In March of 2020, Animal Crossing: New Horizons was the biggest game in the world because it came at a time when gamers just needed a place to exist when they couldn’t do so in the outside world. Two years later, Disney Dreamlight Valley aims to capture that same magic, but instead of animal-like villagers joining your island, it’s populated with some of the most beloved and iconic Disney characters of all time. And although Disney Dreamlight Valley’s life-simulation aspect isn’t quite up there with the likes of Animal Crossing and Stardew Valley based on my playtime thus far, its magic does have a hold of me, and it’s proven that it is indeed fun to do the impossible.
Disney Dreamlight Valley Preview Screenshots
When I first booted up Disney Dreamlight Valley, I never expected to be reminded so much of Kingdom Hearts (more on that later) – yet here we are. Starting with the story, your ambiguous character is dropped onto a mysterious island with very little clue as to what is going on. You’re instantly met with Merlin, of Sword in the Stone fame, but unfortunately even he isn’t much help. See, everyone in the Disney kingdom is infected with something called “The Forgetting” which essentially means they’ve, well, forgotten everything. While some may be disappointed that these characters may not be privy to the backstory we’ve all grown up with, I do feel it’s the best way to include familiar characters while also having them be enough of a blank slate for the player to build a bond with all their own.
That’s about as far as the story’s gone with the small amount of progress I’ve made for this preview, but it’s enough to hook me. Everyone has lost their memory, and it’s your job to help them get it back while building them a new home – got it. I honestly don’t really play these types of games for the story anyways, and this is where Disney Dreamlight Valley thrives. Just like in Animal Crossing, I wanted to be dropped onto a messy island that needs my care with semi-vanilla characters to build a relationship with, and that’s exactly what I got.
When you’re finally allowed to start exploring, the first thing you’ll notice is that your island is an absolute mess, and that’s exactly how I like it. Learning the locations and landmarks of your new virtual home is key to becoming attached to it, and having to spend the first few hours cleaning it up taught me everything I needed to know about this place. In that time, I tidied up some Night Thorns (the thing that’s made everyone forget everything), helped Goofy fix up his seed stand, and even built a shop for Scrooge McDuck. I also got to fish, mine, dig, cook, craft, and plant crops. It’s all here, just with that magical Disney spin.
The main attraction to Disney Dreamlight Valley over something like Animal Crossing (sorry I keep comparing it to Animal Crossing, but it really is similar!) is its questing system. Dreamlight Valley is always giving you something to do, and its story and daily quests are a large part of that. Every character has a seemingly endless supply of missions for you to undertake, and while the early ones are mostly geared towards teaching you how to play, there is a Disney charm to them that eventually becomes essential to building relationships with the characters, which not only provides story beats, but also helps raise relationships with them.
Every character you meet has a friendship level with their own set of rewards. And while you could eventually make it a personal goal to max them all out, I found it was best to see who offered what, so I could focus specifically on attaining those rewards. When you first drop on the island, there are only a handful of villagers to complete missions for and build bonds with. Merlin is your tour guide, teaching you everything you need to know while driving the story forward, Goofy is a vendor, always eager to buy and sell things you might collect, and Scrooge McDuck acts as this game’s Tom Nook, always lightheartedly pestering you for coins to upgrade the various village landmarks, including your home.
Remember when I mentioned that Dreamlight Valley gives me Kingdom Hearts vibes? Well that comparison is not just because there are Disney characters in a video game. I’m so sorry to have to do this again but….just like Animal Crossing, you’re not just building an island for yourself, you’re building it for other villagers to come and stay. To make this happen, you’ll need to visit other worlds, each complete with their own setting and iconic Disney friends.
For this preview I was only allowed to visit Moana’s world, and unlike Kingdom Hearts’ truncated retelling of an iconic story with a Heartless twist, these are just small quest lines with the sole objective of getting the classic character to come live on your island. After sailing around with Moana to find a lantern for her boat, she agreed to live in my world, and even brought over a list of Hawaiian themed items for me to craft and build. Each world visit is nowhere near as extensive as you would find in Kingdom Hearts, but gives you enough of a story reason why you’re living on an valley filled with random Disney toons.
At first, I wasn’t sure where the meat of the gameplay for Disney Dreamlight Valley would be coming from. Cleaning up my island didn’t take THAT long, and I was burning through quests at a pretty rapid place, but once Moana joined and I realized she had her own set of quests and needs, it dawned on me. Disney has nearly unlimited amounts of properties. And since Dreamlight Valley is a live-service game, with enough player support, I can’t even imagine what your world can look like in a year’s time. I was only able to visit a few of the starting biomes, but your valley seems pretty big, and every time you log in, your villagers will literally be begging for your attention.
The promise to be able to build and live in your very own Disneyland (of sorts) is bold, but seems very achievable in Dreamlight Valley. This isn’t a farming simulator, however. If you’re aiming to be a hardcore manager of crops and watering systems and looking to raise as much profit as possible, this isn’t the game for that. Crops grow in minutes, your watering can never runs dry, and chugging apples and cookies can re-energize your character in seconds. No, winning in this game means forming bonds with your villagers, building a house and town to your exact liking, and dressing up in a seemingly unlimited amount of outfits for your characters. With countless Disney properties at Gameloft’s disposal, Disney Dreamlight Valley has the potential to be fun for as long as your imagination holds up, and I can’t wait to play more.
Mark Medina is a Senior Editorial Producer for IGN. You can find him on IGN’s weekly PlayStation podcast, Beyond, or on Twitter @Mark_Medina.