I hope that I’ve now explained the core of Animal Crossing. New Leaf comes with a new twist, though. The player isn’t just roleplaying as a random Villager, or the only human in a forest of friendly, furniture gifting animals. The player is also the Mayor!
Former installments tasked Tortimer to be the mayor, but New Leaf sends him off to enjoy a tropical retirement. Villager can even visit Tortimer, and play several fun minigames with friends over Wi-fi or for medals. V now has the job, however, and needs to spend V’s hard earned bells to rebuild the town that Tortimer left to decay.
Almost all of the mayoral functions work through Isabelle, who works, and presumably lives, in Town Hall. She offers V advise on getting settled, and completing these mini jobs for her pays dividends, whether they be new exotic fruits to farm (and sell for bells), or new tools like the watering can. Asking Isabelle about the Citizens’ Satisfaction prompts her to deliver a report on how V is doing with rebuilding the town. She can even assist V in changing the Town Tune and Town Flag to songs and designs of the player’s choosing.
The most common reason the player will go to speak to her is to either enact ordinances to change the rules (ex. shop keepers stay open later) or to begin or remove public works projects. Ordinances are relatively cheap at 20,000 bells, and they change the way the shopkeeper NPCs behave, or the rate that weeds grow.
Public works projects change the very landscape of the town, but require a developer’s permit. Part of the process to obtain a developer’s permit is to build the first home expansion (through Tom Nook) and work to achieve 100% satisfaction, which is pretty easy, only requiring that the player play the game.
Public works projects all consume a little land outside of any houses, and Isabelle doesn’t allow any projects to be placed too close to each other, or too close to the borders, or on sand. Selecting a public works project invites Isabelle to follow V to the location in question. Talking to her while standing on the land prompts her to imagine (suggest?) how the finished project would look. If the player agrees with her projection, then Isabelle makes all of the following arrangements.
The land is cleared of flowers and buried items, and it is marked out with a fence. Lloyd, the helpful town Gyroid stands watch on the site, dancing in circles as any player, citizen or not, draws near. As Isabelle is not longer needed, she returns to Town Hall. Talking to Lloyd invites the player to expend some bells to support the project.
Only the mayor can begin a public works project, and while Animal Crossing New Leaf allows up to four players to move into a town, only the first is made the mayor. There can only ever be one public works project at a time, something I wish the road commissioners in my real city would take notice of.
Finally, although small donations trickle in over time from the animal townsfolk, the donations could only be coming in numbers from the players, typically from the mayor him or herself. The burden of completing the project rests almost entirely with V, and no, V cannot just raise taxes!
The experience lends itself well to power fantasies. As mayor, the player can control everything, while almost all of that power is wielded through Isabelle. Animal Crossing doesn’t lend itself to cruelty, though light hearted teasing is easy enough to do. There’s more than enough opportunity to crassly bully the residents until they move away, but then driving all of them away doesn’t lead the player to any more of the content Animal Crossing New Leaf locks away from them. There are lots of incentives to lead to player towards a nicer, friendlier play style. The counterpoint is that it is fun to bop everyone with the bug net :p.
A perfect town rating requires a good number of public works projects be completed, that the quantity of nature be kept up (meaning more trees and flowers, and shrubs), and that the 100% approval rating be maintained. Animal Crossing remembers to celebrate successes well and loudly. Each successful public works project assembles V, Isabelle, and a handful of available villagers on the grounds before the project, with my favorite moments include the completion of the Police Station and the Museum second floor, when Copper or Celeste joined the scene. V is prompted to say a few shallow words, poppers pop and streamers stream, and everybody claps loudly to celebrate this achievement.
Over time, the lay of the land starts to look quite a bit different. New bridges open new ways to move, campsites bring new faces in to comment on town, and opening new structures adds new NPCs to talk to, such as Brewster when the player completes the Roost.
Over time, the player starts to imprint a little bit of themselves into their town, slowly making it their own.