Author Topic: Unicorn Overlord (Switch) Review  (Read 1470 times)

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Offline riskman64

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Unicorn Overlord (Switch) Review
« on: March 07, 2024, 05:00:00 AM »

Ogre Battle lives on as a Unicorn.

http://www.nintendoworldreport.com/review/66513/unicorn-overlord-switch-review

March 23, 2024 - Review has been updated with a final score

Unicorn Overlord impressed in its 2023 reveal trailer with stunning visuals and that unmistakable VanillaWare style that made 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim and Dragon’s Crown so memorable. Channeling Fire Emblem to an extent but Ogre Battle even more so, Unicorn Overlord is an incredibly deep and rewarding experience that real-time tactical RPG fans will fall in love with. After 20 hours with the game, I’ve only seen half of the world map and even less of its secrets, but there’s no doubt in my mind that VanillaWare has another stone cold classic on their hands. Given the sheer depth and customizability of Unicorn Overlord, I’m holding off on assigning a final review score at this time, but I’m stoked to share my impressions thus far.

The overarching story follows protagonist prince Alain, who becomes leader of the Liberation army after his castle and homeland of Cornia are besieged years earlier by the Zenoiran army and its villainous emperor Galerius, a former general of Cornia. Bit by bit, Alain must bolster the ranks of the Liberation army by recruiting friends and even defeated foes along the way. Across five kingdoms, you’ll encounter a variety of story beats involving Alain and his retinue of followers, and as his army swells, so too do your chances of finally taking the fight to Galerius and freeing the world of his tyranny. So far, the narrative elements of the game have been buoyed by excellent voice acting and writing and frequent but short cutscenes before and after most battles. I’m quite eager to see how Alain’s story concludes, and I’m trying to savor every minute of it.

There are effectively two primary gameplay modes in Unicorn Overlord. The first involves traversing the overworld to encounter characters, towns, forts, events, and battles, in addition to collecting items and discovering hidden secrets. The semi top-down view makes for easy navigation, but the camera can make finding every shiny spot (which denotes an item pick-up) a bit of a mystery. It’s worth being thorough, too, since objects you find in the overworld can be traded in at towns to acquire gold, equipment, and Honor, but more on that shortly. You can fast travel to towns, forts, and battles you’ve previously unlocked, and so you may want to back track to gather more resources to improve your troops. At forts, you can expand your units, hire new troops, and promote your individual characters to upgraded classes. The overworld segments provide a pleasant contrast to the more stressful combat situations.

When you enter a battle–some of which are small and last only a few minutes; others can take upwards of 30 minutes–you’ll start by seeing the win and loss conditions and then deploying specific units to the battlefield. Each unit initially holds only two individual troops, but this number can grow up to five (maybe even six?) by cashing in your accumulated Honor. Most of the time, you’ll click on a unit you’ve deployed and then select an enemy, garrison point,or other area on the map to which you want the unit to travel. When your unit comes in contact with an enemy, a combat encounter takes place, but what can be jarring at first is that you don’t actually do anything during such encounters. Instead, all troops in combat take turns according to their initiative number and the abilities they have equipped. Typically, you’ll win a battle by reaching a particular enemy leader and taking them out; however, you’ll lose the battle if your starting garrison is taken over by an enemy, you run out of time, or (in some cases) if a special character is killed.

To prepare for combat, you'll not only need to outfit your troops with their own equipment, but you can even set specific parameters on their individual abilities/attacks. For instance, you can set your healer’s curative spells to target an ally with the lowest total defense or the one who has the lowest percentage of health remaining at the time when the ability goes off. One of the closest analogs I can name is the Gambit system from Final Fantasy 12. Moreover, you'll need to choose which troops to slot into which unit positions, which consist of a 2x3 grid. Putting a heavily armored class in front of an archer or witch can shield them from some (but not all) attacks, but this is just a simple example; the reality is more complex. There are dozens of classes, and I'm still discovering more. Marketing materials for Unicorn Overlord boast more than 60 characters all told, and I've found just about half of them. It's a fascinating experiment just playing around with all the different class combinations within a unit. When you factor in skill customization and even how ranged units can assist other units in combat, you start to understand just how deep this well is. And that's without mentioning the separate powers each character can call upon within the battle map to spend Valor Points on specific buffs and debuffs and out-of-combat strikes and spells. It's a lot to take in, I know, but the game doles it out gradually and gives many, many opportunities to test your limits.

Some of the greatest moments I’ve experienced have come from seemingly innocuous discoveries in the overworld. Exploring some of what appear to be abandoned temples, ruins, and towns, I came across a small event where I discovered an enemy catapult that I promptly dismantled. Partway through a subsequent battle that I entered near where the event took place, the enemy leader–hoping to turn the tide in their favor–was shocked to discover that their hidden catapult was no longer where they had placed it. A random and potentially minor interaction at the time for my squad ended up having noticeable repercussions later on, and that speaks to the heart of Unicorn Overlord: small decisions potentially having major ramifications. On the battlefield, you need to adapt quickly and without hesitation. While you can pause the battle at any time to set up your units, use items, and determine everyone’s position and path, you’re also working against the clock and what can be a near endless supply of enemy units; if you’re not regularly saving your progress during a battle, one misstep can result in a total loss for your side, forcing you to start over from the beginning. There are real consequences to the decisions you make in and out of combat, and it’s a delightful balance between trial and error that makes this game so hard to put down.

While most of the gameplay makes Unicorn Overlord feel like a spiritual successor to Ogre Battle, there’s definitely a little bit of Fire Emblem thrown in as well, primarily seen in the character interactions and morale building that occurs between pairs. When you accrue a certain amount of Rapport, you unlock brief vignettes between characters that shed a bit of light on their past or their connection; some of these scenes are more lighthearted while others are more emotional. Characters with a stronger bond are rewarded with stat bonuses that make them more capable, and in addition to forging bonds on the battlefield, you can also do so at city taverns by spending some coin on a meal to share with multiple invitees. There are a lot of meters, hidden or otherwise, to manage, but the feeling of seeing your units grow stronger and more capable and finally overcoming a previously insurmountable challenge is relentlessly satisfying.

I’m not done with Alain’s campaign to restore his kingdom and set the world to rights, but there’s no denying how exciting and captivating Unicorn Overlord has turned out to be. It’s a love letter to deep, complex tactical RPGs and will most likely appeal to those who appreciate the Fire Emblem and Ogre Battle franchises, but as someone who only has very sparse memories of the latter, I’m still enthralled by what VanillaWare has done here. The Switch performance is excellent, and the art style remains one of the clear strengths of this developer. I expect that I’ll need another 10-20 hours to see the main story through to completion, and even more to discover all of the secrets hidden around the world map. Once those tasks are complete, I’ll be updating this review with a final score. Until then, I feel confident in saying we’re looking at another candidate that’s sure to take home some end-of-the-year accolades.


Offline Rancid Planet

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Re: Unicorn Overlord (Switch) Review
« Reply #1 on: March 10, 2024, 05:02:26 PM »
Best review I've read so far of this game.

Offline riskman64

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Re: Unicorn Overlord (Switch) Review
« Reply #2 on: March 11, 2024, 05:08:59 PM »
Best review I've read so far of this game.

Appreciate the kind words! Hope you've had a chance to try the game for yourself!