I first saw Jotun at Pax East 2015, where Thunder Lotus were showing off the fight with the Ice Jotun Isa. I remember thinking at the time that, although absolutely gorgeous (the game is entirely hand drawn and should be lauded for this fact alone), the game seemed very one-dimensional and slow in terms of controls and character equipment. Having now completed the full game, I’m still of the opinion that the game is very straightforward and lacks some diversity I’d personally love to see, however, I cannot claim this simplicity is a fault. Jotun combines a stunning atmosphere created by hand-drawn Nordic landscapes and a phenomenal soundtrack with very solid, easily understood game mechanics. Together they make a game much like a fine meal; Superb, but leaving you wanting more.
Creator: Thunder Lotus Games
Release Date: Sep 29, 2015
Game Version: Final / PC
Interface: Xbox 360 Controller
The atmosphere begins being built in Jotun from the very first words spoken by the narrator….in Icelandic. Having the entire narration of the story of Thora’s death and redemption be delivered in the closest equivalent we have to the language of the Vikings immediately puts you in the right mind space for an Epic. Jotun’s scale is epic; sweeping vistas of varied environment surrounding The World Tree, a fantastic swelling score composed by Max LL, and battles against foes many times your size. The UI and mechanics are integrated seamlessly, and there isn’t a single jarring moment telling you “Press A to Dodge”. The development team clearly wanted this to be an engrossing and welcoming experience and have pulled this off wonderfully. Even the potentially controversial (for some reason) fact that the protagonist is a strong female character is handled so well, that I never once thought about the cultural or societal issues surrounding Feminism while playing Thora. Yes, Thora is a strong female protagonist, and she is perfect; she’s not forced, she makes sense, and her motivations are perfectly in keeping with the culture she has been drawn from.
However, as seamless as the mechanics are introduce to the player in Jotun, I wish there were a few more. You only ever wield one weapon. You have a strong and a fast attack with this two-handed axe, and it is supplemented with 5 God-powers gained from exploration. Everything in the game is incredibly solid, but there are no option to customize your version of Thora or they way you might want to play the game. What Thunder Lotus has given us is so good it makes me wish there was even more of it.
The game’s true strength however is clearly its level design. While the mechanics may be solid, yet not very numerous, the levels and boss battle of Jotun are as varied as anyone could possibly wish. Your taken from snow covered peaks to the depths of volcanoes; from deep below to surface of the earth to the very constellations. The environments and enemies you face are all gorgeously rendered, and I was pleasantly surprised at the challenge offered by the puzzles. The puzzle in the Ymir’s Blood stage was my personal favorite, as it compelled you to learn actual Norse Mythology. I wish more educational games were as exciting as Jotun…
The 6 boss battles in Jotun deserve special consideration, as they really are the central feature of the game. Each is a perfect balance of a gorgeous (and slightly terrifying) Jotun’s, mechanics that are clear, yet punishing, and one or two phases shifts that will force you to ration your abilities and powers. Each feels like a combination of Shadow of the Collosus and a Dark Souls boss, seen through the lense of classic and colorful hand drawn animation. The highlight for me was Kaunan, the Jotun blacksmith in his fiery lair. The combination of pounding music, fiery environment, and Kaunan’s fast paced and incredibly punishing (seriously, you best bet is to simply not get hit) attacks had me screaming in anguish every time i came close to defeating him, and roaring in triumph when it finally happened.
What more can you ask for in a game, really?
Jotun is a fantastic experience I’d suggest to anyone looking for a challenge, but I’d caution you that the game will leave you wanting more. This is partially due to the fantastic art, music and level design that creat a world worth exploring, and partially do to how well the simple mechanics of the game are constructed: I’m very eager to see what Thunder Lotus brings us in the future!