It’s almost surprising that it took this long for a game like Disney’s Dreamlight Valley to finally be made. The new game, out now in Early Access, combines the life-sim gameplay of Animal Crossing and Stardew Valley except with a deadly combination of famous Disney characters, films, and worlds. The end result is something that will likely consume some folks entirely. And, as someone who didn’t care much for Animal Crossing, the more narrative-focused world of Dreamlight Valley has me hooked in a way Nintendo’s popular life-sim never did.
Developed by Gameloft, Disney’s Dreamlight Valley is a third-person life-sim that follows a similar playbook to other recent Disney-themed video games, like Twisted Wonderland or Kingdom Hearts, having all of Disney’s iconic and beloved characters co-exist with each other in one giant, IP wonderland. But also like those other games, in Dreamlight Valley, something terrible has infected the world and caused all sorts of problems that only you can solve. In this case, it’s something called “The Forgetting” which manifests as dark tendrils and thorny vines all around the valley. Clearing this stuff up helps characters like Mickey and Scrooge McDuck remember who they are, where they are and all the friends who have gone missing since the creepy vines showed up and took over.
Right out of the gate, the biggest difference between this and Animal Crossing is how structured and narrative-focused Disney’s game is compared to Nintendo’s village sim. Quests have multiple steps and there are even basic dialogue options as you talk to characters between these steps. Characters appear to respond differently depending on what you say, meaning you can lose out on dialogue options, too. There’s nothing earth-shattering here, of course, but it’s a far cry from Nintendo’s ultra-basic writing. Eventually, you unlock access to side quests, too. All of this is easily organized in your quest log with big quality of life features and helped keep me engaged. I always feel like I had something to do every time I logged in.
Like Stardew Valley, you arrive in Dreamlight Valley after your main character grows tired of the city. They decide to return to a quiet valley they once played in when they were younger and soon discover Merlin who explains that everything is screwed up, people are missing and magic is gone. The first few hours of Dreamlight Valley are spent helping Merlin clean up the first area of the game while learning the controls and basic systems. You also quickly get tools that let you dig holes, water plants, mine rocks and minerals, and a fishing rod that lets you catch sea critters.
The main gameplay loop of Dreamlight Valley, once you get out of the tutorial and the opening section of the game, is all about completing quests, tasks and helping the various Disney characters you meet.
For example, unlocking Remy involves learning his classic Ratatouille recipe for an unnamed critic. Once you unlock your new rodent friend and bring him back to your village, you can help him open his restaurant. This involves a few different quests that have you go around the valley collecting ingredients, buying furniture for the new place, and more. Eventually, once you help him successfully open his restaurant you can visit to buy new foodstuffs, get help from Remy with cooking meals and even prepare orders for other Disney characters who stop by to grab a bite to eat. This is just one questline, but it illustrates how Dreamlight Valley uses its characters to craft evolving questlines that pull from Disney history.
While I wouldn’t consider myself a true “Adult Disney Fan,” I have to admit that getting to hang out and develop friendships with famous Disney characters like Remy from Ratatouille is nice. While it helps that I already have shared history with the characters, the writing takes advantage of that familiarity to flesh out the characters in interesting ways, rather than providing one-note figures who can be reduced down to catchphrases, like in Animal Crossing.
All these characters can be given gifts, talked to daily, and have their own quests that you unlock as you spend more time with them. You can even take them with you as you go around and do daily tasks, and they’ll not only help you, but you’ll become better friends, too. It’s another way Dreamlight Valley provides structure and gives you something to do.
Like Animal Crossing, customization is a big part of Dreamlight Valley. And is not just limited to your character or your home, but the entire valley outside can be tweaked and modified using a fairly powerful set of tools that let you easily move bushes, lamposts, and more without having to run around the island. You also can collect and grow resources that can be used to cook meals or make new furniture right from the get-go, something that New Horizons had to update with later on in its lifespan.
Thankfully, not everything in the game is Disney-themed. In fact, you can easily build a sleek and modern home or dress up your character in stylish clothing, none of which is covered in Mickey Mouse ears or Frozen characters. But if you want to totally deck out your home and character in Disney content, don’t worry, there’s plenty of that too. Plus, not only do the items span from so many different movies and properties, they’re also well-designed, meaning that you can enjoy them even if you’re not the world’s biggest Beauty and the Beast fan or whatever.
I’m only about 11 hours or so into Dreamlight Valley and I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. Every few hours I keep finding new characters or Disney locations to explore while the narrative around the mysterious “Forgetting” continues to unfold, keeping me hooked and interested in what happens next.
It might be easy to write off Dreamlight Valley as just an Animal Crossing knock-off, but that’s not the case. Instead, this new Disney game feels deeper and more interesting to explore. It does, however, capture the key aspect that made Animal Crossing so successful in the first place: the gnawing sense that there’s just one more thing you can quickly accomplish, which quickly becomes two things, and suddenly you’ve lost track of time outright. It helps that, like Animal Crossing, characters have their own routines and there’s always something different happening depending on when or where you’re looking.
The real question I have now is: How will Dreamlight Valley evolve and grow moving forward? Considering the massive library of content Disney owns, this could end up being a very big game in the future and one which will consume Disney fans completely no matter what platform they play on.
Disney’s Dreamlight Valley is out now on PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PS4, PS5, and Nintendo Switch. Currently, the only way to play the game is to buy a founder’s pack or to be a Game Pass subscriber.