REVIEW: Unicorn Overlord Keeps You Marching Onward

Going overboard on Unicorn Overlord

18 April 2024
by jack 0

Unicorn Overlord charges straight to the heart of what makes its take on strategy RPGs fun and that’s the greatest weapon in its arsenal. Before you know it, you’ll find yourself drafted into the Liberation Army, forming strategies, building units, and jumping from battle to battle. As you march onward, Unicorn Overlord ensures you stay the course by expanding your options and growing in complexity at a steady pace. There’s always something new just beyond the horizon, so when Unicorn Overlord gives you your marching orders, you feel compelled to keep going all the way to the end.

The story functions less like a compelling narrative and more like a framing device. You follow the military endeavors of a prince named Alain whose kingdom was stolen from him as a child. As an adult, he returns to his homeland ready to reclaim it one town at a time. Even when the plot borders on being too straightforward, it fits the game’s emphasis on the gameplay well while giving you just enough information and time with the characters to get attached. Of course, developer Vanillaware’s trademark visual stylings and strong character design do plenty of heavy lifting to get the job done.

Alain needs to grow in both strength and numbers to take his kingdom back. The Prince’s forces start small and the game revolves around growing from there. Virtually every fight adds new allies and resources to your arsenal and it’s satisfying to see your army expand. That path to power overtakes any concerns about the overarching story; I went long stretches of the game without even thinking about it.


Instead, what kept me playing was the hook of building up your forces however you see fit. Don’t let the real-time movement of the gameplay fool you into thinking it’s all about moment-to-moment strategic considerations – that matters to an extent, but truthfully this is a game where most battles can be won before you even step foot on the battlefield. How you customize your units and equipment loadouts provide the key to victory.

Unicorn Overlord offers a vast selection of different classes and characters to build your army with, including unique named characters who join you throughout the story and generic mercenaries for hire. The roster covers everything you’d expect and then some: Fighters, Clerics, Archers, Knights, Gryphon Knights, Gryphon Gryphons…I made that last one up, but you get the idea. There’s a lot of classes and variations on those classes. They all have their uses and ideal matchups, giving you incentive to try them all out and see how they complement each other.

For the most part, no one works alone here, either. Teaming up units is nothing new for the genre, however the setup here takes the concept one step further. Each “unit” can consist of several different characters, opening the door for a staggering amount of combinations. Units sit atop a 6 square grid delineated by a front and back row. Who you place where you place them can dramatically alter the unit’s chances of survival. You can choose to build balanced units that cover as many bases as possible, specialize units for specific enemies or goals like covering terrain quickly, or simply compose a team of characters you like and try to make them work.


While you can think about Unicorn Overlord as a game where you just fit the right classes into the right spots at the right time, that’s only scratching the surface of its depth. Each character can be individually customized from the typical equipment system down to the specific actions that they take during each battle. When their abilities activate or how they use them can be controlled by a series of conditional if/then statements. For example, unless you set your healing abilities properly your clerics might keep healing people who don’t need it, or your fighters will attack enemies that they will barely damage. Later in the game, abilities will overlap and invalidate each other if you’re not paying attention, so it’s worth giving your ability conditions a look.

Setting your own ability conditions proves to be an interesting system even if it isn’t always a perfect one. You need to tinker a lot and figuring out all of the details to create your ideal soldier can be convoluted. The wording on the activation conditions aren’t always clear on what exactly they mean, and it can be surprisingly difficult to get the characters to function how you imagine they should, so often the only real way to know for sure how things will go is by injecting your playthrough with a healthy dose of trial and error. Mastering the nuances of the customization options requires experimentation to an extent that may tempt most to instead hit the “optimize” button on each character and hope for the best.


Given the importance of prep work, I also wish how the game delivers information in a few other areas was more streamlined. Although the game will tell you what the results of a battle will be before you collide with an enemy, that can be misleading for a variety of reasons. You may see that your unit only loses about 20% of its health in the preview, but what it won’t tell you is that one of the characters died during the battle, effectively crippling your unit for future battles. Additionally, since the game moves in real time, it doesn’t make assumptions about the effects of other nearby units before you make contact. A nearby archer or mage sitting next to an enemy unit you want to challenge can turn your projected victory into a traumatic loss, and you won’t actually know the truth until it’s too late. Misleading forecasts like these can largely be avoided once you have a deeper understanding of how the game works, but until you put the time in to gather that knowledge, they feel needlessly underhanded.

You can primarily tell what will happen by watching the full battle animations in each fight. They look awesome, so that’s not an issue…the first few times. As the game progresses, unit rosters grow and the amount of abilities in play multiply, significantly increasing the length of each skirmish. Hitting fast forward helps to an extent, yet…and this is just between you and me…I must confess that I began to skip most of the animations after a few hours into the game. Yeah, I feel guilty about letting Vanillaware’s artistic talents go to waste and yeah, watching them does provide tangible gameplay benefits, but they just get so long, you know? And you fight so many battles! And…oh, who am I kidding. Lock me up!

The core appeal of tailoring your roster however you see fit weathers even the harshest storm of minor inconveniences. While I did delve into making a few optimized units, I spent most of my time taking a much less efficient path. It became a personal challenge for me to simply put the characters I thought fit each other thematically or personality-wise into units with little regard to their actual gameplay viability. Once chosen, I’d then work backwards to try and make the unit viable. Between creating a perfect waifu death squad for Alain and making cool teams for my other favorite side characters, a significant chunk of my playtime came from tinkering with my army in goofy ways.


Unicorn Overlord may sound complicated, and in some ways it is, yet deep down it’s really only as complex as you want it to be. Unicorn Overlord heavily accommodates a player’s willingness to experiment with a generally low difficulty level. Most maps feature relatively straightforward design and objectives, so you only occasionally need to vary your tactics. Enemies put up a respectable enough fight where you need to grasp the basics of the game, but not much more than that. On the normal difficulty, I found the game to be a breeze even when intentionally handicapping myself with less optimal units, and what I played of the higher difficulties didn’t put up much of a fight once I knew what I was doing. Even if you do end up stuck in a rut, the game tosses you multiple ropes in the form of field abilities and items you can spam your way to victory with.

For better or for worse, Unicorn Overlord prioritizes giving its players a stress-free sandbox to test out their creations in rather than a cutthroat battle of wits. Results may vary depending on your tastes, but I see this choice less as a flaw and more as a candid recognition of the game’s strengths. Simply getting stomped down in each mission for failing to send out the most optimal units would kill the joy of experimentation and bog down the game dramatically. Throughout my 50 or so hours with the game, I never felt like I “needed” a greater challenge. Instead, the only thing I consistently wanted was more: more characters to join my roster, more weapons and accessories, more upgrades, and more battles to try everything out.

Unicorn Overlord eagerly delivers with an open world map that constantly doles new things out at you virtually every few steps. You’re free to explore and find whatever you want, provided you’re willing to contend some potentially lethal level gaps between you and your enemies. Even if you choose not to tempt fate, it’s incredibly easy to stumble upon optional battles and side quests suited to your level. I constantly felt like I was finding new things, even if they were just shiny items I picked up off the ground. This continuous loop of discovery constantly tempts you to take just a few more steps forward.


Unicorn Overlord kept me marching onward all the way to the finish. The journey was so steadily paced and addictive that I wanted to keep the going even after it was over. Sadly after completing Unicorn Overlord’s campaign, little will keep you coming back. One post-game mission gives you a few more characters to play around with, but nothing interesting to use them on. A higher difficulty level also becomes available, but without a “new game plus” that lets me carry over my units, I wasn’t that interested in retracing my steps. I suppose I can’t begrudge the game too much when my biggest complaint boils down to wanting more, but what else can I say when Unicorn Overlord keeps you wanting more the whole way through!?

About jack


Thanks for scrolling down. My qualifications for creating whatever you just witnessed are doctorates in law and Mega Man. I know more about the latter. On most days I enjoy dogs, tea, and Spider-Man.

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