Version tested: DS
Animal Crossing is Grand Theft Auto for big girls' blouses. It's for people who want to explore an open world, but one that's pretty and cosy instead of huge and scary; who want to chat with giant ducks instead of angry gangsters. It's for those of us who would rather collect shells on the beach than smash a gentleman's face in with a baseball bat, and shake pears out of trees than pay a lady to put something in her mouth when she's not even hungry.
Enchanted Folk and the School of Wizardry is Animal Crossing for people who like Harry Potter. As you've probably guessed it features very little in the way of prostitution or drug dealing, and there's nothing here for those firmly in the GTA camp. But if you're into catching fish and buying furniture, and have played Animal Crossing so much you've actually paid off your mortgage, this is a decent alternative.
The game begins with you enrolling as a student at the aforementioned School. There are limited character customisation options, and whatever happens you'll end up with a tiny child's body and a head the size of a pumpkin. You're shown round the school by Reginald, whose head actually is a pumpkin. Your dorm room is sparse, with no furniture but a single wardrobe, and drab floor and wall coverings. If you've played Animal Crossing, you can see where this is going - especially when Reginald suggests asking the local shopkeeper for a job.
However there's no sign of hateful feudalist Tom Nook, and no obligatory instant loan to the tune of several billion Bells. The currency in Enchanted Folk is called Ritch, and the shopkeeper is a snake called Malila. She sells wizard supplies and if you offer to work for her she'll send you out on a mission, like collecting specific mushrooms. In short, there's much less pressure and commitment involved.
Other high street businesses to visit include a florist's, a fashion boutique and a juice bar. There's a salon called Mon Paris run by a hairdresser called Roley. He is extremely camp, ha ha where do they come up with this stuff oh yes the seventies. There's a posh furniture shop Harrows, which is as close as Enchanted Folk gets to GTA-style parody.
There's also an apartment block which is home to some of the game's characters. Say hello to Sanderson the frog, Havana the lion, Gary the weird blue thing and so on. Other characters include some strange robot creatures who have TVs for heads, a few walking Babushka dolls and your classmates from the School of Wizardry - yet more cutesy animals.
Everyone's always up for a chat, and what they have to say is always tedious gibberish. For example, Silvia the cat might call you over to inform you she mixed up her shampoo with her conditioner the other day. Thanks for that. Bathroom-related topics seem to feature heavily; "I love taking baths, but the only chance I get is in the evenings," says Barkley the sheep. "Wouldn't it be great if we could have baths during the day, too?" Cheers, Barkley. Is that a euphemism?
The characters bang on endlessly about "relationships", whether advising you on how to make new friends or suggesting you concentrate on your "studies" instead of "romance". Any charm or quirkiness that might have been present in the original Japanese script has been lost in translation, replaced with stilted American teen-talk.
Worst of all, the characters are right little bitches. They constantly tell you rumours about each other, and even about yourself. On one occasion, a character passed me a note in class that said I was "hard to get along with", and that they didn't like me. The same day Silvia came up to me and said, "I heard a rumour about you. It goes like this: 'Ellie and Hannah get along to the point where it just seems fake.' Is it true?"
You have the option to confirm or deny, and it doesn't seem to matter which you choose, but it's all rather unpleasant nonetheless. The steady stream of advice about making friends doesn't help. The message seems to be that it's acceptable for everyone to be horrible to each other, and if people slag you off it's your fault, and you should remedy the situation by sucking up to them. Is that really a great message to send the primary demographic for this game?
Who cares? There are fish to catch and mushrooms to pick and dragonflies to net! Yes, there's endless fun to be had, assuming your idea of fun is doing the same collecting tasks over and over and over again. Even though you've already done virtually identical tasks over and over and over again in Animal Crossing.
Enchanted Folk's big distinction is that there's also that School of Wizardry to attend. Here you can take classes, i.e. tutorials, about how to cast magic spells and perform incantations. The whole process is rather slow and dull. To complete a class you must first talk to the teacher outside, then wait for your character to walk in the room. The teacher will use the blackboard to convey a tiny piece of information, then ask you an obvious question about it. Your classmates then congratulate you on your answer.
To take the next class, you must exit the room and go through every step of the whole rigmarole again. It's painfully slow, especially when the entirety of what you've just learned could be summarised in a single line of in-game text. Plus, the spells and incantations are useful, but it takes ages to get to the point where you can use them properly and they don't add a great deal to the gameplay.
Other magical nonsense includes something called Mystery Time, which you activate by walking through a special door. During Mystery Time the sky turns pink, strange flora and fauna appear and lessons are cancelled. You can take part in extra-curricular activities instead, like trying to catch nocturnal insects, but really it's all just more of the same.
Which just about sums it up. If you adored Animal Crossing, you'll find plenty to enjoy in Enchanted Folk - the gameplay is virtually identical and the visuals are just as cute and cheery. However, the game doesn't have quite the same charm and congeniality. In fact it's downright nasty at times, what with all the rumour-mongering and trash-talking; if that's the sort of thing you're after, you might as well stick to the internet.
If you're not a fan of the genre, Enchanted Folk won't win you over. The pace is slow, the tasks are repetitive, there's too much text and there are too many loading screens. The gameworld, though pretty, is pretty small. Plus, there's nothing original or innovative here. Enchanted Folk is to Animal Crossing what the first Saints Row was to GTA; it's a competent, entertaining knock-off, but it's still a knock-off.
6 / 10