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When working to bring K.K. Slider to my island/town, Isabelle evaluates the island's current image out of five stars and gives specific recommendations on how to improve (get more residents, add some fencing). Are those recs the only factors affecting the rating? If she doesn't mention my weeds (in the inaccessible areas) or fruit on the ground (all over), am I safe to assume that doesn't affect the rating?

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Isabelle's suggestions appear to be quite prescriptive.

The main suggestion, to add more residents, appears to just happen with the passage of time. (fwiw, I think the two-star rating is connected to reaching 10 residents.)

As for decorating (the harder part), when I generally followed her suggestions, eventually the rating went up. Some of her main suggestions include:

  • Adding fencing (Isabelle loves fences)—this included purchasing the DIY plans for fencing from the ATM machine
  • Building and buying fancy things to leave outside (I'd wager that this is just based on bells/miles invested, not on beauteous layout)
  • Not having too many trees (she warned me for having forests)
  • and, at last, picking up clutter on the ground (per the question, the fruit/wood left on the floor)

too many items lying around

Additionally, for what it's worth, you're not aiming for five stars. Upon reaching three stars, Isabelle read the piece of qualitative feedback that triggers the endgame. There may be more factors involved in actually reaching five stars.

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