70 hours. 1 month. Neither are extraordinary numbers for seasoned gamers but still above the cut and for me, someone who plays many times of games and frequently bounces between them it’s become pretty rare a game holds my attention like this. Though by far the most impressive stat I found in my 3DS activity log is I’ve played the game ever day without fail for an entire month. It’s practically worked its way into my daily routine… it almost feels natural and thus far never a chore. It’s very strange. So what is this game I’ve been hooked on for the past month? Animal Crossing: New Leaf.
Animal Crossing as a whole is a very strange franchise, in every game you play a human character that moves to a village of … I’m not sure the word, I suppose like humanized animals? They look like cute anime style animals but walk on two feet and can talk, though it’s Animalese and not anything you’d understand by hearing. You communicate via text however, which is in your native language… which honestly you’d think would kill immersion but it works… why? I have no clue but it does. Like many aspects of Animal Crossing liberties like that are taken and yet instead of breaking the 4th wall it only strengthens it. It’s weird.
Anyways… they communicate via text, it usually no more than 2-6 lines at a time. They’ll ask you to do little tasks for them, state random thoughts, spread random rumors, ask how they look… etc. There are several different personalities and even within them personalities there are some differences between each character. There personalities determine how they speak, a confident animal might walk right up and ask you do to something for them… a more shy one might fumble around with words trying to ask and apologize for the inconvenience. Some are even rather mean and will try to cheat you out of bells (money). It’s a pretty varied cast and while you do hear some of the same stuff twice it’s pretty amazing the amount of lines in the game. You wouldn’t think it by them only really speaking a few lines at a time but it’s been said the game features more text than the average JRPG… which are usually notorious for the amount of text in them.
The animals, personalities, village, language … you know all that stuff is great but the real secret sauce in my opinion is the game is played completely in real time. REAL TIME. Like 24 hours in a day. Second for second with real life. Villagers sleep at night, though some prefer to stay up (them personalities again). Shops open in the morning and close at night. The game features a full day/night cycle. Background music changes depending on the time of day. Different bugs and fish come out at specific times of the day. Heck even the season changes following the real one. Some people may find this really annoying… I wanna play the game now but everyone is sleeping and all the shops are closed. The game has a few features to help with rough schedules but as annoying as it is sometimes… it really helps sell the world. Which leads me more to the point of this article.
As MMO fans we are quite familiar with “living world”, honestly it’s the dream with MMORPGs and some are closer than others but I’ve yet to see a game capture it so close to life as Animal Crossing. The main focal point of living world in most MMOs seem to be events, whether holiday or one offs… they are the one thing that comes and goes regularly and on a schedule. It helps give the illusion that time is passing. AC has these too but then takes it to a whole other level. It’s not perfect by any means but it truly acts like a real world. If you disappear for several weeks and come back the villagers will be aware, they will comment on it. It’s like the world in the game never stopped when you did. I usually play in the evening/at night… this means my character is usually gone all day. I had a villager come up to me once and say “I often wonder where you go all day…” Its little things that make the world more believable.
It’s always tossing these things at you too, like burying a time capsule. Someday that villager will want it back… even if they move out. It can take weeks and even months but someday they will ask you to dig it back up and it will still be in that spot you left it. You can trade, gift or sell things to them and they will sometime wear it if it’s clothes or feature it in their house if it’s items. They lose stuff sometimes and you can take it for yourself or return it. They get sick. They spread rumors… like a popular one at the start is “So I hear you’re a freshman mayor” (in new leaf you are the mayor). You’ll hear it once and then slowly the others will start mentioning it too… at some point some will even flat out ask you if it’s true. They can also ask to give you a nickname, if you agree they will start calling you by it… down the road one of the other villagers hear them call you that and then might ask if they can use it too. The game lets you kinda customize them as well, sometimes they will ask you to give them a new greeting or catchphrase/word. And again these changes can affect others too… the villager may come back one day an say something like “So and so said my greeting doesn’t fit my personality… do you think I should change it?” It really is the little things and this game is full of them as you peel back the surface.
One thing that really got me into MMO was the idea of a living world. It keeps going even when I’m offline… well very few have actually delivered that and frankly it’s not the easiest thing to do especially online because they don’t want people to “miss things”. This usually results in instances so people can experience them as they wish while the world can keep going. These just don’t work for me though, it’s so annoying standing next to the ruined castle and your friend who get started sees a standing one… they haven’t played the story yet so it hasn’t happened. It’s fair yes. Logistically it makes sense, but it kills the world for me. I also don’t think MMOs have done nearly enough to really capture a living world, they tend to be quite static with the only movement being the players themselves.
I find this a lot with tons of AAA games these days too. They are set piece heavy. You have no impact. It’s an interactive movie that plays out one way. Hey they can be fun too but sometimes it gets to the point of why am I bothering when I can just relax and watch an actual movie or better yet play an actual game that’s about gameplay! I hate that too because video games unlike movies and even to some extent books are in the rare position to tell you a story and let you interact and change it on the fly. Books have tried and done this for years with choose your own adventure but games can take this and times it by 100. Not every game needs to be this way either but it just boggles my mind especially in the MMO space that we are just now seeing it kinda happen. I mean Mass Effect was immensely popular… clearly there is a market.
Which brings me back to Animal Crossing… which has sold well in its own right I might add. This little game with rather basic graphics. A pretty tiny actual play space. No story. No other humans. No voice acting. No voice overs. Basic animations. Dialogue that last only a few lines at a time and quite possibly the most peaceful setting in all of video games… somehow created a more believable world to me than even the biggest budget and most expansive games around. It’s not a game for everyone by any means… in fact people do jump in and it just doesn’t “click”… an that’s absolutely fine but for those that it does, they will find an absolute time sink of a world that has a seemingly endless amount of secrets and welcomes them back every time.