Deciding just how difficult a game should be is always an important choice developers will have to make at one point or another. Several games use difficulty to make players feel accomplished when they defeat a boss or discover a hidden path. If these same bosses and hidden paths were easier to beat/find, they wouldn’t have the same effect on players. The people over at Thunder Lotus understand this and made that very clear all the way through their game, Jotun.
This difficulty never comes off as ‘hard for the sake of being hard’. It’s usually more about how patient players choose to be and how well they know the enemies they are facing. Jotun does something very interesting with its world and how it handles bosses. Thora, the game’s protagonist, will be tasked with enduring areas featuring things like bubbling lava or icy winds. While this isn’t too abnormal for action-adventure games, the clear lack of general enemies is. By making the main threat in these beautifully hand drawn areas the environment, Jotun easily makes the journey to the boss feel like an actual journey and much less like a slog or just a horde of enemies in your way.
That’s not to say there are not any enemies, just that they are not the biggest threat in your way. Once Thora, the game’s protagonist, overcomes these areas and their challenges, she will be greeted with a larger-than-life Norse-inspired boss that reflects the area that preceded said boss. For instance, the boss that players fight after the area with lava and metal structures is partially made out of fire and uses fire based attacks that work with cracks in the ground made by the boss’s weapon impacting the ground. These themes are consistent throughout the game and help to create a unique experience that I doubt I’ll forget anytime soon.
I believe the focus on awesome bosses and interesting areas to explore is what makes this game so wonderful. There may not be a whole lot of areas and bosses to fight, but the handful that are there feel complete and rewarding. The idea that beating the bosses is rewarding is important as there are no experience bars or skill trees. Other than story progression, the only kind of reward is knowing that you, as a player were skilled enough to take down a boss several times your size and strength. This is very important as it is the mark of a truly remarkable boss encounter.
Since there isn’t much else to do in Jotun besides work towards bosses and fight bosses, I feel like I should talk about my main issue. Since there isn’t much else to do, the game feels a little on the short side if you’re just interested in beating the game once through. I understand it’s an indie game and that the game isn’t meant to be very long, but I found myself collecting every thing I can just to pad my play time a little. The problem is that the easiest way to stretch out a game like this would be to add enemies to areas so the player has to fight in order to move on.
I don’t believe this would work in Jotun as it is made clear that Thora can hold her own and is meant to impress the Gods themselves. With this in mind, how impressive is it that she can take out a horde of faceless goons or ‘fearsome’ monsters when there are giant, lumbering Jotun to go toe to toe with? There is one mode that seems to attempt to combat the length of the game. This mode is called Valhalla mode and is available once the main game has been cleared. Valhalla mode works as the boss rush mode I’ve always been hoping for in the Dark Souls series. Since the main focus of the game is to defeat bosses, this boss rush mode only makes sense and is a very fun way to test your skills.
Besides its length, I have very few complaints about this game. Each of the areas are unique and beautiful (all hand-drawn, did I mention that?) with wonderful ‘journeying music’ that seems to fit each area like a puzzle piece. The controls are simple fluid which makes using special abilities during tough situations fairly easy and smooth. Jotun may not be perfect, but it is definitely unique and, much like Thora herself, can hold its own too much bigger titles. I’ll be looking out for future games from the always humble (haha) group at Thunder Lotus Games.
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