Developer Zoink’s Lost in Random takes place in a world defined by the idea that, as everyone in the game is so fond of saying, “random rules.” Citizens are randomly assigned where they’ll live once they reach a certain age, for example, and protagonist Even fights enemies by rolling a six-sided die and choosing from an assortment of abilities based on what she happens to randomly roll. But just how random is Lost in Random–are players’ successes and failures tied to the roll of the die or are there systems on the backend helping (or hindering) each roll?
“Most games have some kind of random element to it,” Zoink CEO and head of development Klaus Lyngeled told me. “The randomness you have here is that you throw a dice and the dice gives you a number and you have to decide what you want to do based on that number. And that’s random, that’s really random.”
Lost in Random takes place in a world where the concept of randomness has power. The Queen of Random is the most powerful being in the land because she possesses a die, which she rolls to decide the fates for every citizen once they come of age. You play as Even, whose older sister Odd is taken to live with The Queen after rolling a six. Even has a nightmare that Odd is in trouble and goes to help her, stumbling upon a dice-filled graveyard early on in her journey. It’s here that Even meets Dicey, a sentient die. When Even rolls him, she evokes something random (as there’s no way to accurately predict how a die will land every time), and in doing so, she unlocks powerful magical abilities that make her a threat to those who would get in her way.
This idea that Dicey gives Even power and agency in this world comes through most obviously in combat. As you gather energy in the midst of a fight, you pull cards from your deck and when you’re ready you can roll Dicey. The number he lands on will determine how many points you have to spend and each card has a corresponding number that dictates how much energy you’ll need to play it. The cards allow Even to unlock powerful abilities, like a magical bow or deadly bombs, with stronger abilities requiring you to roll higher numbers.
“The other random parts of combat–which is built into the system–is what kind of cards do you pull out of your deck?” Lyngeled said. “That’s also random.”
When I pressed Lyngeled about just how random combat could be, he said that the game won’t be so random that anything can happen, but added that there are no systems on the backend influencing the randomness to lean one way or the other in order to, as examples, make certain combat scenarios more challenging or increase the likelihood of drawing specific cards back-to-back. When I made the comparison to Baldur’s Gate 3 and that game’s loaded dice system, he said that Lost in Random has nothing like that. “The system that’s built here [in Lost in Random] doesn’t really need that because of the way the system is built,” Lyngeled said.
“That said, what I really love about Baldur’s Gate is the crazy chaos,” Lost in Random game director and lead writer Olov Redmalm said. “I have fun failing in Baldur’s Gate–that’s an inspiration for me when it comes to trying to implement a fun sort of chaos in [Lost in Random]. As an example, we have this card, where Dicey becomes this living timebomb and then you can send him out. But in Lost in Random, if you get hurt, Dicey always goes, ‘Oh no, I got to go check on Even.’ So if you’ve already played that card, he’ll come to you while he’s like, ready to blow up. And so you’re like ‘No, no, no. Go back there!’ And so we want to balance that and make sure it’s not too frustrating.”
Interestingly, Lost in Random does incorporate the idea of weighted dice within the narrative. During certain points in Lost in Random’s story, Even will have to roll a specific number in order to proceed to the next area or chapter–in those moments, you’ll have the power to temporarily suspend the randomness of Lost in Random’s world and roll the number you need to keep going.
“Though, it’d be funny if you were standing by a door and you had to roll a five to go through the door and you just kept rolling a one,” Lyngeled said, laughing.
But both Lyngeled and Redmalm reiterated that a sense of randomness permeates into the narrative of Lost in Random–even if you need a weighted die to sometimes proceed, the story will delve into the theme of how life is random.
“I love a good subtext,” Redmalm said. “I am quite an anxious person. I have general anxiety disorder. So [Lost in Random’s] narrative has been really therapeutic for me to work with. Because–and you can make your own interpretation–[Lost in Random] is about how every decision is like making a roll of the dice. And if you’re the type to really worry, you think about those rolls and what they’re going to mean–that seeps into both the gameplay and the story, this worry about what’s going to happen next.”
That worry is at the heart of Even’s story as she ventures forward to find and save her sister. At the very start of the game, Even is confident and, to the point of being naïve, finds comfort and strength in how she’ll succeed merely because she believes she can. But, of course, life doesn’t work out that way–sometimes you encounter unforeseen curveballs.
“That’s definitely the theme [of Lost in Random]–fear of randomness and the desire to control the randomness of life as opposed to just trying to live with the randomness, accept the hand you’ve been dealt, and find your place in this scary world,” Redmalm said.
Though all this sounds thematically heavy, both Lyngeled and Redmalm assured me that Lost in Random still has a sense of humor like several previous Zoink games (most notably 2013’s Stick It To The Man and 2018’s Flipping Death). Lost in Random is a bit more serious, but it’s a very dialogue-driven game in which conversations push the plot and the jokes in equal measure. Writer Ryan North–best known for penning The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl and the Adventure Time comic series–is the dialogue writer for Lost in Random. This will be the fourth game from Zoink that North has worked on, previously helping to get the dialogue right for 2013’s Adventure Time: Rock Bandits and subsequently handling the dialogue for Stick It To The Man and Flipping Death.
“He is a real nerd–he’s perfect for the project because he’s very random in his way of random jokes and random exclamations from characters, but he’s also really smart about incorporating the numbers on a dice into puns and stuff like that,” Redmalm said.
Alongside featuring a storyline that’s a tad more serious, Lost in Random is a bit different from past Zoink games in another notable way: Most of the main characters are women. In a first for Zoink, Lost in Random has a plot that’s centralized around a conflict that’s almost exclusively about women interacting with one another–Even is trying to save her older sister, Odd, from The Queen of Random, whose main lackey, Nanny Fortuna, is responsible for conditioning Odd through mental and emotional manipulation. The only main characters who aren’t women are The Narrator, who largely exists outside the story as a passive observer, and Dicey, who (at least in the early chapters of the story that I’ve seen) acts as more of a pet-like companion for Even.
“It was actually quite natural, it just happened,” Redmalm said. “And I know [writer Alexandra Dahlberg] had a huge part in that–she was with us in the very beginning, she was with us when we decided it was going to be about two sisters, and she had a lot of great input into sisterhood.”
“At the same time, I just think naturally, for me, it doesn’t feel like I have to think about that,” Lyngeled added. “I don’t have to think about the politically correct thing or something like that. It’s just about creating a good story, and then having the fortune that we don’t think, ‘We just want to have men in there,’ or something like that. But it wasn’t like I was like, ‘Oh, I’m going to count how many women there are. How many have been included? Okay, it’s perfect now.’ Instead, it’s just what works, what feels natural and good. You just go with it. So it probably depends on what kind of environment you grew up in and who’s around you and then that affects who you are and what you do.”
“It boils down to us having a big team,” Redmalm concluded. “Everyone has different inspirations and different ways of bringing individual characters to life. ‘We had a great writer’s room,’ is the short answer.”
We’ll see just how great fairly soon, as Lost in Random is set to launch for Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PS5, PS4, Switch, and PC on September 10.