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Every Vanillaware Game Ranked

Vanillaware is a development studio that has been loved by a small — but passionate — following since its inception. From the critical success of Odin Sphere to the commercial triumph of 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, the studio has continued to demonstrate its ability to create engrossing and exhilarating narratives that occupy several different genres.

Whether it’s the ability to navigate complex sci-fi stories or providing a more subdued narrative inspired by the likes of the 1980’s Sword & Sorcery genre, all while incorporating loads of fun and interesting gameplay mechanics, it’s easy to see why Vanillaware has continued to garner such a glowing reputation.

With the release of Unicorn Overlord, we’ve created a ranking of what we feel are the best Vanillaware games, though all of them are ones you should definitely check out if given the chance! Unfortunately, Grand Knights History didn’t make the cut, due to the fact that it’s a Japanese-only title and would otherwise be inaccessible to a large swath of players.

6. Muramasa: The Demon Blade

Forgoing Vanillaware’s penchant for European fantasy,
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transports players to Edo Period Japan in this exciting 2D side-scrolling action game. Inspired by Japanese folklore, players fight their way through waves of monsters found in various myths. All the while they experience the narrative through the perspective of two different characters; an enigmatic shinobi and a woman possessed by the spirit of a deceased ronin.

As usual, the game is utterly gorgeous, and the controls are tight and responsive, which makes Muramasa: The Demon Blade an enjoyable romp through Edo Period Japan. Additionally, the Vita version of the game comes packed with extra stories about four distinct Japanese myths, which makes this version the ideal package. Muramasa: The Demon Blade may be another strong title from Vanillaware, but sits at the bottom of our rankings purely on account of personal taste.

5. GrimGrimoire OnceMore

Another high fantasy romp, GrimGrimoire (and its remaster GrimGrimoire Once More) transport players to a whimsical setting where they assume the role of the aspiring young witch named Lillet Blan. Like the subsequent Odin Sphere GrimGrimoire is a 2D side-scroller, but deviates a bit from what players may expect as it more or less functions like a real-time strategy game.

This may sound confusing, but it’s actually relatively simple. You more or less instruct your units to move around a 2D space, generally vertically up the various levels of the school Lillet is studying at, to defeat hostile creatures. Players progress through the story in chapters with the use of familiars, each with their own types and elemental weaknesses that are essential to understanding in order to complete stages. Like all Vanillaware games, GrimGrimoire is gorgeous and worth checking out if you want a taste of a different flavor of strategy game.

4. Odin Sphere/Odin Sphere Leifthrasir

The first Vanillaware game to make waves overseas, Odin Sphere released on the PlayStation 2 in 2007 and was the first exposure to the developer’s gorgeous painterly style for more than a handful of players. Much like Muramasa and the later Dragon’s Crown, Odin Sphere is a 2D side-scroller, with players assuming the role of several major characters (all of who have incredible designs), and their unique perspective all add to the events of the grand, overarching narrative as it begins to unfold. Another high fantasy romp, Odin Sphere doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it already is — a storybook style fantasy narrative that transports the players into one of Vanillaware’s more unique settings, which is honestly the biggest draw to this specific game. And because it has multiple endings it means that you’ll more than likely head back into the fray to see how the story actually concludes.

3. 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim

One of the most critically acclaimed (and universally praised) Vanillaware titles to date,
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largely cemented the studio’s status as an industry darling. Unlike most Vanillaware games, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim takes a step in a new direction concerning its gameplay. Instead of being a 2D side-scrolling brawler, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is a strategy RPG comparable to the MechWarrior Mercenaries (or BattleTech) titles.

The game stars a huge cast of characters who take on kaiju that threaten the planet. However, the game is full of narrative twists and turns that transport players through different locations and time periods as it gradually reveals more overtly sci-fi elements. Outside of the game’s focus on strategy RPG gameplay, the narrative has been critically acclaimed for its
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and handling of its thirteen different main characters. This is by far one of the most story-rich Vanillaware titles, and those looking for a meaty narrative will find satisfaction in this game.

2. Unicorn Overlord

While not exactly the game you may be looking for if you want to fill the void Final Fantasy Tactics has left behind, Unicorn Overlord is a great substitute if you’ve been left wanting for a more traditional style Fire Emblem game. A unique spin on the “tactical” genre by incorporating a tactical pause while leaning into the real-time elements of “real-time strategy”, this strategy title pulls from some of the best in the genre to make a game that’s interesting to play.

Additionally, it features a stellar localization that incorporates individual character voices and continued use of gorgeous painterly style visuals to enhance yet another high fantasy Vanillaware romp. It’s a wonderful blend of familiar worldbuilding for those that have played previous Vanillaware titles, while also providing something fresh through its tactical combat. Unicorn Overlord was the title needed to reinvigorate interest in the SRPG genre — outside of the Tactics Ogre Remaster — and does a great job of upholding the legacy of other Japanese RPGs that have come before it.

1. Dragon’s Crown

One of Vanillaware’s most controversial titles,
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is also one of the best 2D side-scrolling beat em ups to release within the past fifteen years. While the character designs have come under a lot of scrutiny, Dragon’s Crown is very much an homage to the Sword & Sorcery genre — in both visual and narrative form. Players can pick from six different classes such as Knight, Amazon, Sorceress, Dwarf, Elf, and Wizard, all of which ascribe to the high fantasy genre of the game. Players can also choose to go it alone or team up online with friends as they adventure through Hydeland to slay minotaurs, griffins, and of course, dragons. It’s a game that is easy to pick up and hard to put down, makes good use of its skill system, and really encapsulates the soul of games like Gauntlet or the Capcom developed Dungeons & Dragons arcade games but within the comfort of your own home.

Dragon’s Crown is an amalgamation of Vanillaware’s tried and true 2D side-scrolling beat’em up formula with some great co-op tossed in, and plays an incredible homage to the genre that inspired it. Its simple but interesting fantasy narrative makes it an easy title to come back to, and the variety of classes means you’ll get to experiment with different class combinations with friends. This is why Dragon’s Crown has made it to the top of our list!

While Vanillaware’s body of work may be relatively small by comparison to larger developers, each of these games brings something unique to the table in terms of storytelling or visuals. And if you’re a fan of 2D style games, any of the games in the list are right up your alley. Or if you’re interested in seeing what else the studio has made over the course of its lifespan. Regardless, each of these games are a great example of what the studio is capable of in terms of gameplay, narrative, and artistic vision.

Kazuma Hashimoto is a freelance writer for IGN.

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