Unicorn Overlord Review – A Bold New Strategy

Unicorn Overlord Review

Strategy RPGs are not normally known for innovation. To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with slowly building on an established formula. Plenty of franchises do an amazing job making tiny changes to winning ideas. This just means that unusual new games land with that much more impact. Unicorn Overlord feels familiar and brand new all at the same time. I was simply not prepared for this kind of approachable complexity in a strategy RPG. These are new depths we’re exploring, make no mistake.

Our story follows a young prince of a conquered kingdom. He’s setting out to recapture his throne and eliminate the despot who’s taken over the continent. Along the way, you meet a whole host of characters, many of whom will end up in your army. The narrative is crammed with betrayals, tragedies, new alliances, and old villains. Along with a mystery or two. To be honest, I wasn’t especially invested. The writing is great, don’t get me wrong. Every line is full of personality. It’s just not enough to drag me away from the mechanics. I’m paying just enough attention to follow along while staying fully locked into the combat.

Brilliant Battle Mechanics

This is where Unicorn Overlord truly shines for me. Battles happen in real time, sort of. You can pause at any moment to give commands. Every unit on the battlefield is actually a squad consisting of several fighters. Said fighters have a complex rock/paper/scissors relationship with one another. Fights happen automatically, but you can choose how your moves play out with a gambit-style system. Even things like unit position within the squad can make a huge difference. Plus, you get a straightforward damage report before the fight even happens, if you’re paying attention.

Unicorn Overlord Review

The rock/paper/scissors analogy feels woefully insufficient. There are dozens of unit types, each with a different relationship to the other units. Witches, Shamans, and Wizards all fulfill different functions. Same with Soldiers, Fighters, and Hoplites. I love tinkering with different combos, and seeing how they perform on the battlefield. Watching a new squad of five effortlessly destroy a previously untouchable opponent is a wonderful feeling. Although I did get sick of watching combat play out automatically after a while. You can always skip the battle and get straight to the results. This becomes a pretty alluring option, especially if you’re grinding out sidequests or squad levels.

Skip To The Good Bits

Making new squads on a regular basis also prevents your lineup from getting too stagnant. There’s no experience earned on the bench, so everyone’s gotta fight if they want to get stronger. Thankfully, type matchups are more important than levels. This means even your weakest soldiers are able to contribute. At least, they can if you’re clever enough. I can’t get enough of the battles in Unicorn Overlord. I sought out every side mission I could, just to find more fights to win. Every time I got stuck, it was another chance to reorganize my whole army. What new combos would win the day this time?

But wait! There’s even more you can do to power up! New equipment and new skills, for starters. Each unit can be promoted beyond its original role. Your gambits can be re-arranged. You can level grind, if you’re into that sort of thing. Or you can do all the sidequests for even more rewards. The point is, you’ve got options if you’re feeling stuck. This is my favorite kind of roadblock, the kind you can patiently plot your way around. Plus, any solution that gets me more combat time is a good one.

Unicorn Overlord Review

Of course, this is also a Vanillaware game. For the unfamiliar, this means gorgeous 2D character models. Everyone you meet is beautifully rendered and lovingly animated. Every major character, all the unit types, the NPCs, everyone. The backgrounds and the environments are lovely, but they can’t compare to the characters. We’re talking vibrant colors, tons of details, and elegant designs. Said designs are almost reason enough to spend time with every unit in battle. I want to see how they move, how they attack, and how they react. The music and the voice acting are good, but they can’t compare to the artwork and animation in terms of quality.

Gorgeous Character Models

I can’t overstate how addictive I found the combat in Unicorn Overlord. Not only are the battles thrilling and engaging, but you get to watch the map change with every victory. Towns that you liberate are restored. Guards can be posted at each one, reinforcing the reality of your influence. You watch the empire’s shadow dissolve before your light with each win. Somehow, the tactile map and the exhilarating fights combine to keep you itching for your next encounter. I don’t just want to win, I want to wipe this usurper from the continent altogether. Everything else fades in the face of this mission. I’m saving the world, not to restore my kingdom, but to complete the map.

This is very much my kind of RPG. One where I can tend to a massive roster of fighters, a sort of garden of fantasy violence. The combat is simple to execute yet endlessly deep, with new layers constantly revealing themselves. The art direction is fantastic and the gameplay loop is terribly addictive. I found the story perfectly okay. It’s an effective vehicle for bringing me more battles in an organic fashion. I like the writing, though I recognize it’s more style than substance. Truly, Unicorn Overlord plays to its strengths. If you also long for a battle system so compelling it obliterates the rest of the game, then you can’t miss this one.

***A PS5 key was provided by the publisher***

The Good

  • Combat system is amazing
  • Art is fantastic
  • Good writing/voice work

The Bad

  • Story is forgettable
  • Battle animations get old