Mostly left to the player’s own devices, V is now fully free to act. Short scenes interrupt the action, but for the rest of the game, the player lives comfortably in V’s shoes. But V, give or take some fruit or bells obtained before, has nothing to his name.
Butterflies taunt V, flitting from tree to tree, and V has no means to catch them. Much the same is true of fish, visible in the pond, river or ocean, they stick around, maddeningly out of reach. Some trees bear fruit, but there is only so much; the trees will bear fruit again after a day of real time, but not before. Shaking other trees offers surprising yields, including bells, limited random furniture, and sometimes even spiders. But also bee hives. X’s mark spots around the map, hiding treasures V is unequipped to unearth; V is wise not to stand on them, though, as they sometimes conceal pitfall seeds, and can catch V is a trap at just the right moment for other hazards (sigh, angry bees) to overwhelm V. With no tools, V is largely incapable of interacting with any of these opportunities, but can trigger all of these traps.
It befits the new Animal Crossing player to get equipped as soon as possible, and it is here that the rules of the game play a very cruel joke . Tom Nook has left his sons, Timmy and Tommy, in charge of the corner store on Main Street, and while they can supply V with two of the tools V will need on the first day in town, there is usually another that they cannot. The store is restocked every 24 hours, so until then, the player will have to make do with the two tools that V can obtain. The store’s first upgrade cannot come soon enough!
Getting the tools comes with another hurdle: there aren’t enough fruit bearing trees at start to afford both tools! Luck can hamper V again, cutting off the supply of perfect fruit on the first day (and thus another source of bells). If players are anything like me, they can exasperate this quickly; the corner store has many tempting furnishing on sale, and the Spartan tent V is living in sorely needs … anything. It is fortunate then, that it is so easy to jump this hurdle. V only needs to gather sea shells, which replace themselves with a little screen scrolling, and whatever V can obtain using the two tools V can purchase on that day. Animal Crossing is teaching the player a crucial rule for playing the game: search everywhere, collect everything. It is meant to sting the player when they fail to sneak up on a bug, or set the hook too early on the fishing line, losing a fish. These events are virtually throwing money away, and V needs to learn this rule fast.
There is yet another drain on V’s bells, but this remains optional throughout the game, and the rewards are often much more long-lived. In the corner of Main Street is the Museum, which hasn’t a single item on display. Filling the Museum is a titanic challenge, made mercifully a lot easier by trading with friends, and each time V has caught a new bug or fish, V is reminded again of the Museum by the text pop-up “I wonder what my guidebook says about my new catch…” This guidebook is a menu V can access at virtually any time on the bottom screen; clicking it calls information including the names of recent catches, the best sizes ever caught, and other details. Donating the first of every fish or bug to the Museum unlocks more content, and as the player moves steadily closer to collecting everything (the logical incented result of the game’s lesson “search everywhere, collect everything”).
Animal Crossing establishes several of its most important mechanics. Displaying collectibles in the Museum allows the player to display one of each without worrying about space to display them, creating a perfect space for collections. Every object found thereafter can optionally be sold for bells, and the player is introduced early to a need for a lot of them, and this is before returning to Tom Nook to have V’s debts quantified. The quest for furnishing, or stuff generally to put in the tent where V is living, is a big one, as big as the player wants to make it.