At first glance you might think Hokko Life is an Animal Crossing inspired life sim game. Of course, it is. You don't need to any kind of special degree or super power to see that is what the developers set out to do. They're also not shy at admitting that. But is it a direct clone? Does it bring anything unique to genre and that specific "animal crossing" style genre? I have plenty to share in this review! As always let's break down the categories.
The premise of Hokko Life might seem very familiar if you're a long time Animal Crossing fan. Though, this time, instead of choosing to set out on a new adventure you oversleep on the train and end up in this new town. Once there you're given a temporary, 1 day, stay at the local in and lounge. Soon after you'll repair 1 of 2 broken down homes and then take that home for yourself. From that point on its sort of up to you on how you spend your time.
2. Gameplay Loop
The first few days will revolve around cut scenes, unlocking crafting, obtaining your first few needed tools, but after that it's all up to your choices and self-progression. Hokko Life takes a page out of the original Animal Crossing's book and doesn't hold your hand much. After a few days they mention a system called "Mayor Merits". Which is a way to unlock, expand, and upgrade certain aspects of play. What they fail to tell you is that this system is also what is needed in order to reach new areas of the wilderness surrounding the town. In general, though, the basic gameplay loop can be broken down into a few things.
3. How does it compare
Hokko Life is almost 95% Animal Crossing without question. Hokko Life does not use a real-world clock or calendar system. Instead, it retains the familiar day to night, new day, style that other cozy games have. However, Hokko Life does not force you to sleep, nor does it penalize you for not doing so. It's simply used as a means to advance time. Speaking of, unlike most other games in this genre Hokko Life allows you to go to your bed at any time and sleep for 2 hours, 6 hours, or until the next morning. Be careful though, if you stay up until 4 or 5 am, and its now Monday, and you choose "sleep until the next day" it will literally move you all the way to 6 am on Tuesday.
In many ways Hokko Life offers exactly what Animal Crossing does albeit a different art direction, less animal variety, and a tad less polish. However, that doesn't mean Hokko Life didn't bring anything to table. On the contrary there is A LOT Hokko Life does right, and better, than Animal Crossing. And to be bold, even more than other games in the cozy genre.
The Good Things
There is A LOT to talk about when it comes to the good things Hokko Life brings to the table. Especially when pinning Animal Crossing against it. For the fast version I will post a list below and then I'll go more in depth on each aspect. But, be warned, it'll be a long section. If you're strapped for time, or attention, skim the list and move on!
No Real-World Time
This one really comes down to personal preference. But I know some of you AC Time Travelers are out there, and I think you'll be happy to know you can fast forward time quickly by just sleeping to the next day versus saving, quitting, opening system, changing date, going offline, starting again. For me, I loved that I was free to play as much as I wanted to right now vs being constrained to the IRL time of day and calendar.
One for the WORST and I mean worst things about Animal Crossing is the stack limitations. Oh, you can have 99 weeks, but only 10 tickets, but 30 stone FOR SOME REASON. Meanwhile, in Hokko Life you can have stacks of anything at 1,000+. I didn't test the limitation, but I assume it goes to 9,999, but who knows maybe it goes to 99,999. The point is it doesn't stop at some nonsense arbitrary number based on type. OH, and YES you can stack critters. Caught 80 carp? No worries, you have a stack of 80 carp.
Better Decorating + Freedom
While Hokko Life doesn't let you "glitz" or "wax" up an item to give it a special effect, not does it have accent walls or wall partitions and dividers. It has everything else you could imagine. You can place furniture in any direction, easy flipping and rotating options too. This applies in town too. You can build furniture and place it however you like wherever you like. Meanwhile animal crossing requires a very rigid 90 degree turning system.
Massively Deep Furniture Creation Tool
I am not someone who enjoys building designs or creating my own pieces. I genuinely dislike it; I never want to do it. However, Hokko Life somehow takes that taunting tool and makes it, relatively, easy to anyone to come up with a design. You don't have to meet any requirements that impossible. You can click pieces into one another, you can paint them, dye them, even adjust them later if you decide you want a change. You can also hop aboard the train to "the city" and download designs from other creators. Honestly, I cannot speak enough about the freedom and creativity allowed here. Online I saw folks who made a home and people in the comments thought they were looking at animal crossing. But it was a player designed home with customized furniture and patterns. I saw someone create a literal glass case filled with plants. Another design featured an outdoor doorway. The door was open, had a star patterned wall in it with lights shooting through, and plant vines. Someone else made a wooden pergola and you come completely walk under it. In my time I even wanted to make pathways and it was available right after unlocking design furniture. While there a couple teeny tiny complaints I have about the ease of zooming, resizing, and moving objects, it’s well worth the minor hassle / getting used to for the level of freedom it offers. There is nothing else out there, that I'm aware of, that has this level of ease and customization.
While a majority of the tools are familiar to you like the shovel, net, etc. Bombs, light posts, miner hats, fishing bait box are a few to mention that are brand new. Bombs will be needed to access the deep forest, but, as you unlock Mayor Merits, they also unlock the ability to break rocks. Doesn't sound like much, but bombs have a HUGE area of effect and can clear out 3-5 veins in seconds. In the mines you'll need light posts in order to navigate the darkness. But over time you can unlock the ability to craft a miner's hat which means never needing light posts again! I really enjoyed the originality of these items!
Character Upgrades / Unlocks
This one might make it a little more similar to Stardew Valley. Unlike the skill system and trees that game provides, as you advance through Mayor Merits you eventually start unlocking character specific things like:
Ease of town adjustments
Moving a fountain, fence, house, or really anything has never been easier. Want to move a house? Walk up to the placard, press A, and select Move. Then you're free to move it anywhere. While this is an unlocked feature via Mayor Merits, it is a very easy one to unlock, but also very ease one to overlook and miss. Whether you build your own furniture, buy it, or download it via the city area you will have a huge level of freedom in placing everything.
No limits on Signature Character Species
Unlike Animal Crossing which will never allow you to have a peacock, dodo, walrus, camel, or any of their signature main characters as villagers. Hokko Life does. From bears to elephants, rabbits, and pigs. Any species that has a main character still has other villagers in this same species. VERY COOL I say. And that isn't me just being salty I can't have any dodo friends...well...maybe it is.
When you unlock farming, which happens by visiting the Inn and speaking to this villager when they happen to be there. You will get a dedicated space to farm at. You won't have to use up town space for it, or you can if you want to, but the choice is yours!
Mines and the Deep Forest
Animal Crossing has little in the ways of more places to explore. But Hokko Life brings in the mines we're all used to from the genre and a, long overdue, deep forest. Which is quite similar to Stardew Valley's Lake Forest. Most cozy games give us a mine to explore. A great way to access to gems, stone, etc. It has always made stone and gems more available than wood or hardwood. But thanks to the deep forest, the hardwood, or as they call it mahogany wood regenerates regularly. A small addition, but a welcome one. Keep in mind though, that is does take many days for Mahogany trees to regrow.
While you won't be digging up fossils in your village. You will be taking a boat to an island. There you'll get a tool that allows you to scan the ground for treasure. Once found simply press A and you automatically dig it up. You can even unearth gemstones. Take them to your crafting table, press X, and viola you will have some gems!
While Hokko Life's critterpedia isn't anything to beam over. It is a bit useful. Unlike Animal Crossings in depth look which offers months and times available. As well as details about the critter. Hokko Life instead lets you see exactly how many critters you're missing per area. I found this helpful because it didn't leave me wondering if I was missing a fish in the ocean, lake, river, forest lake, island pond, island ocean, city, etc. But it doesn't list any of the cool in-depth information like Animal Crossing's Critterpedia does.
Original Items and Gear
I mentioned some of these items in previous topics but here is a quick breakdown of what I discovered in my time with Hokko Life.
The Bad Things
For me there were just a few negative things, or rather, things that felt off or just didn't like.
I personally, and still do, struggle with the art direction. It's just close enough to show the player where their inspiration came from. But in some ways, it feels different, just to be different rather than an original style choice.
I wish there was a little more direction when it came to how to unlock and progress elements of the game. I think it's really cool how a lot of it is attached to Mayor Merits. However, things like unlocking the farm and subsequent farming aspect of the game are completely locked behind a villager. To unlock things like the fashion store and the farm you have to visit the Inn between its "business" hours. Which are lunch and dinner timeframes. Each time you'll see a new villager who will want to move in and then they are moved into a queue. However, key characters that open businesses also fall into this net. They're also not unique enough to immediately let the player know their significance. The game never tells you to check back often for important characters, which you have to do to unlock some new features. If you fail to come, do this regularly you will likely put yourself "behind" in terms of when content would and should open up. For myself I did not unlock farming until I was in the Summer. Which means for all of spring I did not have access to the farm, farming tools, seeds, or anything. Because I wasn't coming here and checking this very often.
There is also an obvious lack of polish when it comes to the finer details of the game. A great example is that in Animal Crossing, no matter the time of the day or what building you're in, you can see the lighting adjust to match. In Hokko Life it always appears to be daytime inside buildings. Always. There's also a funky little bug where if you talk to a villager near a wall, or object, they end up stepping back into it to have the conversation. This is obviously, and unavoidable, if you're speaking to someone who is sitting. Because they'll stand up and be inside the chair or couch.
My final complaint comes in the way of the furniture building. Earlier I mentioned how fantastic it is, and it is, but my one complaint with it is that it doesn't have ease of use. As I spent time building lights or chairs certain elements of it became obvious. You are really restricted to the little colored cones and direction for lifting an object up, bring it forward, moving it sideways. An example is if you wanted to move an object somewhere you must select "move" and then 3 colored cones will appear. On the left side is a yellow cone to move the object on the x-axis. On top of the object a blue cone to move the object up and down on the y-axis. And, I believe, a green cone, in front of the object to move it on the z-axis. Unfortunately, these 3 cones are exactly where they are. If you find yourself wanting to move the object on the x-axis and are on the right side of the object, you must painstakingly move to the left side to click the cone and begin moving. Another thing that's odd is that depending on how you move the camera your cursor might glide with ease to the other side of the space, or extremely slowly move. For some reason the camera location determines this. As some positions make it easier for your cursor to glide along the x, y, or z axis. Part of my complaint here is that the team introduced using button combinations in order to zoom in, out, and pan. It would've been nice to see them utilize more button combinations to make moving, resizing, and rotating objects easier.
During my time with Hokko Life I also took to the internet to try and see what others were saying. unfortunately, it felt like most people didn't the game more time than an hour or two and were quick to dismiss it as a watered down rip off of Animal Crossing. If I wasn't seeing that opinion than I only found a few diehard fans deep in the back creating some of the most incredible furniture creations I ever saw from this genre. While the game lacks a bit of that final polish, you'd come to expect from a game like Animal Crossing. Hokko Life stands strong on its own legs and expands on that formula. It respects the players time immensely compared to every other game in the genre and as someone who games and writes as a hobby and has a bunch of kids to look after at home. I greatly appreciated the extreme flexibility the game offers players towards its content. With Hokko Life sporting an easy $20 price tag on Switch and Xbox this game is packed with a ton of charm and wonderful features you won't find anywhere else.
Suggestions to the Devs
I only have a couple things to check off this time.
1. Please consider adjusting how building furniture works. You made an amazing, deep, free system that’s only limit is, genuinely, player imagination. However, because of odd occurrences with the camera favoring one axis over the other. Or the cones being only on 1 side of the object it can become really difficult to handle. Maybe add more button combinations to quickly enable moving, rotating, or resizing. An example, might be if I hold ZL, Press Left on the dpad, this tells the game I want to resize now and then let the right stick go left and right for x-axis and up and down for y-axis. If they want to move on the z-axis click R3 to switch between x and z, or y and z.
2. Add a bit more polish to time of day and interior lighting. And try to prevent your models from clipping into walls and furniture.
3. Make it more obvious that players need to visit the inn to find more villagers. Especially, if that's how we unlock special characters such as the farm and fashion shop. That, or just make important people show up as a mandatory event like Animal Crossing does. That way players don't accidentally miss out on things because they forgot or didn't know.
4. Also make it more obvious to look inside Mayor Merits. A few things cannot even be expanded if someone doesn't make it to the mine or the deep forest. But you can't get to the forest unless you've made bombs. But you can't make bombs unless...you get my point? I only discovered this because I went through and read every single Mayor Merit and examined the silhouette picture to get an idea of what it unlocked / what I needed to do. Make this more user friendly.
5. DO NOT LOCK HOUSING ITEMS BEHIND MAYOR MERITS. One of the biggest draws to Hokko Life is the ability to move houses freely. And not just that but being able to rotation them is massive. But you do not unlock this function unless you met the requirement inside Mayor Merits. Which is do some requests, have a few villagers moved in, etc. Either make it a point to mention this functionality unlock the player, or just make it available right away. Or make it an event that occurs after a certain number of villagers have moved in or days.