Unicorn Overlord
Image via Atlus / Vanillaware

Unicorn Overlord details its Gambit-like tactical battle system and more characters

If bad guy, then stab.

We’re now just a few weeks out from the latest Vanillaware game, Unicorn Overlord. And with all the talk of fantasy tales, heroics, and war on the horizon, we should probably examine how battle actually works in the world of Vanillaware’s strategy RPG.

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The latest bit info dump sent out by Atlus and Vanillaware does just that, as well as detail some of the more strange and fascinating allies Prince Alain can recruit in his quest to liberate the world of Unicorn Overlord. It’s not all swords, bows, and magic, after all. We’ve got bestial races to recruit, and they’ve got quite a bit of Vanillaware flair. Plus, a combat system that reminds me of the Gambit system from Final Fantasy XII? Let’s take a look, starting with the characters:

Yunifi and Nigel

We’ll start with our two human characters. The former, Yunifi, is part of the Bastorian resistance group, the Frostblooms. Bastoria looks to be a frigid area, largely populated by animal-like (bestral, here) races, but we’ll get to that in a moment; Yunifi looks to bring some archery to the crew if you recruit her.

Nigel, meanwhile, is leader of the Knights of the Sacred Heart. He’s got an imposing presence, and I’m curious where his allegiances lie. He’s definitely got some rival energy going on, at the least.

Ramona, Morard, and Dinah

Now we’re talking. Ramona is the leader of the Frostblooms and descendant of the owl bloodline, and adoptive mother to Yunifi. Owl mage! Love this! We also have Morard, a lion bestral from the Frostblooms and all-around beefy boy. That big axe looks terrifying.

Dinah rounds out our potential bestral allies today, a captain of the Snowpetals and lance-wielding warrior. It’s really interesting to compare these designs to, say, Dragon’s Crown or Odin Sphere and see how Vanillaware’s fantasy designs have changed over time, yet still look absolutely fantastic.

Sanatio and Elgor

For our last batch of character previews today, Sanatio is an angelic attendant and leader of the Heavenswing Knights. We knew there were winged fliers in this game, but the idea of a full-on heavenly host of a faction somewhere in this game is super intriguing to me.

And for an enemy, we’ve got Elgor. He’s a knight, he’s big, he’s mean, and he’s got a nasty spiked shield. Apparently, none have seen his face and lived to tell of it. I just dig how evil he is. This guy has Saturday morning cartoon villain vibes, and I like it.

Overhead strategy

As for the game mechanics, Vanillaware’s strategy RPG has fields of combat (battle stages) where war is fought in real time. Units can contain multiple characters, and deploy from towns to venture forth and fight.

It looks like managing where these units are, in a macro sense, is going to be crucial. Once two units near each other, they can fight, though players can “swap” one unit for another if they’re close to each other.

Units can also enact large-scale strategies and effects on the battlefield. Capturing a certain area may let you summon cyclones to your aid, in a move that feels very Dynasty Warriors. Or your own units can rain arrows or slash a blade wave across the the field.

If you lose a battle or need to recover stamina, you can wait and rest, but this does leave you open to enemy attacks. And what happens when you engage in close combat, rather than map-scale posturing? It’s time for logic.

What to do, what to do

Look, there is a specific type of person this sort of thing appeals to. If you’ve scrolled this far down in a news post about an upcoming fantasy strategy RPG, you’re probably at least somewhat that kind of person. So, welcome. This is the tactics screen in Unicorn Overlord.

Battles in this world play out automatically, according to what tactics each unit has set. Sides will take turns using their Active Skills, metered out by AP, and ends when all AP is exhausted. There are also Passive Skills, which consume PP, and automatically fire under certain conditions.

So let’s say you want your warrior to stab. Great! Put that Slice skill at the top of the order. But if their Heal skill is below it, they won’t ever move past the logical priority of Slice coming first. So, bump Heal up, and give it a condition, like “if the Target is below 50% HP.” Now, they’ll Heal if that condition is met, and otherwise Slice away.

It’s like a version of Final Fantasy XII‘s Gambit system, expanded to accommodate a full squad in battle, and I’m really interested. With enough units, soldiers, and skill variety, there could be so many variations and potential set-ups to experiment with.

We’ll see how the fights come together on March 8, 2024 when Unicorn Overlord hits PlayStation 4, PS5, Switch, and Xbox Series X|S.


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Author
Eric Van Allen
Senior Editor - While Eric's been writing about games since 2014, he's been playing them for a lot longer. Usually found grinding RPG battles, digging into an indie gem, or hanging out around the Limsa Aethryte.