The Harsh World of New Leaf

First decree: No more rich people or poor people.

MONEY. I need more money and I need it yesterday. Because then my house expansion would be finished today.

No, Blathers, I don’t want to hear about that time you were a young bird again. You used to have a lot more to say.

No thanks, Kapp’n, but I’ve already heard this song about pewcumbers. Sing the one about farts or I’m skipping this boat trip. You’re in the way of my tropical fruit collecting.

I don’t even try to beat the tours anymore. Medals are practically useless, but bells? I can get over 50 bananas on one 8-minute Tuna Kahuna tour. That’s a lot of scratch. And I need it, because making my Gyroid basement bigger is costing me half a million.

My days have become routine. Wake up. Shake the trees for fruit and furniture. Hit the rocks for ore and money. Buy my fortune cookie. Dig up fossils. Water my flowers. Talk to Sable. Once a week I buy some fake art and ignore the turnip seller. 96 bells each this Sunday? I’d be lucky to resell those for 75 a piece. No deal.

Each time my inventory fills, it’s back to Re-Tail to convert my spoils into cash. Like a red light stopping me cold every five minutes. And it’s not just that. I have to head up to Main Street to assess my fossils. I have to wake up that owl every time. Every shop owner has their spiel. “Hi, I’m Tommy!” “Welcome!” “The Happy Home Academy thinks you’ve got snappy style!” It’s not the commute that takes forever; it’s the parking. And the walk to and from the car. And the toll bridge. And the stopping for gas. That’s New Leaf. A million red lights and toll bridges and flat tires keeping you from the road. The road to riches.

Like real life, there is only one thing that keeps the world of Animal Crossing going around. Money. And like real life, the people that are happiest in the world of New Leaf are those people that don’t have too much or too little. Content to pay off house expansions at a leisurely rate, always one public works project in the pipeline, they realize that this isn’t a game to beat, but to live. To enjoy. To relax and get lost in.

I am not these people. Maybe I’m playing it wrong.

The last Animal Crossing I played this intensely was Wild World on the DS. I would take bathroom breaks I didn’t even need just to catch a few fish, or shake a few apples down from the trees. It took two solid months before I realized that all I was doing was chores. Catching fish I would never eat. Digging up bones I could never touch. Since New Leaf came out on June 9 – less than a month ago – I’ve played it for 54 hours. Unlike the last one, there always seems to be something new to discover in New Leaf. Or at least something new to pay off.

This game makes sure you know that you can never “win.” There is always more money that can be sunk into your house. There are always more trees to be shaken and fossils that need excavating. I’m still finding island tours I’ve never been on and they haven’t even started construction on my shoe shop or haberdashery. There’s a big world out there, and so much more to discover.

But at the same time, it’s more of the same. Yes, it’s definitely the best Animal Crossing yet, but… why does it still control like the Gamecube version? For every one step forward the series made (co-op play, island mini-games, badges – did those exist in City Folk?), you see two steps that remain untaken. You can send mail to your friends, but only when you’re visiting their town. You can rearrange the furniture in your house, but you can’t drag stuff around with the touchscreen. You can win bronze/silver/gold Tortimer Awards on the island mini-games, but there is no record of your accomplishments saved anywhere. You can design hats, but only a beanie or spiked helmet. You can create your own art, but you can’t make your own furniture or even design pants.

And I asked my lady why you can’t customize the look of your character (physical features, not just the external decorations). She said it’s because you can’t choose how you’re born (great answer, by the way). But that won’t make the black people feel better. Or the Asians. Or the Hispanics. Hope you like being white, because you are now.

Animal Crossing: New Leaf is the most real-life game I’ve ever seen. It’s full of annoying setbacks keeping you from sprinting straight towards your goal, forcing you to smell – or at least water – your flowers. There’s lots of room to design your world the way you want it, but you’re not a god. You have control over your own life, and that’s about it, even as mayor. The world around you develops slowly, and you grow with it. And the things we do for money, whether it’s hanging out on an island all night hunting $10,000 beetles or rummaging through a seemingly endless supply of paperwork for $20/hour while trapped in a cubicle, it’s all just means to an end. And the end is a huge house full of sweet stuff, or a pimped out ride with a PS4 in the front seat, or the world’s largest collection of Creepy Crawlies.

You work, and you forage, and you build, and you keep the weeds out, but it’s a never-ending battle. An unwinnable war against yourself.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “The Harsh World of New Leaf

  1. arron

    This is why I don’t play Animal Crossing. It’s like working, in an environment you’ve paid hard cash for to be in. If Nintendo added a office suite and a c#/c++ compiler to the their next AC release, it really would feel like my work right there.

    I like doing things in computer games I don’t get to do in real life. Like walk about dystopic ruined worlds trying desperately not to attract the attention of people infected with a fungus, or mutated from drugs..or have religion..or who have enough nuclear material in them to kill them, but they’re just glowing and walking around. And craft weapons and other stuff.

    If you’re going to have a hard time in a game, might as well make it a proper struggle for survival rather than a struggle to pay off a loan from Tom Nook…! ;)

  2. “I would take bathroom breaks just to catch a few fish”

    UHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH I don’t think fishing works like that.

  3. Alex F

    I did the same frantic ‘win state’ play with the Gamecube one. This is the first Animal Crossing game I’ve gotten since then and I’ve been playing at a much more relaxed pace. MUCH more fun this time around.

  4. I haven’t had the opportunity to play New Life yet but I will here in about a few months or so…whenever I work up the gumption to purchase a new 3DS game over a proper console title. This is an interesting take on it; I’ve heard this was the best Animal Crossing to date, but I have a tendency to drop out of them rather quickly (after a few weeks most of the time) and I was worried that I might struggle with the same issues with New Leaf.

    I think the community is the thing that will keep me going more than anything else, I didn’t play a lot of Animal Crossing games with other people so my participation always sharply dropped after a month or so, but I really do appreciate the series for being a different pace than most games. Your take on it, however, mirrored a few of my fears. I’ll keep this in mind before purchasing it.

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