Jotun Is an EXTREMELY Difficult Game, and That's What Makes It Magical

About halfway through playing Jotun: Valhalla Edition for the Nintendo Wii U, I decided I'd post my review once I'd finished the game.

Today, about a week after my first attempt at defeating the final boss, Odin, I've reconsidered. If I stick to my original plan, this review may never see the light of day.

In most games, dying dozens and dozens of times in a row while attempting to take down one seemingly unbeatable boss would be unbearable. Somehow, Jotun manages to make every defeat a learning experience and a ton of fun.

Jotun: Valhalla edition title screen

(via Thunder Lotus Games)


In Jotun, players control a butt-kicking lady Norse warrior named Thora (after the legendary god of strength, Thor). After she dies an "inglorious death" in a shipwreck, the gods give her a second chance to prove herself worthy of entering the beautiful Valhalla in the afterlife.

Jotun: Thora dies an inglorious death

(via Thunder Lotus Games)

To do this, she must navigate through various regions, collecting runes and defeating towering, powerful elemental enemies from Norse mythology called Jotun.

Mighty as Thora may have been in life, in this mystical realm it quickly becomes apparent that she's only human. With only her axe to aid her, survival will be nearly impossible.

Take a look at this first boss, Jera the nature jotun. First off, she is huge. See that small dark figure to the right of the blue flower at the bottom of the image? That's the player, Thora. Suffice it to say, Jera is an intimidating foe.

Jera the nature Jotun boss battle

(via Thunder Lotus Games)

In my first battle against her, I died almost instantly, prompting a game-over screen reading, "You have failed to impress the gods." I felt pretty helpless with Thora's axe making only a small dent in Jera's overall health with each whack and Jera coming at me with branch whips, wriggling tentacles and a noxious poison gas.

So when—after multiple tries and carefully studying Jera's movements—I was finally able to beat Jera, I felt like I'd really accomplished something. I'd impressed the gods! The fact that Thora is a mere mortal among gods makes these defeats feel like well-earned victories.

But even after that feat, there was still a lot more to be done. The hub world, awesomely named Ginungagap, connects five regions, each with a couple of levels and a boss jotun to call their own.

After the first area, players are free to play other levels in whatever order they please, allowing them to exit tougher areas and revisit them once they've built up their strength. I happened to enter one level early on before being swarmed by dozens of dwarves and deciding I wasn't ready for it just yet.

Jotun: Thora runs from dwarves

(via Thunder Lotus Games)

There's only one mandatory objective in each level, and that's to find its rune. Both runes from a region will allow Thora to fight the area's jotun, but if you don't poke around and look for the level's hidden goodies, chances are that you won't make it very far. If you want to actually beat the game, you'll want to explore as thoroughly as possible.

Tucked away in secluded spots you'll find Ithunn's apples, which expand your health bar. Hidden god shrines in each area will grant you special god powers, such as the ability to use Thor's hammer, Mjölnir, or Loki's power of deception, which creates a decoy of Thora to confuse enemies. Unless you unlock these, you'll be forced to fight with just your axe in tow, which in my experience spells death.

Each of the levels within Jotun is beautiful in its own way, and no two levels share the same gimmick. From a giant, icy lake where you repeatedly have to dodge a powerful creature lurking under the water to a level where paths are unlocked by drawing gorgeous constellations in the sky, this game definitely gets it right.

Jotun: Making constellations

(via Thunder Lotus Games)

But where the game really shines is in the just-short-of-frustrating, exceedingly difficult boss battles. Whether you're fighting a massive winter demon or a fiery blacksmith jotun, you will be dying a lot. Trial and error will eventually get you through these fights—unless you're me and you're fighting Odin.

Odin is basically a big jerk. It's pretty much futile to try to avoid the trajectory of his homing spears, and once you get his health down, he starts summoning the five previous jotun bosses. If you thought they were tough the first time, it's way worse when you're avoiding three of them, plus the big boss you're actually fighting.

But I still haven't given up, because the challenge is what makes the game worthwhile. Every time the game reminds me that I've failed to impress the gods, it motivates me even further to try again.

It helps that the game itself is so pretty. The hand-drawn characters and backgrounds are stunning, and the haunting, operatic music is the perfect complement to the visuals. Plus, Norse mythology is fascinating, and it's nice to learn more about it than what I know based on Marvel movies.

Even though I haven't beaten it yet, I can't recommend Jotun more. I'm going to keep trying until I finally impress Odin. So if you're looking for something that will challenge you again and again, Jotun is your game.


Looking for more indie titles to add to your collection? Click HERE for our review of Noitu Love: Devolution.