The Return of Fantasy: Developers of Unicorn Overlord Make a Comeback

Vanillaware produces exceptional games, from GrimGrimoire to Odin Sphere to Dragon’s Crown. Nevertheless, it wasn’t until its 2019 launch, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, that the developer’s reputation became synonymous with “you should indulge in this team’s games.” Pinpointing what specifically propelled 13 Sentinels to become Vanillaware’s breakout title can be challenging, with over 1 million copies shipped worldwide by August of last year, making it the studio’s highest-selling game. The most obvious explanation is probably its adored narrative, in both its unfolding and its integration into the game’s real-time strategy mech battles.

Released by Publisher Atlus and Vanillaware in 2019, so when the team revealed their latest game, Unicorn Overlord, last September, it was simple to infer that this was the studio’s next major undertaking. Indeed, it is, but oddly enough, as I discovered in an exclusive preview of the game, Vanillaware conceived it during the development of 13 Sentinels, with its production occurring simultaneously with that game, albeit managed by a different team and director.

“[It] was not a change of genre, but rather a collaborative effort to shape a worldview initially grounded in a fantasy premise,” lead game designer Wataru Nakanishi informs me via email after observing roughly an hour of live Unicorn Overlord gameplay. Interestingly, the game isn’t a reaction to the sci-fi modern action of 13 Sentinels as I anticipated; the team desired to create another fantasy game, which is understandable considering their roots trace back to their debut game, 2007’s GrimGrimoire. Analyzing Vanillaware’s background, it’s actually 13 Sentinels that emerges as the outlier, with most of the studio’s games falling into the fantasy category.

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