Make way for Disney Dreamlight Valley, a new Disney-inspired life-sim that feels as if Disney adults got their hands on the Animal Crossing source code. In combination with yesterday’s formal announcement, I had the opportunity to participate in a hands-off demo to see a bit of the vision the developers at Gameloft have for the game. It’ll be difficult to resist the allure of talking about a brand new Disney game entirely in Disney song lyrics, but I’ll do my best to rein in that impulse.
In addition to being a life-sim game, Disney Dreamlight Valley is a Disney adult’s ultimate isekai fantasy. In it, your character is pulled into a world fractured by an event called The Forgetting. It’s up to you to team up with your favorite Disney characters, repair the world with your special powers, and create a place where everyone can once again live in comfort and harmony.
At first glance, DDV reminded me of Kingdom Hearts. It’s hard not to draw the comparison since, in the first moments of the demo, game manager Manea Castet showed me a dark world overrun with nasty-looking vines that only the main character could dispel with her magic. But rather than a Kingdom Hearts analogy, Castet said DDV took its inspiration from the adventure games of yore like Monkey Island or Day of the Tentacle. Instead of fighting to complete your goals, you’ll be charged with non-combat tasks like fishing or crafting.
There’s also a strong social element to the game. Each Disney character you encounter has their own story that you can only progress if you improve your friendship with them. In the demo, Castet’s character befriended Goofy by fishing with him. The more you fish with Goofy, the more your friendship increases, the more rewards you earn and story you unlock.
There are lots of characters to befriend in DDV, each with their own perks you can unlock as you progress their self-contained stories. Scrooge McDuck, for example, runs the local general store where you can purchase cosmetics for your home. Remy runs the restaurant where you can experiment and learn new cooking recipes that you can then feed your friends.
But in order to earn these perks, you first must earn the friendship of the characters. Castet explained that during the events of The Forgetting, the Disney characters fled the shared world, retreating to the relative safety of their original homeworlds. Ariel returned to Under The Sea, Simba to Pride Rock, and so forth. To get them back, you must travel to their world and solve puzzles to eventually bring them home. In the demo, Castet traveled to a garbage-strewn ruined world to find a frightened and cautious Wall-E. Castet said that a majority of the characters you meet will have puzzles associated with them that you must solve in order to gain their trust to bring them home. He also said that, unlike Kingdom Hearts, when you visit these worlds, you won’t be experiencing a rehash of Disney movies but experiencing totally new stories created in collaboration with Disney.
In Disney Dreamlight Valley, if you’re not adventuring with Wall-E or fishing with Goofy, you’ll have a lot of other activities to do. In the demo, your guide Merlin gives you a run-down home that you can fix up, expand with additions, and decorate to your heart’s content.
You explore the world to find tools like a pickaxe or shovel that you use to gather materials for your crafting. It’s all very Minecraft-like, and whatever you can’t make, you can buy. It seems like that’s the endgame vision for Dreamlight Valley. Once all the Disney characters are rescued and the world is restored to its former glory, your job becomes interior and exterior decorator. Castet showed me the world in its endgame state, and it was filled with oodles of stuff he placed just so to create the Disneyland of his dreams.
Decoration isn’t limited to the world, either. Your character is also a blank canvas on which to show your style. There are lots of clothes and cosmetics you can buy, hairstyles to wear, and even a system by which you can design your own clothes.
I’ll admit to being skeptical of the idea of Dreamlight Valley. Disney is a massive, global entertainment monopoly with infinite money and the worst political praxis. I feel like I’d be better off with my time exploring something wholly new and not made with the blessing of a company that seemingly exists to buy up every little bit of pop culture in order to sell it back to consumers ad nauseam ad infinitum. But there’s a reason games like Animal Crossing and The Sims are as popular as they are, and therefore, Disney Dreamlight Valley has a seductive charm that even I, the semi-Disney adult that I am, can see.
Disney Dreamlight Valley enters early access this summer on PlayStation, Xbox Game Pass, and PC, with a free-to-play release coming in 2023.