I‘ve got to admit, I was quite taken with Lost in Random‘s art style, music, and setting from the jump. So much so that I was almost able to overlook the repetition and small handful of rough edges that crept into the experience a little more often that I would’ve liked. While it’s small handful of slip-ups might be hard to ignore, Lost in Random still delivers a fascinating tale in a bewitching world that shouldn’t be missed by fans of such things.
Despite randomness being at the center of this world there is actually a very strict order that everyone must adhere to that divides everyone up into classes that live in different districts based on the numbers 1 through 6. The focus of the story are two sisters; Even and Odd. As they learn, an official roll of a die can completely change the trajectory of your life, which is exactly what happens to Odd, Even’s sister. Who Even then spends the game trying to rescue, working her way up from the town of “oners” all the way up to the bourgeois “sixers”, which is of course where Odd was taken after rolling a six with the queen. This unfolds in a rather well-done opening cutscene that sets everything up perfectly. It’s a story that’s easy and fun to get behind, just as Even and her new friend Dicey are great protagonists to root for.
The game shines brightest when it’s focusing on those elements, with a plethora of well-written and voiced dialogue trees that Even can engage in throughout the adventure with a sizable cast of fittingly bizarre characters. Throughout my entire playtime I was consistently intrigued by the folks Even came across, and the wonderfully strange world they inhabit, and I couldn’t get enough of its winding sidewalks, twisted structures, and preposterous characters. The game’s many linear alleyways and Victorian streets do blend together a bit much and dabble in same-yness from time to time, and I’ll admit I got lost a couple of times because of how similar some areas tended to look, but thanks to the generally linear layout and Dicey occasionally signaling where to go, those moments were rare and short-lived. The music of course follows suit with the visuals with a score straight out of MediEvil. I can confidently say fans of this general aesthetic will be particularly pleased with the overall vibe of Lost in Random.
“Lost in Random still delivers a fascinating tale in a bewitching world that shouldn’t be missed by fans of such things.”
The two main hemispheres of Lost in Random‘s gameplay are running around and talking to different characters and fighting the many evil minions that stand in Even’s way. The former is where most of the story develops, important items are exchanged, and where I consider the game to be at its most engaging. Not every character or joke totally landed with me but the quality of the voice acting, character design, and writing here is a real treat, and I was always excited to see what weirdo awaited Even around the next cobblestone corner. Even the narrator has a personality to him that you’ll notice more and more as he gets flustered when you don’t do what he says, or when you die and he excuses it by proclaiming it just didn’t happen. The dialogue trees aren’t always superficial ones either. Depending on what you say, you can bypass entire side quests and reap rewards early, or miss entire opportunities as well. Not quite enough to warrant replays on their own perhaps, but still a nice wrinkle in the dialogue sections that help keep you that much more engaged. My one gripe is that the vast majority of in-game lip syncing is woefully off, an oversight that is spotlighted intensely with such expressive characters. A small blemish though, considering this otherwise extremely well-realized series of characters and conversations.
The latter mentioned combat of the game doesn’t fare quite as well, but still has some notable things going for it. Firstly, Even doesn’t really have anything other than her slingshot. While this can’t do damage to enemies on its own, it can slowly chip away at enemies and score you crystals. Dicey picks the crystals up, and the more you have the more cards get drawn to your hand. Each card represents an item you could have a chance at getting depending on how you roll Dicey. Ideally, you want to wait for a full hand to roll to have the best chance of getting as many useful items as possible, but you can roll as soon as you get a card if it’s something you really want. The higher number you roll, the more options you have for cards to activate.
Cards can be anything from weapons to health, shields, and battle modifiers like slowing down time. All of these options do add a sense of depth to the combat, but given that your selection is quite limited by Dicey only being able to roll very low numbers for the first several hours of the game, it can make this system feel like more of an acquired taste than it actually is. It’s really rather inventive in that it gives you familiar options to choose from every time, but never feels predictable either, given the inherent randomness of each roll. So while you generally always have a good shot at an item you want, especially after customizing your deck, you will still be forced to improvise with bad hands from time to time. It’s just a shame that Dicey’s initial limitations hold the variety of the entire system back for such a large portion of the game.
“In some ways, developer Zoink have outdone themselves and successfully punched above their weight here.”
It also doesn’t help that actually using these items in combat can be a bit clunky and frustrating at times, especially when the camera is getting caught on some of the world’s many uneven surfaces and environmental objects. As you might imagine, melee attacks, bombs, and projectiles suffer the most from this. What’s more, the general combat loop of cracking away at crystals, rolling dicey, then using an item or two until they’re gone and repeating, goes on a bit too long in my opinion and the novelty of it tends to wane before most fights are over. It stops short of every feeling totally arduous, but some tedium does creep into the longer fights. This is helped a bit later on in the game when you have access to more cards and items, but not much. Granted, it’s clearly not a combat system that is designed to provide the instant gratification that more typical action games go for, and as such, it should be approached by patient players that don’t mind something a little slower and – at times – repetitive. But even with that in mind, I couldn’t help but feel like many of the longer combat segments, that send multiple waves of the same few enemy types your way, tended to drag long before they were over. I will say that time stopping while you roll and being able to send Dicey to out of reach areas to pick up crystals are a couple of well-conceived touches that do help everything go down a bit smoother.
Lost in Random’s visual aesthetic might lure some into thinking that they’re in for an action-heavy experience similar to MediEvil or Alice: Madness Returns, but it actually ends up being a fairly even split between slowly exploring and taking in that entrancing world – and a purposefully unique combat system that leans more into its novelties than the basic fundamentals. There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of that, but the fact that there’s not quite enough variety or refinement to fully do justice to the game’s many wonderful ideas is a bit of a letdown – despite it making up for some of that as the game progresses. In some ways, developer Zoink have outdone themselves and successfully punched above their weight here, especially considering their previous games Fe and Ghost Giant are much smaller and simpler games. It’s nice to see them roll some dice of their own on such fascinating ideas and see them come together this well. While it might struggle to fully realize its own vision in some ways, the overall experience still manages to instill a sense of wonder and beguilement that sticks with you long after you’ve put the controller down.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 5.