Shortly after the opening to Disney Dreamlight Valley, I find myself standing inside Mickey Mouse’s house. I take a moment to appreciate all of the little details, such as a clothing stand in the corner that features the mouse’s outfit from Fantasia, couches styled after Mickey’s iconic look, and a wardrobe stuffed full of several pairs of his signature white gloves – all of the décor fits the character perfectly. Mickey joyfully wanders around the house as I do and, feeling like a big kid who’s just encountered him at a Disneyland theme park, I have to finally introduce myself. True to his character, the mouse expresses his joy at seeing me there in a suitably “Oh, Boy!” fashion, and I’m then presented with three responses to choose from. Naturally, I tell him I’m a big fan, and it’s in that moment that I realize I haven’t stopped smiling from the second I landed in this magical valley.
Disney Dreamlight Valley very much feels like a cross between Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing. Villagers have their own houses, just like Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and features such as crafting, cooking, growing crops, fishing, and more, remind me of ConcernedApe’s farming sim. The big difference, though, is that I’m playing as a Disney-fied version of myself who’s trying to get to the root of a strange mystery by helping and befriending characters like Goofy, Mickey, and Scrooge McDuck. While I only have the chance to try out some of the quests and activities that will be available during the early access launch on September 6, I can see myself falling under Disney Dreamlight Valley’s spell.
A dream is a wish your heart makes
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If you’ve ever wished you could become a Disney or Pixar character, Disney Dreamlight Valley is here to try and make that wish come true. Before I get stuck into the demo, I spend an inordinate amount of time with the game’s character creator. Initially, you select from any one of the pre-set characters who you can then completely customize to your liking. Choosing from a selection, you can change up every facial feature and add makeup with customizable colors and styles. There’s also a great selection of hairstyles with two color options to add highlights, along with a range of skin tones and different body shapes to choose from. Happily, if you want to change up how you look or tweak a particular aspect, you’re free to customize your character at any time when you’re in the valley by accessing your clothing inventory.
Not unlike Stardew Valley, Disney Dreamlight begins with you leaving the city life behind. Only instead of getting away from your office job to move into your grandfather’s farm, you return to a place where you spent your childhood to get a reprieve from life’s responsibilities. After falling asleep, I’m transported to Dreamlight Valley where Merlin from The Sword in the Stone is waiting to greet me. The wizard explains that I’m the one who’s going to save Dreamlight Valley, a place that was once full of happy villagers thanks to the magic of the Ruler who’s mysteriously gone missing. In the Ruler’s absence, everyone has been affected by “The Forgetting”, which has taken the villagers’ memories away. Now, strange, spiky Night Thorns can be found all over the landscape, blocking paths, trapping villagers, and even blocking the entrance to my very own abode in the valley.
Fortunately, I have the power to harness Dreamlight magic, which allows me to get rid of the thorns and get into my new home. Just like Animal Crossing: New Horizons, your house is pretty basic to start off with, but it isn’t long before you’re able to start imprinting your personality on the space. I always relish having lots of customization options in games like these, so that I can live out my adventure in a style that suits me, and Disney Dreamlight Valley certainly doesn’t disappoint in this regard. With a plethora of Disney and Pixar themed furniture and clothing items to craft and buy for your character and home, it’s guaranteed to make any fan’s heart soar.
Once I’m done checking out my home, my first quest sees me set out to find Royal Tools dotted around the plaza and the nearby meadow, which will give me all the means to gather resources. Just as your farm in Stardew Valley is covered in weeds and stones when you start out, the plaza area outside of my home is covered with thorns which must be cleared. Each time you use a tool or your magic, your energy meter will deplete, and if it’s completely drained, you’ll become exhausted. In order to get more energy, you either need to pop back home which immediately replenishes the bar, or eat a snack – be it fruit you’ve picked, vegetables you’ve grown, or, eventually, food you’ve cooked. It’s a breeze to get the hang of, and since there’s never any shortage of fruit to snack on around the plaza, running out of energy rarely hinders me as I mine stone with my pickaxe, clear away thorns, or plant and grow crops.
Friendship, love, and care
Where Dreamlight Valley shines, though, is in the way it encourages you to befriend and get to know its loveable characters. In the Valley, the level of Dreamlight magic you have can grow stronger by performing acts of friendship, love, and care. While you can clear away smaller thorns from the outset, you need a certain amount of magic to get rid of bigger thorns that block off new areas. Helping out villagers by completing their quests will help your magic grow more powerful, and also strengthen your bond with them. You also have a suite of additional objectives known as Dreamlight Duties that work in a similar way to the Nook Miles reward program in Animal Crossing: New Horizons – with everyday goals such as collecting a certain amount of fruit, or catching fish that will earn you more magic.
While you’ll naturally want to get to know and spend time with the cast of classic Disney and Pixar characters who are faithfully brought to life, growing your magic is an additional motivator. In the opening areas I can explore, there are three villagers to meet along with Merlin, and each has their own series of quests for you to complete. My first encounter sees me meet Scrooge McDuck, who’s trying to restore his business in the valley. The thrifty, money-loving duck aptly runs the local clothing and furniture store, which has evidently been affected by the Forgetting and the Night Thorns. By taking on a series of quests that lead to the grand re-opening of the store, I quickly start to feel like my presence and efforts in the valley are making a change.
As well as helping out the villagers, you can also foster friendships by making conversation, giving gifts, or by inviting them to hang out with you. Whether it’s because of a quest you’re doing, or you just want some company as you explore, having the option to have a villager tag along with you is a welcome feature. Goofy, for example, is the character who teaches me how to fish after helping me fix my rod, which is one of the Royal Tools you find in the valley. I always like to invite the lovable cartoon dog to join me as I play out the fishing minigame, which has you align rings in time to reel in a catch. Oh, and as an added bonus, you can take selfies with characters in the valley, which I admittedly spend far too long doing. As you spend more time with the villagers, your friendship level will increase and reward you with a selection of new items and Dreamlight magic.
The first area I unlock with my magic is the big, magical Dream Castle where you can unlock and visit nearby realms. I waste no time clearing away the thorns on the portal door that’s available to me during the preview, which whisks me away to “an ocean with a demigod”. The same excitement I felt when I first encountered Mickey or Goofy returns as I arrive to see Moana and Maui for the first time. Not unlike the characters back in the Valley, Moana is in need of my help, and I begin to complete a few quests.
Almost everything about Disney Dreamlight Valley put a smile on my face. While it’s difficult to get a sense of the game’s longevity from this early preview, I can’t wait to spend more time with this world in early access this September, and when Disney Dreamlight Valley launches officially in 2023. Whether you’re coming in because you love Disney and Pixar, or because you’re looking for an alternate life sim after sinking hundreds of hours into Animal Crossing and Stardew Valley, early signs point to Disney Dreamlight Valley as being a welcomed alternative.
Looking ahead to more exciting releases on the horizon? Stay up to date with our roundup of new games for 2022 and beyond.