'Lost in Random' review: A bold Tim Burton tribute with one dicey mechanic

By Tomas Franzese

Lost in Random looks and plays like no other video game in 2021.

The latest game from Fe developer Zoink and publisher EA follows a girl named Even on a journey to save her sister in a world themed around dice, randomness, and board games. The developers get the most out of that premise by infusing it with a gothic vibe that would make Tim Burton giddy.

The world looks like it’s sculpted out of clay and the characters act like they’re plucked straight out of a fairy tale. It’s all balanced out by an unconventional battle system that fuses cards, dice rolls, and traditional turn-based combat. All of that culminates to make Lost in Random a macabre love letter to Tim Burton’s most memorable cinematic moments.

High Roller

An evil Queen rules over the world as she supposedly has the only die left after destroying others in the “No Dice War.” Children must roll her die when they turn twelve to determine which of Random’s six realms that child will end up in for the rest of their life, adhering to a strict caste system.

At the start of the game, a girl named Even is separated from her older sister Odd when Odd rolls a six and must go live with the queen. Shortly before Even will have to roll the die a year later, a spirit alerts Even that Odd is alive and in distress as the queen is grooming Odd to become her successor.

Even discovers a living die named Dicey who speaks gibberish and has powerful magical abilities. From there, players venture through each of Random’s six realms with Dicey and see how each domain lives at the whims of the Queen’s die.

The residents of Two-Town all have two personalities that change depending on what the Queen rolls. Meanwhile, the royalty of Threedom is gridlocked in a three-way civil war, with the Queen’s die determining when the royals’ giant mechs can attack each other.

Everything in Lost in Random looks like it was sculpted out of clay or other natural materials. Many characters have grotesque designs and speak in an odd cadence in ways that obviously imitate the Burton-produced The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Thankfully, Lost in Random’s developers understand Tim Burton’s work is about more than merely gothic visuals. There’s also cunning dialogue, relatable but otherworldly characters, and deeper themes about family dynamics and the unpredictability of life.

Even though Burton isn’t affiliated with this game at all, his influence is palpable.

Dicey Combat

While it could be classified as an “action-adventure game,” Lost in Random’s combat incorporates cards, dice rolls, and other board game mechanics to shake the button-mashing experience up.

To attack with Dicey, Even must collect crystals, which often grow on enemies in the environment. These crystals are automatically used to draw cards from Even’s deck, which you can customize with up to 15 different cards for attacks, healing spells, and traps.

Each card has a number value assigned to it, and players must roll that amount or higher with Dicey to use it. Once you roll Dicey, time freezes and you must decide what to do. Do you want to summon a powerful weapon? Or do you want to take the time to heal and set up a trap or turret that will hurt your opponents?

Some fights lean deeper into board game mechanics by having each of Even’s dice rolls move a piece forward, with the goal often being to get that piece to the end of the board. These battles present some of Lost in Random’s greatest innovations. You’ve never played anything quite like it.

Despite these thrilling highs, fights often feel bloated in the latter half of the game. Encounters can last 10 minutes or more, especially if you have few attack cards in your hand. Once Dicey can roll a 5 or 6, you’ll get the gist of the fight and use most of your deck after a couple of minutes. That makes it especially annoying when you clear a room of enemies, only for more to spawn.

Boardgame gimmicks shake things up, but they disappear about two-thirds into the game. Lost in Random would’ve significantly benefited from more combat encounter variety. The game is relatively short, clocking in at around 10 hours for Inverse, but repetitive combat obfuscated the more engaging story, world, and dialogue for a portion of that runtime.

If you’re willing to overlook the bloated combat, you’ll find a lot to love in this macabre adventure about the bond between sisters. It makes bold creative choices only possible at a high-budget indie level and is probably the closest we’ll get to a modern game based on The Nightmare Before Christmas.

7/10

Inverse reviewed Lost in Random on PS5. It is also available for PC, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and Nintendo Switch.

INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: When it comes to video games, Inverse values a few qualities that other sites may not. For instance, we care about hours over money. Many new AAA games have similar costs, which is why we value the experience of playing more than price comparisons. We don’t value grinding and fetch quests as much as games that make the most out of every level. We also care about the in-game narrative more than most. If the world of a video game is rich enough to foster sociological theories about its government and character backstories, it’s a game we won’t be able to stop thinking about, no matter its price or popularity. We won’t punch down. We won’t evaluate an indie game in the same way we will evaluate a AAA game that’s produced by a team of thousands. We review games based on what’s available in our consoles at the time. And finally, we have very little tolerance for junk science. (Magic is always OK.)

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