Deconstructing 2:00am from Animal Crossing by Kazumi Totaka & Asuka Ota

I know what you want. You want a deep harmonic analysis from a song in a niche video game that only plays at 2:00am in real time. Thanks to Marshall Biever for helping me learn 7ths.

Animal Crossing is a video game series where you hang out with your animal villager friends, catch bugs and fish, collect things, decorate your house, and watch the changes that happen in your little town. There’s no traditional scoring system, no way to win or lose, and I love it.

The games are all set to the internal clock of the system, so when its Winter in your country, its Winter in the game. Holidays and weather are also synced with the real world clock, requiring a dynamic soundtrack that changes as the day goes on. Each hour has a specific song loop, and they even have minor variations for rain and snow.

The 2:00am song, is my favorite. Originally appearing in Animal Crossing: Wild World (2005) on the Nintendo DS, I prefer the Animal Crossing: City Folk (2008) Wii version. And I prefer City Folk as a game. Wild World runs at like 15 frames per second. It’s like playing a Power Point.

The essence of each hour is attempted to be captured on their respective tracks. And I think 2:00am does it best. There’s probably a couple of types of 2:00am feels. This track exemplified my younger teenage self’s 2:00am experiences. Small, contemplative, quiet.

I think the instrumentation on the original track is important to provide a little more “bopping” and not get so mono-textured as to have the player become sleepy or bored. Hence the accordion and light percussion. But I also really like piano-only covers of the piece.

I got the sheet music from http://www.ninsheetmusic.org. And I’m also trying out flat.io as an online music notation software so I can embed lines here in medium. There was some trouble importing the midi, so the sheet music doesn’t look great, there are notes that should be in the bass clef being present in the treble, but it sounds correct so just using it to embed phrases so you can hear works well.

The song’s in a lilting 3/4 waltz time with the first passage paddling between the Imaj⁷ and bviiMaj⁷, a non-diatonic (Not in the A major key) chord. All the notes are half steps away from the other chord, making the transitions nice and easy. Feels like you could stay here forever.

But you gotta go somewhere. Its important to note that the first bar of the melody is contained within the opening bar, the second melody bar does the same but inverted, and the next two bars sort of split the difference. This creates a feeling of comfort, already being a familiar phrase for the listener.

The chords are also dropped in the left hand, for just the bottom and top notes, letting the listener mentally fill in the gaps. You probably wouldn’t even notice.

Measure 5, Section A

That line ends on the B, the third of the bviiMaj⁷, and leads to an upward sweeping transitioning line. That line starts with a F#⁷sus chord, with no third in the left hand (but it’s in the melody), giving that lofty feeling and allowing the right hand melody to carry the tune. The next bar is even more sparse, with the main point being to create a suspension on the high G, A and then resolve down to the Esus4 with another resolution down to Em.

Section B starts on measure 13, with a V⁷, the 3rd and the 5th missing from the left hand but outlined in the right. Remember this rhythm, because it’ll be coming back. This melody lands on the III⁷, then the motif is repeated a whole step down, except this time with a iii⁷, nice little flippy from major to minor.

Measure 17, Section B

Measure 17 mirrors the transition phrase on measure 9, just 2 steps down, so that we resolve back to the tonic I on measure 20 (not without some jazzy discordance on the way though). And since we’ve already met this melody shape, we’re already friends with it.

Section C, Look at that, it even looks pretty
Measure 21, Section C

Section C starts on measure 21, and since we ended on the I and not the Imaj⁷, we’re a little more inclined to hang out here again, so we just throw on that 7th, because tomorrow we will leave, and we see that quarter note rhythm again.

We do Imaj⁷, II⁷, Vmaj⁷, then a III⁷sus on our C#⁷/B. That last chord is a very fancy way to set us up to repeat the phrase, again a half step down. Except this time we end on a BIIIIIIIG Fat Stack™ Bm⁷#5/A which helps us turn around again into the final phrase.

Measure 30, Section D

Here we double down on that simple quarter note rhythm, pull the same walking down melody, then modulate it down a whole step. We’ve seen these motifs before and they’re coming back with a vengeance. At the end of the phrase we do a Bm⁷ (the ii⁷), then hold the A and the D, and move the lower B to the E, giving us a nice E¹¹sus4 to move back the the Imaj⁷ and repeat the song all over again.

If I’ve made any music theory mistakes please let me know, I’d love to learn how to improve.

2:00am is probably my favorite song from the Animal Crossing soundtrack. It does it’s job perfectly. I would leave it on even after I had nothing to do in the game. I would just sit and listen and watch and be in this beautiful world. Now I can that outside of video games, but I think Animal Crossing and this song helped me learn how to do that. Thanks team.

The whole song in flat.io, sorry about the weird formatting

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Taylor Nodell

Developer. Musician. Naturalist. Traveler. In any order. @tayloredtotaylor