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Oscarno avatar 12:39 AM on 07.04.2014  (server time)
OST Case Study: Animal Crossing Series

The Animal Crossing  series is a charming, beloved franchise which began with the Japan only N64 release of the original game in 2001. It was then released internationally on the Gamecube the following year. In 2013, following the releases of Wild World (DS, 2005) and City Folk (Wii, 2008),  Animal Crossing: New Leaf was released internationally on the Nintendo 3DS.  Widely regarded as the best release in the franchise, it was a great success and an enjoyable game for long time Animal Crossing devotees and newcomers alike. Anyone who has spent any significant amount of time with Animal Crossing will tell you that it is cute, charming, funny, and strangely addictive. This is thanks to the lovely stylised visuals, the thoughtful and witty writing and of course, the music. Kazumi Totaka was a composer for the first two games in the series, and sound director for the subsequent games. The music plays an integral part in the games' overall construction, as there is music playing almost 100% of the time. It's the way the music is treated to work in this very delicate circumstance that makes it truly unique. 

As you may or may not know, the Animal Crossing games run in real time. If a real world hour passes, an in game hour passes. If the sun is setting outside, it's probably setting in the game, whether you have it turned on or not. Now, a real time clock is nifty and all, but it's how the music works in conjunction with this clock that really makes it something special. At the top of every hour, after the town hall bell chimes, a tune will start to play. This tune is different for each hour of the day and plays continuously until the next hour arrives. On paper, this might sound like it'd get horribly tedious and repetitive, but these pieces are created with short phrases, which bounce around various different instruments which keeps the pieces from becoming stale too fast. In this way they are much more akin to a small ditty rolling around the back you your head instead of listening to a song on loop for an hour. 

But the hourly soundtrack also creates some interesting and unexpected things when playing the game. Given the game's nature, they player may return every day, or every few days to check on their town. Generally, people will check at similar times every few days or as their schedule allows. When players do this, they will be playing with the same piece accompanying them. This subconsciously establishes a routine in the player's mind and provides a sense of familiarity whenever they enter their town. This also means that if the player enters their town at a different time, the music will be different, and this will create the feeling that something different may be occurring in the town, or that the town has a different feel to the player's regular visit time. 

Another interesting side effect of the hourly rotating soundtrack is the sense of time and progression the player gets through the music. If the player plays through the turn of the hour, or for over an hour, the music will change which gives the player a subtle and instinctive indication of time passing. No clock faces have to pop up on screen, no alarms have to go off, a simple change in the music gives the player a sense of time passing. This works especially well when the player completes their final task for the day on the hour, and the music changes to bid them farewell. This is all part of the charm that makes Animal Crossing such a dear game to so many people. 

Of course, the hourly music doesn't play in all locations. All of the key buildings in a village, such a shops, the museum and the town hall all have their own music. Once again, as these locations all have their own dedicated tunes, they all feel more and more familiar the more you visit them. In addition to this, places like Nook's store and the flower shop have pieces which change as they do. As these shops grow and acquire more merchandise, their music grows and changes to reflect their new atmosphere and attitude. 

The Animal Crossing games also have a small amount of music customisation, as the player can set the town tune in the town hall. This small passage will act as the town clocks bell, as the entrance bells to most buildings and will also play when the player talks to one of their villagers. Each villager, however, will have their own spin on the town tune and it will play in a unique way for each villager. Some will be lilting and lyrical, where others might be abrasive and dissonant. This small detail adds a whole layer of character onto each of the villagers and instantly let's you know what they're all about and what kind of character they are. But there's one character in particular which has some very interesting ties with music. 

K.K. Slider is a musical dog which gives performances in each of the Animal Crossing games. In earlier games he played on Saturday nights in the cafe below the museum, but in New Leaf he is the headline DJ at Club LOL. K.K. plays many different songs which are eventually available as records for the player and other villagers to own and play in their own homes. K.K. has some interesting real world connections though, as it is said that K.K. Slider is an analogue for the series' Sound Director, Kazumi Totaka. The special conditions for seeing a K.K. concert in earlier games made his presence almost mythical, and when you finally caught one it really did feel like a special occasion. K.K. reinforces the parallel between the Animal Crossing world and our own, giving the game more character and charm and bringing the music of the game to the player's attention. 

There's no doubt that the Animal Crossing series has done some special and interesting things with music along with game design. It's hourly rotation of music creates an atmosphere I've never experienced in any other video game and it manages to give the player so much information through sound alone. 

What do you think? Do you have a favourite Animal Crossing tune? How do you think K.K.'s presence affects the game? I'd love to hear your thoughts! Also, there's so much music in the Animal Crossing games, I just wasn't able to get it all, so if there's a musical aspect of AC you want to talk about, feel free to chat about it in the comments.

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