The doors finally open. We enter a forest with only a strange flower in the center of it. Given our limited set of actions, we hit nature with our axe. And the ground quakes. One of the mighty Jotun rise up from below, presenting a size that completely changes the camera angle until it showcases the entire scenario from a top down view, leaving the main character as a mere insect. The Jotun screams, roots start coming out of it and fiercely attacks us over and over again. But our will is stronger. We were given a second chance to recover from an inglorious death and attempt to enter Valhalla. But, even if Thora manages to survive the fight, this is just the first boss of the entire game.
Jotun is an action/exploration game, set in a world embraced by Norse mythology. We start with only our axe and will, learning the basic controls such as light attack, heavy attack and dodge. Yes, that’s it. There aren’t different weapons or a skill progression of sorts, only altars that grant a power with limited use, which go from creating a clone to make a distraction, shooting a flying arrow or summoning Thor’s hammer for a devastating blow or a short burst of healing. Which, funny enough, is the only way to recover from damage.
There is an specific altar in each level that will not just heal us but restart the additional abilities as well. It’s also your only checkpoint in case you perish before a battle, which might happen more often than you would think.
Each Jotun require preparation, and have us gathering runes in a set of levels prior to showdown. They also serve as introduction to each creature’s world and atmosphere. The regions merge perfectly with them, showing us molten lava in the Blacksmith’s area, dangerous roots and poisonous plants for the first fight, and so on. These have their own sort of puzzles and dangers, even including smaller enemies in a few cases.
Some require more strategy and precision than others, but they never feel tiring. It’s great to see how these creatures live in a totally different area than the rest, with its own set of rules and barriers until we can get the necessary runes to bring them down. The mentioned powers are placed in these areas, and while they might seem useful for puzzles, it mostly comes down to having a wider set of attacks for each battle.
The hand-drawn animations are outstanding. Each Jotun has its own set of movements, style and expressions, and they are all incredible and fearful in their own way. What always striked me the most about the game is how it understands scale. We are barely on the same height of their feet and that’s exactly the point, being forced to impress the gods even if the challenges seem impossible, using only a handful of abilities and two attacks with our weapon.
Jotun is not a common game, but a journey. You don’t find many puzzles nor side quests, collectibles are scarce and serve a purpose, like adding another use to an ability or upgrading your health bar. At first, the story might seem solely focused on the Jotuns themselves, but there’s more to it. Each Jotun builds up Thora’s second chance, to her purpose. Her background is told in between areas in a subtle manner, along with a few events and puzzles that reveal a bit about the lore around the game, and the way in which Thunderlotus tackled Norse mythology.
Thora’s journey is lonely. You don’t get to talk with characters nor interact with the Jotun. We hear her thoughts every now and then, spoken in her tongue, almost as if she knew we are the only ones lending a hand in this adventure. Each battle is different than the other and very difficult on its own, forcing you to learn the patterns and take things slowly, as playing aggressively might lead to a quick defeat. But, once you learn when to step out of danger, the battles end up being relatively easy.
During the three years period after its initial release on PC, Jotun received the name of Valhalla Edition for console ports. This added not only different tweaks to the controls and graphical updates for each, but a entirely new mode called Boss Rush, taking us straight to fighting against the Jotun without having to go through the story again. For Switch, the game does not take advantage of Video Capture, touch controls or the HD Rumble, but the image quality is the sharpest to date, improving upon the initial Nintendo port on the Wii U.
Jotun is hard to describe. It doesn’t fit in the RPG genre, nor I would consider it being a full adventure or exploration game. In that sense, the game resonates more with The Game Baker’s Furi, presenting a number of boss fights in their own scenarios, and building each world around them. The combat isn’t complex, but it doesn’t need to. Atmosphere, along with an incredible hand drawn art style, are what take us to each battle in very unique ways. Beating the main story can take up to 7 hours, but the memories from each Jotun have remained forever in my head.
A review copy of the game for Switch was provided by Thunderlotus Games for review purposes. Jotun: Valhalla Edition was developed and published by Thunderlotus Games; make sure to visit the official site for more information, and keep up to date to their latest news by following the studio on Twitter.