Obscure Pixels

Obscure Pixels – Animal Crossing

Your favourite animals have had a long, interesting past

Animal Crossing is probably one of the coziest games to ever exist, allowing players to live their dreams of independence, homeownership and talking to cute animals who all want to be your friend. It’s quite possibly the most utterly delightful and wholesome series of video games to ever exist and I will defend this fact to my death.

So with a new Animal Crossing game coming out soon and the likelihood of me giving up my real life to just play this game all day, let’s take a look at the history of the series and how localisation has created almost two entirely distinct games.

A scan from the Animal Forest manual for the Nintendo 64. Image: https://animalcrossing.fandom.com/

The origins of Animal Crossing

Interestingly, though, Animal Crossing has a lot of fun localisation changes going on which have had lasting impacts on the series as a whole. A lot of folks know that originally, Animal Crossing was a game for the Nintendo 64 called Dōbutsu no Mori, or, Animal Forest.

Its original Nintendo 64 version was something of a technical feat, coming out late in the console’s lifespan and originally slated for the 64DD, its production was later moved to a standard game pak and a controller pak. The game pak is the only one that contains a working in-game clock for the Nintendo 64 (though it needs to be manually set), while the controller pak was entirely dedicated to saving the game (similar to how the Gamecube version was sold with a dedicated memory card).

The game contains a lot of oddities, such as the Able Sisters not being in the game, meaning clothes were only available from Tom Nook and custom designs were non-existent, a lot of the holidays were different (going off the Japanese holiday system), and, generally speaking, there was a lot less content. There wasn’t even a museum, though collecting fossils was still possible through sending them off to have them identified. Even series mainstay, Mayor Tortimer, wasn’t present.

An image from the Animal Forest+ Gamecube manual. Image: https://animalcrossing.fandom.com/

Creating Animal Crossing

Later, when it came time to localise the game for Western audiences, it was decided to move development to the Gamecube and then to use the Gamecube’s extra power to add a bunch of cool features. Other things were also changed to make sense to a Western audience, for example, a traditional Japanese fireplace was changed to a more recognisable BBQ grill. There were also other changes, like additional NES games such as Excitebike and Soccer.

Now, the super interesting part is that Animal Crossing as we know it on the Gamecube, used Dōbutsu no Mori+, the original Japanese port, as a base. Not only were there the cultural items that had to be changed, but it was a massive effort for dialogue and gameplay as well. Events had to be added that were more relevant to Western audiences, thousands of lines of dialogue had to be translated and then, even more, had to be added, and at the end of the day, Nintendo was left with almost two entirely different products.

Some of the differences were pretty big, like the Japanese version having a ‘Bell Shrine’, modelled on a traditional Japanese Shinto Shrine, which was part of a New Years Day event. There are also various cosmetic changes for the villagers in terms of clothes and fur colours, not to mention the event changes.

Tom Nook in his pajamas, seen by bashing on the door of his shop until he opens it in the e+ edition of the game. Image: https://animalcrossing.fandom.com/

Dōbutsu no Mori e+, the remake of the remake

Though these changes were so popular and loved in Japan and Nintendo was so impressed with the efforts of their American counterparts, this version of the game was then re-translated into Japanese and released as Dōbutsu no Mori e+, with even more new features added for Japanese audiences. There are smaller additions, like additional NES games (such as Mahjong) as well as larger changes.

These larger changes were honestly exciting, adding town decorations, as well as fleshing out the island system that was seen in Animal Crossing. This was an island that players could visit through linking a GameBoy Advance to the Gamecube, though in e+, the island is present by default with additional islanders (some of which would become villagers in future games).

The e-Reader, available through the Post Office, was also a huge part of the game with cards being sold separately (think of those Animal Crossing Amiibo cards that came out a few years back), with the game coming packaged with the e-Reader as well as a few sample cards. These could be used to gain access to new items, NES games and various other features, and while this was also available in Animal Crossing, the e-Reader wasn’t nearly as possible which meant a lot of the e-Reader specific content went completely unavailable to Western audiences.

The distinct Western and Eastern versions and changes continued through all releases, where even characters wound up being changed, such as Gracie, Saharah and Blana who were all male in the Japanese version of the game.

While the popularity of the series means development has started to become a little more open between the two sides, with features more available, it’s still interesting to see the amount of effort the teams went to in order to create the best experience for their audiences. And it will be interesting to see what kind of changes carry over into New Horizons.

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