When I was young, there was something about boss fights in video games that raised my anxiety to what could perhaps be called an unhealthy level. I really enjoyed figuring out levels, mastering controls and feeling damn near omnipotent in the face of arbitrary adversity. Then I’d walk through that final door, that gate to the culmination of your studies – the hardest obstacle you’ve met with yet.
While I’ve since grown to understand and for the most part enjoy a proper boss battle, there are still those moments when I get stressed out or angry at the situation – especially when I’ve spent what little video-gaming time I have basically screwing up and having to start over. It’s a first-world problem in adulting to be sure, but time is a precious resource I just don’t have large amounts of these days.
Jotun: Valhalla Edition is built around those epic, awe-inspiring battles that struck fear into me, and it’s all the better for it. While playing it I’ve built an understanding that practice doesn’t necessarily mean perfect, but mastery is knowing enough to survive. Which is a nice analogy to the story of Thora, the game’s protagonist, as she scraps her way through Norse hell in the hopes of returning to the land of the living. Every inch of ground you make feels earned; the type of thing that reminds you to take pride in the act of doing something rather than seeing some credits roll.
The game’s areas are separated out in a hub known as Giggungagap (personally one of my favorite words of all time!) that branches out into the realms of the various gods you must topple in order to push through. Before tackling one of the titular Jotun, you must first traverse two areas and activate a rune in order to open up the gate to your impending battle. While a lot of the emphasis of Jotun is definitely on the defining boss battles, you can help yourself along by searching out life-bar-raising apples and new powers bestowed upon you by Norse legends. These can tip the scales just enough for you to topple the immense monsters you must face. At the very least you’ll find sweeping vistas that are often accompanied by narration letting you know where you are and why it’s important to your heritage. It’s a nice touch, and I found these snippets well worth seeking out because I’m a sucker for lore.
Each area is like an arduous puzzle, whether it’s trying to find shelter in bitterly cold winds in a frost-laden land or trying to navigate the branches of a colossal tree. Figuring out your path is a pleasure and a necessity, as the map is just as it is; there’s no mark of where you are or where you need to go, just a small imprint of the lay of the land. There are plenty of quiet moments punctuated by surprises of both the combat and puzzle ilk. The levels also smartly train you in how to use the new powers you uncover in preparation for tackling a Jotun. And you’re free to roam: you could even complete all the open areas and gain everything before tackling a single Jotun. The game guides you in a certain direction, but it is by no means a necessity to take this route.
As for the boss battles themselves, they are elongated, challenging and epic. The gods feel like gods; huge, imposing and capable of finishing you off in a few swipes. Charging in full tilt will end in your immediate demise; your best (and only) bet is to look for tells, patterns and openings to whittle away their equally large life bars. Just as you think you’ve figured them out, they’ll change tactics mid-battle as you get ever closer to felling them. Jotun smartly starts you right back in the thick of it if you fail, as this is the best teacher. Few things in gaming are as satisfying as watching the gods crumble before your might.
The bells and whistles to this Switch port are minimal. Things are supposedly remastered, but I couldn’t honestly tell you if that’s true unless I bothered to take the time to compare this with the Wii U version. All you need to know is that the animation remains beautiful, with a unique aesthetic that brings things to life in unexpected ways. The true uptick of the Switch version is the handiness of having a port of Jotun that’s both portable and capable of being played on a television. I’d often throw myself at a Jotun just before bed – and then put my Switch calmly next to the nightstand when things didn’t go my way.
I can’t recommend Jotun: Valhalla Edition highly enough, and to be honest it’s on enough platforms that even if you don’t have a Switch there’s a way for you to help Thora in her journey of redemption. From its painterly world to its odd puzzles and its solemn but massive boss battles, Jotun: Valhalla Edition is absolutely worth a try. The gods are impressed indeed!
Jotun is available for PC, PS4, Xbox One, Wii U and Switch. We reviewed the Switch version.
Disclosure statement: Review code for Jotun was provided by Thunder Lotus Games. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.