Unicorn Overlord Interview
Image: Push Square

We've always been massive fans of Vanillaware here at Push Square. The talented Japanese developer has been crafting bangers for decades now, and its latest release, a gorgeous strategy RPG called Unicorn Overlord, is arguably one of its best games to date.

So, when we were handed the opportunity to interview someone who's worked closely with the studio for quite some time, we simply couldn't refuse. We asked producer Akiyasu Yamamoto about the long-term relationship between publisher Atlus and Vanillaware, the developer's inner workings, and Unicorn Overlord itself.

Push Square: To start with, can you tell us about your role at Atlus and Vanillaware? The two companies have partnered on a lot of games at this point.

Akiyasu Yamamoto, Producer: Hello, Push Square readers! I am honored that you are taking an interest in Unicorn Overlord. I have been the producer and project manager for ATLUS x Vanillaware titles since Odin Sphere for the PlayStation 2, in addition to Dragon's Crown, Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir, Dragon's Crown Pro, and 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim.

It feels like Vanillaware is an incredibly consistent studio, always releasing high quality games. How do you think the team has maintained this level of quality over the years?

Vanillaware is a wonderful studio and I am proud to work closely with them. To your question, I think the enthusiasm of Vanillaware's staff is reflected in the game itself. As a publisher, we focus on making sure that their passionate creativity is reflected in the game and the results of that passion is passed along to the players. We help provide support in numerous ways such as quality control, debugging, monitoring, and in any way we can as the publisher.

Unicorn Overlord Interview
Image: Push Square

Unicorn Overlord has obviously released and it's been very well received. As a producer, how does it feel to see your game garner such positive reactions?

We’re grateful for the positive feedback we’ve received. We’re happy to see our unique game system resonated with many people around the world.

Unicorn Overlord is another example of Vanillaware trying something new. It's a much different game to Dragon's Crown, or 13 Sentinels, for example — and that kind of flexibility is something that a lot of developers don't attempt. Can you offer any insight into why Vanillaware rarely sticks to one genre?

As a publisher, I cannot speak about the policies and production methods of the development team, but I can say from my point of view that [Unicorn Overlord] was created through love, persistence, and determination of the director, Mr. Noma, and the main planner, Mr. Nakanishi, to create the "ideal simulation RPG".

It is not difficult to imagine that developing a game system that does not exist, as a new IP, is a continuous grasp in the dark and is not based on a method or framework that is streamlined. The mindset is being open to challenges, not fearing trial and error, and to be able to pursue "a game worth showing to the world" is what's common in our attitudes towards all ATLUS x Vanillaware titles.

What was it like to work on Unicorn Overlord? Did the project differ at all from what you've done in the past?

One difference is that the director of the previous ATLUS X Vanillaware titles, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, Dragon's Crown, and Odin Sphere was Moriharu Kamiya. The director of Unicorn Overlord is Takafumi Noma, and I think it is important to note that the director of Unicorn Overlord is different from the director of the previous games.

Also, as mentioned in your previous question, the concept of each ATLUS x Vanillaware product is clearly different. This title was a test to the simulation RPG genre, so in that sense it was a challenge putting it together from scratch with lots of trial and error. I personally think it was a very exciting production process, unchanged from other works.

Are there any plans to expand Unicorn Overlord with updates or additional content?

There are currently no plans to create additional downloadable content. In addition, ATLUS began development of this title with Vanillaware in 2016, and the initial development platforms were PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita. The game market has changed dramatically in the past 8 years, and we asked Vanillaware to support twice as many platforms as originally planned (PS4 / PS5 / Nintendo Switch / Xbox X|S) and to release the game simultaneously all over the world.

The decision to select the current platform was made by the publisher, ATLUS, and we sincerely appreciate the dedication and support from Vanillaware. With this in mind, there are currently no plans to port the game to the PC.

We have to ask, do you have any favourite characters in Unicorn Overlord? Are there any unit combinations you always find yourself using?

The appeal of characters in simulation RPGs is not only the dramatic aspect, but also the room for users to supplement and imagine their own characterization from the unit's performance. I remember playing a lot of simulation RPGs in the 90s. At the time, I had personal memories of raising my characters so that I could do whatever I wanted, such as growing my bandit into a sturdy one and breaking into treasure chest rooms alone or increasing the mobility of my knight in shining armour to defeat enemies early and destroying them with long-range attacks.

When I think about that personal memory, I prefer Hoplite and Thief. Also, Lex's words and actions are adorable, and I feel that he and Travis form a great friendship. Chloe's ability to deal with the various situations in battle is extremely good... The list is endless when I start talking about the appeal of the characters in the team, so I'll stop here [laughs].

Unicorn Overlord Interview
Image: Push Square

And finally, is there anything you’d like to say to Western Unicorn Overlord and Vanillaware fans?

We would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who have purchased our products. We are very honoured and pleased to hear that we have received tremendous support from people in the West. It’s even more than we had originally anticipated. Thank you so much.

This work is a "jewel" created by people who were astonished by the creation of simulation RPGs of 30 years ago, and who have a burning longing and desire for these genres. This is the "ideal" that Mr. Noma, the director, and Mr. Nakanishi, the main planner, have devoted their lives to produce, and we would be happy if those reading this article and are interested in the game and have not checked it out yet, would check out the free demo version today and test it out.

Huge thanks to Yamamoto-san for taking the time to answer our questions. Special thanks to Ash Harvey and the team at SEGA for making this interview possible.

Have you tried Unicorn Overlord for yourself? Are you a fan of Vanillaware's games? What are your hopes for the developer's future? Gawk at some brilliantly drawn characters in the comments section below.