I learned something very ridiculous about what Nintendo did with the save game system for Animal Crossing: New Leaf (ACNL) on Nintendo 3DS, so I decided to share my journey in a slightly ridiculous way.

Dramatis personae

Yours truly
Nintendo 3DS XL (3DS)
A handheld game console that still has joy to give
Memory Card 1 (MC1)
An SD card that has reached the end of its life
Memory Card 2 (MC2)
An SD card borrowed from a digital camera
Memory Card 3 (MC3)
An SD card newly purchased
Save Data 1 (SD1)
An ACNL save file, last updated in 2021
Save Data 2 (SD2)
An ACNL save file that used to be SD1, last updated April 15, 2022
Personal Computer (PC)
For transferring and copying data between memory cards

It all started when I tried to download a game to the 3DS from the Nintendo eShop. I had chosen to “Download Later” and set the 3DS aside, closed.

Upon returning to it, I found the main screen to be completely empty – all the game icons that used to be there were gone! I opened Data Management in Settings and received an error that said MC1 was corrupted. Well that’s weird, I thought, I’m always careful with shutting it down and such.

I inserted MC1 into PC, copied all the files, and attempted to format the card. It did not work. Formatting “succeeded” but all the files were still there – not something you should see after you format a storage device. After researching the issue I learned that SD cards can go into permanent read-only mode.

The possibility that I lost my ACNL town without closure genuinely saddened me.

But then, some hope!

I gathered myself and decided to see if I could copy the data to another card. So I grabbed MC2, formatted it, downloaded and installed ACNL on it, and used PC to copy SD1 to it. I launched ACNL and began playing it to verify that everything worked correctly – which it did. I exited the game using the “Save and quit” option, thus creating SD2.

Having verified that everything works I went out and picked up MC3. When I got home I copied everything that was on MC1 to it, including SD1. This is where I’m really glad that I have a habit of double-checking because when I launched ACNL it told me that the current save is not the last save and then it asked me if I wanted to delete it and start over.

This is how I found out that Nintendo keeps a record in system memory (not on a memory card) of when the most recent save was – so according to what was in system memory the game expected to see SD2 but I had SD1. I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I think that’s really funny. (Because it’s just so ridiculous and such a Nintendo thing to do.)

Fortunately I didn’t format MC2 so I just copied SD2 from it to MC3 and was able to continue playing ACNL.

The End.

Despite not having meaningfully played it in years – especially since the release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons (ACNH) for the Switch – I was not ready to say goodbye just yet, at least not so unceremoniously. When I do say goodbye to my ACNL town, I want it to be on my terms.

Nintendo implemented this system as a way to prevent cheating in ACNL – even though that game is mainly a single-player game and its multiplayer is limited to visiting each other’s towns and playing some mini-games together. Without this system I could go to a friend’s town, sell all my stuff, leave the money with them, return to my town, and restore the save data from a backup – thus restoring the items I had sold, which would enable me to sell them again and get even more money in the game. Again, it’s a lot of effort for something that really only affects MY experience, so I’m not sure why Nintendo put such strict save game system in place. Just Nintendo being Nintendo, I guess.