Unicorn Overlord is the new proof of Vanillaware’s talent. A game where strategy and aesthetics find a new meeting point.

Unicorn Overlord is Vanillaware’s latest title released on March 8, 2024. Let’s start by saying that it is a real-time strategy jrpg with tactical pause. Those who know Vanillaware appreciate their artistic quality, both visual and musical. Their predisposition for the 2D style made them famous and made their titles unique. Those who love this development house will surely know some titles and remasters including GrimGrimoire, Odin Sphere Leifthrasir, and Dragon’s Crown (Pro). The latest work dates back to 2019 with 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim: a graphic novel with a deep narrative and simple strategy gameplay elements.

Instead Unicorn Overlord seems to maintain the wonderful graphic style that characterizes the Vanillaware‘s titles with the addition of a deep strategic gameplay.

Today we talk about the first impressions on the demo released for Nintendo Switch, which really contains a considerable amount of material.

A Big Demo

First of all we have to say that the Unicorn Overlord demo has a limited time. Don’t be fooled though, because the 5 hour timer will start from the moment the first main mission begins. First you will face a long prologue/tutorial, then from this point everything is up to your skill and speed. Theoretically the game allows you to even get to the fourth main mission. Obviously all the progress made is saved and usable if you purchase the full version of the game. I really appreciate it because it means that we are really experiencing the initial part of the game.

As little as 5 hours may seem, I assure you that the options that the demo offers are enormous.

Unicorn Overlord: The First Steps

The prologue of the campaign explains how to manage units and battles.

In the prologue, after the first very strong unit which will serve as a pretext to progress in the story, we will manage others.

The units can contain up to 6 characters, arranged in 2 rows of 3 tiles each. Each character has an initiative value, active and passive skill points. Active points allow the character to launch attacks, while passive points are activated under certain conditions.

Units and Characters

Units move on the game map in real time. After a fight ends, the game pauses. Units have a banner with a number on it representing stamina. So the number will decrease after each battle until it reaches 0. Be careful because without stamina the unit will not be able to carry out any action and is therefore vulnerable to the enemy. There are several ways to recover stamina and heal yourself. One is to stop at a garrison and the other is to use objects. There are many items and they are very strong. Don’t be afraid to use them because the game, even at an intermediate level can be cruel. Garrisons are places on the map to be conquered: a unit that garrisons does not lose stamina and can face any unit whenever it wants. As long as it’s strong enough.

The units are deployed based on the value points the player has. Defeating opposing units generates valor points that can be used to field other units or use character abilities. One important thing, winning a battle does not mean immediately destroying the enemy. Our unit can win “by points” and in that case the enemy unit will retreat and can be pressed and then destroyed.

Let’s Go Deeper Again

As you may have guessed in Unicorn Overlord the battles are automated, and this is why preparation, choosing the right positioning and the right class are fundamental. As soon as the prologue is over, we find ourselves in an open map where we can manage numerous aspects. The liberated cities can give us secondary quests, objects to collect and deliver to increase our fame and also the affinity between our characters.

In fact Unicorn Overlord has a gameplay system that harks back to titles such as Battle Ogre 64 and Fire Emblem. The affinity system increases both by donating objects to our allies placed as guardians of the cities, or by fighting together. Furthermore, it is similar to Fire Emblem due to the fact that it has an overpower character already at the beginning of the campaign. In cities we can purchase equipment and items that are essential for battles. Furthermore, by freely exploring the map we can find points of interest, resources and above all look for allies.

There are a huge amount of classes and characters to unlock, all linked to exploration. It’s up to us to interact and explore because Unicorn Overlord has five factions, each with their own population and specific classes. The game world is truly vast and must be explored with care.

When I say planning is everything, I’m talking about a Gambit system. It allows us to plan and decide the behavior of our units during the clash. The Gambit has a detailed and wide choice between passive and active skills. The player chooses when to do certain actions, on whom and based on hit point percentages or whatever. The options are truly many and being in the initial stages makes you understand the great depth put into it.

My Two Cents

Although I only tried the demo, Unicorn Overlord turns out to be a truly excellent job. Deep and extremely complex, with a huge choice of characters and classes that allow numerous combinations. A strategic jrpg that will certainly be talked about thanks also to the wonderful aesthetic vision and the intelligent and captivating narrative. At least play the demo to understand the experience. In case you are a fan of the genre, stop reading and go and try it.

Unicorn Overlord is available from March 8, 2024 for Nintendo Switch, PS5 and XBOX.

I'm a musician (pianist), a nerd and a longtime manga lover. My gamer life started with a copy of Pitfall (1982) for Atari 2600, and so I grew up hand to hand with this medium until now. Later I started to look for what's behind the final product, its design and what happens behind the scenes of the video game world.