Lost in Random is a creation of Zoink! (Stick it to the Man, Zombie Vikings), and is released under the auspices of EA Originals, an Electronic Arts program that claims to take on the role of publisher for games from independent studios, without being involved in the creative process at all. And while EA as a company has often given us grounds for harsh criticism, EA Originals has highlighted some particularly interesting games, including both Unravel, A Way Out and It Takes Two.
So what is Lost in Random (hereafter LiR). The simplest description is that it is a relatively linear (by no means open world) third-person action adventure. But this general description, while true, needs quite a bit of analysis, as LiR easily stands out from the pack in certain areas, some with a completely positive connotation, and others with a negative one.
On the plus side, first contact can only be fascinating, as the visual sector is a feast for the eyes. LiR is imbued on all levels with the particular aesthetic that in cinema has become associated with Tim Burton's name. It's really like being part of a project by the famous director, who for his own reasons decided to implement it as an interactive game instead of a stop-motion movie.
Let's say a few words about the script. Random is a kingdom divided into six regions, each with specific social characteristics depending on the number assigned to it. The Queen, wielder of the dreaded Black Dice, decides the fates of Random and her subjects literally on the dice.
Our protagonist, Even, lives on the lowest social level with her parents and her sister Odd. On each Random child's twelfth birthday, the Queen arrives, casts the Black Dice, and decides what level the new (almost) teenager will live on. When Odd's turn comes, the die rolls a six, and the Queen takes her with her to the Palace. Though in theory Odd escaped the ghetto to go live in the feathers, Even is convinced that things are not as they seem, and that Odd needs help. When a year later, she receives a message from Odd between sleep and wakefulness and sees a ghost urging her to follow it, she decides her belief is correct, and embarks on a journey that turns into an Odyssey with an unexpected twist.
Moving on to the positives, as the player progresses through the game, he discovers that the tribute to Tim Burton is not superficial and doesn't just stop at just looking good. LiR is a gothic tale in an original world that oozes with flair in its design. The ideas and findings that underpin the conception of each of the six different worlds the player will visit could end up being mere gimmicks, but they govern the design of both the areas and their inhabitants so flawlessly that it is instead a masterclass in world-building.
Since there was mention of the inhabitants that Even will be conversing and interacting with, I owe not just a mention, but praise to LiR's writing. Standard economy and characterization, many of the mostly minor characters are fleshed out in just two or three words, while also implicitly giving tons of lore for their worlds. Masterful work, and so far, far away from the corny, post-pubescent, smug, try-hard ostensible humor of Zombie Vikings that you almost can't believe this is the work of the same studio.
At this point in the review, several readers are probably ready to embody the familiar meme "shut up and take my money". I suggest restraint, because we still haven't dealt with one of the pillars of gameplay.
As far as the negatives are concerned, let's mention the easy ones first. In the technical area, the complete absence of the possibility to configure the graphics. The negative impression is tempered by the fact that Lost in Random is light as a feather and will run like water on any elementally modern system, and this despite the fact that the official requirements are almost scandalously inflated. I didn't encounter any bugs worth mentioning myself, some users report issues with the lip sync of the characters.
And it's time to reveal to you the reason why this review is not rave. In its attempt to both innovate and incorporate key scripted motifs into the combat system, LiR falls into a serious flaw. The battles quickly become weary, and despite the element of intense randomness, they lack real variety, both in enemies and tactics. I need to do a much more detailed explanation, though, as LiR attempts to marry many heterogeneous elements into its battles, from deck building to Soulslike mechanics.
Early in her journey, Even will meet and adopt an intelligent one-sided dice named Dicey. Dicey is pivotal in battles, as without him, Even's only offensive option is her sling, which deals minimal to no damage to opponents.
To put it in perspective, each battle in LiR is divided into three stages:
In the first stage, Even runs around the arena and hits enemies with her sling. The damage as mentioned is infinitesimal, but in doing so she squeezes shards out of them. Dicey collects these shards, and thus activates his throwing ability.
In the second stage, Even drops Dicey, so time is frozen, and depending on the result, we can choose which cards in our deck to activate. The cards will finally give us a serious weapon (sword or bow at first), and once we choose it, time unfreezes and we enter the third stage.
In which third stage, we now fight enemies in a highly watered-down Soulslike pattern based on constant dodge and attack when the opponent is left exposed. Unfortunately, it's very common, especially early on, for our weapon durability to not last long enough to end the engagement, so poof, around and around with the sling.
Repeat, for each and every battle.
Although the description of the combat system is lengthy in the text, I have to admit that in-game it is quite intuitive. This unfortunately doesn't make it fun, especially the first stage with the sling that I honestly wonder what they were thinking.
New cards can be purchased from the relevant vendor, and there's a wide variety of weapons, potions, curses, bombs and abilities. The thing is, for most of the game, the really interesting cards are not eligible during combat, even if they're in your deck. This is because Dicey starts the game wounded and can't bring more than 2, a number that only allows for basic cards. Restoring his dots is slow, and only adds meaningful interest to the battles towards the end of the game.
So what is the final conclusion? Can the very nice, roughly dozen-hour, trip make up for the fact that the battles range from uninteresting to tedious? For me, not entirely. Still, it's a good thing there's an easy difficulty mode option that at least cuts a lot of the enemies' hit points, because in normal they're damage sponges. It remains a strong choice for those who consciously choose it knowing its limitations, but unfortunately it falls outside the list of the year's best, and it's a shame because it had all the makings.