This week marks the formal release of Disney Dreamlight Valley, although it’s been in early release for months. Around here, it’s known as “Mom’s Disney game.” According to Steam, I’ve played it for what works out to nearly sixteen full days. Oh, a lot of that is “log on, do two or three maintenance tasks, check the store, log off again,” when there aren’t any active quests. But I find it entertaining, if sometimes baffling, and I don’t mind running about the village in an Animal Crossing sort of way, dealing with a random assortment of Disney and Pixar characters.
The game begins with you appearing in a place you vaguely remember from your childhood. You see Merlin, and he tells you that this is the eponymous Dreamlight Valley, and it’s now overrun with magic thorns. Only you have the magic to overcome it, and as you do, you unlock Mickey, Scrooge McDuck, Goofy, and eventually a couple of dozen other characters. You fish, farm, mine, gather, and so forth. You buy clothing and furniture from Scrooge. You set up houses for the various characters in one of several biomes—a beach, a forest, a swamp, and so forth. You befriend the characters, which provides you with benefits, and you run quests.
Why is it fun? An excellent question, really, and one any devoted Animal Crossing player knows only too well. In this case, at least, you already know all the characters, even if they seem to have been pulled out of a hat containing lists of all the Disney/Pixar major characters. Mother Gothel, but you only get Rapunzel if you pay for the new expansion pack. Stitch but no Lilo. Moana and Maui. Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother, but no Cinderella yet—she’s promised in the future. Buzz and Woody. The entire cast of Frozen, and the three main characters of The Little Mermaid. (Actually, we’re missing Sven, and I’d trade Olaf for Sven in a heartbeat.)
It does make a certain sense that three of the earliest characters in the game, before updates started adding to the list, are magic-users. Magic is a recurring theme in the game; even though you’re interacting with two (at least if you paid for the DLC) robots from the far future, you’re still doing so using magic. Later updates would bring Mirabel Madrigal and Jack Skellington and the Fairy Godmother, all tied to at least a kind of magic in one way or another. And, of course, the Beast had his own dealings with magic—and is therefore hesitant of the various sorcery types in your village.
Because of course, they’ve got to invent interactions for a lot of these characters, don’t they? When you talk to them, they do have things to say about one another. There’s a possible quest you can do wherein WALL-E tries to set Mother Gothel up on a date with Merlin, and it’s a thing of beauty. One of the text tree options is, “This is gonna be a trainwreck and I’m so on board for it.” And of course it is, because no. That’s a terrible idea, but you can’t break WALL-E’s little heart, especially because you haven’t gotten EVE yet.
With the Beast, most of what you’re doing is building his self-esteem, because it turns out that he’s internalized that he’s a terrible person unworthy of anyone’s love, even though he and Belle live in the same house and you meet them in his castle and there’s a lot going on there. But it turns out that the secret theme of the game is mental health. The one character, other than you as the player, is The Forgotten, who—spoiler—turns out to be You As A Child. Specifically, you seem to have a history of depression that became a fear of growing up that led you to actually shut the village up into thorns and amnesia. It’s a lot.
It is, on the other hand, a bold choice in a game that must be appealing to actual children. Well, I know it is; it’s appealing to mine. My six-year-old will watch me play for hours. My ten-year-old will grind for me when I’m doing other things. (There’s not a lot of grinding necessary unless you want to do things like build your house and buy Scrooge out of everything in his store; once you have a certain amount of money, you can simply coast.) When you talk to your childhood self, a thing the game not only lets you do but requires you to, you are dealing with fear of growing up.
Not in a Peter Pan sort of way—Peter’s not in the game and not among the characters listed as upcoming, and it would be interesting to see how he interacts with your childhood self. Instead, you’re dealing with such crippling self-loathing that you are able to overcome the combined magics of Merlin, Ursula, and Mother Gothel. Not to mention eventually the Fairy Godmother. Yes, you’re pressured by Scar to see yourself as worse than you are, because he believes he should rule the valley instead of you, but he’s only driving you to feelings you already have.
It’s a lot. It’s fascinating and addictive, but it’s a lot. This week, we got a free update that included Jack Skellington, and his great flaw is enthusiasm without restraint. Not news, but it’s vastly entertaining, and the text trees continue to let you talk smack to a character who doesn’t notice. Buy the DLC, and you can be rude to Gaston. I’ve had to file a bug notification, which hopefully will be resolved soon, but I’ve really been enjoying it. It was my birthday present to myself to get the DLC (you can pay me back by supporting my Patreon or Ko-fi), and I don’t regret it.
It’s a pretty game; a lot of effort has gone into the design of the village, the furniture, and so forth. The voice cast is incredible—it’s got Pat Carroll’s final performance as Ursula before her death, and if it doesn’t feature all the original actors, well, some of them are dead, and anyway Jim Hanks can use the work. As of this week, we’ve added a new island and have a desert and a jungle, or at least something approaching a jungle. The release roadmap continues to offer more free offerings, including—sigh—Mike, Sully, and Tiana. Maybe Mulan as the mystery character. Wheel Of Disney continues, clearly.