Animal Crossing: New Horizons launched a little over a week ago to, barring some baffling review bombing, generally positive press. Sure, the game has some things that could be improved (lookin’ right at you, online system), but it seems to be a really well-received game. Extremely good, if sales numbers are any indication.
Now, before I start discussing my own experience, I feel the need to point out a couple things about myself. I don’t like simulation games very much. I’ve tried many of them many times, but I’ve always struggled with staying interested. A lot of times they just feel like work to me, which I understand is the point. My issue is… if there’s one thing I don’t want to do after a long day at work, it’s wind down with, well, more work.
To say nothing of the social side of games such as Stardew Valley, Harvest Moon, and the like. A huge aspect of those games is becoming friends with the townsfolk and even getting married, something I’ve never been able to really wrap my head around because I, as the player character, can’t talk to these people, and what they can say to me is only slightly less limited. There really isn’t any way to address that without the developers writing tons of possible dialogue options branching into dialogue trees to compensate ala Persona or any of Bioware’s library, which is obviously not the point these games are trying to go for, being a life sim and not a visual novel.
My disagreement with these kinds of games isn’t really indicative of quality or lack thereof, merely a difference of personal taste.
With all this in mind, can someone tell me...why can’t I stop playing this game?
I’m dead serious. I played constantly over the last week, and when describing this to a friend of mine who is also not into these types of games, I struggled with explaining to him just what was so compelling about it.
I tried. Like, I actually put forth effort into formulating my thoughts into something coherent. But even then, when describing the main bulk of the user experience, it doesn’t sound all that appealing. Your main drive forward is paying off debt and making your house and island look as nice as possible. So...things you should be doing in real life if you’re a functioning adult.
My friend even asked me point blank, “What part of adulting is supposed to be fun?” And, if I’m being honest, I’m not sure. And yet, it is.
Paying off your house loan. Finish donating towards an island improvement project. Decorating, my gosh, the decorating. I didn’t realize how good something like that could feel until I was staring at the S rank I got from the Happy Home Academy (a rating that I’d kind of forgotten would be coming, because I’m just the best at paying attention while reading).
To say nothing of making your own designs. I can’t tell you how much time I spent sitting on my couch grinning like an idiot while listening to Final Fantasy music and creating sprite art of the six original Final Fantasy classes (that are now hanging on my wall in my house in game), as well as creating a Final Fantasy sprite of my namesake Dungeons and Dragons character. The fact that this art can then be made into clothing you can wear in game, wallpaper or patterns for your house, or even the main blanket on a bed is just a bonus (no joke, my wife’s bed is covered with a White Mage blanket).
These things aren’t really specific to New Horizons (or Animal Crossing in general), and from what I’ve heard there are things that other games in this genre such as Stardew Valley do better than ACNH (again, online experience), so if you were to ask me why this game has made such a difference, I don’t know if I could give you a straight answer. Is it the charm? Yes. Is it the variety of stuff you can do? Yes. Is it how the game eases you into all the things you can do? Yes. Is it the community (both in game and IRL)? Yes. Is it external factors such as the currently-running Covid-19 quarantine, starving me for social activity and a sense of purpose in waking up every day? Possibly? That part remains to be seen. What I do know, however, is that this is a dang good game, and I wish I was playing it right now instead of sitting at my computer writing this, but I promised myself I’d finish this first.