Unicorn Overlord Is “The Rebirth of Tactical Fantasy RPGs” — But It’s Not Stuck in the Past

Old-school influences combine to make Unicorn Overlord a wholly original SRPG.

Released earlier this month, Unicorn Overlord marks a triumphant return for one type of old-school strategy RPG that prizes preparation and clever tactics over quick decision-making in the midst of combat. It’s also a major departure for developer Vanillaware, whose last game, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, was primarily a visual novel with limited strategic battles.

Over the years, Vanillaware has made a name for itself with its distinctive graphics style and ability to tackle new genres with skill. That’s evident in Unicorn Overlord, which succeeds in a genre that’s not only new to Vanillaware but has also rarely been made by any developer in recent years. In my review for Inverse, I wrote, “The sheer joy of leading your army to victory through nothing but clever planning is hard to overstate, and I’m convinced it will make Unicorn Overlord a new classic of the strategy genre in years to come.”

Unicorn Overlord’s gameplay is inspired by classic ‘90s RPGs but will probably feel totally unique to most players.


With Takafumi Noma taking the helm from Vanillaware’s usual director, George Kamitani, Unicorn Overlord represents a new direction for the developer in more ways than one. To hear more about the studio’s revival of a long-dormant genre, I spoke to producer Akiyasu Yamamoto, director Takafumi Noma, and lead game designer Wataru Nakanishi over email about creating a brand-new take on a classic formula.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Vanillaware games tend to be extremely varied in their gameplay and stories. How much do you look to previous games to inspire what you do next?

Akiyasu Yamamoto: Unicorn Overlord is the first Atlus x Vanillaware title to not be directed by Kamitani-san, but instead by Takafumi Noma. So rather than looking back to our previous work per se, it is more of a proposal of how Noma-san’s favorite games of the 1990s, the games that inspired him to get involved in game development, would look if he were to bring them to the world as a new game in the 2020s.

What are some of the biggest inspirations for Unicorn Overlord, whether they’re other pieces of media or anything else?

Takafumi Noma: The great games of the 1990s were definitely a major influence. That not only includes SRPGs but RPGs as well. This work adheres closely to the classics, which is perhaps rare these days. Like many of the masterpieces of yesteryear that I was influenced by, it places “Kishu Ryuritan” (a Japanese literary archetype centered on exiled heroes) at the core of its story.

What do you think players will be most surprised by in Unicorn Overlord?

Yamamoto: We are promoting this game as "the rebirth of tactical fantasy RPGs" to make it easier for players to understand the concept of the game. But upon playing the game, rather than experiencing a nostalgic feeling, the first thing that comes to mind is how it feels so new and modern in its gameplay systems, which may come as a surprise to many of our fans. We’re really looking forward to players experiencing this for themselves!

Strategic thinking is key to victory in Unicorn Overlord’s challenging tactical battles.


Vanillaware games have a very recognizable art style despite all looking quite different. What do you think defines the studio’s visual style and how does Unicorn Overlord express it?

Noma: In a nutshell, I would describe it as delightful animations combined with hand-drawn graphics. Since the battle scenes proceed in this game automatically, we paid particular attention to captivating animation, which cannot be expressed in quick action games like in many of our previous titles. We also intentionally made the characters larger to make the battles feel more powerful and realistic.

Unicorn Overlord’s automatic battles felt totally unique in the demo. How did you decide to implement this battle system instead of more traditional turn-based combat?

Wataru Nakanishi: It was decided at the planning stage that the game would be auto-combat. We wanted the focus of the game to be on troop building and the importance of preparing for battle. It would probably be overwhelming to have to give direct commands to all the units marching at the same time (laughing). The battle system itself was a result of our pursuit of combining strategy and ease of understanding.

Unicorn Overlord is said to have over 60 unique characters. How did you approach writing and designing such a large cast? Can you mention some personal favorite characters?

Noma: First, I started with simple character names such as the “Straight-laced” Hoplite, and “Optimistic” Knight to help me grasp their characteristics and concept broadly. I then incorporated my favorite motifs into them while imagining how they feel as a character. So the Straight-laced Hoplite naturally has a square-shaped face, slicked back hair, a square nose, and so on. By preparing the name first, I was able to avoid having characters with too similar impressions, and it was also effective in preventing characters overlapping when it came time to think about dialogue.

You’ve previously shown of Unicorn Overlord’s “rapport” social mechanic. Will that include options for romance with characters, and if so, are there limits on relationship options?

Nakanishi: Rapport can be increased not only with unique characters but also with hired general characters. As the rapport between certain characters increases, events called rapport conversations can occur, and through episodes, relationships are deepened and worldviews are complemented. These rapport conversations can take place without any restrictions, so we hope that you will increase the rapport between the characters you are interested in.

Vanillaware’s characters design is as strong as ever in Unicorn Overlord.


Can you speak to some of the biggest challenges you faced in developing Unicorn Overlord, and some of the best moments?

Noma: Actually, there was a major change in direction during the development of this game, and that was the move to a more open-world format for the overworld.

Initially, the game was to be played along a predetermined path, but to make effective use of the vast overworld while also adding depth to the game, we decided to abandon all the scenarios that had been created up to that point and open things up.

This was the most difficult part of the project, but it was worth it in the end. In addition to helping us create a unique game, it also allowed for another level of strategy where the tactics of each stage change completely depending on how you advance through the overworld.

Unicorn Overlord’s Monarch edition includes an exclusive card game. Where did the idea for such a unique bonus come from, and how was the game designed?

Yamamoto: It came about when our publisher, Atlus, asked Vanillaware if it would be possible to create a deluxe version for users who wanted to continue to enjoy the Unicorn Overlord world outside of the main game. As for accessories, it would be difficult to use something metal for logistical reasons, so we requested a paper one, and the idea we struck upon was a card game. It was the first time for Atlus to make such an accessory, but we were able to make it a reality by consulting with a long-established company that handles card games and other physical games in Japan.

The reason for the extensive size is because the main game itself was created by staff who enjoy deck building and thinking-type card games. The accompanying card game was designed by Mr. Maeda who is a graphic designer at Vanillaware. Please note that although the setting and character classes are shared with the main game, each can be played independently.

Unicorn Overlord is available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation, and Xbox.

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