Review: Jotun

Jotun is, more than anything, a tale about a Viking, her gods and facing giants (the titular Jotun). With gameplay and titanic foes that reminded me of Shadow of the Colossus and an artstyle that’s somewhere between Studio Ghibli and a Disney cartoon from the 90s, Jotun also counts with an astounding soundtrack and Icelandic voiceovers to further flesh out the whole Norse theme.

You play as Thora, named as such in honor of Thor, who after dying at sea rather than in battle must prove her value to the gods in order to gain entry to Valhalla. The story is told by two narrators – Thora and an omniscient, unknown narrator – who alternate between telling you the past of Thora herself and the lore of Norse mythology. I enjoyed the fact that the mythological fragments touched often on more obscure events and characters within the mythos, rather than sticking to the more known tales and deities.

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Jotun is at its visual best when it contrasts the vastness of Thora’s quest and foes with herself.

Gameplay-wise Jotun is simple, sometimes to its detriment. The only thing needed to complete and traverse the entire game is your initial toolset – tumbling and a light or heavy attack with her axe – and while Thora’s innate slowness lend significance to your decisions during the battles against the Jotun, the two sections prior to a bossfight often became tedious due to how slow it felt to get through them.

Every section leading up to the Jotun will also grant you divine powers of a nature relevant to the gods who grant them: Frigg’s shrine grants you the ability to heal yourself, Thor’s boon will increase your damage for a period of time and Loki’s allows you to create a decoy that attracts enemies. There are six different powers to find, each having two or three uses before requiring Thora to gather her energies at Mimir’s pool, but the fact that they’re optional and used only in battle means you won’t find the typical backtracking-with-new-abilities gameplay inherent to other metroidvanias.

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Jormungand is one of the many deities and giants that appears in Jotun – though they’re often for you to look at, not face.

Each Jotun and the sections before it, where you gather the runes to unlock the doors to your quarries and the power-ups to aid you (hidden health increases and the aforementioned shrines), have exclusive hazards and gameplay, with the boss fights featuring the hazards you’d faced in the sections before alongside your titanic foe. Striking lightning, slippery ice and magma-filled creases and how to avoid them are introduced to you before being thrown alongside the slow-but-hard-hitting bosses, which if not the narrative peak of the game are certainly examples of Jotun’s gameplay and visual presentation at its best.

There are five Jotun to speak of, and each of their fights plays radically different. The first guardian you face, Jera, remains immobile while attacking you with vines that she spreads across the screen and an expanding poison she occasionally releases. The Jotun of lightning begins by casting rays of lightning, but before long he’ll be summoning bolts from the sky and splitting himself into two. The progression is the same: the fights start slow and with easily avoided hazards, but as you bring down your foes’ health their tempo and the amount/frequency of environmental hazards increases.

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The zoomed out perspective during boss fights lends significance to your foes’ size.

Jotun can be completed by the more competent gamers across four of five hours, as death comes rarely outside of boss fights and you can learn how to circumvent their movesets in just a couple of attempts. While it often felt that Jotun took a step back in its gameplay in favor of its presentation, it managed to join both brilliantly during the fights against the giants. Some replay value is given through achievements – which challenge you to complete the boss fights in certain ways, such as within time or without using your special powers – but as with many good stories, it’s the first time I played through it that will be my favorite.

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