Unicorn Overlord Review

Unicorn Overlord Review

I’ve been a fan of Vanillware and their games for years now so when I heard they were taking on strategy RPGs again with Unicorn Overlord, I was naturally over the moon with excitement. The studio dabbled in strategy-ish games before but this is their biggest title to date, and possibly their magnum opus. It’s been over ten years since they did a fantasy game, a genre that Vanillaware built their brand on.

While us westerners never got the chance to play Grand Knights History, it’s easy to say Unicorn Overlord is not only its successor but eclipses its forebears in every conceivable way. I went into Unicorn Overlord blind like I do any title I am excited for and I’m astonished at how amazing the game is. Could this be the greatest strategy RPG ever made? Is this Vanillaware’s magnum opus? Move over Fire Emblem – there’s a new king in town! Read our Unicorn Overlord review to find out!

This is a review coupled with a supplemental video review. You can watch the video review or read the full review of the below:

Unicorn Overlord
Developer: Vanillaware
Publisher: Atlus

Platforms:  Xbox Series X|S (Reviewed), Switch, PS4, PS5
Release Date: March 8th, 2024
Price: $59.99

Fans of strategy RPGs will be delighted with Unicorn Overlord, though at first I was a bit leery when I found out the game was somewhat of an auto-battler. I love to command, micromanage my soldiers and fully min/max their abilities. Seeing battles run mostly out of my control was weird at first.

Each of your characters levels up, unlocks skills, and gets new gear but you can also customize your fighters with their tactics. While it’s an auto-battler, you get granular control over each character’s AI. Want your healer to top off party members if they go below half HP? You can do that and so much more.

Lots of classes work in tandem like light-armor damage-dealers and healers, as well as heavy knights and spellcasters that buff them up. Character placement, abilities, and tactics all go hand-in-hand to make Unicorn Overlord an incredibly rewarding strategy RPG.

Yes, you can front-load each of your units so they either one-shot every enemy that comes your way or they have enough wiggle room to whittle them down. Generally once you learn each class and their differences, you can mow down enemies but later on things get mixed up a bit.

You recruit characters throughout the main story but you can also hire unnamed mercenaries, custom units that you can use to bolster your ranks. The majority of class types are obtainable for free via the story, however, flying units are a bit rarer. I had to recruit a bunch to make flying-heavy squadrons.

Most of your time in Unicorn Overlord will have you exploring its sprawling overworld, made up of five large countries and two large landmasses. Even after a dozen hours most players will barely have seen much of the central country, Cornia, and all its various towns, resources, and battles.

When you first make landfall and get to see the local region, that sense of adventure hits and there’s even a banger overworld theme to boot. The game then shows off the world map and my jaw dropped at how massive it was compared to the starter zone. Battles take place in an instanced section of the overworld, cementing the feeling that you’re truly fighting to reclaim the land.

Battles in Unicorn Overlord are not only fun but rewarding and addicting. Once you let go of the anxiety of not being able to micromanage your troops, you then get addicted to the overall flow of battles. Moving units feels effortless and I found myself becoming obsessed with getting the perfect gear and lineup of battalions to counter any foe.

I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered the game’s “Rapport” system, a relationship system that sees each character bonding and growing with each other. This actually gives characters with a higher relationship buffs if they fight together. This was a really cool way to make the dating sim elements of RPGs actually mean something other than insufferable online shippers.

Unicorn Overlord has a staggering amount of content, but it’s not overwhelming like games with filler. There’s just enough while progressing through the story where you always have stuff to do, but it’s actually fun. It helps the game is gorgeous, and its overworld is chock full of details and secrets.

A standard priced game at $60, it’s honestly shocking to see a content packed release with Unicorn Overlord and no planned DLC or worse, content cut from the main game to be sold as DLC. There’s even a small and optional multiplayer mini-game in Unicorn Overlord, with its combat-focused coliseum.

I found myself staying up way beyond my adult bedtime, every night, desperate to play one more battle in Unicorn Overlord. Gameplay is paced out so well and maintains a high level of fun and rewarding feelings making Unicorn Overlord a dangerously addicting strategy RPG that respects the player.

From the very beginnings of Unicorn Overlord, the player is thrust into a world-encompassing conflict with a conspiring rebellion led by an evil commander. The protagonist, Alain, is a young prince and heir to the throne of Cornia. The forces of evil move fast, usurping the throne and forcing Alain into exile.

The stakes are immediately set and the storytelling in Unicorn Overlord is expertly paced alongside the countless battles you’ll have to wage. Now a young man, Alain sets off to liberate the land, unite the people, and reclaim the throne that was stolen from his family.

Unicorn Overlord has excellent writing and character development in that you not only get to see Alain come to his own as a commander, but also get lots from the wide cast of supporting characters. There’s been a lot of discourse around the game’s localization, handled by 8-4, and I want to dispell some misconceptions.

There are textbook examples, while rare, of localizers inserting whole context to basic Japanese text, something I’m usually never happy with in localization. This can boil down to a character literally asking “Why?” in Japanese but the English expands this to a full sentence with context.

Another debate pre-release was that dialogue was localized into Shakespearean-English, a la Tactics Ogre, instead of direct to modern English. I think the script comes off well and obviously fits its medieval fantasy setting. My only nitpick is the voicecast, but more on that later.

There were some examples of characters having their dialogue slightly changed but these were also rare in the overall massive script. I think Unicorn Overlord’s story and writing are some of the best I’ve seen in an RPG, let alone a strategy RPG.

I’m convinced Unicorn Overlord is a game meant to be played in the full English localization, with English voice acting, and that this is likely what Vanillaware wants the game to “feel” like in terms of its writing, characters, and world. The game is a medieval fantasy inspired by western legends and motifs.

Nearly every character you meet has their own backstory, motivations, and even relationships with other characters. As mentioned this not only gives buffs with higher relationships but there’s more: you get to marry someone and make her your future queen.

Anyone claiming the localization job for Unicorn Overlord was meant to cut the game down for censorious westerners, I say this: Unicorn Overlord is a game with lots of Christian themes and all of this is still in the English version. It’s a love letter to western fantasy like Tolkien, sprinkled over a meaty strategy RPG base. The game even has a focus on powerful, magical rings that can alter the course of history.

There’s an entire nation of God-worshipping angels and humans, you can only marry a woman, self sacrifice is deeply interwoven into the majority of the story alongside many other themes of redemption, devotion, justice, and a higher purpose beyond this mortal coil. The save screen is even set in a church! Does this sound like a game looking to pander to modernity?

The game doesn’t get preachy, it’s an unadulterated fantasy story about a boy destined to reclaim the throne and unite the land. There’s not much more than that but the writing is solid and the main characters are well written. Unicorn Overlord really is an epic fantasy RPG in the truest sense.

I saw some comments that the villains in Unicorn Overlord aren’t properly motivated. This is western fantasy filtered through a Japanese lens – the evil in Unicorn Overlord can only ruin and twist things made by good. Like in Tolkien’s world, this world also has a Heavenly Father that created everything. The modern era has lazily resorted to endless morally gray archetypes so it’s refreshing to see a story of virtuous good fighting unabashed evil.

Going back to marrying a girl – there’s so many possibilities. Do you marry the big boobed witch? Or perhaps the flat chested dark elf tease? Or the giant boobed dark elf warrior? Or maybe the absolutely stacked childhood friend that’s also a priestess? There’s also the 8 ft tall female Guts that can break you in half.

Without spoiling anything, there was a slight tease from a certain character that there could be other regions or even continents in the world of Unicorn Overlord. I can only hope beyond hope that Vanillaware might return to the game’s world, as they unfortunately ran out of funding while wrapping up its development.

I haven’t even talked about the graphics yet. While Unicorn Overlord isn’t as exaggerated and wild as Dragon’s Crown, George Kamitani and his team created a big cast of characters, all unique and great looking. As mentioned the overworld is huge and stuffed with details and secrets, and it looks so damn good.

There are a couple of characters-named characters mind you not the mercs-that are slight palette swaps but the rest look brilliant. The game is 2D like Vanillaware’s pedigree, but everything is so lifelike from the character movements to the environments and of course, all the abilities and spells.

Kamitani and his team really are masters of their craft, all of the 2D designs and animations burst with life, in some cases bursting from really skimpy attire. As you upgrade your characters’ gear it all gets visually swapped out in battle too, a really nice touch that I love seeing in games.

Each cutscene has its own unique background with fully animated characters and environments, while all the characters have full lip syncing with fully-voiced dialogue too. The full cutscenes with voice acting really shine but even the smaller world-map cutscenes work well.

The soundtrack in Unicorn Overlord is simply breathtaking and as gargantuan as the game. Every region has its own theme, each with a leitmotif that carries through its day and night themes, as well as its battle themes. Everything has a theme and everything is done so well by returning team Basiscape, led by Mitsuhiro Kaneda.

The dynamic between each region’s overworld theme going from the daytime version to its nighttime counterpart is so brilliant. The battle themes range from motivating to mind-boggingly epic. Each and every piece in the soundtrack feels like it has a purpose and every second has been well composed.

Going back to the localization debate – I usually default to Japanese in games made by Japanese people so I can get a direct translation, and voice acting by the Japanese cast. After a suggestion by our review hound Fingal, I tried the game’s English version. I was pleasantly surprised by not only the written script but the English voicecast.

There are some caveats with this, though. While the English script and voicecast are all excellent and were cast well, since the game was given a Shakespearean flavor I kind of wished the entire cast was British. This is a minor nitpick, the cast still sounds great but it’ll always sound silly to hear Americans read off medieval prose.

I’ve loved every title Vanillaware has put out and I went into Unicorn Overlord knowing I’d probably like it, but boy was I completely blown away. You don’t get many games like this, not only effortlessly fun but overflowing with highly-polished, masterfully planned content.

Unicorn Overlord is a true gem, a genre-defining strategy RPG that should be lined up with the other greats released through time. I truly love Unicorn Overlord and now consider it one of my all-time favorite games, I only wish Vanillaware didn’t run out of money again because I’m dying to return to Fevrith.

Unicorn Overlord was reviewed on Xbox Series X|S with a copy obtained by Niche Gamer. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.

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The Verdict: 10

The Good

  • Well-written and paced Tolkien-esque story that isn't afraid to just pit good against evil
  • Fantastic visuals, character designs, and environments
  • Enchanting and enthralling soundtrack rife with leitmotifs
  • Masterfully paced and addicting gameplay that keeps you coming back
  • Absurd amount of content in a complete game with no DLC

The Bad

  • Vanillware ran out of money (again) and possibly didn't finish content


Owner and Publisher at Niche Gamer and Nicchiban. Outlaw fighting for a better game industry.

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