When thinking of strong narrative stories coming out of the gaming industry, I’m willing to go out on the ledge that most players would agree Electronic Arts has been lacking […]
When thinking of strong narrative stories coming out of the gaming industry, I’m willing to go out on the ledge that most players would agree Electronic Arts has been lacking on that front for the past console generation or so. However, a label that has quickly and, in my opinion, successfully filled that void in their catalog has been EA Originals. These titles first caught my attention with A Way Out from Josef Fares’ Hazelight Studios. As the label continues to put out titles each year, it has become a reputable source for gaming experiences that I tend to enjoy. I’ll go ahead and say right now that Velan Studios’ Knockout City and Hazelight Studios’ It Takes Two have yet to be knocked out of my top 5 games for 2021. When Lost In Random showed up under the EA Original umbrella at the EA Play Live 2021 conference this summer, it immediately stood out with its Tim Burton-esque art style and tabletop board game inspired combat and I knew I had to give it a shot.
Lost In Random is a story about a kingdom where the Queen of Random requires all children to roll her cursed black 6-sided die at the age of 12. The side that the die lands on dictates the realm that the child will spend the rest of their life in. Even sets off on a journey across Random when her twin sister Odd is taken to Sixtopia by the queen, in hopes of breaking the curse on Random and bringing her sister home. When I was presented with the premise of a journey through the different realms of Random, I was expecting to traverse through areas of different social classes as the story seems to set up. Instead, Lost In Random takes a similar approach to The Hunger Games regarding the different realms and their relationship to Sixtopia. The realms are adversarial towards one another, and in some cases themselves, while the Queen benefits from the social fighting rather than being targeted by everyone involved.
As someone who has never really been into Tim Burton’s style of animation in Corpse Bride and Frankenweenie, or Henry Selick’s A Nightmare Before Christmas, I was surprised to find myself admiring the style of Lost In Random that draws a lot of inspiration from those sources. However, the characters that Even meets along her journey are by far my favorite aspect of the narrative. In some cases, I was disappointed by how little time that my favorite characters were in the story. There’s a scene towards the end of the game that involves a Grim Reaper character that steals the show for the all too short time that he’s involved in the narrative. There is also a character, Mayor, that is torn into two halves and his darker half, Royam, has the absolute worst time trying to speak in rhymes. This even leads to a fun boss battle that incorporates a rhyming mini game that causes damage to his health. Seemore and Manny Decks were two other characters that brought a smile to my face whenever I encountered them throughout the realms of Random.
Speaking of making me smile, Lost In Random has some of the best humor in its dialogue that I’ve experienced in recent games. There are moments that I was genuinely laughing out loud at the dialogue options that are offered to the player. The writing team at Zoink did a great job at avoiding the typical dialogue tropes of asking unnatural questions that are only used to get exposition dumps and instead incorporated a lot of great comedic responses to the context of what’s being said to Even. My only criticism for the dialogue of Lost In Random is that the majority of the game doesn’t have voice acting recorded for Even. I think that the interactions with characters would’ve felt less like one-way conversations if the voice actor that portrays Even in some of the game’s cutscenes was reading the options the player chose.
The combat of Lost In Random is something unique and it will hands down be the element of the game that I look back on most fondly for its surprising amount of depth and customization. Combat is completely carried out by a deck of cards with each card having a numeric cost to them. Every encounter begins with Even only being armed with a slingshot that the player must use to shoot crystallized targets on enemies’ bodies. Another way to break these targets is by using Even’s dodge to blink through an enemy, which can be helpful if the target is in a guarded or hard-to-hit position on an enemy. These crystals will drop shards that Even’s fateful companion Dicey, a six-sided die, will pick up to fill a meter to draw the next card from the player’s deck of 15 cards.
These cards have a few different types: weapon, damage, defense, hazard, and cheat. Weapon cards are exactly what they sound like, these will allow Even to summon a bow, hammer, sword, or spear which allows the player to deal damage to enemies in action-style combat. Damage cards involve poisoning your weapons, Even’s dodge dealing damage to enemies, and her slingshot being able to cause damage by breaking crystals. Defense cards are for creating a shield around Even that will absorb the damage of enemy attacks, or using health potions. Hazard cards are traps that Even can implement into her fighting style, they include setting unlit bombs on the ground that will be ignited after taking damage and explode to cause area damage, and slowing down or weakening enemies that are within the respective card domes that can be placed anywhere on the field. Cheat cards can be as interesting as a 50/50 chance to make every card in your current hand cost 0 dice points to use or double their dice point cost making them harder to use. The more frequent use of cheat cards for me were the ones that give players more dice points to spend on their hands for no cost.
Lost In Random’s emphasis on randomness can work for or against the player in combat and that’s something that I appreciated from my time with the game. From the mystery of what cards will be drawn from the Even’s deck next, to what side that Dicey will land on kept combat encounters fresh rather than repetitive and drawn out. However, for those that don’t want to rely on the random aspect of the combat the game offers pins that can be used to save cards between hands for either strategic card pairings or if the player simply can’t afford to use them with the Dicey roll for that hand. This pinning feature was where I discovered more depth to the combat than I was expecting. I would often find myself contemplating the tactical advantages of using a card with my current hand or pinning it to use with cards that I knew were imminent to be pulled from my deck.
While the overall experience of Lost In Random won’t breakthrough to my top games of 2021, it still ranks high on my list of gaming recommendations. I’ll be gushing over the combat and aesthetic style of the game to anyone that will listen for years to come. Lost In Random definitely blew away my expectations despite still having some outdated issues like the lack of a chapter select after beating the story to search for collectibles and side quests that the player may have missed initially. If you’re a fan of Tim Burton aesthetics or table top board games, this title will definitely be worth your time.