Jotun: Valhalla Edition – The Switch Island Review
There are few games that really deliver on a certain special moment for the player. You know the one I mean. The moment you step out from the confined intro and see the expanse before you. Leaving the vault in Fallout 3, looking off the Great Plateau in Breath Of The Wild. And as I took my first steps in Jotun, that familiar sense of wonder came rushing back.
Jotun: Valhalla Edition is a game I’ve had on my radar for a while. Originally released in 2015 for the PC, it took coming to the Switch last year for me to finally pick it up, and boy am I glad I did. Despite wanting to play it for a while I didn’t actually know too much about the game, and went in relatively blind, and I’d recommend doing the same if you’re on the fence.
You play as Thora, a young Viking woman who recently died, and you’re given one last chance to impress the Gods and claim a place in Valhalla. To do this you must travel across the nine realms and defeat the five Jotun – giant elemental creatures that tower above you and attack relentlessly in a bid to stop you from ascending to Viking Heaven.
As you make your way through the realms Thora’s story unfolds before you, explaining how you ended up in such dire straights, and why you must fight like hell to escape them. Having these two stories play out alongside each other works wonderfully and neither gets in the way or detracts from the other. Thora’s personality really shines through in her dialogue as well, and her narration in native Icelandic is a refreshing change of pace and sounds simply beautiful. If you’re a fan of Norse mythology you’ll love the way Jotun ties together plethora of familiar aspects, from the gigantic serpent Jörmungandr, to the twisting roots of Yggdrasil, and even to the Gods themselves.
When you first start the game you enter into the first realm which very loosely serves as a tutorial area, and after beating the first stage you have access to the central void from which you can access the other areas. Each area has one or two realms that have their own unique puzzle aspects, enemy types, and Runes that you need to collect to unlock the boss fight against the Jotun. In one realm you’re making your way through hordes of Dwarfs in a mine, and in another you’re using lightning rods to recreate constellations. Each realm felt new and distinct, and though I never quite fell into a gameplay loop as such, it did mean that I was always looking forward to what the game might throw at me next.
The only familiar part of the game was when facing off again the Jotun; walking into each boss stage I new I was in for a fight. The arenas are massive, and though the scale of each stage is already impressive, when facing off again each giant creature you are literally dwarfed as they rise before you – so much so that when playing on the Switch in handheld it occasionally became hard to see myself on the screen. Because of this I played almost all of the boss fights with the Switch docked.
Combat in Jotun is simple, and though at first I found it a little disappointing, I can’t really think of too many ways of improving it. Your only weapon is your trusty battle-axe which offers both a light and heavy attack, you cant block and instead have to use well timed dodge rolls to evade enemy attacks. There are also several God Powers at your disposal; you can find these hidden around the realms and each offer a buff of sorts for health, damage, speed, etc. Although these powers can spice up the combat somewhat, I only found a few to be useful and tended to ignore the others altogether. You also acquire them quite quickly, and more than once I found myself unlocking a power and then beating a stage without needing to ever use it. In theory this should be enough for more than satisfying combat mechanics, unfortunately for Jotun the scale of the bosses means that most fights boil down to avoiding attacks then running in to attack the very base of the giant using the same few God Powers. What this equates to is a very small Thora hacking away at an enormous left toe, while slowly chipping away at the enemy health bar – it doesn’t exactly make for a thrilling and stylistic fight. That being said, the Jotun’s differing appearances and attack patterns are enough to prevent it from getting boring.
The real shining star of this game however is the absolutely gorgeous art style. The incredible hand drawn artwork is simply stunning to behold and the frame-by-frame animation brings it together with such charm. Remember how I said this game had been on my radar for a while despite not knowing much about it? It’s all because of the stand-out art style. It’s here that the massive visual scale of Jotun really comes into its own, with each background and foreground layer shifting in semi-2D form, revealing captivating sights over each horizon. It’s not a long game by any means, but I was happy to take the game as slowly as I liked to fully explore the worlds and experience everything the immensely talented artists had put in. If you’re someone who likes hand drawn art in games and can appreciate the passion and talent gone into it, I could fully recommend you this game for that alone. Bravo.
Jotun is a truly great game with only a few draws holding it back. The combat is one thing but a few small niggles persist; the map for one is rather obtuse and doesn’t offer a player position marker. It’s also quite an easy game with most of the realms having very little challenge and only a couple of the Jotun and the last boss fight offering any real resistance. And finally I think it’s just slightly too short, one more realm and boss fight would’ve gone a long way to change how the pace of progression felt. Despite these shortcomings however, nothing really stacks up enough to the point of having a noticeable negative impact, and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of my play through.
Game: Jotun: Valhalla Edition
Developer: Thunder Lotus Games
Release date: 27/04/2018