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Author Archives: Iris the Keyblade Master

Fighter’s Block: The Best Game to Play During NaNoWriMo

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So, show of hands: who is participating in NaNoWriMo this year?

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. It’s an annual challenge that writers take to create a 50,000-word novel in one month. One epic month where you are not allowed to tell yourself, “This is terrible. I should throw everything out and write it again.” A month of late nights and early mornings, a month of word sprints to see how much you can write in ten minutes, a month where you find yourself cancelling plans with friends because you have to work on your novel, a month of spontaneous plans with friends while you are procrastinating on your novel.

Which I am not doing by the way. I am sacrificing the time that I could be spending working on my novel to help you, my fellow WriMos. Please stop judging me. I have plenty of time to reach my word count goal for today. So there.

So, here’s a fun game that can help you raise said word count each day. I especially love to use it when I know I’m going to have a full schedule during the day, i.e. work and streaming. It’s called “Fighter’s Block.”

“Fighter’s Block” can be found here. You start at Level 1, fighting the “Not-A-Block” monster. And how do you defeat this monster? By writing!

You set a goal for yourself based on how many words you’d like to write. Personally, I like to set my goal for 500 words, but it’s completely up to you. The number of words is the amount of health that your enemy has. As you type in the text box beneath the “battle,” the monster loses health. But when you stop typing, your avatar loses health, and will continue to lose health until you finish mulling over what to write next. So the game forces you to write fast without concern for whether it’s “good enough,” making it perfect for WriMos.

If you need to stop for any reason, that’s not an issue. You can always pause the game until you’re ready to start again. Additionally, you can change the speed of the monster’s attacks, the size of the text, the font, and the color scheme of the page where you’re typing. And the more you write/play, the more you level up, and you can unlock new avatars to use.

All of these settings are great additions, but the real value of “Fighter’s Block” comes from its concept. It provides a fun way to increase that word count and get your thoughts down without worrying about the quality of them. (For now, anyway. Revision comes after the work is finished.) So, if you’re a gamer and a writer, check it out, and have fun!

Recap Review: The American Girls Premiere

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One lovely summer day, my parents were summoned to the basement for the world premiere of my very first play created on the computer.

This one-woman show invoked the minimalist style, in the sense that almost nothing actually happened. Its protagonist, Felicity Merriman from the American Girl franchise, crossed the stage and recited a brief soliloquy in robotic monotone: “Hello. My name is Felicity.” Then she curtseyed and walked off the stage.

…well, I thought it was a work of genius at the time. And it was the start of many more bizarre plays starring the American Girl characters.

For those unfamiliar with it, the American Girl franchise started out as a doll collection. Each doll was based on a fictional nine-year-old girl living in a specific period in American history. Around the time that the franchise caught my interest, there were six of them: Felicity, living in Colonial Williamsburg just before the Revolutionary War, Josefina, living in New Mexico before it became a U.S. territory, Kirsten, a Swedish immigrant, Addy, a slave who escapes to Philadelphia with her mother, Samantha, an orphan who lives with her wealthy, old-fashioned grandmother in 1904, and Molly, whose father is a doctor overseas during World War II.

The dolls each had six books that described their misadventures with family and friends and showed how important historical events had an impact on their lives. I loved reading them as a kid. I also loved staring longingly at the many, many accessories and clothing that you could purchase for the dolls in the American Girl Catalog, most of which I couldn’t get because they were just too expensive.

And then came an odd but kinda amazing addition to the franchise: The American Girls Premiere.

The American Girls Premiere was a computer game for Windows and Mac, where you could create your own plays using the characters from the American Girl stories. It gave you numerous tools to work with: characters, setting, props, music, sound effects, lighting, and actions.

Unfortunately, it did have one big limit, story-wise: you couldn’t create an epic crossover starring Felicity from 1774 and Molly from 1944, or Josefina from 1824 going on adventures with Addy from 1864. Once you picked one of the girls, you became confined to her time period, her settings, and her supporting cast.

I’m guessing that the company didn’t want girls coming up with plays that were too wacky, but in hindsight, they might as well have let us go wild.

The most memorable part of the game was the horrific, computerized voices that you got to use to make the “actors” say their dialogue. Technically, the game also provided a voice recording option if you had a microphone with your computer. I didn’t, so I could never get that feature to work and had to rely on the voices given to me.

The results? Well, you can watch this masterpiece of a play to get an idea of what they sounded like:

I couldn’t find many videos of people’s American Girls Premiere plays anymore (and I suspect some of them were removed for copyright infringement), but “Meet Robot Felicity” is a perfect representation of how these productions often looked and sounded, and then some. You could indeed make characters soar through the air or burrow underground.

Although the game came with a basic tutorial, I ended up uncovering most of the ins and outs myself. It offered me an opportunity to mess around and see how far I could go when putting together a play. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, it also offered a learning opportunity in how to create something with limitations. Need to show the character sleeping in a bed instead of lying on the floor? Levitate him or her so that he or she would appear to be lying on top of the bed. The computer can’t pronounce the lines correctly? Well, time to deliberately misspell the words so it would.

The American Girls Premiere wasn’t perfect, but it offered many, many hours of fun.  It served as a nice introduction to the different elements in creating a play: having the right props, the right lighting, etc.  The silly robot voices added some unintentional humor to the whole experience.  I’m glad it existed and I miss playing it.

Recap Review: Arkham Asylum

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Here we have yet another game that’s been on my radar for a while, but I never got around to playing until now. And boy, did it live up to the hype!

Full disclaimer: my knowledge of the Batman mythos mostly comes from the Christopher Nolan films. I’ve started watching The Animated Series, and I’ve seen bits and pieces of Tim Burton’s Batman and the 1960’s Adam West show. Oh, and The LEGO Batman Movie and Batman and Robin (unfortunately). That’s about it.

So I knew I wasn’t fully appreciating Arkham Asylum the way that a diehard fan would. But I still really enjoyed playing it and it’s inspired me to finally start watching the beloved animated series.

If you haven’t played it yet, here’s the plot: Batman has captured the Joker and they’re off to Arkham Asylum. Shortly after they arrive, the Joker escapes, kidnaps Commissioner Gordon and Warden Sharp, and then traps Batman and members of the Gotham police force in the asylum. Naturally, you play as the Caped Crusader as he navigates the island to rescue Gordon and figure out the Joker’s real plan behind all of this.

To save the day, you’ll have to use a variety of skills and weapons. Sometimes, it comes down to a regular fistfight with the Joker’s hired thugs. Other times, you’re stuck in a room with armed men patrolling the area, and you need to take them out through stealth. Other times, you’ll enter Detective Mode to follow the trail of the Commissioner or whomever else you’re trying to find as the plot progresses.

Personally, I found Stealth/Predator mode to be the most challenging, but also the most fun. That’s when I really felt like Batman. You’ll often have to take out enemies one by one, because if the others see you, they’ll start shooting, and your health drops fast. Then the Joker will often add to the challenge, i.e. rigging explosives on the gargoyle statues to prevent you from hanging from the ceiling, or telling Harley to kill the Commissioner if she or any of the other thugs see you. It’s not unlike the kind of challenges that Batman would face in the movies, shows, or comics. Only this time, it’s down to you to figure out a way around them. That makes it feel all the more satisfying when you succeed.

Another fun element of the game comes from the Joker’s commentary as you navigate the place; he constantly mocks his henchmen as you take them out. Fans of the animated series will be happy to know that Mark Hamill returned to voice him, while Kevin Conroy and Arleen Sorkin also reprised their roles as Batman and Harley Quinn, respectively. They all do a wonderful job bringing their characters to life, as do all of the other voice actors in this game.

I won’t spoil the rest of the game, but I will say that you meet and fight several other major villains in Arkham Asylum besides the Joker and Harley, and they each contribute to the plot in some way. The Riddler also provides two sidequests for you: one to find the many hidden Riddler trophies throughout the game, and the other involves solving actual riddles by examining the right area. I feel bad that I couldn’t get as excited by some of the character cameos, since I’m such a newbie to the Batman franchise. But diehard fans will love them, and the game’s so well-written that newcomers will likely enjoy them too.

Arkham Asylum was originally released for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Microsoft Windows. It is now available as part of a collection with its sequel, Arkham City, on the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One. The collection is titled Return to Arkham. I wholeheartedly recommend it if you haven’t played it already.

Review: The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit

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At E3 2018, DONTNOD Entertainment announced that they would release a new, free-to-download game at the end of June, set in the same universe as Life Is Strange. The game turned out to be more of a demo that sets up Life Is Strange 2, titled The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit. It’s available on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Microsoft Windows. While Captain Spirit only takes about 2.5 hours to complete, it felt wonderful to be back in the Life Is Strange-verse, even for a little while.

Captain Spirit stars a new character, a nine-year-old boy named Chris with an active imagination. He lives with his father; both are struggling to cope with the sudden death of his mother. His father does this through drinking; Chris does so by pretending to be a superhero called “Captain Spirit.” In the game/demo, your objective is to complete a number of “awesome” things that Chris has planned for the day.

First things first, a trigger warning: the original Life Is Strange dealt with some very heavy topics, including suicide, abusive parents, and kidnapping/assaulting young women. The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit doesn’t get as dark as the first entry in the series. (It doesn’t have the same amount of time to do so anyway.) But it does show Chris with a dad who drinks heavily; it’s strongly implied that he’s physically hurt Chris when drunk, and he verbally lashes out at him more than once, depending on the choices you make. He’ll almost immediately backtrack and apologize, and he’s clearly trying to be a good parent, but that doesn’t excuse his actions at all.

My own parents are loving, supportive, and have never given me anything worse than a lecture. So, while I can say that I liked how Chris’ story was written, I can’t say whether or not his relationship with his father was handled correctly.  Regardless, if this situation hits a little too close to home for any of you, you might want to play something else.

That said, I immediately identified with Chris in another way. He spends a lot of time in his room or in his yard, playing with his toys as he acts out their adventures battling his arch-nemesis, “Mantroid.” I couldn’t stop smiling, because that’s exactly how I used to play with my toys. He does feel like a real nine-year-old kid.

There are a few little shout-outs in the game to remind you that Captain Spirit takes place in the same universe as Life Is Strange. This initially gave me the wrong impression that Chris might be related to Max or Chloe somehow. While I missed the previous cast of characters and would’ve liked to see a stronger link to them, I liked Chris so much that, ultimately, I didn’t mind switching over to his world.

The game plays the same as Life Is Strange, in the sense that you’re choosing what you want Chris to do and how to respond. But Chris doesn’t have time travel powers, so you’re stuck with the consequences of whatever you do. That felt weird at first. I’m used to trying something out, rewinding, trying something else, and then picking which outcome I liked best before proceeding with the story.

There’s also a hilarious mini game that you can play if you can unlock Chris’ dad’s phone. It’s a side-scroller starring “Hawt Dawg Man,” who dodges obstacles with his mustard jetpack. Although I never beat Chris’ high score, I had a lot of fun trying. It’s a nice bonus to flesh out the game and gives you something else to do besides your short list of tasks.

Captain Spirit ends on a good cliffhanger and I’m looking forward to seeing more of Chris’ story in Life Is Strange 2. The first episode of that game will be released on September 27 for the same systems as Captain Spirit. If you loved the original Life Is Strange, you’ll love this one too. And if you’ve never played a game in this series before, this is the perfect way to get a sense of what they’re like and whether or not you’d enjoy them.

Review: Final Fantasy X

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Final Fantasy X and I have what you might call an “on again, off again” relationship.

It’s the first Final Fantasy game that I ever tried playing, but then I gave up after dying one too many times on the Mi’ihen Highroad. (It took an embarrassing length of time for me to figure out the Sphere Grid system for leveling up.)

Over the years, I became acquainted with some of the characters through the Kingdom Hearts series and the Dissidia games. I’d also watched Noah Antwiler’s lengthy review/rant about the game. And then, at long last, I purchased the PS4 remaster and played it again, for real, while streaming on Twitch.

The verdict? Overall, it was a fun experience, and I love Tidus and Yuna to pieces. But it’s not my favorite Final Fantasy title.

Let’s start with the story and characters. Tidus is living the dream as the star player of the Zanarkand Abes (he introduces himself in this manner a lot), for a sport called blitzball. But on the night of a big game, his city is attacked by a flying, Godzilla-style monster called “Sin,” and when he wakes up, he finds himself in an abandoned temple. The people who find him claim that his home doesn’t exist…because it was destroyed a thousand years ago.

So Tidus struggles to adjust to his new life in the world of Spira and figure out a way to get back to Zanarkand. Along the way, he meets up with Wakka, a fellow blitzball lover who recruits him for his underdog team, Yuna, a summoner who has embarked on a pilgrimage to defeat Sin, and Yuna’s guardians, Lulu and Kimarhi. They are later joined by Tidus’ mentor, a former guardian named Auron, and a girl named Rikku, who has been trying to stop summoners from completing the pilgrimage for her own personal reasons. And thus we have our party.

Eventually, Tidus becomes one of Yuna’s guardians as well, and through his new friends, he learns about Spira’s plight. Every ten years, they are attacked by Sin, and a summoner must journey to the ruins of Zanarkand to defeat it. After a period known as the Calm, Sin is reborn, and the cycle begins all over again. But is that really all there is to it? Could there be a permanent way to defeat Sin? And will Tidus ever get back to his Zanarkand?

So yeah, I adore Tidus. I know lots of gamers hate him. I understand why lots of gamers hate him. His voice sounds whiny sometimes- yes, sometimes– and he has his stupid moments. But I enjoy him so much, partly because of his flaws. When he got up and started yelling through a bullhorn that the Besaid Aurochs would win the Blitzball Cup, just after hearing an announcement that they’d never so much as won a game, I couldn’t stop laughing. Sorry, Tidus Haters. We’ll just have to agree to disagree on his likability.

Plus, his romance with Yuna is heartwarming. As a summoner, Yuna carries a heavy weight on her shoulders. Summoners in Spira dedicate their lives to defeating Sin, prepared to sacrifice anything and everything for their people. As such, it’s rare that Yuna or the people around her consider her own needs and desires. But Tidus is an outsider. He has no expectations for how Yuna should act or how she should serve him. He constantly asks Yuna what she wants to do and checks in with her to make sure that she’s okay. And Yuna is one of the first people to believe him when he says he’s from Zanarkand. They talk things out and listen to each other.

The music is just as beautiful as the love story, although this game is notable in that it’s the first main Final Fantasy title that did not have Nobuo Uematsu composing the whole score. He did some of the tracks; others were composed by Masashi Hamauzu and Junya Nakano. Many of the tracks are some variant of three gorgeous themes: “To Zanarkand,” “Suteki da ne,” and “Hymn of the Fayth.”

The turn-based battle system has a fantastic feature: the ability to switch out party members in the middle of combat. This especially comes in handy because many of the enemies are specifically designed with one character in mind. Auron is the heavy hitter. Lulu uses offensive magic. Yuna is the healer and can take out difficult enemies with the aeons that she summons. Wakka hits airborn enemies with his blitzball. This allows for a more balanced party, offering everyone a chance to level up at some point.

On the other hand, the lack of exploration in this game surprised me. I enjoyed having the chance to fly around the worlds in Final Fantasy VI and VII. In X, you don’t get to control an airship until the very end of the game, and you can only visit a specific set of locations on the map. Up until that point, you follow a linear path on your journey through Spira. While this wasn’t a deal breaker for me, I did miss at least having the option to explore.

Now, there is one aspect of the game that I hated: blitzball. It should have been fun. And I will fully admit that I might not have gotten full enjoyment out of it because I wasn’t playing it right or took the time to understand the ins and outs of the game. But the time that I spent playing in the tournament wasn’t fun.

Blitzball is Tidus’ favorite sport and the tournament is one of the biggest events in Spira. It’s a game played in a giant dome of water. The players swim through the dome and try to score points through each other’s goals.

But when you finally get to play, most of the moves happen automatically. You’re encouraged to set your characters to automatically move around in the dome, and then you watch the players swim around. You get a chance to try scoring or throwing the ball to another teammate, but mostly, it’s just watching the players move around the dome. I never really felt like I was in control as I tried to play. When Tidus and the party got cut off from the mini game due to story reasons, it was the greatest punishment of all time.

Final Fantasy X might not be a perfect game, but I did enjoy most of it. The characters and the battle system are very enjoyable. I cannot compare the PS4 remaster with the PS2 or PS3 versions because I didn’t spend enough time with either of them. However, the game looks beautiful, and the remastered soundtrack sounds great. I’d rate it 7.5 out of 10 blitzballs.

Review: Dissidia Final Fantasy Opera Omnia

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The heroes from the Final Fantasy series cannot catch a break. Having been sent to a paradise world to rest from their battles, they discover that monsters have infiltrated said paradise. It’s up to them to band together and fight…again.

Dissidia Final Fantasy Opera Omnia is a game for iOS and Android devices, recently launched in the United States. (It’s been running in Japan since early 2017.) Dissidia has become a crossover subseries of the larger Final Fantasy franchise. It started out with two games on the PSP, followed by the Theatrhythm music games on the Nintendo 3DS, and now an arcade version on the PlayStation 4, titled Dissida NT. They essentially exist to throw the major Final Fantasy heroes and villains together in one universe to battle it out.

In the first two PSP games, the heroes and villains wake up in a strange world with no memories of their previous adventures.  They have a vague idea of who they used to be, and they know that they have homes they want to see again, but that’s it.  The goddess of harmony, Cosmos, and the god of discord, Chaos, enlist them to fight in a great battle for control of the universe.  The characters strike alliances with one another and grapple with various personal issues while trying to end the conflict for good.

Theatrhythm pretty much kicked the plot out the door from the get-go. Technically, the heroes are fighting Chaos again, but there’s no dialogue between them. You just pick a song from the series and try to keep up with the beats. They’re fun rhythm games and probably my favorite entries in the series, even though they don’t contribute anything to the story.

Now, we have Opera Omnia on mobile phones. This game changes things up by having the characters clearly remember their previous adventures in their home worlds, but have no recollection of their Dissidia battles. If you enjoyed Zidane and Squall’s odd friendship or Vaan saving Terra from Kefka, you’re out of luck.

In this way, Opera Omnia comes off as a soft reboot of the Dissidia series. The game doesn’t solely stick to major heroes and villains. You begin the adventure with Warrior of Light, from the original Final Fantasy, Rem from Type 0, Sazh from Final Fantasy XIII, and Vivi from Final Fantasy IX. As you progress through each chapter of the game, you gain more and more allies in the fight. And there are lots of allies from the entire series. Other characters can be unlocked for a limited time through special event quests. As of this writing, we’ve gotten Squall, Vanille, Setzer, Balthier, Eiko, Tidus, and Prishe in this manner.

Just to give you an idea, my current roster of fighters consists of twenty-eight characters. And I’m still on Chapter 4.

While playing this game, I got the impression that Square-Enix might’ve finally noticed that they’ve been giving Final Fantasy VII a little too much love compared to other entries in the series. While you pick up Cloud, Tifa, and Yuffie early on, they don’t appear as often in cutscenes as Zidane and Vivi from IX. And Final Fantasy VI has started to receive more attention at last. The Japanese version of Opera Omnia already has Terra, Shadow, Setzer, Cyan, Edgar, Sabin, Celes, and Kefka. Considering that the first two games only ever gave us Terra and Kefka as playable characters, that’s impressive.

So, what goal do the heroes need to accomplish this time around? It turns out that the paradise world they inhabit has become infected by “Torsions.” Torsions are basically dark wormholes that spew out monsters. The goddess Materia summons Mog the Moogle to collect warriors who possess the ability to seal the Torsions. Then the worlds can finally be at peace.

Did you understand all of that? Well, don’t worry if you didn’t. Mog and co. will repeat this information many, many, many times. It reminds me of The Room, the greatest bad movie of all time, where characters would often repeat dialogue and have the same conversations. But at least in The Room, the writing was so bad that it was funny. With these games, the writing’s just competent enough that it’s more annoying than funny.

And that’s always been a problem with the Dissidia series. I remember playing Duodecim for the first time and loving it. Yet as I got further and further into the story, I groaned every time someone brought up the manikins- the game’s enemies- which was often. “These manikins are everywhere!” “How do we stop the manikins?” “Oh no, here come more manikins!” “If we don’t stop the manikins, we’re all going to die!” “BUT HOW DO WE STOP THE MANIKINS???” Replace “manikins” with “Torsions” and you get the same problem in Opera Omnia.

It’s not all bad though. There’s a mini-arc of trying to catch and recruit Yuffie after she steals some of the party’s weapons- and then Zidane, who has acted very upset about losing his dagger, decides he’s going to flirt with her anyway. There’s another cutscene that consists of nothing but Zidane trying cheesy pickup lines on every female member in the party, with no success. And Chapter 3 has the heroes grappling with whether or not to join forces with Seifer and his friends. On the one hand, they seem to be fighting a common enemy. On the other hand, the two groups can’t stand each other and eventually decide to go their separate ways. This has always been the strongest aspect of Dissdia: when the writers indulge in the appeal of the crossover and have fun letting the characters bounce off of each other.

While the strength of the writing fluctuates, the battle system is a fun throwback to older Final Fantasy games that successfully mixes in some of Dissidia’s style as well. You get three party members who face off against enemies in turn-based combat. There are two types of attacks that can be used: Bravery and HP. The amount of Bravery that your character obtains determines how powerful your HP attacks will be. So, if your character has 0 Bravery, and you hit an enemy with an HP attack, the enemy will take no damage. This leaves some room for strategizing how you will attack enemies.

That said, as much as I love having so many characters at my disposal, it does make leveling up more of a pain. The game developers made an attempt to fix the problem by giving out extra rewards on certain quests if you use a particular character. You can also gain more experience on quests by using certain characters. Still, it’s a struggle, and it would help if the new characters you acquire throughout the story didn’t always start at Level 1, no matter where you are. It would make more sense to have them at different levels depending on when you acquire them, like other Final Fantasy games have done in the past.

Since this is a free-to-play game, Opera Omnia does rely on microtransactions to some degree. The quickest way to acquire the best weapons and armor comes from the Weekly Draws and Event Draws. You can either pull for one weapon using a Draw Ticket or eleven weapons using 5,000 gems. You earn gems and tickets by logging into the game and completing various tasks. Or you can go to the Gem Shop and buy them.

The game gives you different purchase options, from a Bronze Chest that gives you 120 gems for $0.99, to an Adamant Chest that gives you 12,000 gems for $74.99. I can’t imagine spending $75 in one transaction for fake money, and for a deal that only allows you two pulls from one of the draws, it doesn’t seem worth it. But I’ve found the game to be playable without drawing for weapons very much. Time will tell if that changes as I get farther and farther into the story and the difficulty increases. It’s also worth noting that you can enhance your weapons yourself with materials that you find. But if you want good weapons fast, the draws are your best bet.

So far, Dissidia Final Fantasy Opera Omnia has been a fun experience and I enjoy playing it. I can’t wait to see what other characters get added to the lineup. (Locke? Rinoa? Where are you?) While the plot is still a little weak, I love watching the characters play off of each other and setting up a party for turn-based combat. If you’re a fan of any of the Final Fantasy games, it’s most likely that you will enjoy it too.

Initial Thoughts on “Hogwarts Mystery”

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It took almost two decades, but I finally received my letter from Hogwarts. And if you download the app for Hogwarts Mystery, you can get yours too!

Hogwarts Mystery is one of two mobile games set in the Harry Potter universe. The other, Wizards Unite, has not yet been released. While the latter appears to be similar to Pokémon Go, the former focuses more on the story and the chance to see yourself as a wizard in whatever House you choose.

After selecting a look for your avatar, you set off for Diagon Alley, as Harry did, make new friends and enemies, practice spells, and brew potions. You get to choose what rewards you earn for completing certain objectives in class. Every avatar has opportunities to level up in three ways: Courage, Empathy, and Knowledge. How you respond to various questions determines how fast you level up in each category, and sometimes an answer will be locked because you don’t have enough Courage/Empathy/Knowledge to say it.

You’ll also discover that your avatar has a mysterious family past: his/her brother got expelled from Hogwarts and disappeared. It looks like this will be the story arc that carries over for all seven years at Hogwarts. Luckily, your avatar finds a best friend in Rowan Khanna, who supports you in your quest for answers and defends you from anyone who tries to mess with you.

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I love her.

Rowan has been my favorite part of Hogwarts Mystery (outside of the wish fulfillment of going to Hogwarts). His/her gender changes depending on what gender you select, but I’ll refer to her as “she” for this review since that’s what I picked. She’s kind, funny, and loyal, and there’s something about her that just reminds me so much of the friends that I have in real life.

Unfortunately, I can’t hang out with my friends in real life while playing Hogwarts Mystery. I’d hoped that there would be some kind of multiplayer feature that allowed my avatar to interact with others. But so far, that doesn’t appear to be an option. Hopefully, it will come with an upgrade somewhere down the line, because I don’t want to imagine going to Hogwarts without my real friends by my side.

Hogwarts Mystery looks great, with fun, colorful graphics that remind me of the old Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets games that I used to play on my GameCube. There are times when my avatar’s facial expressions look awkward, but it’s not a deal breaker.

And speaking of those other video games, Hogwarts Mystery has some nice shout-outs to them as well. Your avatar will eventually learn the Flipendo spell, which never appeared in the books or movies, but was the go-to spell for just about everything in the video games. You’ll also learn how to brew Wiggenweld Potion, which Harry used to heal himself. It makes for a nice blend of the canon established by the books, movies, and video games, with something for every fan to love, regardless of how they were introduced to Harry Potter’s world. (Now, if they could just throw in a reference to A Very Potter Musical, I’ll be set.)

I’m enjoying the story so far. At first, I felt disappointed by the choice in setting because I wanted my avatar to be a random Hufflepuff having adventures during Harry’s years at Hogwarts. Now that I’ve actually started playing the game, I can admit that it was a good idea to place it in the time period between Voldemort’s initial defeat and Harry’s school years. This choice allows for an original story about your avatar and their friends, and we still get to interact with most of the teachers from the books, i.e. Professor Snape and Flitwick. Our avatar’s backstory has only been revealed in bits and pieces so far, but it’s intriguing.

I also like how we get to choose our House, rather than take another quiz. Granted, I never had a preference until Pottermore’s quiz put me in Hufflepuff. And if you like taking quizzes, you’ll find the Sorting Ceremony a little anticlimactic. But then again, doesn’t this tie into one of the themes from the books?  As Professor Dumbledore says in Chamber of Secrets: “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

So, the story’s great, the characters are wonderful, and the visuals look good. It’s a Hogwarts fan’s dream!

Except when it isn’t.

With a free-to-play mobile app, there will always be issues with micro transactions. After all, the developers have to make money somehow, and I don’t take issue with that. I do take issue with how the game prevents you from doing very much at any given time before you either wait for your energy bar to refill, or start paying.

Your avatar has an energy bar, and mine currently has a maximum of 25 points. Whenever you take lessons, your character spends energy doing things like studying, talking to Rowan, collecting potions ingredients, etc. And these are all things that you have to do in order to complete the lesson and move forward. More than once, I have run out of energy mid-lesson and needed to put the game on hold until the bar refilled. It’s also not very exciting or fun to tap away at your phone while your character “does” things and nothing’s really happening.

The game becomes more fun when you get to do things that don’t cost energy, like bonding with Rowan over a game of Gobstones and trying to guess the right responses to heighten your friendship. I’ve only just learned how to duel, but that looks promising as well. You need to pick whether to assume an Aggressive, Sneaky, or Defensive stance against your opponent, and then select spells or healing potions to use.

There’s one other major issue that I have with Hogwarts Mystery: the lack of customizable options for your avatar. Although you can adjust the shape of the face, nose, and eyes, all avatars have the same body type. You only get a handful of options for hairstyles and such when you first start the game, and everything else needs to be unlocked by spending gems and coins. This includes glasses. Why do we need to pay money to unlock glasses? Lots of people wear glasses. Harry Freakin’ Potter wears glasses. It’s not going to matter to most people, but it’s one of my pet peeves when a game doesn’t give you that option right from the start.

Given time, I’m hoping that the developers of Hogwarts Mystery will iron out the issues with the gameplay and find other ways to profit off of micro transactions. The game has a lot of promise with good characters, an interesting story, and shout outs to the Harry Potter franchise in all of its forms. If you’re a diehard fan, you will have fun here. But it requires either a lot of patience or a lot of Galleons to get the most out of the experience.