Today's Nintendo Direct delivered a frankly alarming number of RPGs and JRPGs, and that's absolutely what I wanted to see. Given this stacked lineup, I'm surprised how easy it is for me to choose my winner of the show. The Super Mario RPG and Paper Mario remakes look great, but my favorite can only be Unicorn Overlord, the new strategy RPG from Dragon's Crown, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, and Odin Sphere developer Vanillaware.
Vanillaware has released nothing but hits in the 10 years since Dragon's Crown, which was the game that originally won me over to the studio's lavish art style and meaty combat. Its most recent game, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, is arguably its best – and excitingly, it was a very different direction for the traditionally action-focused developer, folding heavy visual novel sections and light RTS elements into its side-scroller formula.
The strategic combat of Unicorn Overlord seems set to continue this trend, and it already looks incredible. "The rebirth of tactical fantasy RPGs" is a big promise, especially with the likes of Wargroove 2 on the horizon, but Vanillaware hasn't had a dud yet.
Asking if Vanillaware's new game is beautiful is like asking if the new FromSoftware game has poison enemies in it (yes, I'm counting That Section of Armored Core 6). It just goes without saying. The studio's lovingly illustrated, painterly anime style has only been sharpened over time. The aesthetic is a great fit for a game with a lot of units to show off, too, especially one with a semi-open 3D world like Unicorn Overlord's. (I'm never getting used to this title.)
From heavily armored frontliners to mounted vanguards, the game's many characters have distinct silhouettes and gorgeous equipment, and they attack with wonderful flourish in the scaled-down battles. Unicorn Overlord promises over 60 unique characters to recruit, with races spanning everything from humans and elves to beast-men and angels, and you can bet they're all gonna be stupidly pretty. Let's not forget that mouth-watering food minigame, either. For my money, Dragon's Crown still has the best food in games, but this may finally dethrone it.
The split between open-world maneuvering and (what looks like) grid- and turn-based combat is difficult to parse at first blush. My brain's picking up traces of Fire Emblem and Final Fantasy Tactics here and there, but the combination feels fresh. There are elements of siege warfare and settlement-building mixed in, too, and I'm digging the conversation-heavy story moments. This is a brief first look, but it's textbook Vanillaware goodness all the way down, and I'm all over it.
Unicorn Overlord has been confirmed for Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series X, PS5, and PS4, and it's coming March 8, 2024.
Another RPG standout from the Nintendo Direct: the spiritual successor to Suikoden is now due April 2024.