We’re a little bit in love with Thora. In fact, truth be told, we’re a little bit in love with the world Thunder Lotus Games has created for Jotun: Valhalla Edition. This Viking romp through Norse mythology sees our protagonist Thora – a Viking warrior who died in less than heroic circumstances – try to prove her worth to enter Valhalla. For the outset its clear that the subject matter is treated with respect, with reverence, even. The opening scenes describe Thora’s demise, narrated by our warrior herself in her native tongue. It’s moving scene that leads to our first glimpse of this beautiful world.
Our first steps as Thora take us to the brow of a barrow-mound, and as we reach the crest the camera pulls back and we take in the world before us, with what can only be Yggdrasil – the world-connecting tree – in the distance. The music swells, and our hearts beat harder in our chests. We are resolved, now, to accompany Thora on her quest, no matter the challenges that lie ahead.
It’s a feeling that never quite leaves us as we battle the elemental creatures known as Jotuns, or as we visit new realms, each different from the last, but each beautiful realised in the hand drawn visuals. It’s there, too, as we figure out how to use our axe, or wrestle with the themed puzzles that briefly halt progress.
And progress is slow – not because anything is particularly taxing, but because each realm is an adventure in itself, and one that demands to be savoured rather than rushed through at pace. Jotun is, at its heart, an utterly beguiling and relaxing experience. The realms you explore aren’t packed with enemies – more often than not your axe is used to clear environmental hazards that block your path – so when one happens along it’s a welcome change of pace, rather than an annoying distraction. It’s enough to remind you of Thora’s vulnerability without detracting from the atmosphere and the exploration.
Exploration is important – but not a chore. The world is so beautifully realised you’ll relish the opportunity to poke into every corner, and be rewarded when you do. You’ll fine life-giving apples, collect runes, and receive the blessings of Norse deities. This last is vital – Thor will grant you increased attach power, Heimdall a protective shield, Frigg the gift of healing and Freya will grant you faster movement. While limited in use, each will come into play in the game’s set pieces – the battles against the giant Jotuns of each realm.
It’s in these instances that the character and tone of the game changes completely – gone is the relaxing experience, replaced by potentially adventure-curtailing encounters which are a mixture of memorizing complex attack patterns, judging exactly when to strike and when to dodge, and using your Norse blessings at just the right moment. The titular Jotuns are colossal, the camera pulling back to emphasize their terrifying power and Thora’s seemingly insignificant presence.
Once conquered, you’re ushered into the next realm. Far from being jarring, these pace changes are masterfully timed, reminding us of the enormity of the task that faces Thora. Each realm offers new challenges, and metes out a little more of the mythology that runs through the whole adventure. Everything is rendered beautifully, the hand drawn visuals demand to be admired as art, and the animation brilliantly captures the personality of Thora as she goes about her business, each axe blow of defensive roll feels like a well-drilled move perfected in the course of countless battles. The sound track is both spiritual and memorable, whilst sound design brilliantly captures the spirit of each realm, from wind high in the treetops, to crackling flames, and cracking, creaking ice.
When all’s said and done, when our 12-hour adventure was over and we walked away, we missed Thora, and we missed her world. Thunder Lotus Games has created an engaging character, a compelling story and a beautiful, memorable world.
Jotun: Valhalla Edition is available from the Store, priced £11.99.
A beautifully realised, engaging Norse adventure.
Jotun: Valhalla Edition is, for the most part, a relaxing experience, with a story that draws you in and a world that invites exploration. This near-tranquility is punctuated for just long enough, and just frequently enough, by epic-scale boss battles that remind us of our protagonist’s vulnerability, and the enormity of the task at hand.
A beautiful and compelling adventure, and a worthy acquisition for anyone with a drop of Viking blood in their veins.