Enjoying Unicorn Overlord? Consider Soulcalibur 3

Unicorn Overlord
Unicorn Overlord

For a decent chunk of the gaming community, Unicorn Overlord wasn’t a surprising contender for game of the year 2023. The people who have been following Vanillaware’s work since Odin Sphere and more than likely won’t shut up until you’ve played 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim knew from day one that Unicorn Overlord was going to be another banger, but for someone like me, I was caught off guard. I downloaded the demo on a whim, spent about 10 hours playing a five-hour time limited demo somehow, then picked up the full game immediately. This game is incredible.

What was initially surprising about Unicorn Overlord was how much I was enjoying the gameplay despite it being a strategy game. For whatever reason, strategy games seem to be my gaming white whale, whereas other genres like shooters, racers and fighting games tend to click more easily. Maybe it’s because I’m a console gamer, and most strategy games are suited to a mouse and keyboard, but I bounced off games like Advance Wars, Halo Wars or Wargroove; all of which perfectly suited to controller play.

But then I remembered: my favorite strategy game isn’t a strategy game at all, it’s a fighting game.

The Soulcalibur series has always been known to dabble in some ridiculous single player modes, with the Edge Master mode in Soul Edge, Weapon Master in Soulcalibur 2 and the brilliant mini RPG mode that is Libra of Soul in Soulcalibur VI. However, Soulcalibur 3 took the action to another level entirely, with an entire mode just focused on the weird minigames and silliness. Fancy a scrap with a 80 foot tall Colossus? Soulcalibur 3 has you covered.

However, the real big mode of Soulcalibur 3 is Chronicles of the Sword, a real-time strategy game mode that boasted a separate story and world to the main game. You’d create your own character, who’d take on the role of a cadet in a medieval army, going out to war against other factions. As you’d play, you’d encounter other friendly characters, some of which you’d have to beat in battle in order to recruit, and you’d level up as you defeated opponents. In essence, Soulcalibur 3’s Chronicles of the Sword mode is like a baby’s first version of Unicorn Overlord.

Naturally, it’s not a one-to-one comparison, as Chronicles of the Sword is massively more simplistic in its design, with just a couple of unit types and units having to follow specific lines between strongholds, whereas Unicorn Overlord is way more open in that respect. Also, conflict with two units in COTS plays out like a regular match of Soulcalibur, while Unicorn Overlord’s combat is more like a programming game, with characters acting based on pre-set orders.

As a kid growing up with a PS2, I bought Soulcalibur 3 because I enjoyed playing fighting games, but Chronicle of the Sword ended up becoming my biggest enduring memory of the whole game. It’s far from the first fighting game to include an ambitious RPG as an additional mode, as PS1 titles such as Tobal 2 and Ehrgeiz: God Bless The Ring can claim that distinction, but its probably the first of its kind to blend fighting and strategy games.

While I doubt Vanillaware were raiding the old Namco fighting game back catalog to find inspiration for Unicorn Overlord, it’s always interesting to see how ideas and mechanics from years gone by can still entertain and delight. While Unicorn Overlord is a wholly original piece of work, being able to experience some kind of additional nostalgia due to its similarity to one of my favorite ever fighting games has made my time with the game extra special.

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