Disney’s been on a naughty streak lately. Not long ago, there was the Western port of the Twisted Wonderland game, in which characters based on classic villains turn into pretty anime boys who fight each other. More recently, at the House of Mouse’s big D23 fan event, Disney teased that it was starting to think about a villain-themed addition to its theme park. And now, fans of the big Disney life sim are all welcoming Scar into their neighborhoods. Yes, the brooding lion who killed his brother in The Lion King will make a perfect addition next to Remy, don’t you think?
Disney Dreamlight Valley came out of the gate with a variety of lovely options that allow players to make the Mickey Mouse cottagecore town of their dreams. You can have a nice, wistful time planting a garden with Wall-E and ponder the vast mysteries of the ocean while you fish with Moana. You can also play with fire. Dreamlight Valley includes not only beloved heroes, but also a handful of villains from iconic Disney movies, like Ursula and Mother Gothel.
Life sims have always included, shall we say, prickly options. Famously, Shane in Stardew Valley can be rude and cold, but if you’re persistent, you learn that he suffers from depression. In many ways, complicated characters are treated by life sim players, whether wittingly or not, as a challenge to conquer or a puzzle to unlock. It’s no accident that fans voted for Shane to become a marriage option.
Dreamlight Valley’s villains are not there for you to indulge in a savior complex. They aren’t there to teach you something new about yourself, or to help you feel good about your place in the world. Sure, like any other character, Dreamlight villains will give you items as you level them up. But spiritually, the game’s villains are agents of chaos, and it’s up to you to choose whether or not you wade into the darkness with them. You will to some extent, of course, because not engaging at all means you miss out on story content. But you’re definitely not trying to find the right dialogue option with the hopes you’ll kiss the bad boy at the end. Most likely, you won’t even feel sure you should be doing this at all.
According to Disney Dreamlight producer Manea Castet, the developers at Gameloft knew they wanted to have baddies in the game from the onset.
“Let’s face it, a lot of people love the villain,” Castet told Kotaku in a call that transpired prior to the game’s addition of Scar. “Some of them [love] them more than the heroes or the side characters.”
Ursula from The Little Mermaid was a “super” interesting character to work with because she was a villain, Castet said, because she “definitely has her own agenda.” When you initially find Ursula, she’s locked away in a cave. You’re not really sure what it means to set her free, especially when she doesn’t want to tell you why she was seeking something called the Orb of Power (emphasis mine). To help you find the Orb, she proposes making a deal with you. And if you know anything about Ursula, you know that making a deal with her is like making a deal with the devil.
Part of what makes Ursula so great is that Gameloft designed her to surprise the player. When she’s freed from the cave, you don’t quite know what happens to her. She’s just, gone. Then, you start spotting her all around the island. Sometimes Ursula pops up in places you can’t even reach yet. What the hell?
Eventually you do catch her, and not only is the dialogue delectably mischievous, so are her missions. The first thing she makes you do is to “acquire” papers from the various houses around the island, something you don’t have to ask explicit permission to do first. And since we know that Ursula’s ill-fated deals are always written down...
There’s a limit to how far any Disney property will go, naturally. “She doesn’t want to be bad for the valley,” Castet said. “But she has her own way to do stuff.”
All the villains are like this, to some extent. When you meet Mother Gothel, she reveals that she was messing around with dark magic that almost destroyed the dark valley. Gothel reminisces on this near-apocalypse with a laugh and hair flip that hangs in the air. Scar? Okay, you technically have to teach him a little bit of a lesson, but to be fair, he tries to get out of it every single step of the way. I’d argue this was a slightly necessary story conceit, because he literally killed someone who was supposed to be close to him. You gotta believe he’d be capable of living amongst the plebs without things getting out of hand. And he’s still very much a dick afterward.
But through it all, the characters are there to give you a less wholesome way to experience Dreamlight Valley. That’s on top of giving you pointedly rude dialogue options, so you can be mean to Elsa if you want to.
“And it’s just a way for you to be a bit like a villain,” Castet said. “Like, it’s your Disney dream world. So if you want to be acting like that, [not] prince or princess, but the villain, you should be able to. And the game supports that. And there is more stuff regarding that also coming really soon. So yeah, it’s important for us to have every side of Disney.”