Randomness has been a part of games since their inception. The earliest videogame RPGs were mostly based on Dungeons & Dragons mechanics, using random-number-generation (RNG) to simulate the roll of the dice. And games haven’t slowed down this usage, with RNG being so common that it’s barely worth mentioning.
It seemed odd, then, that Lost in Random appeared so excited over such an ancient concept in games. Why would anyone care that random chance is a part of this game, when it’s been done so many times before?
After having finished the game, I can see what they were going for, but it still seems like a weird way to sell the experience. Yes, you roll a sentient die (called a “dice” in the game, since most of the cast hails from across the pond) which results in a random number between one and six, but that number also gets you points to use on cards which grant you abilities in 3D action gameplay. The randomness is a part of it, but it’s the least remarkable part. Lost in Random seems to have buried the lead, just as I have.
But here it is: Lost in Random is a joy, not just in its shockingly easy-to-grasp amalgamation of gameplay mechanics, but in the entire world Zoink Games has created. Although it lacks the breadth and fidelity of its AAA counterparts, Lost in Random is just as, if not more, immersive and engaging, and it does so within a gameplay system that looks unwieldy but plays like a dream.
The game is set in a world clearly inspired by Tim Burton’s gothic works, with its characters and environments appearing to be sculpted and animated like a claymation film. This stylistic choice may have been influenced by the budget, since the models don’t require the high level of detail expected of other current-gen 3D environments, but I love the look of it, which allows for both adorable, lovable creatures and characters existing alongside some horrific creations. The tone fits the style, with tons of tongue-in-cheek humor alongside the tragic and unsettling stories. I laughed out loud at a lot of its more modern writing, especially the absurd responses your player character can give during dialogue and its characters’ responses to them.
That character’s name is Even (voiced by Katey Parr), who sets off from her hometown of Onecroft to save her sister, Odd (voiced by Birte Widmann), from the clutches of the evil Queen (voiced by Karen Kahler). It’s a familiar premise, but the world in which it takes place is a fascinating one.
After years of chaos, the Queen destroyed all dice but hers, which are sentient creatures who grant magical powers. With a monopoly on dice, she was able to create a caste system separating people into six kingdoms, but each person’s fate is decided on their 12th birthday by a random roll of the die. It’s an intriguing set-up that considers the merits of a caste system where every citizen has an equal chance of rags or riches regardless of their origin (seems like something Thanos might be into), although it’s pretty clear who we’re supposed to root for from the beginning.
The set-up also gives the story a clear line of progression, seldom deviating too far from it. You’re going to spend a lot of time simply exploring and talking to all the different denizens, especially at the beginning, where combat doesn’t open up until after an hour or two. I probably could have skipped past a good chunk of these interactions, but I never wanted to, since each piece of dialogue promised to provide more information on the fascinating world or at least a good laugh. Occasionally, some strings of dialogue would get so long that my brain would fog up, but the quality of writing and acting usually prevented me from completely zoning out.
The combat’s a treat, once you get into it. I’ve never been one for card-based videogames, but the synergy between the cards’ abilities and the action gameplay was apparently the secret to getting it to click with me. Each fight starts out with a scramble to collect as many crystals as you can by shooting enemies with a slingshot, which will build up a gauge that draws more cards from your deck. You can throw the die once you think you have enough, which will freeze time while rolling between one and your highest unlocked number, which grants you that number of points to use on playing your cards, unlocking weapons or traps to use in the action gameplay.
When the game first sprung this seemingly contrived set of rules on me, I feared it would be too complicated or cumbersome to work. In practice, though, it plays most similarly to Final Fantasy VII Remake, where the action gameplay combines with the turn-based strategy for the best of both worlds. My only complaint is that I quickly ran out of new cards to unlock for the deck, with the second half of the game only giving repeats. This could help if you love one card and want to use it all the time, but as I was going for a more balanced deck, I seldom felt the need to switch things up after I got one of each.
There’s also a board game mode used a few times where your die’s roll moves a piece across a map, and they were some of my favorite fights in the game. I just wish there were more opportunities to play that mode, as an online PvP mode with the board game seems like it would have been a perfect fit.
But as is often the case, if someone’s biggest complaints are that they just wish there was more of a game, that usually means they enjoyed their time with it. And I adored my time in Random. It’s pretty remarkable how a game that’s likely considered a “AA” title, somewhere between indie and “AAA” in scope, manages to create an experience parallel to full “AAA” games from just five or 10 years ago. There’s a lot to be cynical and skeptical about in the gaming industry, from continuing abuse within its studios, to a seeming lack of original ideas in its biggest titles, to so much more. But games like Lost in Random remind me that there’s still magic and joy to be found in videogames, even from a company that can be as cold and calculated as EA.
Lost in Random was developed by Zoink Games and published by Electronic Arts. Our review is based on the PlayStation 5 version. It’s also available for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X | S, Switch and PC.
Joseph Stanichar is a freelance writer who specializes in videogames and pop culture. He’s written for publications such as Game Informer, Twinfinite and Looper. He’s on Twitter @JosephStanichar.