Nintendo's charming life sim Animal Crossing has been showing up on PC a lot lately, though not officially. There's the fun fan art of Isabelle hanging out with Doomguy, because their new games share a March 20 release date. There's that indie project that looks a whole lot like Animal Crossing. But the most interesting to me is a fan translation project that's been in the works for more than two years, slowly converting the Japanese-exclusive Animal Forest e+ into English for the first time.
Animal Crossing (or Animal Forest, aka Dōbutsu no Mori in Japan) had some history before it was ever released in the west. It started life as a late-era Nintendo 64 game, before being ported to the GameCube with new features as Animal Forest+. That port was then enhanced with more new stuff as it was translated into English and released as Animal Crossing, so a couple years later Nintendo of Japan released yet another new version, Animal Forest e+, that included everything from the western release and even more changes.
Since 2017, Animal Crossing fan Cuyler has been working on translating that final GameCube version into English, and recently released the first public version of the patch. "As this is a beta release, there will still be untranslated text," they wrote on Youtube. "I'd like to release the final, complete translation before New Horizons releases."
Cuyler's Twitter feed, though not updated too frequently, is a great demonstration of how much work goes into fan patches like this. It's not just about translating thousands of lines of dialogue, though that alone is a huge undertaking. Importing that text back into the game, and changing bits of the UI into English, requires programming experience and often custom-made tools, like the one Cuyler uploaded to Github. Here are some examples.
Ignore the ominous void—this screenshot is an important milestone. The code running was re-linked by a program I'm writing. It'll allow for much more freedom when modding GC/Wii games that use Relocatable Modules! This includes e+! Letters, anyone? pic.twitter.com/4rqXULuQ4NDecember 13, 2019
Reimplemented the A-F acre row letters in e+! This would have easily taken hours before, but thanks to GCReLink it took me about 30 minutes! I'll also fix it so it shows "X-Y" when I can! This is just the beginning of what's possible now. pic.twitter.com/XIffvw21QoDecember 21, 2019
A hex editor seems to have found its way into my copy of Animal Crossing: pic.twitter.com/pLrDFW4qXZJuly 17, 2018
Cuyler operates a modest Patreon to help support the project, which so far has been a Herculean one-person job. "Pledging on Patreon helps me offset the cost of translating this game, as it's insanely time consuming. I've spent well over 1,500 hours between reverse engineering, tool creation, and translating! I am the only person actively working on the project," they wrote on Youtube. The Patreon mentions hiring a professional translator if Cuyler starts receiving more money, though it seems like at this point, the project is close to finished, even with Cuyler's admitted "basic Japanese" skills. Backing the project gets you access to monthly patch updates and Discord perks.
So how do you use this patch, anyway? Well, you need a copy of Animal Forest e+, which you can find on Ebay or Yahoo! Auctions if you go hunting. With an ISO of the game, it's a cinch to load into the GameCube emulator Dolphin, and Cuyler's beta release even includes some install instructions. They wrote a custom patcher to do everything for you.
Ultimately, if you played Animal Crossing on the GameCube 15 years ago, this isn't going to feel like a new game. But there are some really cool little differences. You can wake up Tom Nook after hours by banging on his door, but he'll walk around slowly in his pajamas and charge you more for whatever you buy. You can find a random, special rock in town and break it to enter the "Reset Monitoring Center" where overzealous mole Mr. Resetti and Don Resetti hang out. You can become "best friends" with villagers, and also snoop on their conversations.
Okay, actually, there really is a lot of new stuff.
I actually picked up a copy in Japan on a whim last year, but I'm out of luck—it's the first release, not the e+ version. Too bad for me, but for anyone who's been pining after a deluxe version of Animal Crossing all these years, this seems like a great way to pass the 5 weeks until Animal Crossing: New Horizons comes out on the Switch. And you can play it on your PC, which is a big plus.