TBT – Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
I need not introduce the world to Harry Potter. A household name for the last two decades, The Boy Who Lived has made quite a reputation for himself, even here in our muggle [this is great, muggle isn’t even underlined as a non-word anymore] world. Released just nine days prior to the live action movie release, the video game adaptation was perhaps the most immersive iteration of any of the series’ games and was my maiden voyage on the PlayStation 2 console.
Every book in the series had its own video game iteration, but I believe Chamber of Secrets was the best adaptation. It stuck closely to the source material, filling gaps between narrative moments with classes for learning new spells required to explore the world. The narrative begins with the Weasley brothers breaking Harry out of the Dursley’s, back to the Burrow. Here is where the game actually starts, including parts its movie counterpart failed to include, like de-gnoming the garden, and the poltergeist in the attic.
It gave screen time to plot elements vital to character development and the overall narrative during the tutorial level at The Burrow. We truly experienced the wizarding world from the point of view of a child who was just thrust into it less than a year previous. Simple things like the above de-gnoming, or enchanted washing machines, or Flu Powder. We got to experience Harry’s relationship with the Weasley’s, learning a few mechanics along the way.
The game progresses through to Nocturn Alley, where players attempt to make Harry’s escape from Borgin and Burkes, then through Diagon Alley to Flourish and Blotts where we meet the ever-famed Gilderoy Lockhart. Diagon Alley is bustling with witches and wizards, and the ambiance is wonderful.
The game just brilliantly captures the true magic of Harry’s world. Of course, the magic would be lost without the right soundtrack and composer Jeremy Soule (of Elder Scrolls fame) really helped bring the world to life with his compositions. While they remain separate from John Williams’ scores, they were dazzlingly effective nevertheless. Sound design on its own was also part of the magic, literally; the sounds of spells, from casting to completion were unique of their own, with whooshes, pops, bangs, and sizzles. Voice acting is also on par, though the only name jumps off the page–narrator Stephen Fry–who also narrated the audiobooks.
Graphics, for the age of the console, were top-notch and still hold levity in comparison. Shadows were clean, lighting–especially from spells–was dynamic and facial animations were unparalleled. The level of craftsmanship in the game could be attributed to WB and EA’s wallet size, but nevertheless, it was an extremely well-crafted game.
Once Harry gets to Hogwarts, the real fun begins. The castle grounds and halls could roamed with free-reign, keeping eyes for secret passages (there were many) and collecting Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans and Chocolate Frog cards all the while. Once Harry receives his Nimbus 2000 from Professor McGonogal, players could fly across the castle grounds whenever and wherever they wanted (in the PS2 version; in the Xbox version, flying anywhere was still possible, but could only land in specified places). I believe it was this aspect that lead to creating Quidditch World Cup, which uses the same engine from Chamber of Secrets, though the Hogwarts team rosters are from Prisoner of Azkaban.
Overall, it was just a really great experience. So well-realized between the architecture and world-building, narrative direction, graphics, sound, and immersion. I really felt like Harry. I would love a PS4 version of these games; not a remaster, but a completely new experience. With the power of modern technology, boy I can only imagine the particle effects in Unreal 4.
I’m going to break out my PS2 now, and do some replaying. And remember, Draco, Dormeins, Nunquam, Titiliandus.