When Japanese developers Vanillaware announce they’re releasing a new game, you sit up and take notice. The team, started in 2002 by Capcom and Atlus vet George Kamitani, most recently brought us 2020’s adored 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, and soon returns with Unicorn Overlord, due out March 2024. Here’s everything we know about the forthcoming tactical RPG so far.
What exactly is Unicorn Overlord?
Rather than an entry in a long-running series, Unicorn Overlord is an entirely new creation by RPG stalwarts Vanillaware. Set on the continent of Fevrith, this is a tactical role-playing game in which action is split into two distinct halves.
There’s an overworld, where you play as the exiled prince Alain as he recruits an army to help him reclaim his rightful throne. This overworld will be freely explorable, spread across five nations, where Alain can find new troops, visit towns, liberate them to get quests, and visit merchants to buy equipment.
The other half is the combat, which are set to be large-scale battlefields, where you need to carefully move your troops across the maps to engage the enemies. From there, you’ll enter real-time, pausable combat with enemy units.
What genre is Unicorn Overlord?
The game was designed to emulate ‘90s tactical RPGs, reported 4gamer.net in 2023, shortly after Unicorn Overlord was revealed in a Nintendo Direct in September. Vanillaware often seems to take the approach of thinking back on a beloved type of game, and then reimagining it for modern audiences—2013’s Dragon’s Crown was inspired by side-scrolling action games, for instance. In this case, it was what Atlus’s Teriyasu Yamamoto described to 4gamer as “simulation RPGs,” where the emphasis is on worldbuilding and the mechanics within it.
The result seems to be a meld of various RPG approaches, given its split design between the surface world and the battlefields. However, the developers state their goal has been to create something intricate and involved, with freedom to approach the game’s challenges in your own order and customization options out the wahoo.
So, in short, it’s an epic RPG combined with an intricate strategic battle sim.
I need more detail about this overworld
Fortunately, there’s an entire trailer to explain it. It details how you can explore the continent in your own order, liberating towns across the enormous five separate countries in order to unlock their facilities, and to recapture territory from the enemy. You can also recruit individuals to your army from these towns, as well as pick up all manner of quest types.
Regarding the freedom of exploration, the game won’t all be immediately possible to play. Firstly, you need to reach destinations before you can explore them, and to do that you’ll need to battle through the enemy-occupied territory between. Secondly, there will be battles you’ll encounter—whichever way you first explore—that you’ll realize you need a specific class to win. So you’ll head off in another direction in pursuit of recruiting someone appropriate. This doesn’t mean the game will artificially funnel players down a set path, but in fact the opposite: you’ll be forced to explore more widely if you want to be successful.
Rescued towns will not have been looked after well by the enemy, so you can also help the liberated improve their lot by delivering building materials. This will open up more useful retail outlets within those towns. This includes taverns that serve some very delicious-looking food. Expect to see many articles about how lovely this food looks.
What about the battles, then?
Here, Vanillaware and Atlus have been slightly less forthcoming with detailed information, but it’s clear the most important aspect is your hand-crafted army.
It seems you’ll be able to recruit as many as 60 characters, specializing in dozens of class types, and each of them can be customized and improved through Promotions—spending the game’s “honors” to upgrade a character’s status, and introduce new abilities and attacks. The choices you make in this regard, and how you order them, affects how you perform in battles.
We’ve just learned new details on some of these class types, including self-healing Gladiators, crossbow-firing Arbalists and battleground clear-up agents, Werewolves. Brilliantly, the recently released information on Werewolves mysteriously states, “Also possesses a special skill that improves their performance at night.” What could it be?!
Much of the complexity in Unicorn Overlord seems to come from how you assign these classes to work together in the real-time battles. A Wyvern Knight, for instance, is an aerial heavy damage unit that can deliver sizeable attacks, while a Featherbow is an archer that can debuff enemies, and is super-effective at taking out flying enemies. If the enemy is dominating you with the former, you’ll want to use the latter.
Your armies are grouped into what the game confusingly calls “units,” and each unit will have a leader. The leader’s class will change the way the unit moves (infantry, cavalry or flying), and what its “leader effect” will be. For instance, a Housecarl—an axe-wielding physical attacker—as a leader gives the unit the ability to more quickly destroy barricades.
This sounds like it could be very difficult
There’s no question that Unicorn Overlord is putting a lot of emphasis on complexity, but interviews with the developers suggest this is something they want to deliver to a broad audience. The game will come with difficulty levels, and on the lowest setting, Yamamoto told 4Gamer, “If you lower the difficulty level and play based on the basics, I think even people who are not used to simulation RPGs will be able to progress through the game without any problems.”
Wait, is there a unicorn overlord?
You know, of all the information made available about this game so far, there’s nothing we’ve found that explains the game’s name. However, we know the game’s enemy empire is called Zenoira, that is currently ruling over the five nations. Its leader is called Galerius, but is he an evil unicorn? We desperately hope so.
When can I play Unicorn Overlord?
The game will be released March 8 on Switch, Xbox Series, and PS4 and PS5. There’s no word yet on a PC version.