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I want to keep playing Disney Dreamlight Valley, despite the major hurdles

Friendship and magic, everyone

A character stands next to Mickey and a wizard in a screenshot from Disney Dreamlight Valley. The trio is facing a castle. Image: Gameloft/Disney
Nicole Carpenter is a senior reporter specializing in investigative features about labor issues in the game industry, as well as the business and culture of games.

I want to keep playing Disney Dreamlight Valley. I’ve spent days collecting supplies to help Donald Duck rebuild his houseboat that’s washed up on the shores of Dazzle Beach; I’ve upgraded Goofy’s vegetable stalls; I’ve collected flowers for Minnie Mouse to give to Mickey. Look: I’m doing this for the power of friendship — even for the Disney and Pixar characters I couldn’t care less about, like stinky Kristoff from Frozen or Rapunzel’s evil mother who keeps telling me I look awful.

Dreamlight Valley has drawn a lot of comparisons to Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and for good reason: It’s the Disney and Pixar-ified life simulation that’s filled with beloved movie characters instead of Animal Crossing villagers. You do a lot of the same things — fishing, gardening, collecting flowers and recipes, and making friends with the folks in the area. It’s a comfortable sort of repetition that fans of the genre know and love, something that’s easy to slip into and out of, even with the ever-present pull of “I’ll just do one more thing.”

Disney Dreamlight Valley - Disney and Pixar characters hang out in a beautiful and verdant valley village Image: Gameloft

The big difference here is that Dreamlight Valley’s Disney and Pixar characters all have their own friendship quests, alongside the game’s overarching main quest. Even as a middling Disney fan, someone who has nostalgia for the franchises but has a waning interest as an adult, it’s delightful to mingle with beloved characters — Minnie, for instance, who ends most conversations by telling me she loves me, or Moana, whose cheerful, adventurous spirit makes me giddy. Pair these interactions with the instrumental swell of Disney’s classic songs and the child inside me gets chills.

The main thrust of Dreamlight Valley seems to be building relationships. It’s what composes the fabric of life there, a kind of currency that makes all that wonder — and wandering — possible. It’s got me thinking a lot about friendships, not only the ones in games, but in my own life, too.

I don’t know. Maybe that’s cheesy. But after the power of friendship being stuffed into my ears for the 19 hours I’ve put into Dreamlight Valley, the sentimentality has rubbed off on me. The game’s inspired a bit of childlike joy in me, a sort of care that I want to bring back to my own life and relationships. Dreamlight Valley boils friendship down into its simplest forms — acts of kindness, service, and quality time. I spend so much time thinking about how fostering connections is hard — especially as an adult — but I don’t think it has to be. The pressures of life (and capitalism) make me so tired that I tend to forget what stuff is actually important.

Ursula, a sea witch, holding a green vial Image: Gameloft/Disney

And so, I like the spirit of Dreamlight Valley; it makes repetition comforting. For the most part, it hasn’t felt like a chore to do chores in the game, because I know that each step is peeling back another layer surrounding the best parts of Dreamlight Valley. But the key phrase here is “for the most part.” Dreamlight Valley’s had some major balance issues with its finite resources, stuff you can forage for and collect across the world. Dream Shards were a terrible problem, and for a while, the lack of them soft-locked me out of the game; all of my friends were locked inside their houses until I could provide the amount I needed, and that took a while.

Thankfully, Gameloft has fixed that, and Dream Shards are less scarce after a patch on Thursday. But the developer made no change to other resources that have been problematic for players, like flowers or other foraged items that respawn very slowly, holding up quests once again.

Because Dreamlight Valley is an early access title, it feels a lot easier to forgive its technical problems. Everything else — the friendship and magic of it all — is special, and once it’s had its full, official release, it’s a game that has a good chance at coming out from under Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ shadow and standing on its own.

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