticement to purchase in-game currencies in order to have moderately attractive clothes, even haircuts, and other style options. As my wife bemoaned, you must spend a daunting amount of currency to obtain a basic skirt.
The last major element we’ll cover is dueling. The player is unceremoniously attacked in the courtyard by a classmate, and left in the dirt wondering how to prevent this hazard from being repeated. With Rowan’s encouragement, you can visit Professor Flitwick to teach you how to duel. After you learn a dueling spell, Rowan volunteers to duel you for practice.
Element of note: Interpersonal violence is a recurring theme, with characters dueling to hurt each other to settle arguments.
The duel with Rowan teaches you everything you need to know about dueling. Dueling is a fancy version of Rock, Paper, Scissors. If you win the bout, you can attack or select a potion to heal yourself. The choices available depend on how you won the bout. Aggressive moves give you attacks, while Defensive moves let you heal yourself. Sneaky stance leaves you with a mix of options.
Victory is easier if you have higher attributes. More importantly is the comparison of your attributes to your opponent’s. If your attributes are lower than your opponent’s, you’ll have a difficult time winning, unless you never lose a bout.
When you tie in a bout, the player who is losing regains some stamina, but neither is permitted to choose an action. When you defeat an opponent in a duel, you are awarded experience.
Element of note: The reliance on higher attributes encourages players to spend a lot of time “farming,” that is, taking extra classes as often as possible to increase attributes. This may mean kids play the game rather more than a parent might like.
Beyond the introduction
Once the player has discovered most of the basics, the story begins in earnest. The player must face danger, discrimination, and sabotage. Players making the “right” choices or doing “well” in a challenge may still be punished. House points are often awarded and sometimes taken away, seemingly randomly.
Element of note: As future chapters are unlocked, the sense of danger increases. The school is endangered by the player’s actions, regardless of the choices made. The guilt is appropriately placed on the character for making decisions which endanger others or lose house points, but sensitive children may feel the guilt and shame of the fallout more keenly than others. Keep an eye on younger kids who will understandably be upset when they face consequences for actions they couldn’t control.
The last thing I will add is that there is precisely one magical creature to be discovered in the first year: a house elf. The only way to interact with it is to prod it back to work. This brings up unpleasant parallels to real-world slavery, and should be noted by parents who want their kids to be conscious of social injustice.
Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery is quite faithful to the books, especially in themes presented. There are fanciful and silly moments, and there are scary, tense, and socially unjust moments as well. For folks who hunger for a fairly genuine Hogwarts experience, this is a game you will likely enjoy.
Parents of younger or more sensitive kids need to know that the following negative elements are at play in Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery:
- Missing children
- Bullying by students
- Bullying by staff
- Consumerism (Cartoon, fashion, mostly)
- Consumerism (in-app purchases)
- Violence (Cartoon, no blood/gore)
- Slavery (house elves)
While the various negative elements add up to a depressing bill, parents should also know that there is magic and wonder to be found in the halls of dear old Hogwarts. An epic adventure is also there, shining through the negative elements. Parents should keep an eye on younger or more sensitive players, and educate kids on in-app purchases and impulse consumerism.
Update: Parents may want to know that there are romance elements at play in HP: HM. While we celebrate the options for players to choose the characters they “fancy” regardless of gender, some parents may find even mild romance to be worthy of note.