Enjoy A Brilliant Fantasy Battle Simulation With Unicorn Overlord

Vanillaware is one of those developers that make games that look so gorgeous, it’s understandable to buy them based solely off the visuals alone. Their back catalog of games expands across a variety of genres with the likes of Odin Sphere, Dragon’s Crown, and 13 Sentinels. Each title Vanillaware has produced is both visually stunning and filled with robust and interesting game mechanics. Unicorn Overlord is Vanillaware’s latest entry in strategy RPGs, this time with a more traditional approach like what you would see in Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber. Is Unicorn Overlord worth playing, despite its silly name, or is this one overlord that needs to be overthrown? Let’s find out.

Unicorn Overlord takes place in a realm of medieval fantasy. You have soldiers armed with swords and magic, and there’s races of elves and beastkin. All of that plays out in a story of retaking a kingdom after a fateful attack during the youth of a prince named Alain. The story in Unicorn Overlord is very simplistic – don’t expect giant plot twists a la 13 Sentinels as this game hearkens back to a bygone era of storytelling like the three Fire Emblems on the Gameboy Advance. The story is largely there to facilitate the incredibly gratifying strategy gameplay of Unicorn Overlord and portrays a rather simple tale of oppressed vs oppressor.

Players take control of Alain, the crown prince of the fallen country of Cornia. Under the tutelage of the knight Josef, Alain learns both swordplay and strategy in order to create the Liberation Army. If you’ve played a title like Fire Emblem before, both Alain and Josef fulfill familiar roles: Alain is your lord, and Josef is your high leveled starting character that you can use to protect squishier units who may not be able to take much damage.

The sheer number of differing characters, all with their own unique designs and motivations, help give depth to Unicorn Overlord’s world and central conflict of multiple countries warring with one another. An issue with strategy games like this that give you a wealth of characters to choose from is that many of the characters you obtain throughout your quest will fade into the background as the title progresses which makes sense given that there’s over 60 characters. This is something that pops up frequently in games from Final Fantasy Tactics to any modern Fire Emblem’s plethora of retainers.

The rapport system of Unicorn Overlord gives players a peek into the relationships and personalities of characters in your squad and is especially great at fleshing out those who may not get much screen time after their introduction. High rapport also yields stat bonuses based on its level, which rewards players for grouping up compatible characters long term. This should sound somewhat similar to Fire Emblem’s support system, though in Unicorn Overlord a lot of the rapport conversations are done a single time, rather than forcing characters to extrapolate their personalities at length for three to four conversations each time.

There is a tremendous amount of side quests to do in Unicorn Overlord. Many side quests reward you with great benefits, up to and including new characters to fit into your squads, so it’s generally recommended you complete at least a few of them as you progress. Finding a destroyed town on the map can allow you to complete deliveries, which can earn Honor and valuable funds to keep your army equipped, whereas liberation quests will thrust you into battle where you may find a new character to recruit to your army.

Battles in Unicorn Overlord are a bit different from what you’d expect, as battle encounters take place on the world map where you can assign units to move in real time (you can pause at any time). Many SRPGs use grids and turn-based schemes to facilitate gameplay, but Unicorn Overlord eschews that more traditional setup for one more akin to Ogre Battle 64. It effectively combines world map exploration with real time strategy elements, and your units on the map encountering an enemy will zoom into a turn-based combat screen where your army will fight their foes.

Much of Unicorn Overlord’s combat is automated, but it’s based entirely on how you set up your squads and customize when they use their skills. The amount of customization afforded to the player is insanely high, as it combines Fire Emblem class progression through unit promotion with Final Fantasy XII’s gambits for directing unit actions in combat. The effectiveness of your teams is highly dependent on what skills and classes you choose to group together. Griffin knights, for example, are very weak to arrows, but pairing them with a shielding character can help protect your flying knights against archers.

Of course, that’s just skimming the surface of unit composition in Unicorn Overlord, eventually you’ll be sweeping through entire nations on the back of a unit that’s comprised of a couple knights, a hoplite, a shaman, and a rune knight, laughing while everything burns around you and nothing is able to harm you. You can also completely customize how your units use their special skills by using if-then statements. Unicorn Overlord allows you to specify healing if units are under 25, 50, 75, or even 90 percent health, for example, but you can also set up more complex gambits like ordering archers to use bow skills if flying units are present.

The gambit system is where you exercise the largest amount of your customizability, and very clearly where some players may struggle more than others because you’re afforded so many options. You can select specific columns, unit types, etc., for condition 1, then specify lowest HP or highest AP for condition 2, which can make units specifically debuff enemies with high AP or pick off enemies with low HP to ensure that action economy stays in your favor. This is on top of the fact that you have dozens upon dozens of units to customize with gear, promote to new classes, and much more. You can spend hours tinkering with your armies. Seeing your units rout enemy forces with ease is the reward for mastering these systems— it’s great.

When you start out in Unicorn Overlord, you’ll have a number of two or more person squads, and using your Honor points you accumulate by doing sidequests or taking out enemies, you can expand your squads to four or five units which massively increases their firepower. Effectively everything you do in Unicorn Overlord will reward you in some way, such as defeating enemies and also completing side quests and deliveries, all of these reward you with some combination of gold, Honor, or Renown. Increasing your Renown unlocks the ability to promote your units to advanced classes which gives them higher stats, more powerful skills, and just overall improve your units’ capabilities.

The visuals of Unicorn Overlord are absolutely gorgeous and make for a wonderful entry to Vanillaware’s beautiful 2D, hand-drawn visual style. Though, it’s worth mentioning that the graphics are a bit lower res on the Nintendo Switch, as would be expected. The title runs remarkably well on the system with reasonable load times and looks great even in handheld mode in case you want to continue blazing through enemy armies on the go. The music of Unicorn Overlord is similarly impressive, with a few tracks that made me think of Ogre Battle/Tactics Ogre.

Directing units on the world map and seeing them cut through swaths of enemy forces is incredibly rewarding, indicative of your time spent equipping and customizing your units like you would in any good strategy RPG. One thing to note, however, is that Unicorn Overlord is a little bit on the easy side, especially if you spend some time figuring out how to appropriately set your skill activations— if your skills aren’t activating regularly, it’s because you’ve set the conditions incorrectly (for example, “prioritize armor” and “attack armor” are two completely different things).

All in all, Unicorn Overlord is an excellent SRPG, and has a lot of overlapping systems that players can twist to their advantage throughout the course of their playthrough. Unicorn Overlord is a great addition to any strategy gamer’s library, though it may be tough to break into for players who don’t enjoy tinkering with dozens of units through menus. For those who enjoy SRPGs, however, and have been looking for something similar to Ogre Battle 64, Unicorn Overlord is definitely closest to what you’ve been seeking for the last 25 years.

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