The latest game in the Animal Crossing franchise, New Horizons became a massive success when released in March earlier this year. The combination of a large fan base and a perfectly timed release just before a global lockdown due to COVID that saw many stuck at home with little to do (a little suspicious) saw the game take the podium as the best-selling game on the Nintendo Switch.
Within the game the player takes control of a human avatar that buys a vacation package from a talking racoon. What originally starts off as nothing more than a camping holiday on a deserted island soon develops into a vibrant town with permanent residents, a town hall, museum and monuments to spare.
Having spent a vast number of hours myself running around my own island paradise, my mind has often gone off wondering itself. One question that often crops up is ‘where would this island actually be in the real world?’
To some this maybe an easy question to answer. Given the game’s Nintendo origins, one could easily assume the island is found somewhere off the coast of Japan. With Japanese themed furniture such as the Imperial set, zen pits and autographed cards written in Japanese to back as evidence. Alongside every Islander’s obsession with making their own bamboo garden (guilty), it is a very safe bet.
However, the game also has other furniture sets and items to appease its global range of players. And the bamboo gardens are player optional. I just haven’t found a friend who hasn’t dedicated a section to their island yet to the green shoots. So, if we are to be able to say where exactly in the world our island is, we shall need more substantial evidence.
Such evidence can be found on display in your local island museum (if you’ve donate it that is…)! Well, in three of the four rooms that is… While the art donatable to Blathers is based off of famous irl examples, they are all obtained from sales with Jolly/Crazy Redd (or the odd rare present from neighbours). How he gets hold of these priceless works of art is anyone’s guess. However, the one thing that is certain is they aren’t acquired legally. More importantly for our question at hand, they are unlikely to be sourced locally!
The bugs, fish, (newly added) sea critters and fossils on the other hand all naturally spawn on your island for you to catch/find and donate, thus allowing them to be classed as ‘locally sourced’. Seeing as all of these animals, both living and extinct, are examples of themselves in the real world, by finding out where each one is found in the world, we can plot up maps to determine where the most likely location is for our island.
If the game is purely based in Japan, then all the creatures would come from there. However, Animal Crossing is a prime example of an educational COTS game. That is, Commercial-Off-The-Shelf game. For those who actually say yes to Blather and listen to his facts about each and every donation made, you can learn a lot about all of the wonderful species. With the franchise having a massive global audience and the world being full of amazing creatures, it would be a shame to not include some non-native species. Therefore, we can already say it is most likely going to be a case of best fit instead of being a sure-fire location.
The first thing we have to realise is that this is a fictional game. While Animal Crossing does incorporate a lot of real-world aspects into it, from catchable creatures to architectural styles, at the end of the day it is just a game.
As said above, the world is full of a lot of amazing animals, and so it would be a shame for the developers of Animal Crossing to just stick with those native to a single location. Many of the weird, wonderful and valuable (I’ve got to be able to afford new furniture somehow) species would never be included if some of the laws of reality weren’t bent a little. So, we can’t really hold it against Nintendo for including these species when commercial video games are designed primarily for entertainment and only sometimes for education.
And this is certainly the case with endemic species. These are ones that are only found in a singular localised area or country, and there are a few examples in New Horizons. The Golden Trout for example is only found in the American state of California. The Arapaima (the world’s largest freshwater fish), Piranha, and Angelfish are only found in the Amazon Basin. Bug species such as the Madagascan Sunset Moth is endemic to Madagascar (shockingly), and there is also the Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing and Blue Weevil Beetle, both endemic to Papua New Guinea.
Therefore, when trying to locate our island paradise I will be using a tally system for all the species, giving one point per country if the creature can be found there and plotting the tally up on a map. This way I ignore all endemic species and aim for a best fit location.
*Disclaimer* If a species was said to be found on a continent and did not specify the exact country, every country gained one count to its tally. Therefore, some countries may have a higher count then they actually should. However, the numbers will be close enough to work with.
Also, for some reason the maps I created using Excel wouldn’t let me plot data in some countries for some reason. Sorry to Honduras, Slovakia and a few others, but that is just Excel being Excel.
Starting off with the freshwater fish found swimming through the rivers and ponds on the island. In total there are 46 species of fish that can be caught throughout the year with many changing from season to season.
Looking at the map below the darker the shade of blue the higher the proportion of the 46 fish can be found in that country. Four species (Kilifish, Tadpole, Frogs and Catfish) have a near worldwide distribution, and so gave a point to every country. Despite this, there is a very global variation shown on the map as some fish are only found in singular states, regions or countries.
This is a clear sign we will be aiming for a best fit location. The best candidates so far based on their total tally of freshwater fish are Japan (19), China (16), Korea (15), USA (14) and Canada (12). From these scores its looking like the island is somewhere in the Pacific Ocean with the highest concentrations being in East Asia or North America.
Seeing as the freshwater fish suggest a Pacific island location, it’s time to see if the 34 ocean-dwelling fish agree!
Just like the freshwater fish there are some species such as Seahorses, Sea Butterflies and Football Fish that have a near worldwide distribution. There are also some with much more local distributions. Red Snappers for example are only found in the Gulf of Mexico. Coelacanths are even more localised, having only been found in very small pockets off the coast of South Africa, Madagascar and Indonesia, but nowhere else in all the seas! However, some are also native to the waters around Japan (e.g. Moray eels, Barred Knifejaws & Japanese Horse Mackerels).
Tallying the scores, the oceans with the highest proportions are the Pacific Ocean (12) and Atlantic and Indian Oceans (both with 6). Seeing as the Pacific Ocean has twice the count as the next runners up its definitely looking to be a winning spot. We can then use seas and oceanic regions to narrow down a location further, as the freshwater fish suggests a location either side of this vast ocean. There were 3 counts in the Indo-Pacific, a collection of waters ranging from the Pacific to Indonesia, India and across to E. Africa. Another 3 previously mentioned around Japan only. And 2 counts in the Yellow Sea off the coast of China and Korea.
So, an island off the coast of Japan, China, Korea or the Philippines is looking to be a very hot spot. But that is not all the seas have to offer for evidence. Animal Crossing’s latest update (v1.3) has given us full access to the ocean waters via wetsuits! Now we can jump and flip right in to the deep for more critters to donate to Blathers!
The latest swimming update was another perfectly timed delivery from Nintendo. Just when we had all started to put the game down after catching all we could and paying off as much of our loan as we could be bothered, the new update gave us 40 new ‘deep-sea critters’ to swim around and catch!
In terms of data, that’s 40 new points to tally up and see if they correspond with the current fishy conclusion…
And thankfully it does! Just like the ocean fish before, the deep-sea critters have the highest concentrations in the Pacific Ocean (7) out of the three oceans (Atlantic had 2 and Indian had just 1). Furthermore, there were a staggering 8 species (e.g. Gigas giant clams, Slate pencil urchins and Mantis shrimps) are found in the Indo-Pacific.
Sea pineapples, Japanese Spider crabs and some species of Horseshoe crabs are also only found in the waters around Japan, Korea, Taiwan and China, including the Yellow Sea and East China Sea. Together a total of 34 of the 40 deep-sea species are found in the waters off of the eastern/ south-eastern coasts of Asia, making for very compelling evidence.
However, why just use water creatures to pin down a location when we also have bugs and fossils? After all, the more evidence you have the more solid the conclusion.
The bugs in Animal Crossing breath a lot of needed life onto the surface of the island. All of the fish and critters mentioned above simply appear as dark outlines under the water. You can make an educated guess at what the fish will be, but you won’t know for sure until you haul it out of the water. Bugs on the other hand can be found scuttling on the ground, flying through the air or just chilling on a tree. The diverse range of settings you can find them in means there is a wide variety for you to catch (many of which are worth a few bells and so can help to pay that ever-increasing loan off), including butterflies, dragonflies, stag beetles, diving beetles, pesky wasps and even dreaded scorpions.
Despite this great range in catchable creepy crawlies, the tally map actually shows a reduced global range than the freshwater fish did! Out of the 80 species found on the in-game island, 51 of these are found irl in Japan. 47 are found in China and 45 are found in Korea. The incredibly high number is mostly due to 18 species such as flies and ants being found worldwide. However, most of the countries outside of SE Asia, even with the worldwide assist, only score in the mid 20s, giving them a paler shade of green.
With the fish and now the bugs suggesting a East Asian location close to Japan, it is getting hard to argue as to where our sandy shores will be…
Last but not least we have the ancient fossils! Fossils in Animal Crossing randomly spawn at the start of each day, forming brown star-shaped cracks in the ground for you to dig up with a shovel. However, you won’t know what kind of fossil you have dug up until you get it checked and verified by Blathers at the museum. Once Blathers has excitedly given them a quick look over, he will inform you as to whether you have given him an entire small fossil, or a part of a much larger creature. Side note, this is fairly realistic as you are more likely to find dinosaur fossils fragmented than as a complete collection (although that is not to say it isn’t impossible).
That being said, they definitely throw a curveball into the idea of a Japanese island location as the vast majority of the 35 fossil species are actually found in North America. Not since the freshwater fish at the start did it seem possible that we could have an American island.
The main reason for the high concentration of fossils appearing to be from North America is because many of the well known and loved dinosaurs such as the Stegosaurus, Triceratops and the infamous T-rex are found within the Mesozoic deposits here, particularly within Texas and surrounding states in the US.
There are also some species which are only found in European countries. The renowned bird fossil of Archaeopteryx has only been discovered in Germany and Portugal. The Dorset Coast of England is famed for its Plesiosaurus fossils, and even the possibility of a living species hiding somewhere in Loch Ness. Africa as well saw our ancestors, Australopithecus, roam through the Cradle of Humankind in the east. Millions of years before them, Spinosaurus were hunting through the northern countries of the African continent.
When it comes to Japan itself, there are no fossils which can be found in game that are only from this country. China is lucky enough to be the resting place of some species such as Juramaia and Myllokunmingia. So, SE Asia is still in the running. Just not to the same scale of America on this one.
So where are our islands?
Looking at the evidence presented by the aquatic creatures (both freshwater and ocean-dwelling) and from the bugs there is a very strong case to make for our islands are located somewhere off the south-west coast of Japan, possibly not too far away from the coasts of Korea or China.
The fossils are a hard one to try and explain. How is it possible to have so many living creatures be found on one side of the Pacific Ocean, while the majority of extinct creatures are found on the other side? Initially the theory of continental drift could explain it. Having the two joined, and as they came apart a small part of America stayed closer to Japan. However, this sadly cannot be the case as Japan actually became an island after rifting away from the eastern edge of Eurasia, while America rifted away from the western side of Eurasia. This means that they are actually moving towards each other, not away.
I believe in the case of the fossils this will just have to be something we have to overlook and put it down to the developers just wanting to give its audience a collection of fossils from the other side of the world to get excited about instead of a realistic local selection. But three out of four all pointing towards one place is still very good odds.
Now it’s time to crack open Google Maps and try and find a good location to jet off to on the SW coast of Japan…
One thing to take into account now is the only accessible mode of transport in the game, the small seaplane flown by the dynamic duo at Dodo Airlines! Given the size of the plane it is obvious it won’t be making long hauled flights everywhere. Also, the idea that the plane is always ready to take off and return very soon after (flying for less than a minute each time, but we’ll class it as same day return) to a friend’s island or a mystery tour island means these neighbouring landmasses can’t be too far away from our own. This means we need to search for a group/chain of islands instead of an isolated one.
The best candidate would be somewhere within the Ryukyu Islands. A series of volcanic chain islands stretching from SW Japan to Taiwan. More specifically I believe our islands are part of the Tokara Islands. Closer to Japan, this archipelago of small islands matches the size of our own relatively small island and the numerous even smaller islands found on the mystery tours.
And so there you have it! Thanks to the help of the wonderful creatures that call our AC island home, we have found our New Horizon in the Tokara Islands! I hope you enjoyed the read.