Unicorn Overlord Review: Bite-Sized Tactics


Unicorn Overlord

By: Jason Siu


9 min read

Home » Reviews » Unicorn Overlord Review: Bite-Sized Tactics
Unicorn Overlord Review, FullCleared

We prefer to run an ad-free site, so this post may contain affiliate links. If you wish to support us and use these links to buy something, we may earn a commission. Learn more here.

Quick Verdict

The entire time I played Unicorn Overlord, I kept thinking it felt like a modern version of the tactical RPGs I loved in the 1990s. The game doesn’t introduce anything groundbreaking for the genre, but like many great games, it polishes and fine-tunes existing systems and mechanics for a new generation to enjoy. While I found the game’s surprisingly vanilla story disappointing, especially given my love for 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, I highly recommend Unicorn Overlord to any tactical or strategy RPG fan.

Great Expectations

Unicorn Overlord Review Gallery, FullCleared

It’s always been interesting to me that despite the industry’s tendency to oversaturate any moderately successful genre, strategy and tactical RPGs remain relatively uncommon. The Fire Emblem series is one of the most notable franchises, yet many still consider Final Fantasy Tactics the pinnacle of the genre, even after all these years. Other recent titles, such as Triangle Strategy and The DioField Chronicle, looked promising but ultimately underdelivered. Although Unicorn Overlord doesn’t reach the same heights as Final Fantasy Tactics, it stands head and shoulders above any new entries in the genre from the last decade.

I admit, I didn’t hop onto the Vanillaware bandwagon until I played 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim. My curiosity about that game was piqued by comments from Yoko Taro in several interviews. Considering my love of NieR: Automata, I trusted Yoko Taro’s judgment and it paid off. To this day, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is the game I get the most comments about when people see it on my list of the best games I’ve ever played. Those who have experienced it know exactly what I’m talking about, and those that haven’t, can’t help but ask why it’s on my list.

When Unicorn Overlord was first announced, I couldn’t have been more excited. I set my expectations extremely high, and though the story fell short, the gameplay exceeded them.

Vanilla Story

Unicorn Overlord Review Gallery, FullCleared

The story of Unicorn Overlord starts off familiarly enough: Alain, the crown prince of Cornia, watches his kingdom come under siege at a very young age. His mother, Queen Ilenia, stays behind to fight off the invaders while her trusted knight, Josef, whisks Alain away to safety. It’s a surprisingly generic premise, especially for a game that spans 40 to 50 hours and covers five major areas. Where Unicorn Overlord shines, however, is in the game’s characters. Throughout the adventure, Alain will meet and possibly recruit 70 characters to his army, some of whom can be missed. I’d argue that the real story of Unicorn Overlord lies in its vast roster of personalities and the decisions Alain must make, some of which ultimately decide the fate of these characters and whether they join his cause.

As Alain begins his journey to reclaim his birthright by fighting back against the Zenoiran army occupying all five regions of Fevrith, he is joined by lifelong friends Josef, Scarlett, Lex, and Chloe. The roster doesn’t stay that small for very long, as Alain travels through Cornia, Drakenhold, Elheim, Bastorias, and Albion. Each region has its own personality and races, such as the beast-folk known as bestrals in Bastorias, and the light and dark elves in Elheim. The gameplay loop is essentially the same in each region. Players can stick to the main quests that advance the story or wander the map to help reclaim every town. Certain quests culminate in Alain making life-or-death decisions about characters, choices that will impact the game later on. Many of these choices create a conflict between your moral compass and your gaming strategy. Your heart might tell you the thief doesn’t deserve to live after all they’ve done, but your mind might argue they’d be a perfect fit for one of your armies. Some of these choices are surprisingly entertaining when that character resurfaces later on in the story and you have either a sense of relief or anger.

While adventuring in the overworld, Alain picks up resources that can be used to restore towns freed from Zenoiran rule. This aspect of the game pleasantly reminded me of Actraiser, a favorite of mine from the SNES days. Exploring the map provides a nice break from combat, uncovering points of interest and secrets while accumulating resources. After restoring each town, you can station a guard to help passively gain resources. Although it’s not a crucial part of the game, it offers a nice change of pace. There’s also a mining minigame for unearthing resources and treasure maps if you want to spend more time away from combat.

With such a large roster of characters, it’s not surprising that the vast majority of relationships in this game never get very deep. You can select characters to share meals with in order to strengthen their rapport, which unlock conversations in the overworld that further progress those friendly bonds. Many of these cutscenes are short and light, similar to side conversations that take place in many of the “Tales of” games. Don’t expect the same level of relationship building as you’d find in a Persona game. Building rapport with Alain culminates in an event that might symbolize marriage, though the game doesn’t explicitly label it as such. The point is, you can have a favorite for Alain and the game will not judge you if you decide that to be his cousin, his father figure, or the witch who is hundreds of years old.

Tactics Lite

Unicorn Overlord Review Gallery, FullCleared

Depending on your experience with strategy/tactical RPG games, the combat in Unicorn Overlord might surprise you. However, if you’ve played Ogre Battle, you’ll probably understand how it works. Instead of a grid-based, turn-by-turn control of each character, Unicorn Overlord’s combat unfolds on an overworld map where squads can move freely. The tactical core of the game centers on how you construct these squads, which can include up to five characters each. Positioning and squad composition are crucial, especially given the over 40 classes available in the game, many of which have advanced forms. You can choose to have a variety of classes for each squad, or create squads for specific counters. For example, you’ll want Hunters and Elven Archers to take on flying enemies like Wyvern Knights.

When a squad engages another in combat, you have the option to commence the battle, adjust your squad’s formation, and use items. Adjusting your squad’s formation is key to winning fights or minimizing damage. This requires knowledge of the classes and how positioning affects outcomes, though you can also experiment by randomly adjusting positions to maximize damage dealt or minimize damage received. This is possible because you can see the predicted outcome before committing to a fight, with no RNG involved. You’ll know exactly how much damage you’ll deal and receive, allowing you to adjust your tactics for the best possible outcome. My biggest frustration with Unicorn Overlord’s combat is the inability to back out of a battle or retreat while taking reduced damage. If your squad encounters another, you are committed to that fight. Fortunately, unlike in other strategy RPGs, permanent death isn’t a concern in Unicorn Overlord. Although you can’t revive an entire squad if defeated in battle, they will be ready for the next fight.

While squad composition and unit placement represent the initial layer of tactical strategy in Unicorn Overlord, newcomers will be pleased to know that on Normal and easier difficulties, these are the only aspects you need to focus on, if you choose. On my first playthrough on Normal difficulty, I was able to bully my way through 95 percent of the game focusing mainly on three squads. This became a bit of an issue towards the end of the game, but the point is, you can figure out what works for you in Unicorn Overlord and chances are, you can make that work within the game. This isn’t the type of strategy game that limits your combat options to a few specific answers. With the number of classes available, there’s essentially an infinite number of possibilities for squad makeup. Do what you want to do with your characters, and chances are, you’ll figure out a way to make it work. This aspect does suggest the game leans towards the easier side, but for those seeking more strategic challenges, higher difficulties and the “Tactics” feature is available.

Royal Gambits

Unicorn Overlord Review Gallery, FullCleared

The real depth of Unicorn Overlord comes from Tactics, a system that is very similar to Gambits in Final Fantasy XII. Essentially, you set up parameters that dictate AI actions in combat, which are crucial to your success. Each action can have up to two conditions, and the complexity increases as characters unlock more actions. Generally, setting conditions is logical, but the variety of options enables truly complex strategies. As a more basic example, consider a character with an action that refunds 1 AP upon delivering a killing blow. To maximize your chances of triggering this effect, you could set up a Tactic for the unit to use that action only on enemies with less than 50% HP. To further increase your chances, you then set another Tactic directing the remaining squad units to target enemies with more than 50% HP. This strategy helps ensure the best chance of triggering the effect, as all the other units in the squad will prioritize enemies above 50% HP.

This is a rather basic explanation of how Tactics work in Unicorn Overlord, and I could probably write thousands of words explaining it more in depth, but I won’t. This system shines because it offers the min-max opportunities and depth some players crave, while those who couldn’t care less can just hit the optimize button. Setting up Tactics for all 10 of my squads—comprising 50 units toward the end of the game—felt daunting, so I manually configured my main three squads and let the optimize option handle the rest. At the time of writing, I’m partway through my True Zenoiran playthrough, so that may change later on.

The Power of Friendship

Unicorn Overlord Review Gallery, FullCleared

Ultimately, I love the flexibility Unicorn Overlord offers. Even if you choose to ignore the main strategy elements, it’s still entertaining to set up squads with characters you think belong together and see how they fare collectively in battle. There’s plenty to enjoy regarding character interactions, with lighthearted, short stories about their developing relationships told through hundreds of Rapport Conversations that can be unlocked in the game. Although the overall story is rather predictable, it is well-written and well-voiced across its large roster. You may even recognize some of the voices if you’ve recently played Fire Emblem games or spent 217 hours in Final Fantasy VII Rebirth as Yuffie’s voice actor, Suzie Yeung, is also in Unicorn Overlord.

As I mentioned earlier, I believe Unicorn Overlord is a must-play if you’re a strategy or tactical RPG fan. However, if you’ve been curious about the genre but found other games too complex or the slower, turn-based combat unappealing, the game offers a generous demo that lets you play long enough to decide if you’ll enjoy the full experience. Although the game’s story fell short of my expectations, Vanillaware continues to impress with each new release. The company’s iconic art style ranks among the best in the industry, and I can’t wait to see what the team cooks up next—because the food in their games looks so delicious, get it?

Unicorn Overlord was released on March 8, 2024 on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, and Switch. This review is based on a purchased retail copy of the game on PlayStation 5. While FullCleared does have affiliate partnerships, they do not influence our editorial content. We may, however, earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links.

Unicorn Overlord Review Gallery (possible spoilers!)

Like our content?

Subscribe to our newsletter and get video game news, features, and deals straight to your inbox.

This newsletter may contain advertising, deals, or affiliate links. Subscribing to the newsletter indicates your consent to our Privacy Policy. You may unsubscribe from the newsletter at any time.

With over 20 years of online publishing experience, Jason Siu is currently the Content Director at VerticalScope and used to spend most of his time writing about cars. His work can be seen on websites such as AutoGuide, EV Pulse, FlatSixes, Tire Authority, and more. As the former co-founder of Tunerzine.com and West Coast Editor of Modified Magazine, he has also authored two books for CarTech Books. In his spare time, he founded FullCleared to indulge in his passion for writing about games. Although Jason is a variety gamer, he generally prefers RPGs.

Latest News