Unicorn Overlord Review – Another win for Vanillaware

Reviewed March 29, 2024 on Nintendo Switch


PS4, Nintendo Switch, PS5, Xbox Series X|S


March 8, 2024




Vanillaware, Atlus

In a weird way, Unicorn Overlord is the polar opposite of Vanillaware’s previous title, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim. I found 13 Sentinels to be a stand-out, phenomenal and unique sci-fi story, with adequate but simple tactical gameplay. It’s as if they decided that their next title must be its inverse: a complex tactical game with plenty of opportunities to optimise battles, justified by a fantasy tale that’s a little paint-by-numbers. Despite this, Unicorn Overlord maintains the high quality overall that Vanillaware has become known for.

The game starts in the middle of the action, with a noble queen’s final doomed effort to prevent her kingdom’s fall at the hands of the evil general Valmore. In this opening section, the game gives you an exciting taste of the complex tactic gameplay in motion, before pulling back to teach you the basics as Prince Alain begins his journey to liberate the continent from the clutches of the tyrant who killed his mother. This kind of story is nothing we haven’t heard before, and although it’s a fine story that’s decently told, it’s also completely expected and lacking in depth. A major plot point is that many of the queen’s once-loyal servants have mysteriously joined the evil tyrant, but it’s quickly revealed that the cause is magical mind control that the Prince can undo with the use of a family heirloom, the ring of the Unicorn. That’s fine, but I feel like it misses out on a more dramatic tale about the reasons defeated people can find themselves serving an oppressive regime willingly, something even Final Fantasy 14 manages to achieve. While Unicorn Overlord has its reasons for telling the tale this way, it’s revealed much later in the game and makes for an unremarkable first half. On the bright side, the poetic old-world dialogue adds a lot of flavour to the story, as does its fantastic voice acting.

Your choice of control

Instead of commanding each character individually and choosing which attack they make, you control several units made up of up to six individuals, placed on a 2×6 grid to oppose the enemy’s unit. When you direct the unit to attack an enemy, each character will automatically start executing actions from their set list of skills while you sit back and watch the conflict play out. These are great fun to watch; they are flashy and punchy, and the animations have some real weight behind them so attacks look like they hit hard.

At any time inside and outside of battle, you can change which skills each character will prioritise, and under what conditions. For example, I set a condition on my healer Scarlett that she must only use her healing spells when her allies’ health is below 75% so that she would not waste her actions healing minor cuts and scrapes. This is important because each character has a limited number of Action Points, or AP, in each enemy encounter. By being careful with these skills, you can cleverly avoid wasting AP and perhaps get an extra attack out of it, which feels very rewarding.

You can set heaps of different conditions on these skills: which kind of enemy it targets, where the enemy is placed on the grid, what kind of allies you have, and many more. With more than 30 classes with different strengths and disadvantages, there are practically infinite combinations you can make. With some careful consideration, you can make devastatingly effective units whose skills complement each other.

All this gets really, really complicated and hard to follow, especially as your army grows from just a handful of friends to an army of followers. It’s easy to get overwhelmed, not to mention it’s time-consuming to manage.

Cleverly, the game waits until a few hours in to introduce this complex stuff, and by this time you will have already realised that your units are more than capable without your intervention. Players who customise their character’s abilities with complicated conditions will be well rewarded with swifter battles and a sense of accomplishment, but more casual players who find it a bit too much to handle can still get by without all the micromanaging. I was somewhere in the middle, and I definitely noticed the difference: when I was inspired to tinker with my units’ skills, they were noticeably dealing greater damage and losing less health in return.

More captivating is the graphics, which does a lot to make up for a middling story. The overworld, where you can explore the continent as Prince Alain, evokes more of a simple, almost retro overhead view, while in dialogue and battle animations, you are treated to Vanillaware’s signature detailed 2D view. Vanillaware is a master at its particular brand of smooth anime-style character designs and worlds, using gentle yet vibrant colours and dynamic lighting to make the world come alive. They have outdone themselves this time; each character has a memorable, attractive look that is detailed yet avoids feeling overdesigned.

It’s tough to reconcile my distaste for the over-sexualisation of women in video games with my appreciation for the genuinely beautiful artwork and animations in this game. There is an element of unseriousness to the designs that makes getting mad at them seem like a waste of energy; take the witch class, whose idle animation has her gyrating her hips hypnotically to draw your eye to her exposed midriff, all the while showing off her 6-inch stiletto heels every time she shifts from one foot to the other. How can I be mad when I’m too busy enjoying the over-the-top campness of it all? Or the sorceress, who is inexplicably bending over low enough that you can watch her oversized breasts sway along with her movement. It’s not every female character, but it’s many of them. I only wish it were equal opportunity! Not a single male character is sexualised this way; their outfits are perfectly battle-appropriate and their idle poses utterly sensible. When are you going to give us something for the man-lovers, VanillaWare?

A full-length military campaign

Unicorn Overlord is long. Spanning over five regions, Prince Alain and his liberation army have their work cut out for them. The gameplay loop is repetitive yet satisfying: explore more of the land until you are confronted by a town held by the oppressive Zenoiran army, beat them in battle, and be rewarded with more of the land to explore. There are other sidequests and points of interest around, as well as spots to gather the resources you need to rebuild towns and shop for better weapons. Exploration is also how you’ll come across a fair amount of your army members, many of whom are missable, so there are tonnes of incentives to look around. It more than makes up for the story, which doesn’t get truly interesting until halfway through.

Its runtime is no doubt inflated by some repeated battle missions around the map, but they are thankfully short and sweet battles that don’t overstay their welcome. While many are technically optional, they are justified within the narrative as, well, you’re supposed to be liberating all of the country, not just some of it. Plus, it’s just satisfying to watch the land controlled by Zenoira shrink and yours grow.




  • Hefty playtime with a long campaign plus a healthy amount of sidequests
  • Gorgeous graphical art style with dynamic lighting
  • Complex battle tactics for those who wish to engage
  • Dialogue and voice acting adds much-needed flavour to the tale


  • Plot is unremarkable until the latter half
  • Setting tactics can get time consuming

Unicorn Overlord is not quite enough to dethrone Vanillaware’s previous title, 13 Sentinels, but it’s not far off. With an extremely solid tactical strategy campaign that allows more casual players to engage in all of its complexities, it’s an easy recommendation for any strategy fan or fantasy fan in general.  It doesn’t utilise all of its long playtime effectively with an unremarkable first half, but the gameplay and phenomenal artwork are more than enough to keep you going until it picks up.