I rarely to never buy a game on day one without doing some serious research. Either checking gameplay, listening to interviews and, especially if available, check every review possible. However, one late evening, I saw you could pre-purchase Jotun: Valhalla Edition on GOG for a lower price than it would normally demand. The artstyle and what I saw of the gameplay intrigued me, so I told myself: “if I buy it and the game is terrible, maybe I can at least give them some support to create a movie”. I purchased it and played it with my sister the same night until we beat it 100%.
Show your worth
You play as Thora, a young viking warrior who died at sea and enters the next life. However, to get to Valhalla, she must prove her worth to the Gods by passing their tests and defeating them in combat. While it is a straightforward setup, as you venture through Valhalla, you will hear Thora’s thoughts. She will tell you about the elements of the world of Norse mythology as you find statues or creatures, and also small story bits about Thora herself and what her life was like. Even during her life on Midgard, she had to prove her worth to her father, which not only affected her, but also her brother. This is really effective, relating her past with present events and how she still in her afterlife must prove her worth to someone. Yet, you also feel her strength, since she pushes on and never complains, only reflects on current and past events.
The narration is all done in Icelandic, with a believable cast based on just two voice-actors giving all they got. By making our characters alone in an enormous world filled with danger and lore, as well as her struggles from past and present correlating, you really sympathise with her and feel alone yourself. You really feel like you only have a slight chance of defeating the Gods and prove your worth. It is impressive just how far an atmosphere can go.
Story Score: 9/10
Defeating the gods
Jotun is an action-adventure game, with an overhead-view, stages that change up the formula, and ginormous boss fights. As a mere mortal, you start off with only your life-bar, a dodge-roll and two attacks. You have your light-attack that can hit easily, but will only do some damage and can be comboed for up to two hits, and a charge attack that can be used for context-sensitive areas and packs a nasty punch, but will take time to charge. This might be a limited setup, but it is well implemented for the enormous fights you will tackle, making you choose if you want to be more offensive or defensive in your approach. The dodge-roll is also well implemented, making it a support for evading attacks and not easy to abuse due to only being able to roll a certain distance and you must take a one-second breather until you can do it again. Every single boss is a treat and changes up with different attacks and strategy. One grew taller as I fought it, making the range of his attacks harder to dodge, while another one made me lead her lightning-attacks to stones, making the attack backfire and stun her. Having such diversity to each fight, gives each boss a unique personality, and every single one provides a good and difficult challenge, with the last one being the hardest.
Before each boss, you will have to go through two stages, representing the boss’ elemental theme, with the exception being the final fight where there are none and the first boss which instead has one stage and an extra boss-fight . With every stage representing an action-adventure, they all change up their concept each time, making it so you are never doing the same thing twice. One time, you will be climbing up a giant tree, cutting down branches to make bridges and dodge a giant crow swooping down to kill you, another stage will have you visit the home of the dwarfs and fight off hordes of them, and one will even be a simple maze. You always have a map at hand, but it never points out where you are.
This is a smart move, making it so you have to pay attention to your surroundings, and no stages are too long or get dull because of the change in approach, despite some being quite easy to tackle. Often variation in a game can be a sign of an identity-crisis, but Jotun knows how to change up the formula while still focusing on you exploring each environment with some light changes to make them more memorable and enjoyable.
Besides the different approaches, there are also some hidden extras, such as golden apples for more health, environmental lore that makes the world feel more alive, and magical statues that provide you with the powers of the Gods. Each magic is helpful, from the traditional healing-spell to a stronger charge-attack. Instead of a traditional mana-bar, you will instead have a number of times you can perform a spell, which can also be increased if you find statues of the same God in other regions. While this is an interesting choice, I really don’t miss the traditional mana-bar, because Jotun made me think more on what spell I should use at what time, instead of spamming the healing-spell.
With a variety that never strays away from the core concept of both the enormous fights and the adventure-portion, Jotun has a lot to offer, despite being only about 3 hours long. There are only 7 bosses and 9 stages, and while some more challenge to certain stages would have been welcoming, everything here feels so thought through and polished, that I was satisfied when the credits rolled in.
Gameplay Score: 9/10
The afterlife is wonderful
We have hand-drawn art, making the world and characters come to life, and it is just beautiful. With plenty of colors, and nice attention to details, such as the wind blowing, affecting the trees, and the shadows of a huge beast under the icy water, this world is alive and full of imagination. All areas are designed differently from one another, both in their layout and looks, making them more intriguing and interesting. The bosses as well are lovely animated and get the most attention to detail, even more so than Thora, who still has a really appealing design. What steals the show for me however, is just how big this world, its inhabitants, and the bosses are. It might sound weird, but due to the camera zooming out and showing you the entire area you are in or just how big a boss is compared to you, it effectively leaves you in awe.
The music is on par with its presentation. Represented by an orchestrated soundtrack with vague choirs being used, it provides a strong atmosphere, ranging from calm, eerie, mysterious, dangerous and action-packed. By having this style of music used, it complements the huge world, making it more sublime, intimidating, yet intriguing. The voice acting is only in Icelandic, which is a nice touch, helping the area become more believable. The two actors also do a great job with their voice-work, but this too is a smart move in itself. By only having two characters talking, one being Thora and the other being Odin, it creates a contrast between someone who is a mere mortal and a god in a world where she is alone. While it is overall beautiful both in its sound and visual-aspect, it is how effectively it all comes together that really impresses me.
Presentation Score: 10/10
Lore and boss-rush
Jotun might not have much replay-value. The only thing you can do, is finding the hidden lore-elements, such as statues, and the golden apples for more health.
However, what this version adds is the Valhalla mode. Their website describes this part as, “a boss rush mode with even fiercer versions of the already challenging Jotun”! And they were not joking around. This will definitely put you on the edge of your seat, with the bosses having more tricks up their sleeves and even more dangerous attacks. While it could definitely have more to it as extras, what is here gives a more interesting world to explore, and the boss-fights are certainly a treat to fight once again with new tricks.
Extra Score: 7.5/10
Balancing both how dangerous the world is, but also showing that you have a slight chance, is incredibly hard, without it tipping the scale for unfair difficulty. Jotun does this with flying colors and gives good adventure-stages before the bosses, and fights that are massive and demanding, without becoming unfair. While the only real thing to go back to is the challenging boss-rush mode, Jotun Valhalla Edition should be noticed by anybody seeking a good 3 hours rush with fantastic presentation and a complementary story. It might not be a long game, but the adventure will be worth every single minute.