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Disney Dreamlight Valley needs a touch of magic to make it shine

Nothing prepares me for my second Disney World trip of the year this week more than playing Disney Dreamlight Valley. Just like the Orlando-based theme park (and other Disney Parks around the world, for that matter), the new Animal Crossing-inspired Disney game lets players live alongside their favorite Disney characters, playing with them and working to make their lives better than ever before.

In Disney Dreamlight Valley, Disney and Pixar characters lived in an idyllic village in perfect harmony — until a plague called the Forgetting set in. Night Thorns took hold of the titular valley, destroying everything and driving some of the residents back to their home worlds. Those who stayed behind suffered memory loss as a result of dealing with the Night Thorns. Then one day, a hero (your avatar) arrives in Dreamlight Valley and gains the power to get rid of the nasty thorns, rebuild the valley, and reunite everyone.

Disney Dreamlight Valley isn’t a Kingdom Hearts-sized crossover fantasy, but I’ve had a blast playing the charming life simulator on my Nintendo Switch thus far. However, there are some troublesome quirks that’ll need to be cut down like Night Thorns themselves before the game’s six-month early access period is up.

Friendship quest

What makes Disney Dreamlight Valley stand out from Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the way it lets players strengthen their friendships with the Disney characters inhabiting its world. In the latest entry to the Animal Crossing series, you have the option to press “Let’s chat!” or something to that effect to initiate some small talk. Sometimes a villager will run over and start a conversation themselves, but hanging out with villagers is totally optional. Here, you can actually spend time with Mickey Mouse, Goofy, Scrooge McDuck, Remy, and other characters as you run around managing the village and keep the Forgetting at bay.

Mickey Mouse's Friendship Level gauge increases as player character harvests wheat.

The more time you hang around these characters, the higher their Friendship Level goes, and yours too by extension. Once they hit Friendship Level 2, you can assign them tasks (fishing, foraging, gardening, mining, etc.) that give them the ability to find more of the same objects you’re getting when you yourself are performing those same jobs. The tasks I assigned my Disney pals so far are tailored to their interests. For example, I tasked Mickey with gardening since that is what he loves to do with Minnie. Scrooge is on mining duty because he’s always finding something more valuable than gold. And Goofy’s Perfect Cast ability made him a perfect choice for the role of village fisherman.

Characters have their own Friendship Quests, giving you a list of items to check off in order to fulfill them, whether you’re doing them by yourself or while you’re hanging out with them. The quest checklist sits on the top left corner of the screen if you track the quest, which can be extremely helpful if you’re collecting items required to build furniture.

Plagues worse than Night Thorns

While the quality of my Disney life is great, the actual “quality of life” in the traditional video game sense needs work. Gameloft made the right call in launching the game in early access, because I’ve experienced some frustrations so far that need to be cleared up more than the Night Thorns before it hits its 1.0 release next spring.

In particular, I’m struggling with poor camera angling during the construction of the characters’ homes and the customization of the valley. In most life sim games, you’re supposed to see the entire plot of a building, not portions of it. To wit, I had trouble seeing the whole blueprint for Moana’s house as I was setting it up on Dazzle Beach because the camera was angled in such a way that part of it got cut off. While I was moving the camera, the trees obscured my view of the plot, and the plot disappeared from the camera’s field of vision until I got it upright again. Even after all that trouble, portions of the plot were still cut off.

A portion of the plot for Moana's house on Dazzle Beach is cut off.

While life is easygoing in Dreamlight Valley, some things are too slow for me. There’s some significant lag when opening menus — at least in the Switch version. I’m experiencing a two-second delay from opening my inventory to seeing my collection show up onscreen. Not being able to access the food I need to recoup my dipping energy levels right away frustrated me to no end as well.

The price points on everything from expanding storage space in my backpack to clearing the Night Thorns in order to open new areas put a damper on the current experience, too. You need thousands of Dreamlights to access more Disney and Pixar realms and lands across the valley, but adding just one more row in my backpack costs more of my hard-earned Star Coins than I expected. The first expansion costs a hefty 5,000 Star Coins. The second time, you have to cough up 20,000 and it’s 50,000 the third time, including upgrades. The cost of living crisis in the real world is already bad enough, so there’s no sense in making it just as bad in my low-stakes fantasy life.

A magical time

If you ever dreamed of living with your favorite Disney and Pixar characters, then Disney Dreamlight Valley is the perfect game for you. It takes a lot of grinding to bring the valley back to its former glory, but hanging out with Mickey and the rest of the Mouse House and working alongside them makes the magic of living in that world worth it. I had a blast cooking up some good food with Remy, even if some of his cooking instructions were too vague for me to process — I love Ratatouille that much.

From rebuilding the homes of characters returning to the valley to cooking up delicious food to share with them to even taking selfies with them, this game is built to create magical Disney memories to last a lifetime. Some areas of the game still need work, yes, but I sincerely hope that Disney Dreamlight Valley becomes even more magical between now and March 2023.

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