Lost In Random review – dicing with fate
Card-based battles blend with a Tim Burton aesthetic in this action adventure indie game driven by chance.
While most games have random elements, it’s rare they’re celebrated as a central mechanic. The gothic kingdom in Lost In Random, from Fe developer Zoink, is built on a dice roll – divided between six districts representing each number. On every citizen’s 12th birthday, the Queen forces each person to roll a dice to decide their fate. If you roll a one, you’re stuck in dockside poverty in the lowest district for the rest of your life. Roll a six, and you’re living the perceived high life in the Queen’s quarters of Sixtopia.
This dream scenario happens to Even’s older sister Odd, who is pulled from her family in Onecroft to live in Sixtopia. After some nightmarish dreams and a ghostly visit, Even becomes increasingly concerned about Odd’s wellbeing as an assistant to the Queen, fuelling her curiosity about ascending through each district on a law-breaking rescue mission.
Despite its name, Lost In Random is pretty rigid in structure. You control Even through a relatively linear sequence of combat encounters and chatty non-player characters as you ascend through the six districts. There are areas where you can explore freely, with collectibles and side quests, but the path forward is always clearly defined. In each district, you’re typically required to collect three items for someone, who will help you advance by giving your dice companion ‘Dicey’ a pip so it can roll higher numbers to unlock the next world.
Lost in Random punctures any monotony in structure through its multi-layered combat. Battles revolve around utilising a deck of magical cards in real-time; summoning weapons like swords or bombs, planting traps in the environment or granting temporary perks or buffs. To use these cards you have to collect energy crystals by shooting them off enemies using Even’s slingshot – with the more you collect, the more cards (and options) you’ll have to pull off different attacks at once.
The random element is the dice roll which stops time and brings up your cards mid-battle, with a high number granting you more points to spend on attacks. Throw a one, for example, and you’ll probably only have enough to summon a sword. If you throw a high number however, you can get more creative with combined manoeuvres; like planting a force field which makes enemies more susceptible to damage, placing a bomb in the centre, and watching the enemies fly as you snap back into real-time by detonating it with an arrow.
The element of chance can be frustrating when a dice throw doesn’t swing your way at overwhelming moments, but with the ability to customise your deck you always feel like you have some power over the outcome. You can equip 15 cards in total, including duplicates, so if you’re inclined towards the hammer, for example, you can stack them to increase the card’s probability. There are just over 30 cards in the game so there’s some limitations in variety, but there’s still enough options to consider-– like balancing powerful, expensive cards with low cost attacks – that any adjustments feel tailored and impactful.
Lost In Random might sound intimidating on paper, yet it’s surprisingly elegant. There’s a unique rhythm to combat, split between dodging enemy attacks to collect crystals and combining cards efficiently to cause as much damage as possible. It takes a while for the combat’s flexibility to fully shine through, especially in the early districts when you’re limited by low dice numbers, but when it opens up it’s a fantastic, original system that feels like nothing else out there.
The best moments lean into board game mechanics. In certain battles, you have to guide a chess piece across a board with dice throws – all while enemies swarm and stunt your progress. You might have to defeat a certain enemy for the chess piece to advance, or it might land on a place on the board which triggers bomb strikes or helpful assists. It’s when these different games of chance combine together that Lost In Random’s combat hits an unpredictable sweet spot.
When you’re not fighting, you’re mostly chatting to the creepy and genuinely funny inhabitants of Random. Each district presents its own novelty, with Two-Town aptly populated with various cases of split personality, while Threedom is embroiled in a civil war between three siblings as they tussle for power. Similar to Psychonauts 2, characters are chattier than you expect, yet for the most part are worth listening to – with Even’s sharp dialogue options often cutting through the rambling nonsense most of the crazed character’s come out with.
There’s a surprising bite in both the visuals and narrative. Anyone familiar with films like Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas or Coraline will recognise the darkly comic aesthetic and tone, but character designs, especially the bosses, lean toward Little Nightmares territory. The hopelessness of being stuck in a world dictated by chance is also deftly explored, with Even’s own anxieties coming into play as she realises the society she believed in isn’t what it seems.
It’s a shame the heavier themes are glossed over in the underwhelming finale, which feels like it’s purposefully sketchy to leave room for a sequel. Bugs and sticky performance issues occasionally creep up too, with slingshots not always connecting or glitches affecting the interface. Neither are enough to detract from the overall experience, but it’s noticeable compared to the polish of recent EA Originals like It Takes Two.
Despite this, Lost In Random is worth gambling on. Between the novel combat mechanics and memorably ghoulish setting, which both mash together familiar ideas into something distinctive, this might be one of the best surprises of the year. As the Queen would have it, random rules.
Lost In Random review summary
In Short: A dark and comical action adventure with excellent combat mechanics, sharp writing, and a memorable cast of characters.
Pros: Combat feels like something genuinely new, with lots of flexibility. The world of Random is well conceived and interesting. Manages to be both funny and genuinely freaky.
Cons: Takes a little while to show its full potential. Not the most polished experience, with some patchy voice work. The ending feels a bit rushed.
Formats: PlayStation 5 (reviewed), Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series X/S, and PC
Release Date: 10th September 2021
Age Rating: 12
By Adam Starkey
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