The greatest honour a Viking can have is a glorious death in battle hoping to have earned their place in Valhalla to sing songs, hunt, eat and fight until the day of Ragnarok. Thora, a Viking warrior maiden, is no different. However, she drowned at sea before seeing combat. She wakens surprised to be in Jotunheim, the land of the giants the Norse called, the Jotun. The god’s task her to prove herself worthy of entering Valhalla by defeating their legendary enemies. With only an battle axe in hand she begins her journey towards the ultimate honour. Right off the bat the fully subtitled Norse narration really gives a level of authenticity to the Viking theme. The background music is just icing on a very delicious looking cake that really gets the pulse pounding in combat. The creative force at Thunder Lotus Games offers us a slice of gorgeous nostalgic visuals with huge beasts to combat that punishes you repeatedly but tastes so good.
Take that as a fair word of warning, this game starts out really tough. From the second boss battle onwards you will most likely die, a lot. The first boss is just a basic tutorial that kind of deceives you about the real challenge that lies ahead. You only have a quick attack, a charge attack and a dodge roll, which are surprisingly sufficient for the task at hand. One direct hit from attacks will often cut your life bar in half and you can only heal up to half of your health twice. That’s four hits of damage you can take, maybe five, if you’re lucky. I can only urge you to dig deep for your inner Viking and fight on regardless. Just like Thora, you too are being tested, to see if you are worthy of entering the rest of the game. Should you pass this trial by fire you will gain access to the Void, a nexus area that is the hub of all the nine worlds. One rune in hand you must now travel to the other eight worlds to gather the halves of the other four. Guided by Odin’s ravens you collect the rune pieces required to open the entrance to the Jotun’s lair for that realm.
Each of the worlds you visit are crafted with heavy influence from Norse mythology. Each level is uniquely designed by adhering to the mythological lore for that realm. While you might expect hoards of enemies, you are far more likely to come across hazards that are thematic to the world you’re in. For example, in Niflheim, the land of fog and ice, your enemy is the ever present icy winds that can freeze you to the bone. You have to time running between cover to avoid taking damage from the elements. It’s nothing too taxing but it does mix things up. The Northern sky was one of my favourites as it combines a series of constellation puzzles with avoiding lightning from the clouds you are walking upon. The real meat of this game is in the boss battles that are without a doubt are some of the most impressive, varied and challenging boss battles I’ve played. Like the levels that went before, each is uniquely designed to be faithful to Norse mythology. If I failed it was because I messed up, usually by trying to rush for the kill. A nice touch is that you can use the environment in these arenas against the Jotun for big damage. Others are designed to make your life more difficult, such as a blizzard that obscures your view and ice that makes movement slippery.
Fortunately the realms you visit have shrines to the the gods that grant you special abilities that can give you a much needed edge. From Odin’s wife Frigg, you receive the healing ability. Heimdall the warrior god provides you a Shield of invulnerability. Loki god of mischief grants you the Decoy ability that attracts the enemy’s attention away from you. The goddess of love Freya quickens your pace with Haste. From the mighty Thor, the power to momentarily upgrade your charge attack for hammer that does heavy damage. The final ability you can find is Odin’s Spear which of course is the most powerful attack you have at your disposal. Uses are limited so it’s best not to spam the special abilities.The more shrines you find the more uses you get for the abilities. Keep on the look out for yellow objects in the environment as these decorate the path to a nearby shrine. I always felt they gave you an edge but it didn’t change the ramping difficulty as the boss tiers up. You will want as many as possible at your disposal for the final tier of your fight with the Jotun as it gets punishingly difficult.
The beautifully hand drawn animation style really makes it feel like a mythological tale from a story book. The Nordic narration and the epic background music really bring authenticity to the experience. You feel the challenge and you know if you just plan your attacks you can get through it. As with all games like this it’s about ability management and recognising enemy attack patterns and hit boxes. The variety of ways you use your surroundings to your advantage gave an added element to the gameplay. One things that might bother some is that you have no control over the camera which has a habit of zooming quite far out. This can cause you to lose sight of you character, especially if you’re being mobbed. It can take a while to zoom back in so you’re hitting air instead of the giant because you can barely see your character. With practice you end up finding work arounds, like avoiding mobs and allotting for the slow zoom. It ends up being just one more challenge to contend with but it’s nothing game breaking. You get great satisfaction upon getting that final hit in and watching the Jotun crumble at your feet because you really fought for it. The Valhalla edition allows you to play a boss rush mode which is pretty much a new game plus with a harder difficulty setting for those looking for an extra challenge.
Overall, Jotun: Valhalla edition’s thematic variety along with solid strategy centric mechanics really sets a rewarding challenge worthy of Odin himself.
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