Animal Crossing: New Leaf is as charming as it is mystifying to new-comers. While seasoned fans have exhorted the charms of this game for many console generations, the video game has hit its stride on the Nintendo 3DS.
Animal Crossing’s gameplay arrives mostly unchanged from previous iterations, on the Nintendo 3DS. You’ll be given a house, complete with mortgage, that you can decorate and customise to your heart’s desire. Fruit farming, flower planting, bug catching, fossil finding and many other staples of the video game are available for players to dabble in. The major difference that New Leaf presents is that you’re made Mayor upon arrival.
Your role as Mayor gives you more control over how the town develops and looks. You’ll be able to enact ordinances which can affect the behaviour of townsfolk and to commission public works which will draw either praise or criticism from townsfolk. In Animal Crossing: New Leaf, you’re not only responsible for where and how you live, but you’re also in charge of those decisions for the rest of the town.
The secret to Animal Crossing’s longevity is in its gentle structure and its “no-pressure” gameplay. You can take your civic responsibilities very seriously, devoting your time and effort to donating specimens to the Museum and selflessly raising bells (in-game currency) in order to build new public structures. Alternatively, you can ignore all of the townsfolk focus testing and spend all your time swimming in the ocean and troll planting fruit trees. It’s really up to you to decide what kind of Mayor you’ll be.
On the 3DS, Animal Crossing lends itself to the unpredictable nature of portable gaming. To be farming fruit whilst waiting for public transport and snapping the lid shut when it arrives is not only possible, it is encouraged. Townsfolk will chide you if you are spending “too much time” playing the game. They’ll encourage you take a break and return to the game later in the day. The reasoning behind this is that Animal Crossing is self-aware of the limits to its enjoyment and wants to avoid binge-game playing that leads to burnout. Animal Crossing is best enjoyed in small, focused visits.
In fact, Animal Crossing’s philosophy can be reduced to the way it views the passing of time and how crucial it is to developments within the game. A majority of events and activities are seasonal or best done at certain times of the day. Shops in the game are not perpetually open, they have trading hours you must observe. There is even an official Nintendo event calendar which lists monthly competitions and seasonal events.
Impatient gamers can bypass these limitations either through public ordinances which extend trading hours to when you’re likely to play the game or there is Time Travel. Time travel is when the player manually changes the time of the game to receive in game benefits. However, Time travelling like everything in Animal Crossing has its downsides, including affecting the environment and townsfolk forgetting who you are if you’ve travelled too far into the future. The other downside is that the Animal Crossing community considers time travel to be cheating. However, if you’ve been reading along, it’s up to you to weigh those risks and play as you wish.
The importance of marking time shows up in other aspects of Animal Crossing with an emphasis on how you are doing as a mayor. Natural consequences for neglecting to be social with townsfolk and improving your town can result in flowers dying and weeds popping up, to townsfolk moving away because they have the impression that you dislike them. It’s a slap on the wrist that reminds you that regular play is encouraged.
If I have given you the impression that being mayor is a weighty responsibility and you’re not ready to commit since experiencing the trauma of your favourite tamagotchi dying, that is not what I’m describing here. While there is some social pressure to play and interact in a certain way, what PBS IdeaCast calls ‘Otaku Citizenship’, this comes more from your personal attachment to townsfolk rather than the game forcing you to play a particular way.
What I have been arguing is that Animal Crossing does not seek to punish, but to acknowledge the passing of time as having real consequences. Time and life in your town is impermanent, it does not go on forever. Eventually, townsfolk will move out of your town despite your best efforts to convince them to stay, because folk move on, as is their want. The best way to look at this oddity is that Animal Crossing’s view on time is to give you the impression that your town is a real thing with a life of its own, even after you’ve powered down your 3DS. Your charge as mayor, is to the idea of the town, fashioned after your personality, rather than controlling who stays and who goes – to which you have some influence over. It is probably no coincidence that Animal Crossing is a cultural product of a country that coined ‘mono no aware’: a wistfulness at the impermanence of all things.
Animal Crossing’s economy is another important aspect of the game. It is built around a system of barter and agriculture. You can control, to a degree, the amount of fruit produced and then sold for bells. However, finding and planting fruit trees not native to your town yields you more bells per harvest. Other forms of money making include fossil finding, fishing, bug catching and reselling unwanted things.
The turnip market is another form of money making which has a likeness to the real-world futures market. A weekly visit from the turnip farmer gives you the opportunity to purchase turnips at a set price that fluctuates from week to week. Similarly, the retail outlet which buys your turnips changes their price twice daily. You are after profit, so you need to sell your stock high to make good on your investment. The catch being that your turnips will expire within a week. This added time limit transforms you into a Wall Street player with all the added stress of an investment literally going bad. I avoided the stress of the turnip market and sought my dollars through more humble means like bug catching.
The economy is central to the pleasures and stresses of Animal Crossing as it allows you to purchase and collect items that decorate your house and to also commission capital works to improve the town. Again, PBS Idea Channel has dubbed this form of governance as encouraging ‘Otaku Citizenship’, whereby governing becomes a matter of curating and presenting you personal tastes with pride. Do you want to wallpaper your house with Regis Fils-Aime’s portrait? Well, you can. Do you think citizens would benefit from a light house? That’s your call.
Animal Crossing excels in keeping the game fresh with a daily turn over of new content and customisability both in your own home and in the town. You will be enticed by new furniture stock and rare Nintendo items that can only be bought with 3DS play coins. You can customise the look of your avatar and even your favourite pieces of furniture. Your house is also given a rating that can be improved through expanding your collection and becoming a better curator.
Nintendo’s decision to design Animal Crossing around the unique capabilities of the 3DS mean that the game is bright, crisp and a pleasure to look at even in 3D — the art style recalls a hand made feel to the character designs and the way that they emote. Special mention should go to the localisation team who put in a lot of effort into the writing and humour that make up this game.
3DS wireless hardware is put to good use allowing you to visit the homes of players you StreetPass. You can visit other towns if you have their Nintendo Friend Code and that person has opened their town to visitors. While Animal Crossing is a very satisfying single player experience, it is is well worth investigating with friends. In fact, there are many benefits, including being able to sell your turnips and fruit at higher prices in your friend’s town.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf is one of the easiest games to recommend to 3DS owners looking to build a solid library. My only caveat is that once you board the train to your new town, you may find it hard to eject that cartridge.