Animal Crossing: New Leaf is currently one of the most popular 3DS games in Japan. It hit the shelves on November 8, and as of the 18th, the game has sold 893,344 copies (not including the download version) and is well on its way to being a million seller hit.
The game sells itself as a slow-paced, down-to-earth sort of game, where players take on the role of village leader and gradually build up their villages in any way they see fit. Personally, I'm a fan of games of this sort of genre. While I usually enjoy dramatic or high-paced games with a lot of flash and bang, I've always enjoyed sitting down and spending some time tinkering away with the Harvest Moon series or building a city in Sim City. Even so, and I think I speak for a lot of people when I say that Animal Crossing did not seem like the game for me. It was always one of those games that you'd hear people raving about but you felt indifferent to it. In fact, the more enthusiastic people would get, the less I felt like playing it. Its popularity seemed like an infectious disease that I wanted no part of.
Unfortunately, as with all pandemics, once someone close to you falls prey, you can no longer turn a blind eye. So when multiple people on my personal Twitter feed started tweeting about the game and all their strange and quite humorous episodes, my curiosity was piqued. Eventually, a close friend started tweeting about it and suggested I play it, so I broke down and decided to see what the fuss was all about.
The first obstacle was finding the damn game. The problem with popular games is that they're popular, so every store I went to was sold out. Pretty much every game dealer had a sign posted saying they were sold out. One place where I asked said all copies of their next shipment were reserved and they were taking reservations on the shipment after that.
I figured that my search was futile and lamented on Twitter that by the time I would be able to get a copy, the momentum of the game would probably have died down. A friend immediately replied to me that the downloadable version was available on Nintendo's eShop. Seeing as I had no other way of getting it, short of paying outlandish prices on auction sites, I accessed the eShop and purchased a copy to see what all the fuss was about.
The game started out simply enough. I was on a train and a cat walked up to me and asked me my name and the name of the village I was headed to and- Oh dear God, the game is making me choose a name. I hate choosing a name… So, after about an hour of typing a deleting and typing again, the battery of my 3DS ran out. Plugging it into the charger, I gave my character a name that would be recognisable to my friends online, chose a gender, named the village after my home town, and I was on my way.
I was greeted at the station by a bunch of villagers. Apparently the new village leader was supposed to arrive and they mistook me for him. I was taken to the village office where I was given instruction on what to do. First, I needed a house. I went to the village real estate agent and got a plot of land. I was then informed that I needed to pay a down payment of 10,000 bells (the currency of the village) before they could start construction.
Asking around, I was told that the best way to make money would be to sell things like fruits from trees or seashells from the beach or catch and sell bugs at the local store. So I set about shaking trees and picking up stuff to sell and before I knew it five hours had passed and I was taking fossils to the museum for identification and trying to make friends with the local villagers and trying to make enough money to buy a new refrigerator and SOMEBODY HELP ME, THIS GAME IS DIGITAL HEROIN!
It's like the start of any addiction: You find yourself thinking, "pffft! People like this!?" or "I'll be fine. I'll just try a little bit and be done with it." Next thing you know, you're begging for one last hit as your best friend drives you up to the steps of Betty Ford…
On the outset, the game is deceptively welcoming. It has an overall cute and warm atmosphere to it and the animal villagers are adorable, especially the yellow dog lady who serves as your secretary. (Some players have jokingly said that the fact that you can't marry her is a game-crippling bug) Perhaps what makes the game so addictive is that it runs in real-time. The day gradually turns to night and back to day again, the seasons change, events and holidays take place all in this little virtual world where you constantly want to be in lest you might miss something. I still have yet to use the customisation functions or the network functions of the game, but I hear they add to the game's addictive nature (if not make it a little creepy).
Honestly, I cannot believe how quickly I went from, "Animal Crossing? Really?" to "Well, I've got five minutes, let's turn on the game." The game is a total sucker punch and I'm fairly certain I'll be playing it for a while.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf is currently available in Japan. An English version of the game is scheduled for release sometime in the first half of 2013.