Everyone knows Disney in some way, shape, or form. If you watch any films, play games, watch any TV show, or basically do anything involving pop culture, most likely this corporate monopoly will have a hand in it all. Or maybe you go to Disney World or Disneyland every year with family or friends to take respite. Marvel, Star Wars, and Pixar are all a part of Disney’s stronghold, as are the ABC and ESPN TV networks. Sometimes, this can be a good thing. In some ways, this is a bad thing, of course. But it would be wild to disregard Disney’s involvement in basically everything on earth.
Disney Dreamlight Valley makes you the main character in a deeply Disney-centric environment. And this is classic Disney—there are no Marvel or Star Wars characters or aesthetics as of yet in this Early Access version of the game. You get Mickey with his mates as some of the pivotal characters, but you also have more recent noteworthy Disney films with the inclusions of Moana and Frozen. And more is teased for the future with the furniture, motifs, and collectibles you find throughout the game.
It starts players off with a robust character customization process, which before the game was released had its own Disney Dreamlight Valley Avatar Design Tool you could download on your PC. It was a great way to get players ready for the game before release. Point blank, the customization is absolutely phenomenal, and the best I have ever seen in a game. I didn’t know much about this game before many folks on Twitter mentioned that it had turban options, including actual Sikh turban options with their designs. And moreover, this game has Hijabs available, different Black hairstyles, and allows players to wear anything they want. Male or female clothing specific options you see in many other games? Not here. Your character can wear anything you want. There are numerous skin color options. Just from this sole character creator application, this game purports itself as being for everyone, and with this only being in Early Access this is an incredible step forward for the games industry on the whole. Do expect them to have more options in the future through the customization.
I made my character after people told me there are turbans. I downloaded the character creator, created my character, and bawled. Games do not let me play as myself, so personally, this means the world to me. I get to be best dressed in game and real life by matching my turban color with the game’s different options for suits.
The game places players into the world of Disney after your character leaves their city life to go back home. You are transported to the Valley where you are met by Merlin from The Sword in the Stone. The game uses the mass amnesia trope, revealing that almost everyone in the Valley has left because of “The Forgetting,” forgetting their hopes, dreams, ideals, motivations, crafts, and their relationships with other Disney denizens. And there is a larger, darker narrative taking place with scattered notes throughout of what had happened or what led to this, but the game starts off with a simple premise of helping characters remember. It’s an easily digestible formula, and leaves you engaged to help aid these iconic characters.
The narrative itself has you playing as an adult, so if you do have kids playing the game, there are definitely darker themes and some writing that may not be suited for toddlers. You cannot even play as a kid in the game. Helping Mickey with his existential crises is not what I what would expect from a Disney game (outside of Kingdom hearts), but it is kind of amusing.
You start off by clearing the surroundings of night thorns that have overtaken the environment, and that had something to do with making the residents forget everything. Your first main mission is to gather the important items you will be using to quell The Forgetting: a watering can, shovel, fishing rod, and pickaxe all imbued with magical powers. After this? You can pretty much do what you want.
Progression Quests are divided into three types. Realm Quests are unlocked with the use of Dreamlight, which is earned by doing numerous tasks from cleaning up night thorns to harvesting items like spices or ingredients.)Realm Quests allow you to visit the realms of Disney characters such as Remy from Ratatouille, Moana, and Wall-E from, well, Wall-E. After completing these Realm Quests, you can have these characters join you in the Valley, where many of them were previously before The Forgetting. Though the game only has four realms available currently, you can stroll through the hall, and discover so many doors locked away for future releases and future realms due to this being a live-service game.
Story Quests will unlock more main content you can do, where you can restore the Valley back to its former glory little by little. You’ll help Scrooge McDuck (this game’s version of Tom Nook) reopen his department store, and get Goofy’s grocery stand up and running again. These Story Quests are focused on bringing back different orbs of power to the different biomes in the Valley. Restoring each orb of power helps quell The Forgetting at a larger rate than just clearing smaller night thorns. These orb quests will help diminish Forgetting for each biome.
The third type of Quests are Friendship Quests. Each character has a different level of relationship/friendship with you that can be increased to a max level of 10 by giving gifts, hanging out together to do activities such as fishing, and more. These benefits are not just for finding more details of each of these characters, but you can acquire currency in the way of Star Coins, furniture, or motifs. More importantly, when hanging out and deciding on a specific task someone can focus on, you will reap more rewards.
For example, Moana is an expert fisher, so I made that her task; when we hang out she can sometimes give me additional fish from the ones I catch. Many fish like Fugu or Tuna are rarer to catch than Bass or Cod. With Moana hanging out with me while I fish, she can sometimes give me extra Tuna or Fugu. Each character can be designated as one additional tasking resource, like fishing, gardening, harvesting wild crops, mining, and digging, to name a few.
You can coordinate which character to main the sort of role to reap extra Gems to sell, too. There is a lot of depth to this game in comparison to something such as Animal Crossing. Even with it only being in Early Access, there is already at least 100 to 200 hours of content. I’m still making my way through it all, but there is so much to do, and there is no rush to tackle it either. I can take it at my own pace with no rush, and sometimes I do find myself losing hours to this game in a positive fashion. It can really take over your life from planting crops, mining, fishing, and more. All of these activities do use energy, which can be replenished with eating different ingredients or eating meals, or going back to your house. And this brings me to one of the pivotal mechanics the game shines with in its excruciating detail, cooking.
One of the most interesting activities is cooking, and you will spend hours doing it. There are more than 150 different meals already that all take a plethora of ingredients to create and recipes to unlock. Many of these recipes need to be exact with ingredients. These recipes range from one star to five stars, with five star recipes requiring rarer ingredients like the Fugu or Tuna I had mentioned. You can unlock recipes and ingredients by completing different quests or with the help of Remy at his restaurant, giving you the ability to bake a wide variety of dishes from entrees to desserts.
It feels really heartwarming to craft a new recipe, and the sense of discovery when you unlock a new one is wonderful. If they continue adding more recipes or more ingredients throughout this game’s lifespan, I will definitely want to cook everything.
There is so much to do in this game, but it rarely ever deters you on how you want to do things yourself. Some quests do require other quests to complete in order to unlock them, but it’s usually all straight-forward and easy to understand. I did have a really atrocious experience early on; in an early quest I needed to wear Scrooge McDuck’s shirt to help him advertise his shop, but because I brought in my character from the creation tool, I could not do the quest. It was inaccessible to me, and would not let me change the shirt from the suit I was wearing that I had chosen from the Avatar Creation Tool. So due to me not being able to complete this Story Quest, I had to find other things to do. This Story Quest locked me out of some other quests, since I would need to complete this specific goal to unlock more Scrooge quests. I couldn’t even upgrade my home to increase storage, and had to find my own ways to circumvent this. Many parts of the game were inaccessible to me just because I had brought my character from the creation tool beforehand. Peers and other writers I knew playing the game did not create a character in the creation tool, so they were able to access all of these quests.
I had to figure out the crafting system on my own as a player because I could not complete the Scrooge Story Quest in any way. I was only recently able to finally add a crafting station to my home, and upgrade my house with its storage. Even though these problems were dire for me at the start, I contacted the developers, and they did end up fixing these specific issues for me in a quick fashion with hotfixes in less than a few weeks from initial contact. Weird issues like this are definitely prevalent, which isn’t that surprising for a game that is not really out yet, but the developers have been able to fix many of these problems for players such as myself pretty quickly.
Placing furniture or moving things around the Valley currently suffer from abysmal controls at the moment. Sometimes the entire game will randomly do this full zoom out of the Valley that is disorienting and jarring. Its presentation and user interface aren’t ideal yet, but it’s still finding its way.
I played this game on Nintendo Switch before switching over to PC entirely. If you do decide to get this game right now, do not get it for the Switch. Opening the inventory on Switch scares me because it can just downright crash the whole game, which happened to me a bunch of times. To give myself relief while doing the most basic task of opening the inventory, I’ve had to play on PC, which does not give me the anxiety that the game will crash and lose my progress. When the game does have more of its Switch issues fixed, I’m looking forward to using more of the Cloud Save system to easily play between different platforms. But if you do decide to get this game, which I highly recommend, do not get it on Switch right now. (A recent patch for the Switch version has seen improvement in that version of the game.—Ed.)
With no multiplayer options as of yet, it’s entirely a solo experience, which personally works better at the moment with there only being almost 20 characters to unlock or interact with. Each character is fleshed out enough from their quests or interactions, and that more than makes up for the game lacking a multiplayer mode.
Since it came out just a little over a month ago, some have referred to Disney Dreamlight Valley as Disney Animal Crossing. But it is not Disney Animal Crossing; even with all of its technical problems, it’s a deeper and, in some ways, better game. The cooking system makes me want to make these dishes in real life. Hearing Moana talk about how she cannot go sailing today because it is raining brings back very vivid memories from one of my favorite films. Hearing characters hum or play songs and music from their respective films in the background is wonderful. I love the atmosphere that is created from these tunes. This world is so finely tuned that fans of Disney will love it, and whether you’ve seen the latest films or not, there are enough characters from different eras of Disney for every player to enjoy. Seeing what Moana’s been up to after the ending of the film? I am thoroughly invested in hearing her stories of what’s happened since.
I had never watched Ratatouille before, but I love Remy now. The way this culinary rat talks about his passions of food, cuisine, and culture is genuinely inspiring, and I love getting to cook with him. It makes me want to actually watch his film. When it comes to movies I have seen, I hope they bring in recent favorites like Encanto or Turning Red eventually. I want to know how Meilin and Mirabel are doing after each of their film’s endings, and would love to see them interact. The characters all blend into the Valley, and despite any differences in art style, it all looks natural. There is no strange dissonance; they all seem to belong here. And once again, having turban options that aren’t locked behind egregious tasks or quests, or having to play the game for two full weeks like I did with Cozy Grove to be able to make my character look like me, is pivotal. It shows that folks like me do belong in this game, and in experiences like this as a whole. It shows how easy it is to implement Sikh representation in a game without it being something to unlock. It is just right there from the start. It is handled well, and the developers do care.
This game is more than just trying to cater to nostalgia. It is one of my favorite games of the year, and if you do have $30 to spend, I assuredly recommend Disney Dreamlight Valley.
Disney Dreamlight Valley was developed and published by Gameloftt. Our review is primarily based on the PC version, with some time spent on the Switch version, as well.
Veerender Singh Jubbal is a critic/journalist writing on Sikhism, race, and entertainment. Please follow on Veeren_Jubbal.