Saturday, October 26, 2013

Animal Crossing: New Leaf - a review

Animal Crossing: New Leaf
a video game review
developed by Nintendo EAD
published by Nintendo
for the Nintendo 3DS & 2DS
score: A

This is a story about how I lived a second life during the summer of 2013. At the same time, it's also a video game review. For a game like Animal Crossing, it's important to look at it in a different way. I've compiled my notes, and I've tried to recreate my experience as best I could.

The train ride into town and the questions from an aptly named travelling cat called Rover set me up for a new life in a town I'd never seen. I was curious - what kind of people lived there? What would I be doing with myself once I got there?

For the first couple of days, I spent my time nearly homeless; I lived in a small tent and started to introduce myself to the townsfolk. They were kind and accepting of me, a human in a village of animals. Of course, they had their expectations of me, but I'll tell you about that later. I watched each villager as they wandered around the town, living their strange lives.

I spotted one of them fishing, but never catching anything. At times, they'll carry their bug net around, but I've never seen one try to use it. At this point, I only talked to them outside - I had been too scared to go to someone's house. I still felt vulnerable, but it would only be a matter of time before I adjusted.

It didn't take long before I became the top dog in this town of Hyrule. I shook pears off the trees and brought them to the local recycling store, a place owned by two llamas called Re-Tail. One of them, Cyrus, was always sleeping at his desk - his wife Reese never letting me near him. She didn't want me to disturb him. But other than that, Reese was always one of the nicest people in town. Cyrus must have spent his nights doing something, but what?

It wasn't my place to know, so I went about my business. I stuffed my money (in Hyrule and towns like it, they call it Bells) into my pockets, and used it to pay off the first of many payments on a house. Tom Nook, the local real estate magnate, had strong armed me into getting a house, and basically contracted himself into building it. Strangely, he doesn't expect immediate payments - he just loans the money and you can pay it back at your leisure.

To be honest, I did like my tent. Even though it was small, and all I had to keep warm was a lantern. Getting a house did seem like the smart thing to do.

I did ask myself why I'd been forced into getting a house like this. It all started a few days before, when I stepped off the train.

To my surprise, the villagers were waiting for me by the train station. Right away, they told me that they had been expecting me - after all, I'm going to be the new mayor of Hyrule.

Wait a second, what?

I felt my eyes grow wide, and I tried to talk my way out of this situation. To make a long story short, it didn't work - so let's go back to my being homeless, for the time being.

I took my leftover Bells and went up to Main Street, Hyrule's shopping promenade. There wasn't a lot there; a tiny general store, a clothing and accessories shop, a post office, Tom Nook's business, and a museum that I learnt was empty.

I chatted with Blathers, the owl who works as curator for the museum, and he asked if I could offer my assistance. With what? Well, I did mention that the museum was empty. He wanted me to find bugs, fossils, sea creatures, and paintings - all for the purpose of donating them to help Hyrule's cultural development.

I'd be doing this for no real compensation, of course. A bit confused as to why the town had a museum in the first place, I reluctantly agreed. Soon, filling the museum would become a routine in this new life of mine.

I needed some tools, so I walked over to the general store. One of Tom Nook's sons greeted me with a ton of enthusiasm, and I bought a shovel and a fishing rod. The bug net would have to wait, they didn't have one in at the time. Every day, the store's stock changes. How they decide what is on the shelves from day to day, I'll never know.

Later that day, I'd been talking with the townsfolk and learning about them: I felt drawn to a lazy dog named Walker, who loves sleep and food. I wanted to bring up that I couldn't possibly be mayor, but Walker clearly wasn't the right person to voice that concern towards. Enough was enough.

I ran to town hall, determined to get to the bottom of this. Isabelle, the secretary, wasn't having it. I tried my best to explain my case, but nothing worked.

I had to be the new mayor. After all, the village had been waiting for someone to step off that train, and I'll admit, I did get off that train.

My theory is that this is all Rover's fault. I mentioned him earlier, from my train ride. I think he set me up, and I ended up taking his place. Thanks to me, he kept his freedom and got to keep wandering the world. I mulled this over in my tent that night, sitting in the glow of my lantern, eating a pear.

Why was I just sitting here and waiting in this tent? Maybe, just maybe I could get back on a train and get the hell out of here?

Well, no. I tried, but a monkey in a conductor's outfit kept asking me what sort of town I wanted to go to. Home wasn't an option, and when I tried to tell him I wanted to go to a faraway town, he told me there were no towns available.

To bring up a very important question again...what?

This whole place is crazy. I didn't feel like I was in danger, but it became clear that there isn't an escape from this town. Rather, I'd have to get used to it. At that point, it clicked.

Being mayor finally made sense to me! I've never been one for political aspirations, but I had the power in my hands to turn Hyrule into a place I wanted to live. If I wasn't getting out, then I'd just have to turn Hyrule into my town. I fell asleep that night, ready to give it my all.

The next day, I had a house - say what you will about Tom Nook, but his people work fast. Now that I had a roof over my head, I had some new goals. Shovel in hand, I went out to look for fossils - strangely, their locations are marked, and even stranger, there are only four fossils per day. All of the energy I had the night before changed into apprehension.

The questions about Hyrule were piling up.

Was this some kind of game? No one else seemed to care about the obvious cracks in the ground. They would just walk on by, often more interested in me. The weirdest part is once I got the fossils to the museum. I don't know a lot about paleontology but it's clear that it's a complicated thing. Not for Blathers, apparently.

He assessed all four fossils in the blink of an eye, and informed me that they could all be donated to the museum. He didn't have some sort of guide, he just managed this from a cursory glance.

As if it was becoming a theme of my time in Hyrule, I had another theory. The mind runs to mysterious places when you're in a place like this.

So, here's what I think. Hyrule's lovely museum was once full, and every night, Blathers is out there, burying the next round of fossils for me to find the next day. Then again, there were days I would find fossils I've seen before, so this whole thing is hard to unravel. There's something going on, I know it - how else could a small town like Hyrule even have so many fossils in the earth?

Luckily, finding a fossil again isn't a bad thing. I figured out during a trip to the Re-Tail that as long as Blathers had assessed them, copies sold for lots of Bells. Fossils became my major income. They kept me wearing new clothes and buying items to decorate my house - quickly, my time in Hyrule became about fulfilling my material desires.

Maybe this fossil conspiracy helped me keep my sanity, rather than eroding it. At this point, it was time to take things to the next level.

To do that, I had to captivate the hearts of the villagers - Isabelle told me that I needed a high approval rate before my permit to enact mayoral duties could be finalized. I knew I needed to make this town my own, and this was going to be the only way. I went to sleep that night, excited for what to come.

I got up early and I put on my best clothes. Nothing too fancy though, I wanted to connect with my villagers, not alienate them. I chatted with them, and one thing started to become obvious. They were nearly helpless without me.

Even though I've seen them shake trees, I have to pick fruit for them if they want some. Despite the bug nets they own, I've never seen them catch a bug for themselves. What would they do without me?

This has to be another part of the plot. They're desperate to keep me here as long as they can. At least it's keeping a roof over my head. Speaking of that roof, I was beginning to run out of room underneath it.

All of this had my head spinning. I didn't feel like I was in charge here. My wants were forcing me into all sorts of work. My fossil gathering continued as my biggest money maker. On bad days, I'd have to go down to the beach and pick up shells, hoping to make a few Bells.

After a while, my bank account grew, and I bought a wonderful couch called a 'ranch' couch. Not only was it comfy, it was stylish - made of light brown wood framing blue-green cushioning. I loved it so much that once I learned that the 'ranch' style was a set of furniture, I spent months gathering it. I even bought wallpaper and flooring that matched it, tying the whole room together.

My home in its latter, better days, complete with the Ranch series.
During that time, my house had to grow to accommodate everything. What Bells I didn't throw towards the ranch set or into my back account, they went to Tom Nook. I built an upstairs bedroom, expanded my ground floor, and built a roomy kitchen.

The home is probably the most important aspect of everyone's lives. In Hyrule, redecorating your house and trying to match your furniture is the "in" thing to do. The villagers didn't quite get it - they would often throw off their themes and sets with random items (typically, given by me when they asked for something new). And there's a reason for trying to make your interior as appealing as possible.

Before I tell you about this, I've got to warn you. If you've ever had issues with personal space, or the safety of your home... this may get your paranoia levels up. Or maybe I'm just crazy.

Every day, strangers will find their way into your house as you sleep. What exactly are they doing there, you ask?

According to their boss, Lyle, a river otter who speaks like a mob boss, they're rating your home for the organization called the Happy Home Academy. Lyle set up shop in Tom Nook's business, and I spoke with him nearly every day to hear the numerical rating of my house. 

Once it gets high enough, the HHA starts sending your prizes in the mail. Incentives aside, it took me a while to adjust to HHA employees coming into my house. And you'll never see them do it, which is the worst part. But like all the other weird stuff in this town, I got used to it, and I eventually stopped sleeping with one eye open.

All good things come to an end, though. I came back to this place - you know, the apartment with the computer that I've been using to write this story. When I get a chance, I'll wander back to Hyrule and see how everyone is doing. Sometimes, I've gone back to find that one of my friends has moved away - it's a sad feeling. 

When it happens, I go to Hyrule's coffee shop and get my usual. I'll set there and contemplate for a little while, and the sadness passes. I thank Brewster, the pigeon who brews some of the best coffee I've ever drank, and then I'll go do what I do - talk to people, catch bugs... whatever I feel like doing.

Hyrule isn't my second home anymore, and Animal Crossing: New Leaf is no longer my second life. 

Sometimes, I'll be staring out a window and lapse into a bit of a dream - the view of Hyrule is great from here, isn't it. Somebody is waving at me, and I'll wave back. 

Who are they again? It's been so long! Maybe I should start planning a vacation? I'm sure I'll see you soon, Hyrule.

No comments:

Post a Comment