The ethics of time travel in Animal Crossing: New Horizons

As avid Animal Crossing fans probably know, time travel has been incorporated in each main series title since the original on the Nintendo GameCube. Its premise is rather simple: by changing the system’s time and date, players can skip ahead to speed up their town development, move out villagers, or access certain holidays or events in advance.

The release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons on the Nintendo Switch has once again created something of a split within the community: those who time travel and those who don’t. As somebody who has played the game both ways, I have an important question to answer today: is time traveling worth it in Animal Crossing: New Horizons?

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How to time travel

Time traveling in Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a bit different than in previous titles. First, make sure your game is entirely closed. Head over to system settings and scroll down to the System tab. Open up Date and Time, turn off the internet synchronization option, and change the settings accordingly. Then you can open up Animal Crossing: New Horizons and the day will be different!

Previous titles (including Animal Crossing: New Leaf) featured an in-game time change option, though this has been removed in New Horizons. Keep in mind that holiday-specific events such as Toy Doy and Bunny Day cannot be accessed via time travel, as they are actually enabled via temporary “patches”.

Now then, with that out of the way, let’s tackle the meat of the argument: is time travel worth it in New Horizons? In my opinion, kind of, but also not really. The game has a critical flaw in its noticeable lack of content (which we’ll get to later), and time travel makes all of the upgrades much easier to achieve.

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Reasons to time travel

Some say players who time travel lack patience. In a way, I feel that this statement does not accurately portray the big picture. Here’s my take: there are two types of players in this context, and one of them doesn’t like games that are tied to real-time events. And that’s totally fine! New Horizons spaces out its individual upgrades, with most of them taking a day each. That adds up to about a week and a half for the “main story”.

One problem I experienced in New Horizons was the matter of moving island facilities and homes. It costs 50,000 Bells to move a facility, which isn’t too bad, but you can only move one building per day and it takes until the next morning for the move to be completed. Once you unlock the Island Designer tool (which is obtained by getting a three-star island rating and inviting K.K. Slider to perform), you’ll probably want to move some buildings to fit with your new path layout. If you play the game “legitimately”, that’s going to take a long time. But if you genuinely want to create a wonderful town, time traveling will make this much easier (and less time-consuming).

Animal Crossing: New Leaf had it all: shop upgrades, the hair salon, the shoe store, the fortune teller’s shop, the Dream Suite, swimming, public works projects… my point here is, New Leaf had more content than New Horizons. Those who time traveled had a clear advantage over those who didn’t because of the sheer amount of upgrades that were available. New Horizon’s shop only upgrades once and over five previously unlockable buildings have been entirely removed. Everybody’s going to have the same content within two (real-world) weeks, so you might as well time travel to shorten the process, right?

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Reasons to play “legitimately”

You may have noticed this, but in the context of this article, “legitimately” is placed in quotation marks because I don’t necessarily believe time traveling is cheating. That being said, a “legitimate” run of New Horizons is satisfying. Time traveling adds a sense of pressure to make the most out of every day. Each time you change the clock, you have to check on a few things: the status of your favorite villagers (as they might move away), how many weeds have grown in your town, the inventory of the shop, your mailbox… and then you can start doing what you’re going to do, whether that’s town development or ordering items. Time travel, in a way, soils Animal Crossing’s laid back, relaxing atmosphere by forcing you to perform an entire day’s activities in just a few hours (or a few minutes, depending on how fast you’re going).

As I mentioned above, New Horizons is rather lacking in content. You’ll build your house, the Resident Services tent, the shop, the museum, and the tailors’ store. You’ll upgrade Resident Services to a full town hall and then invite K.K. Slider to your island to perform. You’ll probably pay off your home loans and decorate your island, too, but… that’s it. There’s a lot missing from New Leaf, and if you rush through it all, you’ll find yourself with less to look forward to each day.

Personally, I feel like time travel takes away from the intended experience of New Horizons, but that doesn’t mean you have to play the game as intended. If you don’t want to wait a day to make changes to your town, it doesn’t mean you aren’t patient, per se; it means you like making progress in short bursts rather than spread out over time. If you don’t like to time travel, that’s fine too! Some players, myself included, enjoy a slower-paced game that spaces out its achievements. Ultimately, you paid $59.99 for this game, and you have the right to play it any way you want.

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