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Pouring classic fairy tales, the eerie works of Tim Burton and tactical dice rolls into a bubbling cauldron, developer Zoink has created Lost in Random, a darkly peculiar adventure with an enchanting story set in six strange realms. It's collecting awards as furiously as the Queen of Hearts collects heads, and when I went hands-on with the game in August, I saw for myself that it's definitely one of the most interesting and intriguing games of this year.
Check out Lost in Random in action below!
In the gorgeously grim world that Zoink has constructed, the sisters Odd and Even play in the ramshackle town of Onecroft with their friends. Aware of their lot and the oppressive queen that dealt them their hands, they find delight in playing pretend, until the monarch herself arrives to announce a terrifying decree. On a child's 12th birthday, the queen will visit them and offer them her dark dice. Their roll determines the rest of their life - the higher the roll, the better the outcome, with children who roll a six coming under the queen's wing as residents of her palace.
Though Odd, Even and their parents try to escape the queen's watchful eyes, Odd is stolen on her 12th birthday. In front of the populace of Onecroft, she rolls a six and the lackeys steal her away to the majesty of Sixtopia.
One year afterwards, Even is woken from a terrible nightmare in which Odd is calling out for help from the oily shadows that shroud the palace. Outside their modest house, she spots a ghost floating in the air, hovering over the teddy bear that Odd used to carry with her wherever she went. In order to understand the strange dream and find out what happened to her sister, she leaves on a quest that she might never come back from.
Her travels take her to the ruins of a place she's never seen before - dice strewn like leaves and weird artefacts scattered for someone to discover. Here, she meets Dicey, a sentient dice who is able to draw on the mystical Dicemension and offer Even incredible powers in combat, thanks to a hand of strange cards. Of course, that's dependent on the number that Dicey rolls, and different abilities require different totals to use them.
The combat mechanics did leave my brain swimming when they were shown off by Zoink, but getting into the game is where these animations and systems really shine. To charge the cards in her arsenal, Even needs to strike crystals on the enemies' bodies with her slingshot. These shatter into power that Dicey absorbs and then, when the deck is fully charged, the player throws Dicey to see what number he lands on. In this preview, it was still an early part of the game so Dicey is only able to roll a one or a two.
Time stops in these moments where Even is choosing her next move, but she's still able to zip from here to there and set up environmental traps or put some space between her and an enemy. One of the cards I had was an icosahedron (a 20 sided D&D dice to you and me) that bounced off all of the surfaces and damaged enemies in a short window of time. Yet, I was fond of the glowing sword that Even could pull from the Dicemension, waiting to deal a heavy blow while my adversaries had no clue where I'd maneuvered to.
"We wanted to put that here straight into the world," said Olov Redmalm, creative director and lead writer of Lost in Random. "The player sees it, Even sees it, and Dicey does it. It's not something that happens behind the curtains. It's there in the game world." The effect is awesome, if I do say so myself.
When Even doesn't have the power of the cards to draw on, she's got to be light on her feet, using her dodges to get out of harm's way and send Dicey out to collect shattered energy cubes that lie on the floor. Battles are contained in an arena and then once they end, the rest of the area is available for exploring once again. Again, while I was a little daunted by how complex the combat sounded, the gameplay was so much fun and so fluid that I didn't feel out of my depth.
The six realms of Random are simultaneously shadowy and captivating, like you've stepped into the twisted reflection of Alice in Wonderland's world. The designs of its denizens - some downtrodden human beings, others fish with stiff upper lips, and a handful of characters with upside down faces - are curious and I found myself careening through the streets of Twotown to find out more. Zoink has been working on the game for about four years now and, considering the upheavals that the pandemic has brought to the usual practices of the industry, the game is delivering on those artistic challenges that the studio has set itself.
However, I was intrigued to see that the two central characters were sisters and what led the writers to tell the story from this perspective. "One of the big themes in the game is growing up," answered Klaus Lyngeled, CEO of Zoink, and explained how the randomness of the roll of a dice is just like the unpredictability of watching a sibling mature in their life without you. "And, and it fits together with if you have somebody who's older than you, you can sort of see that happening to them, but it also becomes like a looming kind of thing that's going to happen to you soon."
"I feel like we really succeeded with that: the theme of randomness and taking randomness literally in a game world," continued Redmalm. "It's not just something that happens behind the scenes, but it's in place to the theme, the characters are aware of it, the world is ruled by it just like our world."
And, if this is piquing the interest of the younger gamers in your household, Lost in Random is dark but it's not that dark. If you're happy to let them watch the final Harry Potter film, then it's on a similar level to that, said the two developers. Lost in Random comes to PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Series S and Switch on September 10th.
Featured Image Credit: Zoink
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