Disney Dreamlight Valley: First Hands-On Preview

In March of 2020, Animal Crossing: New Horizons was the biggest game in the world because it came at a time when players only needed a place to be when they couldn’t do it in the outside world. Two years later, Disney Dreamlight Valley aims to capture the same magic, but instead of having animal-like villagers join your island, it’s filled with some of the most lovable and iconic Disney characters of all time. And while the life-simulation aspect of Disney Dreamlight Valley isn’t quite there with the likes of Animal Crossing and Stardew Valley based on my playtime so far, its magic on me has proven to be really fun to do the impossible.

Disney Dreamlight Valley preview footage

When I first played Disney Dreamlight Valley, I never expected to remember so much from Kingdom Hearts (more on that later) — but here we go. Starting with the story, your mysterious character is dropped on a mysterious island with little clue as to what is happening. I immediately met up with Merlin, of Sword in the Stone fame, but unfortunately even he doesn’t help much. See, everyone in the Disney Kingdom has something called “forgetfulness” which basically means they’ve forgotten everything. While some may be disappointed that these characters may not be familiar with the backstory we all grew up in, I feel it’s the best way to include familiar characters while also making them enough to be a blank slate for the player to build bonds with all of their own.

best friends

best friends

It’s about as much as the story has vanished with the small amount of progress I’ve made in this preview, but that’s enough to get me hooked. Everyone has lost their memory, and your job is to help them get it back while building a new home for them – you got it. I honestly don’t play these kinds of games for the story anyway, and that’s where Disney Dreamlight Valley thrives. Just like in Animal Crossing, I wanted to land on a chaotic island that needed to be nurtured 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, which is exactly what I love. Learning the locations and landmarks of your new virtual home is key to being associated with it, and having to spend the first few hours cleaning it taught me everything I needed to know about this place. At the time, I arranged some Night Thorns (the thing that made everyone forget everything), helped Goofy fix his seed holder, and even set up a shop for Scrooge McDuck. I also had crops for hunting, mining, digging, cooking, making, and cultivating crops. It’s all here, just with a magical Disney spin.

When you’re finally allowed to start exploring, the first thing you’ll notice is that your island is an absolute mess, which is exactly what I love.

The main attraction of Disney Dreamlight Valley over something like Animal Crossing (sorry I’m still comparing it to Animal Crossing, but it’s really similar!) is the search system. Dreamlight Valley always gives you something to do, and its story and daily quests make up a huge part of that. Each character has a seemingly infinite number of missions for you to perform, and while the first missions are mostly geared toward teaching you how to play, there is a Disney magic to them that eventually becomes necessary to build relationships with the characters, which are not limited to just that. It provides rhythms to the stories, but also helps strengthen relationships with them.

Each character you meet has a friendship level with its own set of rewards. And while you can ultimately make it your personal goal to get the most out of them all, I’ve found it’s best to know who gave what, so I can focus specifically on making those rewards. When you fall on the island for the first time, there are only a few villagers to complete missions and build relationships with them. Merlin is your tour guide, teaching you everything you need to know as you push the story forward, Goofy is a salesman, always eager to buy and sell things you might collect, Scrooge McDuck serves as Tom Nook for this game, and he’s always heartily teasing you for coins to upgrade Various village landmarks, including your home.

Remember when I mentioned Dreamlight Valley gives me Kingdom Hearts vibes? Well, this comparison is not just because there are Disney characters in a video game. I’m so sorry for having to do it all over again but…just like Animal Crossing, you don’t just build an island for yourself, you build it for other villagers to come and stay on. To achieve this, you will need to visit other worlds, each complete with its own settings and special Disney friends.

In this preview, I’m only allowed to visit the world of Moana, and unlike Kingdom Hearts’ retelling of an iconic story with a Heartless twist, these are just small mission lines with the sole goal of making the classic character live on your island. After sailing with Moana to find a lantern for her boat, she agreed to live in my world and even brought a list of Hawaiian-themed items for me to make and build. Each visit to the world isn’t anywhere near the scale you’d find in Kingdom Hearts, but it does give you enough of the story of why you live in a valley full of random Disney animations.

Since Dreamlight Valley is a live service game, with enough player support, I can’t even imagine what your world could look like in a year.

At first, I wasn’t sure where this game came from in Disney Dreamlight Valley. It didn’t take long for me to clean up my island and I was burning out tasks pretty quickly, but once Moana joined in and realized she had her own set of tasks and needs, it blew me away. 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 could look like in a year. I’ve only been able to visit a few of the initial biomes, but your valley looks so big, and every time you log in, the villagers will literally be begging for your attention.

The promise to be able to build and live in your own Disneyland (sort of) is bold, but it seems achievable in Dreamlight Valley. However, this is not a farming simulator. If you are aiming to be a solid manager of crops and irrigation systems and looking to increase as much profit as possible, this is not the game for that. Crops grow in minutes, your watering can never dry up, and squeaking apples and crackers can revitalize your character in seconds. No, winning this game means forming bonds with villagers, building a house and town exactly to your liking, and wearing a seemingly unlimited number of clothes 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 runs, and I can’t wait to play more.

Mark Medina is IGN’s Senior Editorial Producer. You can find it in the weekly PlayStation podcast from IGN or Beyond, or on Twitter @Mark_Medina.

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