One for Valhalla, please.
Recently, I’ve become a huge fan of Norse mythology. What I’ve come to realize is that it’s surprisingly relevant to many modern English words we use today. For instance, Thursday, in old English, translates to Thor’s day and the same goes for Friday and Freya (a lesser-known goddess). Also, Odin, known for his white beard and his tendency to ride animals in the sky, at some point, was combined with the Christian Saint Nick to create the Santa Claus we know and love. Anyway…that’s enough schooling for a video game review – let’s get to the game, Jotun, a game that explores Norse mythology and tells a story of redemption after death.
Jotun’s protagonist, Thora, was a fierce Viking warrior and matriarch during her life, but failed to die honorably in combat. After dying at sea, she found herself in “Ginnungagap” or “The Void”. In this type of purgatory, she’s told that she can redeem herself in the eyes of the gods if she can slay the giants known as the Jotun. Accomplishing this would allow her to go to Valhalla, a place of immense honor.
Platform: Xbox One, PS4, PC, Wii U
Price I’d pay: $14.99
Jotun is an isometric combat and exploration game with “The Void” being a hub world for levels, and separately, the boss fights. There are a few puzzles, a few smaller enemies here and there, some environmental hazards and several boss fights involving the Jotun. Thora has a quick attack and a strong attack that charges up after a few seconds. In each level, there are statues dedicated to certain gods that give Thora new abilities. These abilities are limited use and can only be maxed out at certain points of a level. Upgrades to health and the number of times an ability can be used are also hidden around the levels.
Over the course of the game, Thora narrates what her life was like, and what led up to her death. Steeped in the ancient culture, Thora marvels at the things she comes across. She sees mythical characters, recognizes sites of historical significance, and gives explanations of earth’s realities, as provided by the mythology. The more time the player spends looking for these things, the more they will hear from her.
The game has a beautiful hand-drawn look to the environments, and anything the player can interact with, like enemies, objects, etc., have a more basic and cartoony look. Levels are short but pack in a lot of variety and world building. The difficulty is minimal, that is – until the boss fights come into play.
The boss fights against the Jotun are a huge emphasis in the game. In addition to being a large part of the story, they’re also the most fun part of the game. They’re also pretty hard, but are learnable and the game does a great job at telegraphing where players should and shouldn’t be. In the context of the boss fights, limited-use abilities make for more strategic play. Their scarcity forced me to both think quickly and to use them to their greatest potential.
While playing through the story, I kept on seeing similarities with a truly great game, Shadow of the Colossus. They both have mysticism, ancient surroundings, foreign languages, effective charge-up attacks and a protagonist that must kill giants to get what they want. Shadow of the Colossus also had basic controls and definitely emphasized those boss fights. I just had that familiar feeling the whole time and that’s not a bad thing.
Jotun isn’t a long game by any means, but it packs in a lot. The diverse environments are beautiful, the boss fights are expertly designed, and Norse mythology is just cool. It also tells a personal story that makes the ride all the more enjoyable.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.