I love a development team that’s willing to try new ideas, especially when they harken back to the classic side of gaming. For instance, you can literally feel the team at Thunder Lotus Games beckon the call of Legend of Zelda – but in its own special way – with Jotun: Valhalla Edition, a game that’s more about a wondrous journey into the afterlife, rather than the bloodthirsty quest to stay alive.
But, of course, there are pratfalls, namely when some element of the game can’t live up to the rest of the package. Jotun has exquisite hand-drawn visuals that bring this brooding world to life, along with strong Norse narration (a first for a game of this kind in some time) and a beautiful music score. Alas, the gameplay and short length of Jotun’s adventure keep it from being an instant classic.
The game puts you in the shoes of Thora, a female Norse warrior (yes, take that, Kratos!) who has fought a hard-earned battle, even if she’s lost her life in the process. Now comes the real challenge – proving herself worthy to join the other Gods in the afterlife by taking on several of them in battle. And, yes, they’re much bigger than she is, and she only has so much in weaponry to utilize when it comes to cutting them down to size.
Jotun’s art style is a vivid tour-de-force, a mixture of gorgeous hand-drawn animations that really bring the characters to life, alongside painted environments that resemble a greater form of depth than they let on. Sometimes that can result in minor errors, like getting lost in a tunnel that’s supposed to go deeper than it appears, or not judging the right striking distance on a boss enemy. Overall, though, it’s a great job by the team, and here’s hoping they continue to employ this art style moving forward.
The sound is terrific as well. The music score that consistently plays during battles is a bittersweet score that tells Thora’s tale as she ventures onward, ramping up just at the right time for the boss battles. What’s more, the Norse narration, between Thora and Odin, is true to the source, as it really makes you feel like you’re living more of the tale.
Where Jotun excels is with the boss battles. Not only are these beasts really something to look at, but they follow old-school patterns that will give you a true run for your money – especially with the pithy weapons you have on hand. Again, there can be times where frustration sets in with minor collision detection issues, but some people will be pleased with the results of these battles – even with the crushing blow of defeat that denies you entry into Valhalla.
The real setback, however, is the rest of the game, which can feel like a bit of a chore. Wandering around to gather items, open doorways and eventually get to these bigger encounters can take a lot more time than expected, resulting in Jotun’s pace dragging a bit. That’s an issue that will be hard for some players to overlook, even with the monsters that await down the road. (You’ll probably get into a “Are we there yet?” frame of mind with some parts of the game.)
What’s more, it’s over way too soon. Your epic quest comes to a close about four to six hours in. There is a decent Valhalla Mode thrown in for good measure, with more powerful bosses and a variety of god powers to utilize against them, but that’s really about it. I really wanted something more out of my journey with Jotun – it came to an end all too quickly.
Still, despite some disappointments, Jotun shows incredible promise in Thunder Lotus Games, especially with its unmatchable presentation and its unique boss battles, which reminded me quite a bit of Titan Souls – but with a few extra God powers and a great Norse theme on hand. It’s worth checking out if you’re a curious Zelda player, but just understand that the road to Valhalla certainly has its fair share of speed bumps.