‘Lost in Random’ review: an enjoyable dark fairy tale marred by plodding action

Dicing with death

There’s a certain fairness in leaving the workings of society to chance. What if leaders were chosen at random? Or political policies were as likely to upset those at the top as please them? Chaotic? Sure. But when you look at the way things are going, maybe it’s worth the gamble. At least we’d all feel like we were in the same boat.

Just as long as we didn’t end up like the kingdom of Random. In Lost in Random’s Victorian-style fantasy world, chance has replaced freedom, as everyone is assigned their social status by the roll of a die, under the watch of a tyrannical queen. It doesn’t seem fair on anyone when every district, high or low, is stifled by oppression, and is as awful in its own way as the next.

But it’s a good setup for a dark fairy tale. The kingdom is divided into six towns, from the lowly Onecroft to the apparently prestigious Sixtopia, and all children are forced to roll the queen’s decisive die on their 12th birthday to determine where they’ll spend the rest of their lives. Onecroft-born sisters Odd and Even are separated when Odd rolls a six and is whisked off to the top town. Even – that’s you – sets out to reunite with her lost sibling, on a journey that will take her through every district. But not before an unplanned detour into some ancient ruins teams her up with a magical walking, squeaking die of her own, which she names ‘Dicey’.

Lost in Random
Lost in Random. Credit: Zoink Games

It’s the kind of plot that could make for a great animated film. Specifically, one made by Tim Burton, using puppets and stop-motion animation. The parallels in Lost in Random with the visual design of The Nightmare Before Christmas are hard to ignore. The world has the same mix of sinister and whimsical, from the murky, downtrodden Onecroft, where everyone lives in giant cracked teapots, to the neon lights of cutthroat gambling hive, Fourburg. The populations within are also a suitably twisted menagerie of stick-limbed, sunken-eyed beings.

Among them are some fun characters, either stuffed with lovable charm, like Seemore, a goofy three-eyed monster, or delicious menace, like the evil nanny of the Sixer children who reminded me of aunt Lydia from The Handmaid’s Tale. Admittedly, I was less enamoured of Mannie Dex, a travelling salesman who wears his store cupboard like an overcoat and reveals its wares as you approach like a leering flasher. But plenty of humour in Lost in Random does land, not least a comedy narrator, which is no mean achievement.

Of course, Lost in Random isn’t an animated film, it has to weave a game around its dark streets and flashy personalities, and on that count, it doesn’t have quite the same sparkle. At its core is combat, as Even and Dicey work together to smash up waves of the queen’s automaton army. To defeat these opponents you draw on a randomly shuffled deck of battle cards which cost points to unleash. To get those points you have to roll Dicey, causing the action to freeze while you can spend the resulting score. Some cards grant temporary weapons for Even, like a sword or a bow, some are traps and debuffs she can place in the arena, others are healing spells.

Lost in Random
Lost in Random. Credit: Zoink Games

It’s an original idea, and offers up some decent flexibility. Early in the game, Dicey is missing some dots, so can only roll ones and twos, limiting how much you can do with each throw. At specific points in the story you get to upgrade your cuboid friend, which allows you to roll higher numbers and use more powerful combos of cards. You might freeze enemies temporarily in a time field so you can whack at them with a club, or smash them with a great ghostly hand then follow up with a volley of arrows. Naturally, finding or buying new cards that synergise with those in your possession is always a pleasure.

However, every battle is slow to get going and tends to drag. At the start of a fight, Even is armed only with her sling, which can’t damage robots directly but can smash the crystals that form on their bodies. Before you can roll Dicey and do anything more dynamic, you have to collect fallen crystal fragments. So, in practice, every battle begins with a routine sling-shotting session as you build up the momentum to unleash proper attacks.

It would be easier to tolerate this and the stop-start nature of the time-freezing mechanic if the game were more tactically challenging or offered more variety in its enemies. Instead, there’s only a handful of types with mild variants that stick to singular attack patterns and simply increase in number as the game progresses. The only change of note is when battles shift to a board game format, where a playing piece moves along a row of tiles each time you roll Dicey, and enemies spawn until it reaches the end. But even these ultimately amount to fending off waves of those lacklustre robots. In the end, I switched down to easy mode purely to save time.

Lost in Random
Lost in Random. Credit: Zoink Games

As for when you’re not scrapping, you’re mostly running around towns looking for characters to help you out, who invariably then send you off to gather items or information. There are side quests too, which generally amount to the same – it’s not much to entice you from the main path, particularly when the rewards on offer are more cards that you’ll eventually buy from the shop anyway. I was hoping for more substance here, like some environmental puzzles, but aside from some very basic switch shooting they never arrived.

The narrative framing and gothic design of Lost in Random ensured that I at least wanted to see it through to its end. Every district is distinctly different and bizarre in intriguing ways, and the cast keeps the tempo bouncing along. The lack of anything very taxing in the game may also make it more suitable for younger players. But even that doesn’t excuse the repetition and pedestrian pacing, right through to some surprisingly one-dimensional boss encounters. For a game governed by the luck of the draw, Lost in Random becomes oddly predictable.

Lost in Random is out now for Xbox One, Xbox Series S|X, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, PC, and Nintendo Switch. We tested the PC version.

The Verdict

Lost in Random is a dark fantasy tale full of amusing characters and macabre manifestations of a world built on chance. It falls short, however, in trying to turn its dice rolling random element into a compelling action experience, and outside of combat struggles to come up with interesting things for players to do. An enjoyable story married to a game that’s far from offensive, but certainly a little bland.

Pros

  • Each town in Random is fascinating to explore
  • Entertaining characters and script

Cons

  • Side quests are insubstantial
  • The open world is bad
Advertisement

More Gaming Stories:

Advertisement