How do you follow up a game like 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim? Before that ambitious, phenomenal sci-fi adventure, developer Vanillaware found its niche in creating rich, beautiful-looking worlds with a magical, medieval twist. Sometimes it was traditional Western fantasy, while others it jumped back to Edo Japan. Unicorn Overlord marks the developer’s return to the former, taking place in a fantasy realm overtaken by an evil lord. That sounds like the exact opposite of 13 Sentinels’ winding plot, but Unicorn Overlord is ambitious in an entirely different way. It’s also absolutely brilliant, effortlessly blending multiple systems to create a wonderful tactical RPG with a twist.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

At the start of the game, you witness the fall of the Kingdom of Cornia thanks to a revolt led by General Valmore. At the same time, the young prince Alain flees the kingdom with the Holy Knight Josef, to ensure the bloodline survives. The revolt, however, is successful, and the Zenioran Army rises up and gradually overtakes all five nations of Valmore. Ten years later, Alain returns to build a liberation army to take back his kingdom and restore order to the continent of Fevrith.

The first things you’ll probably be taken by in Unicorn Overlord are the beautiful visuals and incredible music. This is what the developer is primarily known for, and on Switch, it looks and sounds like an absolute dream, both docked and undocked. We didn’t encounter any technical issues on our OLED in almost 60 hours, and the only difference appears to be slightly longer load times and lower resolution compared to PS5. But we’re talking about a strategy RPG which requires hours of playing around, engaging in myriad mechanics, and it’s perfect for a handheld.

Even from just a few hours in, you can absolutely tell that Unicorn Overlord isn’t Vanillaware’s first brush with strategy and tactical gameplay. Every single encounter feels carefully crafted, with multiple maps with winding paths, alternating terrain, watchtowers, obstacles, and even ballistae and catapults to navigate around. No two maps are the same, and every enemy unit you come up against requires careful consideration and planning ahead of time.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

Early on, the game throws relatively easy units at you — soldiers on horseback, hoplites using huge shields, magic casters, etc. All of these are weak to different types of units. Cavalry is vulnerable to flying units such as griffon riders and winged soldiers, while hoplites are weak to magic attacks. As you progress, though, you’ll come across a mix of classes within a unit. One unit might be led by a Doom Knight, a horseback unit that relies on draining its own health to deal high damage. But they might also have hunters, bow-wielding classes that are strong against flying foes. This only gets more complex the further into the story you get, but it never gets less exciting to fiddle around with your unit compositions and teams.

That might sound like a chore, but it really isn’t because Unicorn Overlord does such a good job of throwing new characters and classes at you throughout the entire runtime, which makes experimenting fun. We were still meeting new classes at the 40-hour mark and were desperate to try and make space for them in our units and see what their strengths and weaknesses were. If you’re anything like us, there’s no way you’ll be able to resist having a beast man among your lineup. Every liberation army needs an axe-wielding lion.

The game is also fantastic at teaching you about those classes, as you’ll gradually unlock little tutorial battles against said new class which will show you what they’re good at, who they’re good with, and (importantly) what they’re weak to. Winning these bouts gets you a nice monetary reward, and it’s also really satisfying to create the perfect combination of classes in a unit.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

A class, and a unit, are only as good as its Tactics are. Instead of making active decisions in the middle of a fight, you’ll be guiding your units around a map, telling them where to go or who to attack, so setting up the right Tactics is crucial to victory. If you’ve ever played Final Fantasy XII, these are like Gambits where you essentially program a character’s actions depending on the situation. There are two types of moves a character can do in battle – active attacks that consume Action Points, and passive actions that consume Passive Points. The former is an action against the enemy, and the latter is a reaction to a foe.

Like many things in Unicorn Overlord, you can likely get by the early stages of the game without touching the default Tactics, but you’ll soon want to fiddle with this as you come across stronger units and recruit new classes to the liberation. Weapons and armour can also grant new types of Tactics which add to the characters' pool of options. You can also expand units, with each being able to hold five characters at once.

It’s hard to get your head around everything until you actually play around with the system and see it in action for yourself, but when it clicks, it’s thrilling. Telling archers to prioritise flying enemies, or making sure shamans know to debuff armoured enemies or remove buffs from foes are essential. And of course, make sure clerics are ready to heal and remove debuffs. And, fortunately, you can see the outcome of every fight before you even engage in it. When we got the hang of it and observed our units’ fights play out, it was like watching all the threads come together in a huge tapestry to create this perfect picture. We couldn’t get enough of it, and honestly, it’s a tinkerer’s paradise.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

Battles aren’t limited to unit-on-unit combat, however. Using Valor points, which you can get back by capturing an enemy base, liberating a town, or just by defeating enemy units, you’ll be able to take advantage of skills on the map to help buff your allies or deal damage to foes. Need to break enemy barriers? Get a warrior out there and use Wild Swing. You'll also want to take over enemy an ballista so you can fire arrows at foes as they approach you for constant damage, and station units at watchtowers to allow magic users, healers, and archers to support allies from a distance. This all comes into play as you attempt to clear a stage before the timer runs out, something we didn’t have much trouble with in Normal mode but can see these elements being crucial in higher difficulties.

If it’s not clear, we adore combat in Unicorn Overlord. It may seem a bit overwhelming at first, but the way the game smartly teaches you how to play, and encourages you to experiment with your units, is utterly addictive and genius. We loved getting lost in the weeds, tweaking our teams, picking up new gear, and playing around with gambits and unit composition, to the point that we were thinking about it in our sleep. Mock Battles let you test those units out, and there are battles you can use to grind for experience and get used to your units.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

The world map itself has much more to do than just fight on it, too. Alongside Liberation Quests, Side Quests, and Main Story quests, which all often end in battle, you have Overworld Quests which task you with finding carvings, uncovering secret sanctuaries, and summoning magic sigils. Each region is also home to a Mining facility where you can play a minigame to get rock, stone, materials, and even Treasure Maps. Navigating the beautiful world is almost as fun as noodling around with Tactics and units, and it helps break up the gameplay so it’s not a constant barrage of fights.

Even rebuilding towns is fun – it gives a purpose to collecting materials, which you pick up on the world map, and sometimes allows you to ride a ship to secret areas. Stationing guards guarantee you more materials and help to make you feel like you’re making a difference in the world. There are also Rapport conversations, where you form relationships with other units. Frankly, we’re staggered at how many of these conversations there are to discover by fighting alongside a unit, gifting them items, and eating food with them at one of the many taverns. And yes, while not every character has a Rapport with every single character, everyone does have multiple Rapports with several characters. Some eventually end up being romantic, but this doesn’t come into play until the very end of the game.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

The only real blemish (and a minor one, at that) on Unicorn Overlord is that story. This is not the thoughtful, political epic you’ll find in genre classics such as Final Fantasy Tactics or even Ogre Battle 64 – the latter of which this game feels heavily inspired by through its gameplay systems. It certainly tries to embrace the idea of conflict and unity, and some of the individual nations do have their own ‘arcs’ which show you helping to liberate and unite the continent before the battle with the big bad. The problem is it relies on a few too many deus ex machinas and 'mind controls' to get by. The narrative does move beyond that the further in you get – with the snowy continent of Bastoria containing some of the better moments – but it certainly takes a while to go beyond a surface-level examination of war.

Thankfully, the huge cast of characters is very charming, ranging from serious and stoic to goofy and fun. Here is where the game evokes Fire Emblem more than Tactics Ogre. You’ll find out how Travis, a former member of the Tricorns, was ousted from the group and go into his relationships with other members. Then there’s Melisandre, a noblewoman and swordsman who is a bit obsessed with Alain. Every character has their own identity and personality – with 64 of them, some do fade into the background more than others, but it doesn’t feel half-baked, and no conversation takes up more than a minute or two. Honestly, the attention to detail in every little aspect of the game is astonishing, and the fact that it all feels fun, useful, or engaging is a triumph.


Even amidst a huge strategy RPG boom, Unicorn Overlord stands out. It’s a smorgasbord of visual delights, intricate systems, and addictive gameplay loops that all come together to create a delightfully thrilling and deep tactical RPG. It’s so easy to get absorbed into everything the game offers, and we lapped it all up. Vanillaware has long been known for creating beautiful-looking games with unique twists on genres, but with 13 Sentinels and now Unicorn Overlord, this developer should be on absolutely everyone’s radar.