Disney Dreamlight Valley went full meta in its chapter finale, and I'm still in tears

Disney Dreamlight Valley - chapter finale
(Image credit: Gameloft)

Disney Dreamlight Valley is not a kid's game. It had me fooled at first, since this is an RPG with no combat, no firearms, and where everyone – yes, even Ursula the Sea Witch – gushes with gratitude when you surprise them with so much as a lump of coal. Obstacles are based around the friendships you make rather than the enemies you kill, and the pervasive message is that most battles can be won not with power, but with empathy.

Despite this child-friendly premise, it always spoke directly to 28-year-old me. The most recent story update finally helped me understand why that is, and unearthed the complexity of much darker themes that had been hinted at all along. Trapped in a state of suspended adolescence, it's only through confronting The Forgotten that you come face to face with a deep part of yourself that few games, let alone a Disney game, dare you to revisit.

My Monster/My Self

Disney Dreamlight Valley - chapter finale

(Image credit: Gameloft)
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Like looking into a magic mirror on the wall, the game's big revelation confronts you with your own inner child. Not only that, but it asks you to nurture that pain rather than fight it off.  

Meta moments aren't uncommon in Dreamlight Valley. It's suggested from the start that our character is the realm's long lost and newly-returned Leader, reuniting with beloved characters and tending to their needs as we restore harmony to the dreamworld. When we're not collecting 100 sticks for Olaf, we're investigating an amnesiac phenomenon called The Forgetting. 

The devastating chapter finale sees us digging out the root of this curse, and it takes the shape of our very own evil twin, The Forgotten. But this is no ordinary case of gothic doubling, torn from the pages of Frankenstein. 

Gameloft approaches mental health and the complexities of the adolescent mind with sensitivity. Even so, it doesn't make the experience any less uncomfortable. I feel my eyes burn and my stomach flicker as soon as the mission objective pops up: it's time to explore The Forgotten's memories and discover how they became what they are.

The Forgotten's world is an eerie grey watercolor, one I am powerless to change. The Forgotten is asked to pick a bouquet of flowers, and I come up with fistfuls of weeds. Goofy wants to cook bouillabaisse together, but all the food I touch is rotten. Others call her by her name – our name – but The Forgotten only sees herself as a shadow.

Beyond good and evil

Disney Dreamlight Valley - chapter finale

(Image credit: Gameloft)

Like looking into a magic mirror on the wall, the game's big revelation confronts you with your own inner child.

We walk through long-buried memories, watching as toys become textbooks and imaginations run dry. Through a series of heartbreaking dialogue options, it's made clear that The Forgotten is not your evil twin at all but your neglected inner child, yearning for the magic of halcyon days they cannot return to. 

The game does an excellent job of pointing out its own role in helping you achieve this seemingly impossible dream. Gameloft ensures these memories are neither too vague nor too literal, but the psychological hell of growing up is universally familiar. When The Forgotten gets betrayed by Mother Gothel, confidence shattered alongside a broken friendship, I feel it. When she becomes overwhelmed by her friends' concern, she retreats. When she no longer feels worthy of love, she loses the ability to love herself. She just wants to be forgotten, to forget herself and her failures. It's a jarring sequence that could unsettle anyone, regardless of your mental health situation, but Dreamlight Valley is here to help coach you through those wounds.

Disney Dreamlight Valley - chapter finale

(Image credit: Gameloft)

The Valley is a digital playground of our own making, a home for both The Hero and The Forgotten once they learn to accept each other and commit to honoring that bond. This game has no good guys or bad guys; it just has you

Painful nostalgia gives way to hope, and as The Hero and The Forgotten join forces to save the day, there's a catharsis to be found when dark meets light at the end of the journey. It wasn't always a fun experience, but Disney Dreamlight Valley is a stunning celebration of dualities that I simply did not expect. Adults don't have to be adults all the time, after all. 

Disney Dreamlight Valley is just one of many new games for 2023.

Jasmine Gould-Wilson
Staff Writer, GamesRadar+

Jasmine is a staff writer at GamesRadar+. Raised in Hong Kong and having graduated with an English Literature degree from Queen Mary, University of London in 2017, her passion for entertainment writing has taken her from reviewing underground concerts to blogging about the intersection between horror movies and browser games. Having made the career jump from TV broadcast operations to video games journalism during the pandemic, she cut her teeth as a freelance writer with TheGamer, Gamezo, and Tech Radar Gaming before accepting a full-time role here at GamesRadar. Whether Jasmine is researching the latest in gaming litigation for a news piece, writing how-to guides for The Sims 4, or extolling the necessity of a Resident Evil: CODE Veronica remake, you'll probably find her listening to metalcore at the same time.