Unicorn Overlord Review – The Most Underrated JRPG Of 2024

Despite stumbling on its story, Unicorn Overlord is still a solid contender for the best JRPG of 2024.

Unicorn Overlord Review
Overall
4.5
  • Story And Setting
  • Gameplay
  • Visuals And Performance

Verdict

After impressive hits like Persona 3 Reload and LAD Infinite Wealth, I am overjoyed that Unicorn Overlord joins that lot with relative ease.

Pros

  • Deep And Engaging Tactical Combat.
  • Beautiful 2D Visuals.
  • Well-Written Cast Of Characters.
  • Flawless Performance.

Cons

  • Formulaic Story.

Despite their relatively niche success, Vanillaware is a household name in the industry. Responsible for classics such as Odin Sphere, Dragon’s Crown, and 2019’s 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, the studio continues its flawless track record with Unicorn Overlord, a fantastic RPG that features some of the best tactics-based combat in the industry alongside a sprawling 50-hour story campaign that takes you on a journey across a vast kingdom. 

Key Takeaways
  • Developer: Vanillaware, Atlus
  • Publisher: SEGA
  • Release Date: March 8, 2024.
  • Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, Nintendo Switch
  • Game Length: 50 hours
  • Time Played: 53 hours

Together with Atlus, Vanillaware has created 2024’s third major JRPG. 

  • Author’s Note: We were able to review the game on the PS5 thanks to a game code sent from the Publisher.

Together with Atlus, Vanillaware has created 2024’s third major JRPG. 

Story And Setting

Unicorn Overlord features strong writing reminiscent of a classic fantasy drama.

Unicorn Overlord puts you in the shoes of the stoic Prince Alain, the leader of a rebel army leading a war against the evil Emperor Galerius. The game starts off showing Alain as a child amid a Siege against his kingdom, where Alain is taken away at the queen’s orders by her most trusted knight, Josef. After a time skip, we see Alain as a grown warrior ready to fight back with his own rebel army. 

It’s an intro that wastes little time in getting into things. Within an hour or two, the game effectively introduces most of its mechanics and gives you free control over what to do next; this includes having the option to make your way straight to the final boss and facing a lesson in humility.

I particularly loved the dramatic, fantasy flair that bleeds out of every written dialogue in Unicorn Overlord.”

I found the intro relatively weak as far as story is concerned. There is barely any time to simmer on anything that happens, and it briskly moves from one event to the next.

It’s good news for players who are in it for the gameplay, but as someone who places more emphasis on stories in RPGs, I was taken aback by just how quickly the story progresses early on. 

After that, Unicorn Overlord’s story becomes about conquering one region to the next with your vast army until you face the final boss and reclaim your throne. It’s a rather generic, trope-y premise for a modern JRPG, but the dramatic writing and fleshed-out characters still leave room for interesting mini-narratives. 

Unholy Matrimony

Unicorn Overlord Writing
Confronting a boss in Unicorn Overlord.

Instead of zooming out and focusing on the world and its politics, Unicorn Overlord’s storytelling deftly homes in on its varied cast of allies and foes, leading to a cast that I found very entertaining and fleshed out. 

Much of their character development comes in the form of optional quests, although it feels like an insult to call these quests “optional,” considering how significant they are in fleshing out Unicorn Overlord’s many individual characters. Many of these can lead to unlocking a new character to play with and even feature decisions that play into the narrative later.

Furthermore, you can also partake in optional bond conversations with your many allies and eventually marry any character of your choosing; this means that you can marry a character of any species or gender as long as…well, as long as they’re in your party. Want to role-play as the royal family and marry your cousin or adopted father? Well, guess what? You can do that…if you’re into that for some reason. 

It’s a rather generic, trope-y premise for a modern JRPG.”

I particularly loved the dramatic, fantasy flair that bleeds out of every written dialogue in Unicorn Overlord. Coupled with the 2D presentation and the often-exaggerated voice acting, I often felt like I was watching a stage play with the characters almost functioning like actors. It’s a unique storytelling style that works perfectly for a game like Unicorn Overlord. 

Gameplay

Unicorn Overlord Gameplay
Unicorn Overlord features fast-paced tactical combat that keeps you on your toes.

By far, the strongest asset of Unicorn Overlord is its combat. The combat features a unique mix of auto-battle and tactics-style combat, letting players alter and fine-tune the AI of each character. Simplest way to describe the combat system is that it’s the result of what you would get if Final Fantasy 12’s Gambit system performed insanitary coitus with Fire Emblem’s tactical combat.

Combat occurs in specific battle stages where you get an overhead view of the battlefield and deploy units from garrisons to attack and capture enemy bases. Once two opposing units collide, you can see the estimated damage both units will take in the current formation. In this state, you can’t disengage from battle, but you can still change the formation of your unit.

Reforming units is something you’ll have to do frequently as you’re consistently facing new enemy classes that have to be countered in different ways. The earliest example is the thief, if you encounter a thief, it’s best to have an archer on hand as archers have a skill giving them 100% hit chance on thieves.

Unicorn Overlord Rewards
The Stage Results screen rewards you based on your performance during the battle stages.

Each stage’s end goal is almost always to take down a tougher “boss” unit and capture their base. After doing so the game rewards you based on your performance, which usually means clearing a mission as fast as you can.

Unicorn Overlord also makes some interesting additions to stop the player from breaking the game such as the stamina system. Once a unit’s stamina reaches 0, that unit can no longer be used until it has rested for a short while. 

Simplest way to describe the combat system is that it’s the result of what you would get if Final Fantasy 12’s Gambit system performed insanitary coitus with Fire Emblem’s tactical combat.

I loved this mechanic as it kept me from falling into that all-too-familiar habit of just sticking to the same overpowered unit that could one-shot most enemies in the game after a certain point (looking at you, Fire Emblem Three Houses). 

All of this adds up to create this addicting loop where I was constantly making interesting decisions. Should I spend this battle leveling up my weaker units? Should I use my strongest unit early in the battle or late? Is it worth taking my time to capture enemy outposts for special items, or am I better off just rushing the target? And it’s a process that never got old in the 50+ hours I spent on Unicorn Overlord. 

Spoils Of War

Unicorn Overlord Towns
Outside of battle, players can stock up on consumables and equipment from any liberated town.

Unicorn Overlord is divided into two halves, the previously mentioned battle stages and the overworld, where you can freely control your character around the map. Here, you can accept side quests, help rebuild liberated towns by providing them with resources, purchase equipment, and consumables, and increase your bond with the characters. You can also choose to engage in mock battles with various characters. 

Here, you can also spend “honor” upgrading the size and number of your units. You get honor for taking down enemy units, quickly clearing stages, and completing side quests in the overworld.

One last thing I should mention is just how smooth everything feels. Controlling the cursor during battle stages, navigating the UI, and moving through the overworld all feel extremely smooth and responsive, which is unsurprisingly always the case with Vanillaware games. 

Visuals And Performance 

Unicorn Overlord Visuals
Unicorn Overlord carries over Vanillaware’s traditional visual style and continues to elevate it further.

One thing that Vanillaware has always excelled at is its stylish 2D visuals featuring gorgeous backgrounds and intricate character designs that all feel distinct and easily recognizable. Over the years, the studio has only gotten better, with Unicorn Overlord arguably being their best-looking title to date. However, I personally prefer the more urban locales of something like 13 Sentinels. 

While the presentation is somewhat limited compared to its contemporaries, as most of the story events take place in 2D environments with characters displaying limited animations and mostly just standing around and taking. It speaks to Vanillaware’s craft that they can create striking moments of drama using such limited presentation, effortlessly injecting power and weight into any moment thanks to the fantastic voice acting, sound design, and gorgeous art. 

Over the years, the studio has only gotten better, with Unicorn Overlord arguably being their best-looking title to date.”

Performance-wise, Unicorn Overlord is flawless. While I mostly played it on the PS5, I also tried out the demo for the Switch version, and both versions of the game run at a silky smooth 60FPS with no perceivable drops.

Verdict 

Unicorn Overlord Verdict
The verdict.

2024 is shaping up to be a definitive year for JRPGs. After impressive hits like Persona 3 Reload and LAD Infinite Wealth, I am overjoyed that Unicorn Overlord joins that lot with relative ease.

While I would have preferred a deeper, less formulaic story, I think the strong cast and stylish writing lift the narrative high enough to be something worth paying attention to. Thankfully, it’s also an intricately well-designed tactics game with a bold and stylish presentation.

This is box title
Get This Game
If you enjoy tactics games or JPRGs with a deeper focus on combat.
Dont Get This Game
If you don’t enjoy tactics based JRPGs or prefer JRPGs with a less conventional story and premise.
Do I Need To Get This Game
Yes, If you enjoyed Vanillaware’s previous titles such as 13 Sentinels then Unicorn Overlord is a definitive must-play.

Alternative Games
  • Any Fire Emblem game
  • 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim
  • Tactics Ogre Reborn
  • Final Fantasy Tactics
  • XCOM
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Nameer Zia is a video game News Writer on eXputer obsessed with hunting down all the latest happenings in the industry. Nameer has been gaming for more than 15 years, during which he has spent more than 3,000 hours on Overwatch 1 & 2. As a literature student, his literary chops feed into his passion for games and writing, using eXputer as the medium to deliver the latest news in the industry. Websites such as GamingBolt and IGN have also credited his works.

Experience: 4+ Years || Previously Worked At: Tech4Gamers || Education: Bachelors in English Literature.

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