Unicorn Overlord released earlier this year and immediately earned critical acclaim for its gorgeous hand-drawn visuals and addictive gameplay. The game puts you in the shoes of Prince Alain, a returned exile on a quest of liberation. The player guides Alain as he travels the continent of Fevrith, building an army, battling enemies, and freeing occupied territories. It has some of the most addictive gameplay the SRPG genre has produced in a long time. 

It also has a special name in my household: “Daddy’s Bouncy Boob Game.”

Vanillaware Strikes Again

The game earned this moniker after my children watched me playing it and caught sight of Scarlett - Unicorn Overlord’s primary female character. Scarlett, put shortly, is the concept of male gaze given personhood. The game’s artists spared no effort in lovingly illustrating her buxom movements - right down to her every bounce and jiggle. 

It's pretty clear what the priorities were with Scarlett.

I’ll admit that I shouldn’t have been surprised by Scarlett’s presence in the game. It’s not like she wasn’t in the trailers (albeit in brief glimpses). Moreover, Unicorn Overlord was made by the game studio Vanillaware. Vanillaware has been around for more than twenty years now and has released a list of games lauded for their lush hand-drawn visuals. 

They’ve also, on occasion, stirred controversy due to some of the content in those visuals. Their biggest brush with outrage came with 2013’s Dragon’s Crown. An arcade-style beat-em up inspired by arcade classics like Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom, Dragon’s Crown included playable female characters that some journalists described as “designed by a 14-year old.” 

It's REALLY clear what their priorities were with the Sorceress.

While the game did feature some exaggerated male characters, games journalist Jason Schreier noted an important difference.

“Some have pointed out that the dwarf character—a shirtless warrior with disproportionate muscles—is just as sexualized and over-exaggerated as the sorceress. That's true. He's also straight out of a straight male power fantasy, tailored for men just like the sorceress's skimpy clothing and ridiculously jiggly breasts.”

Looking at Unicorn Overlord one can see a similar, if less pronounced trend. There’s nothing as overtly sexual as some of Dragon Crown’s art, but pretty much all of the sexualized characters are designed in a way that would appeal primarily to male audiences. The exaggerated male characters in Unicorn Overlord are what you’d expect of similar male power fantasies. They look powerful and dangerous.

Ruminations on fan service

It should be said that not all of the female characters in Unicorn Overlord are sexualized. The game features dozens of recruitable characters and character classes, each with their own unique art. It is a really diverse cast with a lot of female characters and designs that are downright bad-ass. I love the fully-armored look of the Mage Knight. I also really loved the look of characters like Virginia, a dual-shielded sword-wielder, or Amalia, a seven-foot muscle-bound warrior who uses a castle gate as her shield. 

The more I think about it, what ultimately bothers me about the Unicorn Overlord characters that are sexualized is how poorly they fit in with the rest of the cast. It’s weird to send your characters into battle, watch a grim-face Viking plant an ax in someone, and then see some bouncing anime girl boobily breasting her way across the same combat screen. 

This isn’t the first time I’ve had this sort of experience, either. I’m big fan of the Gundam anime franchise, but there are entries I don’t particularly like because they go in hard on the concept of “fan service”. 

What is fan service, you ask? In the context of games like Unicorn Overlord, it’s sexualized characters or content that exists pretty much just to titillate the players. Mediums like anime and video games have a history of including female characters with nearly impossible body types and then showcasing them in situations that strip them down, show them off, and otherwise just exploit their presence to arouse the audience. Enjoying anime at all pretty much necessitates developing a tolerance for fan service.

Some of the female cast of Mobile Suit Gundam 00.

One of the biggest problems with fan service is its tendency to show up in titles that don’t really have much interest in sexuality otherwise. Gundam 00 is often cited as one of the best series in the franchise. It is also filled to the brim with fan service content that made it a frequently uncomfortable watch for me. When I watch something like a Gundam show, it’s because I want a melodrama with giant fighting robots. I’m not going into it because I want to watch a bunch of animated breasts flop around while the camera follows them like a creepy stalker. 

I do think there is a place in the world for movies, shows, games, and comics to be “sexy” if that’s their goal. (It would be hard to be a fan of the Sword & Sorcery genre if I didn't.) I just kind of think they should be direct about it. 

I was among those who gave Dragon’s Crown flak back in 2013 for its sexualized characters. In retrospect, however, I can at least appreciate how Vanillaware were upfront about what the game was going to be. You can argue about whether or not its “male gaze” character designs are good or bad, but it was clearly a passion project with a consistent vision that you could take or leave depending on your tastes.

The problem with Scarlett, and her similarly designed cohorts, is that Unicorn Overlord isn't a particularly sexy game. Its biggest inspiration are the sadly defunct Ogre Battle titles, which are likewise not all that sexy either.

Ogre Battle: Person of Lordly Caliber. Great game, not that arousing.

The characters like Scarlett, in turn, stick out like sore thumbs. At their worst, they can also put off people who might otherwise enjoy what the game has to offer. I have come across conversation threads recently where some women confirmed that they had tried Unicorn Overlord’s demo, saw Scarlett's character design, and “noped” out of the whole thing. I have personally recommended it to some people and received similar reactions. 

Mind you, with more than 500,000 worldwide sales as of right now, it’s not like Unicorn Overlord has flopped. It has been a big success for Vanillaware. That being said, if Scarlett’s bouncing boobs add nothing to the experience and keep people away, why include them at all? What purpose do they serve? She would have been a perfectly fine character if she could inhale without heaving. 


For all the words I’ve spent talking about it negatively, I do think Unicorn Overlord is an excellent and enjoyable game. Its story could be more interesting, but the gameplay and overall product are very much deserving of the praise it’s earned. I just wish I could enjoy and recommend it without any caveats. 

And, to be sure, I recognize that for many people, the complaints I make aren’t complaints at all. I have heard some people, women included, praising the game’s visuals and character designs. Some fans really dig Vanillaware’s visual style and the studio absolutely has the right to make games with whatever sorts of visuals they want. It’s their art. 

At the same time, I also think it’s worth considering why they, and so many other creators, insist on fan service characters like Scarlett. Because as much as I like Unicorn Overlord, I would have liked it better if it had been just that one bit less juvenile. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that way.