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Unicorn Overlord Review – Vanillaware’s Latest Masterpiece

Unicorn Overlord Review

On the 8th of March, 2024, developer Vanillaware and publisher Atlus released their newest game Unicorn Overlord; A 2D open world SPRG inspired by titans of the genre like Tactics Ogre and Fire Emblem with some elements taken from Vanillaware’s catalog such as 13 Sentinels. While physical copies of this game have been hard to find, gamers have been lining up to play this new SRPG in droves. Does it live up to the hype? Let’s break it down piece by piece and judge it for ourselves! Full disclaimer, I have never played Tactics Ogre 64 and thus will be unable to make any direct comparisons to that title and will only be judging Unicorn Overlord on its own.

Battle Gameplay – 8/10

Unicorn Overlord Review
Screenshot by Raider King

Unicorn Overlord’s gameplay is unique compared to many modern SRPGs. Units are not stationed in a grid-based system but can rather walk freely across the battlefield. This leads to many fun situations as both your units and the enemy can theoretically come from any direction.

In theory at least, in reality, the maps in Unicorn Overlord are fairly linear lines with a few exceptions. While I quite enjoyed my time with the maps, I found myself wishing there was more variety and perhaps more maps that had you send units from multiple different command posts.

Despite this linearity though, the gameplay mechanics featured within these maps are constantly changing and throwing new gimmicks at the player. From bear traps to halt your movement, snowstorms to block your visibility, to even a day-night cycle that affects the strength of certain enemies you can always rely on the game to keep the maps varied.

The battles your units engage in are quite fun as well, each unit has a variety of skills you can pick and choose from at any time, each with its own effects and AP costs. If you play your cards right you can easily make a unit that cannot be damaged or always recovers all health at the end of the turn.

In addition to this, the game features a risk-reward factor with field skills, which can be used to attack enemies or heal allies at the cost of Valor Points, however, you also need Valor to summon your units. While the decision to summon a unit now or wait until you charge more Valor may be small, SRPGs are built upon small choices like this.

Unit Customization – 10/10

Unicorn Overlord Review
Screenshot by Raider King

While the maps are all fairly linear lines, what does grant players the freedom I’m craving though is the unit customization. Unicorn Overlord lets players create units made of up to five different characters and classes and send ten of those units into battle at once!

In addition to this, the game has an amazingly huge variety of classes. From several types of archers, to a myriad of sword users, and even some wholly Unicorn Overlord original beast-man classes in the late game, you will have more than enough ways to handle any given situation.

Mixing and matching which characters you are forming into a single unit and how much synergy they’ll have is an incredible amount of fun. From including a cleric in the team of armored units to putting an archer or two in a unit led by a griffin flier to counter enemy flying units, there is no limit to the possibilities allowed by this system. 

Compared to games like Fire Emblem where all players will have a very similar end-game layout, this allows for such a large variety of units that I would be willing to bet you’ll never see another player with your exact same unit layouts!

Unicorn Overlord’s greatest strength is the freedom it grants players in battle, I only wish that same freedom carried over to the map design.

World Design 8/10

Unicorn Overlord Review
Screenshot by Raider King

Now let’s talk about a gameplay feature that was a complete shock to me: the open world that Unicorn Overlord takes place in! After the tutorial sections, players are allowed to walk wherever they want and fight whoever they want.

My first experience with this world was walking to the right and immediately being destroyed by enemies who were at a higher level than me and hid in a walled city. It was a learning experience that I quickly grew to love.

Running around this world completing maps to slowly grow stronger and challenge other maps which in themselves unlock more of the world created an incredibly satisfying gameplay loop that didn’t grow old throughout the entire experience.

This leads to situations such as the player taking a casual stroll in the starting continent and coming across the final battle of the game tens of hours before they can feasibly challenge it! I loved encountering this and knowing exactly what level I should grind to before I challenged the end-game!

Of course, the open design does lead to a few problems. After clearing out the first continent, I moved on to the southern continent which was filled with battles that ranged from lvl15-lvl20 difficulty. What I didn’t realize at the time was that the eastern continent had battles that ranged from lvls 10 to 15. 

As a result, by the time I moved on to the eastern continent, I had an extremely overleveled party and missed out on what could have been some fun maps if I were on lvl for them. I only wish that the game better conveyed that I should have gone to the east first.

Other than that though, this section of Unicorn Overlord’s game design is fantastic and one of the most unique features I have ever seen in an SRPG.

Graphics 9/10

Unicorn Overlord Review
Screenshot by Raider King

To say a Vanillaware game looks beautiful is like saying that the sky is blue. This company is practically known for running out of budget due to their amazing sprite work and Unicorn Overlord is no exception to that.

Each unit’s sprites and attacks look absolutely incredible, with each character’s design immediately popping out from each other. Which is an incredible feat in a game with this many characters and units.

On the off chance that you really like using a unit but think their design feels off, the game also allows the player to slightly customize each character! Allowing you to change their hair color, outfit color, and even name if you so wish!

The one fault I can find with this game’s visual design is how long battle encounters can take in the final stretch of the game. As both you and the enemy will have five characters attack each other at the same time (with each of those characters performing multiple attacks) a single encounter can take an incredibly long amount of time even with the speed-up feature.

Because of this, I found myself skipping battle animations near the tail end of my playthrough, thus missing out on the amazing sprite work the game features.

Other than this flaw though, Unicorn Overlord is a sight to behold like any other Vanillaware game. I’d say I want to see even more look like this in the future but I fear the company will bankrupt itself if they do.

Enjoyment 8/10

Unicorn Overlord's Review
Screenshot by Raider King

Unicorn Overlord is a beautiful game with fantastic gameplay that is an enjoyable experience from start to end. However, there is one issue I have that I feel needs to be addressed: its repetitive nature.

While the game is always fun, I feel it isn’t built for long play sessions in the way that many of its peers are. The combination of the maps all being linear, long battle animations, and how your strategy won’t be changing very much after a while leads to a lot of the game blending together if you play for a long amount of time.

This isn’t a condemnation of this design of course, a game doesn’t need to be designed with all-day play sessions in mind. This is merely my recommendation to you, take frequent breaks with the game and consider juggling it with other games as you slowly make your way through its world.

I am very glad to have become a Vanillaware fan in recent years, while no two of their games feel the same, they have a distinct style and a clear love for the medium of gaming. Unicorn Overlord is merely the most recent example of A-list work from this niche studio and I greatly look forward to their future work.


Unicorn Overlord Review

Official Website

Despite some map designs failings, Unicorn Overlord is a fantastic SRPG from start to finish that highly encourages unique strategies and customization from the player.

Battle Gameplay 8
Unit Customization 10
World Design 8
Graphics 9
Enjoyment 8
Based in Pennsylvania, USA, Skeith has been a gamer for over two decades now and has decided to take pen to paper about it. Capable of playing games at incredible speeds, you can rely on them to write about them in record time.
Skeith Ruch
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