Unicorn Overlord: Trends Weigh Down an Otherwise Fantastic Strategy Game

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hello world!
Ben Hazell
| April 28, 2024
hello world!

Unicorn Overlord by Vanillaware is a game that follows the Tactical RPG genre. A type of game that has spent the last decade being less about combat and more about character-driven stories and dating simulations. The likes of Fire Emblem, Dark Deity, and Disgaea are among those who have forgotten the focus on strategy, deviating from the more classical tactical fare like Final Fantasy Tactics or even the criminally underrated Pokemon Conquest. Whether this is a good or bad thing is up to the player, but you can’t deny that a keen eye and focus on fanservice has catapulted those games into high sales figures and attracted a fanbase.

Unicorn Overlord falls somewhere in the middle of the fanservice and tactical affairs. Trying to provide an experience that caters to the widest possible audience, but unfortunately, in its attempts to do everything, it instead becomes jarring as its story suffers from what feels like interference, possibly from inclusions forced on the developers by higher-ups. At its core, this title feels to be a game drowned in glitter. Once you scrape away all the shiny additions, there is a good game underneath, but you may find yourself cleaning glitter off your shirt for too long to realize.

C’mon guys the beach trip was next week! It’s war this week!

So, let’s talk about the truly good parts. Unicorn Overlord has some deep strengths. As said before, this game boasts an incredibly in-depth combat system. Your units become pieces of armies you form and then move around a map to combat enemy armies on large and unique maps. Once engaged with each other, they fight in a 3×3 grid until their ability points are depleted. It’s very similar to a pre-prepared auto battler in this sense, except that you have a complete analytical advantage over the computer. Before every battle, you’ll have the advantage of re-positioning, re-arming, and coming up with the best situation to combat your opponents.

It’s like Chess, but you set up the board.

Your armies’ individual units can dodge, block, and be hurt by various weaknesses, and it’s up to you to organize your individual armies to fend off specific threats, especially bosses which require you to engage your brain neurons as to which setup you should send to gain an advantage. But that’s not all. On some maps, you’ll be fulfilling objectives that require you to get to places quick enough to save NPCs, some to capture certain points on the map, and one map required me to capture and have an army occupy three separate points to prevent the enemy from respawning.

If I had to liken the game to anything, I would say it fulfills the potential Yu-gi-oh the Falsebound Kingdom had many years ago but improves upon it immensely. I don’t know how much of a nerd it makes me to remember a Gamecube game from 2003, but Unicorn Overlord seems like the logical progression of that game’s overworld combat system. It even has the addition of a timer to ensure you can’t cheese stages. I love it as it makes you want to win with good fundamentals and improve your gameplay.

Welcome to fantasy Siberia! Full of animal people and snow.

Next, stories and characters. It’s very difficult to differentiate this game from other popular releases of the last few years. Not to go too much into spoilers, but the main plot is a typical Fire Emblem plot, which bizarrely turns into Octopath Traveler the further into the game you go. Something positive it borrows from, however, is Chrono Trigger. Where you can trigger the end fight at any point in the game. The cutscene you’re given will change depending on how far you’ve progressed. I appreciate being allowed to joyously gain end-game spoilers with the opening cutscene of this event at any point I wish.

Recruitable characters are a mixed bag in this game. You’ll have some who have interesting plots and lives of their own to explore, like the tri-unicorn group, who are very skilled mercenaries weighed down by their inability to depend on each other. Or Clive and Monica’s arranged marriage, which became real, but neither can accept the other. Typically, characters will either have immense unrequited love for the main character or simply stop existing in any meaningful way after recruitment.

No option to start dancing, would love for Alain to just do the macarena after destroying their army.

The villains are evil! Most of the people you fight are either brainwashed and recruited after the fact or are suffering from Saturday morning cartoon fever, making them ridiculously evil because, well… They’re evil! They come from a bad place! (No, not Michigan). I don’t really know what much else to say about Galerius or Baltro other than their motivation is just to do evil things. There’s no moral ambiguity here.  

Finally, we have the main character Alain. He is your typical forgotten prince whose only discernible character trait is “I must save the kingdom,” along with blue hair. Along the way, you get to choose some political decisions he makes, but the effects of these are minimal. Mostly, a few executions or pardons. It’s a nice addition that gives an illusion of choice.

Despite Alain being a one-note character, almost every woman in this game shows romantic interest in him because they have to for the marriage plot. Even his cousin can be forced into this. And the worst part? It’s mandatory. You have to take part in a marriage ceremony with someone, or you don’t get access to your ring’s true strength. The game sure lets you try, but the final battle has an area where, without the ring’s power, you will probably just die.

On the plus side, the game will let you marry whoever you want so that’s brilliant. The only crime is being single.

For being your central focus and a messiah-type character, Alain is not worthy of note and feels like he could be replaced with a cactus, and nothing would be different. I know that Lords in these games aren’t typically motivated by much else other than winning the campaign, but it would be nice if Alain liked dumplings or something similar.

All in all, Unicorn Overlord is a fantastic strategy game. Its well-thought-out mechanics and gameplay loop are very satisfying and any true strategy fan will see the wealth of merit this title possesses. However, in almost every area, I felt like I was being slapped in the face by “Mandated fanservice time.” At one point, a cutscene started where they introduced a Juggernaut tank lady who is double the size of any main character, at least 8 feet tall, with a unique class… She has gaps in her armor where an average size person would be within stabbing reach.

The worst part here was that you win this giant woman like a trophy for completing the gladiatorial combat arena. A jarring addition considering this arena is opened up during enemy occupation. My immersion in this wartime military campaign game was routinely shattered every time as it demanded investment in this game’s world and the suffering of its people. But then comes out with stuff in almost every area that was added to appeal to something else entirely. It’s almost like it wanted to take good things from other games and put them on top of its already good gameplay. And if the game can’t take itself seriously and have faith in its own premise? I don’t really see how I can.

Did you enjoy this game? Let me know in the comments.

Hold on let me grab my “Go for the exposed skin” ability.

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Iain McParland
Editor
19 days ago

I was hoping this would be a game where you’re a rampaging unicorn

Drew Lewis
19 days ago
Reply to  Iain McParland

Same.

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