As a ridiculously invested and self-proclaimed Harry Potter nerd—or a ‘Potterhead’ to all you fellow ’90s kids out there—I’m the person you meet for all of ten seconds before I’m shoving a smartphone into your hands, begging you to take the Pottermore sorting hat quiz. (Quick version can be found here. Which house did you get?) J.K. Rowling’s series is so irrevocably interwoven into my childhood identity that I mark my school experiences by the Potter book released that year. I met my best friend just after Goblet of Fire dropped, wherein we promptly assigned everyone in class a different character. At 16, I’d spent half my summer break in feverish anticipation of the midnight release party for Half-Blood Prince at Barnes & Noble, fully decked out in Gryffindor garb. My high school jersey even sported WEASLEY proudly stamped across the back in favor of my actual last name. In short, I’m the kind of fan Cassandra Claire wishes would forget about a certain Draco Trilogy fanfic, infamous leather pants, and subsequent plagiarism charges.
Being a Potterhead can be creatively liberating, but financially burdensome. When I’d found out there were actually video games that would allow me to further inhabit Rowling’s world, I knew I couldn’t rest until I’d sunk all my birthday card money into purchasing all of them as soon as they hit shelves. (Even the older games are still ridiculously expensive.) Up to that point, though, I hadn’t been much of a Hermione enthusiast. By the time I loaded the Sorcerer’s Stone into my PS2, Goblet of Fire had been released for a full year and I was already an unrepentant Ginny fangirl. That is, until the game franchise forced me to take a long, hard look at the character for whom I would come to truly appreciate and deeply admire.
What delighted me most about the Potter games was that they provided for an opportunity not only to inhabit Harry and explore his world, but to fully embrace the experience of his best friend, “The brightest witch of her age,” Hermione Granger. Do I think the games wouldn’t be the same without including her front and center as a leading protagonist in her own right? A young woman with agency and serious Petrificus Totalus skill? You know the answer to that. Mix yourself a Firewhiskey and take a journey with me to some truly empowering throwback games.
We’ll start this off with a brief mention of the first game, which was a charming walkthrough of the story and definitely worth a replay—even if the game itself is a little sparse. While Hermione didn’t enjoy an altogether prominent role in Sorcerer’s Stone (excuse me, Philosopher’s Stone), I can excuse the obvious oversight for the fact that she simply wouldn’t be the type to wobble through poor broomstick flight mechanics or launch herself off platforms willy-nilly like her two friends. Seriously, try playing that thing again. Harry’s a brightly colored ball of pixelated enthusiasm with Ron flitting around him like a ginger fairy companion. Sorcerer’s Stone is definitely charming in its own way, but not really conducive to the fully-realized feminist power fantasy we’re looking for here.
Naturally, Hermione makes another appearance in Chamber of Secrets, though this time around, she’s the one calling most of the shots. Harry and Ron are given several tasks to complete while she studies, which is in stark contrast to the usual brand of men assigning tasks to women because that’s totally still empowerment … or something. What’s really important here is that Hermione is finally, irrefutably seen as an authority figure as opposed to a frequent annoyance to the boys, prattling about making it to class on time like in Sorcerer’s Stone. True, she’s still sequestered away for most of the main storyline, but I appreciated the fact that she a) didn’t take crap from either of the boys and b) presumably researched the shit out of the Chamber mystery and ultimately marked each turning point in the plot.
It’s in the third installment where Hermione really shines, though, and one of the few moments from my childhood (outside of classic Tomb Raider) where I vividly recall gripping my PS2 controller with all the sudden interested of a fan meeting their favorite character for the first time. Why, you ask? Because you can actually play as Hermione. That’s right: you can completely bypass Harry’s bespeckled, brooding ass in favor of his far superior friend who just so happens to be a girl. We still see her pouring over her books in Prisoner of Azkaban (unsurprising, given the Time Turner), but not only is she delegating new quests to the boys, Hermione firmly asserts herself in a leading role with her vast array of unique abilities.
“She has the highest base power of her spells and has the greatest spell arsenal, as well as the ability to crawl into tight spaces. […] Hermione is also one of two playable characters that can ride Hippogriffs, the other is being Harry.”
According to the Wiki, there are also several spells she can equip that are unavailable to the boys:
Obviously, it behooves you to play as Hermione, even when the game doesn’t specifically require that you choose her. The fact that she’s a playable character at all is not only ridiculously progressive for video games at large—they could have only added her as playable in a DLC—but it’s also a delightful little departure from both the books and the films. Rowling and her assembly line of film directors only ever offer us the story from Harry’s perspective, but in the games, we’re actually given the opportunity to inhabit the experience of someone else, and quite frankly, that someone has more of a hand in the plot than even Harry does. Pretty damn impressive, right?
I’m not a terribly big fan of what the following Harry Potter games become after the first three. Where the earlier installments were whimsical little gems largely reliant on clever puzzles and light exploration, the subsequent games feel more like someone in production wanted to swap all the wands for firepower worthy of Call of Duty. Nothing against the whole FPS fad, but it’s not really my cup of tea. Still, Hermione’s journey as a character and woman with agency in her own right is nothing to scoff at, so I’ll touch a bit on what follows, particularly in the last part of Deathly Hallows.
You’re given the choice, again, of playing any character within the Golden Trio at the very start of Goblet of Fire, and so can your friends if you decide to play co-op. However, where the game expanded in graphics on a large scale, abilities and spells specific to each playable character were greatly reduced to make room for the spectacle. As Harry “is a combination of both Ron and Hermione’s weaknesses and strengths,” the only significant difference between playing as Hermione or Ron is that the former can cast Triple Throw Spells while the latter can only upgrade to Double Throw Spells. Ron’s also, apparently, a better runner—but that’s really up for debate. You’ll note that she’s also the one Mad-Eye Moody almost exclusively addresses during DADA class sequences, suggesting that even [Spoilers??] Barty Crouch Jr. [/Spoilers] acknowledges that Hermione far outstrips her friends in talent.
It’s in Order of the Phoenix where things really start to fall apart in earnest. Hermione is only playable if you’re on the Nintendo DS, which is an enormous step back in terms of making the franchise more accessible to all players. (Not to mention the gameplay was excruciatingly boring.) Half-Blood Prince is much of the same fare, though you’re given the opportunity to play Ginny Weasley as the Gryffindor Seeker pitted against Cho Chang of Ravenclaw, which almost made up for the 40+ hours of gameplay without a playable Hermione. It makes you wonder what Nintendo would’ve done with the rights to the Potter games, but then again, maybe not.
Both Deathly Hallows games were, by far, the most obvious love letters to the first-person shooter genre. You finally get to play as Hermione again during Part 2 when inside the Chamber of Secrets and during the battle in the Hogwarts courtyard, but just as she carefully stepped Harry through his trials in Rowling’s series, her role in the narrative is never more essential than during the finale. Honestly, when you do get to play her, it’s pretty terrifying. Hermione is pitted against Voldemort’s Snatchers, Fenrir Greyback, the Fiendfyre spell, and a giant, twisting tsunami—all of which she survives unscathed. Whether she’s patiently guiding Harry and Ron through complex puzzles or fighting off a Death Eater horde, you can place your bets on her success. Just as there wouldn’t be a book series without her, so too is she absolutely imperative to the game franchise.
For anyone who might be curious, as the games differ slightly depending on what you play them on, I used both the PS2 (Sorcerer’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets, Prisoner of Azkaban, and Goblet of Fire) as well as the Wii U (Order of the Phoenix, Half-Blood Prince, and Deathly Hallows). If you ask me, I’d try playing the earlier games on the PC if you’re able to nab them cheaply. There are a lot of adorable little side quests specific to that platform that I’ve only ever been able to experience by watching Let’s Plays on YouTube.
And let’s not forget the LEGO Harry Potter games for being lovely, engaging, and utterly Riddikulus. Haha. Ha. Okay, I’ll stop.