In recent years, the advent of “cozy games” has taken over the market. Cozy games are exactly what they sound like — warm, welcoming, low-stress offerings that you can play while you unwind from a long day of work or on a chilly weekend. Some of the most famous examples include the Animal Crossing franchise and Stardew Valley. One of the more recent entries in this emerging genre is Disney Dreamlight Valley, a game that could easily be described as Animal Crossing meets Kingdom Hearts, or Animal Crossing for Disney Adults.
You, the player, find yourself in a magical dream world that seems strangely familiar. Upon entering the world, the great wizard Merlin greets you and says that the valley has been overtaken since The Forgetting happened. Now the player must use their magic to get rid of Night Thorns, use tools to gather resources, and bring back friends from across the Disney universe. Along the way, players will discover what exactly happened to the valley as they complete quests for Mickey, Goofy, Merlin and other classic characters.
In addition to overarching narratives, there are smaller stories to be told. Disney Dreamlight Valley is a never-ending well of quests, some of which are unlocked by leveling up your friendships with certain characters. One of the more interesting string of side quests involves helping Mickey, who misses Minnie very much and doesn’t know where she’s gone. As you begin to uncover the mystery, you will start to see a ghostly apparition of Minnie throughout the valley, which helps remind the player that there is a larger story going on even when they get caught up in collecting wood to build a garden for WALL-E.
Disney Dreamlight Valley is, for the most part, a life/farming simulator. Most of the game will have you running around completing quests for your fellow valley dwellers. These consist mostly of fetch quests where you run around and collect items, which often in turn need to be crafted into items or turned into a recipe. From time to time, characters like Scrooge McDuck may instead ask you to place some furniture around the town to beautify it, but these aren’t usually the norm. While these tasks can become tedious after a while, they’re pretty standard life simulator fare, and they are usually easy enough to accomplish.
One of the most important aspects of the game is building a relationship with the characters around you. You can hang out with your friends and get bonuses as you mine, fish or forage, and you can give them gifts. The game will provide you with a list of three preferred gifts per character each day that will net you bonus points. This helps keep the game fresh instead of just spamming the same thing at the same character while you max out your friendship levels. Once you reach certain levels, new quests unlock letting you learn more about the character and their preferences. You will also constantly be adding new friends, as you can invite them to the valley or find them in the world, meaning there will be no shortage of Disney characters to interact with.
While making friends with these characters can be a lot of fun, once you are a ways into the game the time syncs up with real time. Every character has a bedtime where they become inaccessible for the rest of the evening. For people who work a weird schedule and mostly play after work, this can mean you are unable to proceed with any quests involving that character until you can play at an earlier time. While this will mostly impact the character quests, there will be some story quests that require you to talk to specific characters or have a minimum level of friendship with enough neighbors to proceed. Life sim fans are used to having characters retreat to their homes, but games like Animal Crossing don’t rely on quests and Stardew Valley isn’t synced to real time. This element is not an absolute deal breaker, but it does make the game more frustrating.
Minigames and Tasks
Over the course of the game players will have to garden, mine, craft, cook, fish, and forage for items to progress in the game. Gardening, fishing, mining, and foraging are fairly simple, though players will have to wait certain minutes in real time in order to be able to harvest plants. Fishing is on the easier side of the spectrum of fishing minigames and requires just a little bit of timing to get down. Crafting is also relatively easy, though some items require quite a bit of materials to make.
Cooking is the most complicated of these tasks. While you can learn recipes, DDV has a mechanic where you can essentially guess recipes by combining certain ingredients to see what you get. Often when you are required to make a dish for a quest, it won’t give you the recipe, so if you haven’t already found it through another means, you will have to “trial and error” it. This wouldn’t be as big of a problem if the recipe system was more robust and allowed for some flexibility. For example, adding wheat to the pot by itself will make crackers, but if you add blueberries to the wheat will still give you crackers. Adding three fruits to the wheat will result in fruitcake. There is no fine line between one and three blueberries, and the trial and error can be really frustrating, especially in the early game when resources can be really limited.
Disney Dreamlight Valley uses an energy system similar to Stardew Valley. Running out of energy ceases further activity such as mining, fishing, or clearing of Night Thorns. Players will earn more energy as they level up their character. Energy can also be regained by eating food or returning home. In the early game, when there are only a few sections of the map to travel to, it’s extremely easy to just return to your home and resume working. Once you’ve opened more sections it takes a bit to get back home, but even then shortcuts can be purchased. In the end, the energy bar feels like more of a minor inconvenience than a real mechanic. Instead of an effective strategy to slow down too much growth too fast, the player just feels mildly annoyed.
Although Disney Dreamlight Valley won’t go down in history for its beautiful art style or realistic graphics, the game is still quite pleasing to look at. Character models are nice, even for previously 2D characters getting a new 3D rendition. The scenery isn’t much to look at, but each section of the valley has a distinct style to it which helps with a sense of progress in the game. One unusually pretty aspect is the Night Thorns, which are colored in dark purple and pink. When found separately this makes the thorns significantly less threatening, but in large clumps like those blocking off sections of the valley, the dark colors provide an imposing threat for the player.
The game also provides a character customization screen at the beginning that allows for a decent range of options. One notable element is that there is a small range of body sizes to choose from. While none of the options could be considered “plus size,” it is a step up from the traditionally slim-figured body types Disney tends to stick to when it comes to its female protagonists. DDV’s character creation might not live up to BioWare games or The Sims in terms of options, but there was clearly some thought put into it.
Music has always been an element where Disney films have shined, and Disney Dreamlight Valley brings that front and center. At all times there is some iconic song playing in the background, though DDV deals exclusively in softer instrumental versions of each piece. It’s not hard to imagine that this could be distracting to players, but the game’s sound mixing does a good job relegating the music to the background and not overpowering any sound effects or voice acting during important moments. If you’re a fan of Disney films, which you probably are anyways if you intend to play the game, then you’ll love the music as well.
DDV doesn’t go all in on the voice acting, instead preferring for exclamations here and there during dialogue and throughout the world. Many of the voice actors from the films came back to reprise their roles, such as Jodi Benson voicing Ariel and Patton Oswalt as Remy from Ratatouille. For those whose originators did not reprise their roles, like Abby Trott taking over for Kristen Bell as Anna, do an excellent job stepping into their character’s shoes. While voice acting isn’t a huge part of the game, what’s there does a great job immersing players into its world.
Similar to the games it has been compared to, Disney Dreamlight Valley doesn’t have any sort of real end, at least not in its current early release state. Characters are still being added, and there’s an unlimited potential of areas to be incorporated. If Disney plays its cards right, the game could be the never-ending cycle of fun that many people wanted Animal Crossing: New Horizons to be until their dreams were crushed with Nintendo’s announcement of a final update. Players looking for a simulation game full of new and exciting things to do may have found their holy grail. The seemingly endless mode is helpful for “replayability,” as deleting and starting over doesn’t do you much good. No matter what you do, the valley will always be the same layout, and there are a limited number of villagers to invite to live with you. There is little value to restarting the game, so it relies on its ability to keep going, and thankfully seems to be doing a good job.
Disney Dreamlight Valley is, at the end of the day, a fun and whimsical simulation game that brings together Kingdom Hearts and Animal Crossing. Fans of Disney and simulation games will likely adore it, while those seeking a more hardcore experience should look elsewhere. Additionally, the game limits a few features like finding treasure chests while exploring to when you have wifi, which can be frustrating if you like to play while commuting. Even though some of the quests can feel repetitive while constantly fetching items, crafting and cooking, creating friendships with such iconic characters can be fun and fulfilling. Since the game is still in early release, there seems to be lots of new content coming down the line as well which is great for those who like to stick with a game for a long time.
Final rating: 7.5/10.