Screenshot: Nintendo (Kotaku)

Excerpts from a journal titled “New Horizons”: 

I’ve decided to take a vacation. Well, less of a vacation and more of a… sojourn, I guess you could call it. A close friend of mine, Tom Nook, has started a new business offering relocations to a deserted island. There are discounts for those who can help with some early foraging. I have no idea how he found this place, but I’m willing to overlook that if he can help me get away from it all for a little while.

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Almost every day there are new anxieties. My head feels about ready to implode. It’s good to care about stuff, but I need to find a way to stop agonizing over everything to such extreme levels. I’m hoping Nook’s island (and the complimentary makeover he provides beforehand) will be just the ticket. I’ll be keeping this journal to track my progress.

February 28, 2020

The plane ride was fine. I’m not one for being tens of thousands of miles in the air, but the dodo birds that got us to our island were very kind and helpful. It wasn’t quite as fancy as I was expecting from a private jet but much more comfortable than the coach flights I’ve taken previously. Besides Nook and me, there were two passengers: a rooster named Goose and a cat named Katt. Not the most imaginative names, but maybe they run in the family? Who am I to judge?

Goose is one of those athletic types. He spent a lot of the flight doing pushups and crunches in the aisle, but he doesn’t seem too bad. Nothing overbearing about him. He just seems to have a lot of energy. Maybe he’s nervous like me and this is how he deals with it? Our other companion, Katt, mostly kept to herself, but every so often I would hear her singing softly near the back of the cabin. It was nice.

We arrived on the island in the evening, giving us just enough time to collect our camping gear from Nook before the sun disappeared over the horizon. Still, no one seemed to be in any hurry. Nook came prepared with enough supplies to last months, even if more customers took him up on his getaway offer. I watched Goose and Katt wander off in opposite directions before setting my tent up next to the beach near the airport. I still wasn’t sure about this whole deserted island nonsense, so I wanted to be as close to an escape as possible.

Illustration for article titled iAnimal Crossing: New Horizons/i: The iKotaku/i Review
Screenshot: Nintendo (Kotaku)

Since I finished first, Nook asked me if I could go around and collect cherries from some nearby trees. They weren’t hard to find; it seems like cherries are the only fruit that grow here. I brought him a few armfuls. Nook and his sons, Timmy and Tommy, set about working in their tent, and came back out carrying several frosty mugs of cold, cherry smoothies. We all gathered around a large bonfire near the main, central area of our little settlement, sipping our drinks and watching the stars. Nook asked us to make suggestions for the island’s name, and we settled on Aurora. As time passed by, we scuttled back to our tents, each of us nodding silently to the others as we bid goodnight.

I fell asleep to the sound of ocean waves.

March 1, 2020

Nook’s voice woke me up as it crackled from a loudspeaker, a mixture of interference and his own feverish, high-pitched rambling.

Sometime during the night, he and the twins set up a system to make announcements in the common area. Not that I find Nook annoying or anything, but getting roused from a great night’s sleep during what is supposed to be a vacation (or sojourn) is pretty annoying. Thankfully, all he asked is for me and my island neighbors to gather at the central square when we had a moment. I turned over in my warm sleeping bag and tried to grab a few more winks.

I found getting back to sleep difficult, so I made my way towards Nook’s tent, which he has taken to calling Resident Services. Seems all he wanted was to give everyone a special cell phone so that we can all keep in touch. There isn’t much on there at the moment, but Nook said he’ll periodically push out updates with new apps and the like. I immediately received a notification for something called “Nook Miles,” which Nook explained will act as a sort of secondary currency on the island in addition to Bells. We’ll get Nook Miles, he said, for doing ordinary things like talking to our fellow island residents and planting flowers, which can then be exchanged for special items at a terminal in his tent. This also helps him keep up with the island’s transition from deserted to habitable, apparently.

Since I was already around, I decided to ask Nook about settling the bill for this trip. He surprised me by saying he was going to accept the initial travel fees in Nook Miles rather than money. This means our early work on the island directly contributes to what we owe his company for getting us here. What would have normally cost almost 50,000 Bells came out to just 5,000 Nook Miles. Not a bad deal!

Nook also made sure to point out the workbench in the Resident Services tent. Our phones include several “recipes” for do-it-yourself projects like simple tools to help us fix up and interact with the ecosystem of Aurora Island. The materials needed for these projects—rocks, wood, clay, sticks, and the like—are readily available in our surroundings and easy enough to gather with an axe or shovel. Nook explained how items I’ve already crafted, like a simple campfire, can be upgraded at the workbench into a more substantial bonfire with additional resources. As I was heading out, Timmy and Tommy stopped me to show how I could make a cute leaf umbrella with some weeds, which I made sure to do before leaving. This is a tropical island, after all.

Stepping outside, I blinked the sun out of my eyes and took in my new home for the first time. The area Nook had us set up was cut off from the rest of the island by rivers. They don’t seem too deep, but I quickly ruled out fording or swimming across. Instead, I pulled out my flimsy fishing rod and settled down on the riverbank. I managed to reel in a medium-sized green fish just as the sun was setting. I rushed off to show Nook. He took a quick look and said it was probably a black bass before asking if he could send it off to his friend. This friend owns a museum, Nook explained, and would love to take a look at the specimen I caught. Wanting to know more about the fish, I agreed. Nook stored it away for shipping later and we said our goodbyes for the night.

Goose stopped me on my way back to my tent and handed me a small package. He was very proud of the wrapping but hurried me into opening it. Inside was a red hat with a blue band, looking like a more stylish version of something a traditional fisherman might wear. Goose said that he had noticed how excited I was to catch my black bass and thought the hat might give me good luck on future fishing expeditions. I didn’t know what to say. It’s been a long time since someone thought of me like that, and I choked back a few tears to avoid making things awkward between me and my new friend.

March 3, 2020

I can already tell life on this island isn’t going to be boring.

Our third day on the island was pretty uneventful, but I woke up today to find a museum had opened overnight, curated by Nook’s owl friend, Blathers. Blathers was so entranced by the black bass that we sent him that he decided to make the move to Aurora Island to study the wildlife. Like us, he’s starting out small, but said he would build a much larger building if I kept bringing him bugs, fish, and fossils to study. It doesn’t seem like Blathers is interested in searching for these specimens himself, but he gave me a vaulting pole to get over rivers. That enabled me to get to the rest of the island. After a few practice leaps, I began to love the feeling of whooshing through the air.

It was during one of these parabolic adventures that I spotted something strange on the beach near my home. A white and blue mound stood out on the toasted sand, seemingly unperturbed by the encroaching waves. As I walked over, I realized it was a person. He was still breathing, thankfully, and muttering to himself in his sleep. After a few nudges, he coughed up some sea water in the process. He introduced himself as Gulliver, “seafaring seagull of the seven seas,” and explained that he had fallen overboard the night before. I helped him gather up the pieces of his broken cell phone, and he called his crewmates to pick him up. Gulliver promised to send me a gift through the mail as thanks, but I’m not expecting anything. He didn’t seem all there, to be honest, but that might have just been the shock of washing up on some random island.

Since I was here anyway, I decided to spiff up my little section of the beach with a folding chair, a campfire, and a couple of tiki torches. It doesn’t look like much right now, but I’m banking on it being a nice getaway when the sun sets. It’s a calm little setup to sit and watch the stars and listen to the waves. I wasn’t much of an ocean person before coming to Aurora Island but now I can’t get enough of that ever-present, low rumble. As I explored other parts of the beach, I cut my foot on something sticking out of the sand. Turns out the area is absolutely littered with clams. I think I can turn them into bait to help me on my next fishing session. Anything is better than the boring lure I’m using now.

Illustration for article titled iAnimal Crossing: New Horizons/i: The iKotaku/i Review
Screenshot: Nintendo (Kotaku)

There’s a lot more to this deserted island than meets the eye initially. Apart from the beaches and the lush inland full of cherry trees, I’ve found rock formations, tide pools, and hillsides covered in wildflowers. It’s a natural beauty I’ve never experienced before. I find myself just wandering, with small pauses to take in everything around me. I don’t think I’ve ever seen water so blue, flora so vibrant and green, or insects so perfectly complex as I have on Aurora Island. It’s overwhelming, but not in the way the world I left behind can be overwhelming. Instead of internal pressure, my head feels light and open, accepting of everything around me. My eyes water as if making room for the next incredible sight. Even now, writing in this notebook, I can see blue skies and clouds reflecting in the shallows, a mirror image of heaven.

March 4, 2020

I swear to god I saw a freaking ghost tonight.

I was wandering along the east edge of the island, doing some fishing in the ocean, when I caught sight of a glowing orb among the trees. At first I thought it was just a firefly, but after rushing into the thicket with my net at the ready, I came face to face with a literal spirit. I screamed, of course, but what’s funny is that the ghost screamed too, sort of like what you see in comedy movies.

For some reason, the ghost—whose name is Wisp, by the way—thought I was the ghost. A ghost that’s afraid of ghosts… what a world. Anyway, when Wisp freaked out, little pieces of his body split off and scattered across the island. I felt guilty, so I offered to catch them for him. He seemed to calm down a bit then and waited for me to return.

Wisp was so happy to have a complete body again that he offered me a gift. I had to choose between something I didn’t own or something expensive. Naturally, I went with the expensive option. Wisp gave me a pair of fancy sneakers and then disappeared.

I wonder if I’ll see that weird little ghost again.

March 6, 2020

The official museum opened on Aurora Island today and it’s absolutely gorgeous. I have no idea how Nook and Blathers put all this together in just one night, but I’m more inspired than ever to contribute specimens to its halls.

The building is split into three sections for fish, bugs, and fossils, each of which have their own themed sub-sections. When entering the aquatic area, for instance, you’re greeted with small ponds separated by wooden walkways, sort of like you’re walking among marshlands. Further in, the displays hold fish found in deeper waters. The dim lighting of the rooms combines with the illuminated tanks to mimic sunbeams filtering through the surface of the ocean. It’s quite the sight.

<i>Animal Crossing: New Horizons</i>: The <i>Kotaku</i> Review
Screenshot: Nintendo (Kotaku)

I stopped by Goose and Katt’s places to see what they thought of the new museum and was surprised to find they weren’t living in tents anymore. They had real deal houses! With a small twinge of jealousy, I ran over to Resident Services and asked Nook about upgrading. Luckily, I had enough Nook Miles to pay off the initial travel fees, which got me ready for a new house by tomorrow morning. This crazy raccoon dog must be breaking labor laws to get these things built so fast, but I pushed that to the back of my mind for now.

I was also able to redeem some Nook Miles for a guide on how to organize my pockets a bit better, increasing the amount of stuff I’m able to carry at one time, and recipes for improved tools. The flimsy tools I was using before were prone to breaking, but with these upgrades, they last much longer. Still, it’s a little rough having to keep replacing my tools or carrying multiples if I want to get any work done, but I guess that’s life on a deserted island for you.

March 7, 2020

Somehow, the rest of the folks on Aurora Island have designated me Resident Representative. I guess I am the one who is always getting work done while the other folks watch butterflies and mill around Resident Services, but man, that seems like a lot of responsibility. I never quite bought into Nook’s pitch of conquering the wilderness and all that. I think Aurora Island is cool the way it is. But everyone else is convinced we need to expand. Timmy and Tommy even asked me to find space for them to build a shop! Stuff was moving way too fast for me today, so I ran over to the airport and asked the dodos to take me somewhere, anywhere for a few hours.

They dropped me off on a random island with no name. It looked a lot like Aurora did when we first landed a week ago, if only a little smaller. Knowing the pilot was waiting for me at the dock gave me the courage to wander for a bit before bumping into two other travelers: Rosie the cat, who has dreams of becoming a pop star, and Zucker the octopus, who looks kind of like a takoyaki ball. Is that rude to say out loud? Maybe I’ll just keep that one to myself.

Rosie and Zucker offered me a seat at their campfire. They could probably tell I was a little stressed and asked what was up. I didn’t offload as much as I needed to, but they seemed supportive. After a while, they both were talking about how nice our island sounded and asking for coordinates. I think they’re going to move in at some point but I’m not sure. In any case, it reminded me how good I have it over on Aurora Island. Things may be moving a little fast for my liking but it’s still nothing compared to the life I left behind. I returned home with a renewed optimism, ready to get those rambunctious tanuki twins set up in their very own shop.

March 9, 2020

Nook said my first order of business today was setting up three new houses on Aurora Island. Two were for those nice folks I met yesterday, while another is for a koala named Melba.

It seems that, whenever someone is ready to move to the island, it will be my responsibility to ensure that they have a place to stay beforehand. That means choosing a plot of land for them to settle as well as crafting furniture and decorations for both the inside and outside of their homes. Nook provides the recipes, but I found myself having to scoop up materials due to my personal reserves being low.

Fortunately, there’s something special about my axe. It lets me thwack and thwack on trees to get various types of wood without actually cutting them down. Same thing with shovels and rocks. There’s only so much I can harvest a day, but it’s still super helpful.

I still haven’t quite figured out how to craft multiple items at once, so I have to make things one by one. This gets especially frustrating when making stuff for which I’ll always want multiples, like fish bait or tools. That said, my house does come equipped with a rather sizable storage unit. I’ve collected a ton of stuff so far and I’m not even close to filling it up. Nook also said that this storage space will increase with every upgrade my home receives.

Illustration for article titled iAnimal Crossing: New Horizons/i: The iKotaku/i Review
Screenshot: Nintendo (Kotaku)

Timmy and Tommy asked me to visit their new shop, Nook’s Cranny, today so they could give me the lowdown. They offer a few items for sale a day, including some simple tools, and they pay good money for practically everything I find on the island. There’s also a special Hot Item designated each day that nets me double the Bells. They close at 10 p.m., but there’s a drop box outside that can take items overnight. The twins promise to deposit money in my account for these nightly sales the next day, but at a 20% markdown. Since I’m doing a lot of work late at night these days—always chasing the last chore or item crafting—this could prove useful.

While leaving the shop, I almost ran smack into a cute hedgehog. She introduced herself as Mabel, another new visitor to the island. She wasn’t sure about moving here since she runs a clothing business with her sisters elsewhere, but mentioned that she’ll visit from time to time to sell some of their wares. Later on, I noticed she had set up a small wagon near Resident Services with a few pieces of clothing, a lot of it really nice quality. Mabel seems interested in moving here with her sisters at some point, but I’m not sure what it will take other than providing regular business.

March 10, 2020

I’m trying to fill up my days with little chores to keep me from, well, napping. It feels good to get out and be productive, especially when the results of your labor are instantly noticeable. So far, I’ve weeded a large majority of the island—and since today’s Hot Item at Nook’s Cranny was Hay Beds, I was able to turn a nice profit with a little bit of elbow grease—and helped Nook set up a log bridge for our new residents. There still isn’t a way to get up to the higher elevations besides a neat little portable ladder Nook showed me how to make, so it’s been my duty to scale those hills and make sure they look nice in anticipation of future expansion.

Oh, and I managed to find a nice, private beach on the backside of the island that I haven’t told anyone about yet. Doesn’t appear to hide anything special; it’s just been nice to head back there and chill for a bit. Don’t get me wrong, I love my neighbors, but it’s fun to imagine what it would be like if I had Aurora Island all to myself. It would probably get pretty lonely after the freedom wore off. Oh well!

Somehow a rumor started that the famous musician K. K. Slider was going to visit Aurora Island tonight, so some of us hung out in the town square for a few hours to see if anything would come of it. Nook didn’t seem to have any idea what was going on, but we just took that as him being coy. Slider never showed, sadly. How does a rumor even start on a small island like this? Anyway, we ended up having our own concert instead, with Goose and Katt singing and me on ocarina. I’ve been messing around with this little instrument for a couple of days, but I still can’t manage anything more than a few random notes. They didn’t seem to mind.

March 12, 2020

I told everyone that I was going to take a day to chill and think about some stuff. Most of them were surprised to find out I wasn’t chilling already. Aurora Island is bustling, sure, but the rest of the folks don’t seem to be as interested in “improving” it as I have been. Really makes me think about the time I’ve spent here so far and my place in this new environment. Maybe I don’t have to be running around all the time, gathering fish and materials. Sure, my house is nice, but do I really need all these clothes? Why was I so adamant about finding the right color sheets for my bed? It feels like I brought all my old problems with me, as if I’m cursed or something.

We’re coming up on almost two weeks here, but it feels like it’s been much longer than that with all the work I’ve put in. Aurora Island looks so much different than it did just thirteen days ago, thanks mostly to my efforts. But no one really asked me to do these things. Every task Nook gave me was more of a suggestion, something I could do if I managed to fit it into my own schedule. Everything happens tomorrow here. Maybe I’m uncomfortable waiting for tomorrow, so I try to fill the hours with pointless searching: searching for purpose, searching for the next item that will make me whole and happy, searching for something that makes life easier to digest. I try to talk to my fellow islanders about these things but I always stop just short of getting serious, unwilling to burden them with my own personal issues.

Starting today, I’m going to take steps to really soak in the atmosphere of Aurora Island. Earlier, I sent off letters to all my neighbors with little gifts thanking them for being who they are. Nothing fancy or expensive, just knickknacks and loving notes. I’m sure they’ll love them. It seems like they love everything. And really, what’s not to love about this life? It’s a far cry from the rat race of the real world. Everyone provides for one another. Everyone is encouraging. I need to appreciate what I’ve found without attaching my own baggage to every little moment and interaction.

Nook has mentioned wanting to attract more visitors to Aurora Island, starting with K. K. Slider. (Maybe he got that idea from us?) The first part of his plan is to set up a campsite so folks can come here and check things out without officially moving in. To help with this, Nook upgraded Resident Services into a full-fledged building. He also brought an adorable dog named Isabelle on board to help with things like changing the island’s flag and song. She seems very upbeat, and the little bell on her hair tie jingles with every step she takes.

But my first order of business after this morning’s introspection was fishing. Not fishing like I usually do, using bait off the pier in hopes of catching blue marlins or tuna to sell for tens of thousands of Bells at Timmy and Tommy’s shop. No, this was just about getting back into relaxation mode. Settling myself. Funny enough, today was the first day I’ve dragged trash out of the ocean. An empty aluminum can here, a tire there, a couple of slick, raggedy boots. But instead of tossing them out, I got some wild ideas for DIY projects. The can made a nice display for several wildflowers I found further into the island. The tire became an abstract decoration just outside my home. And the boots, well, they’re boots. Not my style but they might go well with an outfit later on, so I’m keeping them in my wardrobe for now.

That’s probably what I love best about Aurora Island. Everything and everybody is meaningful, not just because they can be polished into something beautiful but because they were already beautiful to begin with. This island is a promise. Life isn’t supposed to be better or worse here, it’s just supposed to be different. It has its own rhythm and pace. I can wake up in the morning, grab a few seashells off the beach, and say hello to Zucker as he hunts for butterflies. I can spend the day redecorating my bedroom and sending off stuff I don’t need as gifts. I can focus on gathering supplies and building improvements for the town. Or I can just stay home and listen to my K. K. Slider records… still looking for that first-print vinyl of “Two Days Ago,” by the way.

Aurora Island started off as an escape, a way for me to run away from the people and things that were weighing me down. It became so much more than that in just a short amount of time. I found community here. Not a community shackled together by economy or industry, but one connected by mutual compassion. That doesn’t mean everyone is blithely ignorant of reality or brainwashed into mind-numbing positivity, but there’s an undercurrent of tenderness for your fellow animal that inspires each and every action we take. I know life is waiting for me back on the mainland. I know this can’t last forever. But in the meantime, I’m going to absorb as much from my time here as possible in the hopes of taking at least a little bit of Aurora back with me.


(The rest of the notebook is filled with photos and doodles of fish. A ticket to Aurora Island is paperclipped to the last page.) 

Gif: Nintendo (Kotaku)

Staff Writer, Kotaku

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