Unicorn Overlord review

by on March 27, 2024
Release Date

March 8, 2024.


There are few developers who have been around for as long as Vanillaware that have such a diverse catalogue of games. Although all the team’s titles all have a recognisable art style, they really couldn’t be more different. We’ve had their take on the beat ’em up with Dragon’s Crown, action RPGs like Odin Sphere and Muramasa, and the weird and wonderful blend of tower defence and visual novel that was 13 Sentinels. Well, Unicorn Overlord might just the developer’s most unique game yet, blending real time strategy and auto battling to create something truly special.

The story of Unicorn Overlord follows the life of Alain, the boy prince of a fallen kingdom who lost his home and family to a power hungry monster of a man known as Galerius. Now many years later he begins his quest to take down this tyrant, but with pretty much the whole world ruled by his lackeys it won’t be easy. Only by gathering allies from all corners of the land will Alain be able to achieve his goal, so for the majority of the game you’ll be trying to get the numbers to overthrow the baddies once and for all.

There are legions upon legions of knights, archers and soldiers standing in between Alain and taking back the kingdom, and you’ll need to take most of them down to succeed in your quest. Most missions in the game generally require you to get your units across a large map and take down a boss, which you do by moving your squads in real time across the battlefield and taking on anyone who stands in your way. Along the way you’ll encounter towns that you can station a squad at to recover their health and stamina (and which gives them a defence boost in battle) watch towers which make ranged attacks go further and barricades that bounce your units back when they bump into them until they’re turned to splinters. Most battles add something new and interesting to have to think about while moving your soldiers around, and you’ll need to master them all to save the day.

A screenshot of Unicorn Overlord

As well as a variety of obstacles you’ll have to contend with across the map, there’s also a resource called Valor you can use to deploy extra units and unleash powerful abilities. Alain can boost your power for the next few fights or grant extra experience to his allies with his Valor skills, but other units you gather might be able to weaken an enemy with some arrows before you get into a real fight, heal one of your squads, or boost their running speed to help out an ally in a pinch.

Controlling your armies movement across the battlefield is one thing, but you won’t get far in Unicorn Overlord if your squads aren’t kitted out for battle. Each unit you control is actually made up of up to six characters that you arrange on a 3-by-2 grid, who use their abilities automatically until the enemy they’re facing is dead or they run out of ability points. Each unit has different abilities that activate at certain moments, so a armoured Hoplite will jump in front of the first attack an ally is going to take and absorb it, and then attack in a line through the enemies, or a soldier will attack the enemy at the start of an encounter and also end the encounter by healing your most injured unit. There are dozens and dozens of different characters you’ll gather on your adventure, and each of them functions completely differently.

The way to win battles in Unicorn Overlord isn’t just to shove all the best units into one squad though and bash into the bad guys, it’s important to ensure there’s synergy in each of your squads. This could be as simple as having a powerful but flimsy unit backed up by defenders and healers, or involve a little more thought like using a thief’s ability to dodge attacks to ensure nobody else gets hurt. Each unit type also has a weakness though, so you’ll need to avoid bad matchups if you want to come out on top.

Making the best squad compositions is definitely daunting at first, but by watching each battle play out you’re able to see why your units are struggling in a scrap and can shuffle them about accordingly. Maybe the unit of the front row is just taking too much damage, or you’ve arranged your units on the grid in a way that means the weaker ones often get hit by specific powerful attacks. Watching a well composed squad wipe out the enemy without breaking a sweat is a thing of beauty, and once you’re confident your team of warriors is set up right you can skip watching battles entirely to save time.

A screenshot of Unicorn Overlord

For the first five hours or so you’re left to take back the kingdom one battle at a time with your newly arranged squads, but eventually you’re introduced to something reminiscent of the Final Fantasy XII gambit system that you can use to ensure your units act how you want them to in combat. Each ability your unit has can be assigned a priority, can be given a specific situation that you want it to activate, and can be given a preferred target. Maybe you want everyone in a squad to target the frailest enemy to thin the ranks quickly, or maybe you would prefer your mages to always attack armoured units when possible? Regardless, with some thoughtful tactics you can do this to ensure success in every battle.

There’s so much clever complexity in Unicorn Overlord’s sprawling battles, but they’re actually only one aspect of the game. Between missions you’re left to explore the overworld at your own pace, with materials to gather, towns to improve your relationship with, and tons of side quests waiting to be completed with huge rewards for doing so (like equipment for your units or military treaties that grant bonus experience). There are even encounters in enemy areas that allow you to choose any squad to battle a specific grid of baddies, which are a great way to test out your match-ups. I spent hours wandering across the land looking for hidden treasure, building relationships between characters by feeding them tasty meals together, and playing mining mini games, and it’s a great distraction from the tense army encounters.

By diving into as much side content as possible you’ll gain access to new characters, and be given a currency called Honors which you can use to upgrade your squads or form new ones. Until you improve your reputation each squad is limited to a specific number of units you can arrange on the grid, but by helping out the kingdom and spending some Honors you can add extra members to a squad which will boost its power exponentially.

A screenshot of Unicorn Overlord

I can’t end a review of a Vanillaware game without mentioning how gorgeous it looks, and Unicorn Overlord is no exception to this. Each unit is realised in such gorgeous detail, and their attack animations never ceased to impress me. The mix of more basic pixel art representations on the battlefield and detailed fighting game style models in battle makes for a breathtakingly beautiful overall visual package, and while I was expecting to be impressed that didn’t take away from the sheer wonder of a game this gorgeous.

Unicorn Overlord is a sensational video game, but it does have a couple of small negative aspects too. The story is perfectly serviceable (and really well voiced) but is nothing you haven’t seen before in fantasy games, movies, and books. I also found a few battles to be just a little bit too long, and felt a little burned out after the particularly brutal 30-plus minute missions that were thrown my way.

Unicorn Overlord is an expertly crafted strategy game, which manages to create some seriously complex systems and weaves them together masterfully. Few games are as deep and thoughtful as Unicorn Overlord, yet with clever ways to ensure you’re always learning about squad composition and some masterfully crafted tutorials I didn’t ever feel overwhelmed or confused about the best way to play the game. If you’re looking for a game that’s unlike anything else you’ve ever played (and is ridiculously beautiful) then Unicorn Overlord is the easiest recommendation I’ll ever give you.


A fantastic blend of RTS and auto battling
Does a great job of teaching you about all the complex mechanics
Loads to keep you busy on the overworld
Breathtakingly beautiful


The story isn't particularly revolutionary
Some battles go on a bit long

Editor Rating
Our Score


In Short

Unicorn Overlord combines real time strategy with auto battling to create an incredibly unique game, and it also looks absolutely incredible.