Review: A Space for the Unbound
I am in love with the fact that indie developers have begun to unabashedly explore stories that were not at all common 20 years ago. There is something so refreshing about seeing an obscure narrative come to life and I hope with all my heart this trend continues.
The focus this time is on a game called A Space for the Unbound. This is an adventure/visual novel title developed by Mojiken and published by Toge Productions where dark emotion meets the supernatural.
A Space for the Unbound is available now for the PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC. The Switch version was played for this review.
A Meowntain of Emotions
Mojiken describes A Space for the Unbound’s story as being about Raya and Atma, two high schoolers with supernatural powers that find themselves navigating various challenges in their lives, including anxiety and depression. The premise gives off the impression that the story, while filled with some familiar clichés, should have a twist, and boy does it.
It all starts with an interaction between Atma and Raya where the two decide that rather than turn in plans for the future, they will instead write down the things that they’d like to accomplish both individually and together. This bucket list sets them both forward on a journey of self-discovery, as well as becomes the basis for the game’s achievement system.
There aren’t really a lot of specifics I can give about A Space for the Unbound’s story without spoilers, but what I can say is that it explores its intended themes quite well. Perhaps this is due to the fact it is framed through a supernatural perspective. After all, one can explore something like depression a lot better when you literally have the power to enter people’s hearts and understand their motivations.
I think the successful exploration of said emotions is aided by the fact that we play most of the game as Atma. If I’m being honest, he’s a great main character. He’s funny, kind, opinionated, and has a very realistic outlook on the events surrounding him, or…well, as realistic as it can get for the setting. It’s his level-headed lines and empathy that ended up putting me at ease during situations I may have otherwise taken the wrong way. His power focuses on being able to see and fix the ailings within people’s hearts, and it suits his personality quite well. I’m not sure if everything would have had the same impact if the narrative flickered back and forth between the two leads.
My one gripe with Atma as a character comes from one very specific choice made by the writers. It was the reaction, or lack thereof, to a major personal revelation that made him seem inhuman and, during that particular scene, I felt like he fell short of his potential.
Raya on the other hand is a much more difficult character to both describe and like. Her actions are what drive most of the game’s story and, while at first, you don’t understand her issues or motivations, they become a major plot point the more you progress. I actually found myself excited when her cheerful personality fell away and you were given a glimpse of the darkness that surrounds her, but it still took me a long time to understand the depth of that darkness. By the end, I both felt bad for her and kind of disliked her.
I feel like that may be a weird thing to say because she definitely had valid reasons for her behavior, but her charm just didn’t quite hit home for me. Her powers weren’t really explained that well either and I can’t really elaborate on them without spoilers, but the short of it is she can literally do anything, so that was interesting to see and made for some very fun/cute situations.
I’d say that along with having two compelling main characters, A Space for the Unbound also has a pretty strong supporting cast. The main three include Marin, the bookworm; Lulu, the popular but kind of sassy rival to Raya; and Erik, a biker gang leader with a secret crush.
They each play a major role in both Atma and Raya’s development, as well as provide an additional theme to explore that fits within the game’s narrative. Among them are unrequited love, jealousy, and helplessness. You pretty much explore similar themes with the other townsfolk as well, but these three have a direct impact on the story.
I can’t really say I have any complaints about them as characters. They were well-written and their actions made sense, even if they weren’t always likable.
Overall, I think that A Space for the Unbound accomplished what it set out to do narratively. It wanted to shed light on what happens when people contend with their negative emotions and the sort of paths both their successes and failures can lead to. It felt relatable every step of the way, probably because Mojiken did an amazing job using common but relatable examples that could really happen to anyone to drive their point home despite the supernatural setting. It was all very tragically believable but spritzed up a bit by an additional thread of mystery in the form of Atma’s mysterious dreams with a certain little girl and a pre-established story within the story that features…cats.
I can happily admit that I was surprised by the twists found in this game, and commend the developers for how much they were able to pack into it given how short it is.
As far as gameplay goes, A Space for the Unbound is an adventure game through and through. You spend most of your time exploring your surroundings by guiding Atma through a 2D map of Loka City where he can do things like talk to the townspeople, collect items, and solve puzzles meant to help him complete the aforementioned bucket list.
The one thing that makes this title unique within its genre is that it does have a supernatural setting, which means superpowers! Atma’s specific power is the ability to dive into people’s hearts. It’s called Spacedive and he uses it a lot when trying to solve the problems that pop up throughout the story. Spacediving entails solving the puzzles that manifest within the hearts of the afflicted.
These puzzles can range from sneaking around and not being seen to figuring out the code to a safe by putting together clues found around the map. Some of them were super elaborate and fun while others were extremely easy and didn’t take much legwork.
I feel like the gameplay is where A Space for the Unbound suffers a little because, despite all the fun mini-games and interesting ways that the puzzles were incorporated, some sections tended to drag on forever which made me feel bored and irritated.
For example, there was one chapter where I ran around the map three or four times because there was a chain of fetch quests that needed to be completed in sequential order, but the NPCs were super spread out. Doing this took a really long time despite the tasks themselves involving nothing but having a conversation. Luckily the in-game map is actually quite small so it wasn’t super crazy but it for sure wasn’t fun.
Aside from Spacediving, Atma later becomes able to “Riftdive” which is essentially just a fancy term for time travel, but this was a very limited ability and was mostly for the plot. You couldn’t really do anything cool with it. Just more puzzles and running around.
I don’t want to make A Space for the Unbound sound bad though. It is actually very fun to get through for the most part. I was challenged by a few of the combination puzzles, especially the one that involves pipes, and I really loved how Mojiken went as far as adding in things like an arcade minigame as part of the story.
A part of me feels like this title could have just been a visual novel because the story is compelling enough without the quest system and the running around, but overall I didn’t completely hate the gameplay and have to applaud the developers for their ingenuity in how they presented it.
P.S. +1 to the devs for making it so that you can pet/name ALL of the cats in the game.
All the Right “Spaces”
A Space for the Unbound is set in rural Indonesia in the 1990s and boy does it do an amazing job of nailing its setting. I remember reading somewhere that the developers wanted the game to reflect the real-life locations they had visited for inspiration so perhaps that is why the city of Loka feels so alive.
The pixelated backgrounds are vibrant and filled with moving NPC sprites that help bring them to life. The map itself features an internet cafe, a general store, a movie theater, an actual cafe, and obviously Atma and Raya’s school. You can explore these areas to your heart’s content and, while they are small, that doesn’t mean they aren’t jam-packed with details that are quite beautiful despite their pixelated rendering.
The cutscenes are also quite striking (in a good way) for how small of a team worked on this game. I love the level of detail on Atma, Raya, and a few of the other characters, especially when you get to see them up close or in motion. I did not expect pixelated art to captivate me as much as this game’s did.
The audio in A Space for the Unbound is also a treat. There isn’t any voice acting but most of the songs that play throughout, especially the one during the ending scene, were fitting and pleasant to listen to. The sound direction was also something I really enjoyed, particularly during scenes with rain because of how real it sounded.
I can’t really think of any negatives for this category. The game looks and sounds great. I loved the diversity in character sprites, the detailed backdrops varied enough to be unique, and I never had to mute the music. I was also a fan of the various pop culture references littered throughout the game’s text and setting. My favorite was probably the fake cobra kai quote found in the karate dojo. So… 10/10 I guess!
Bound to Recommend
Sometimes you come across a game that is actively striving to evoke emotions within you, and as mentioned above I think Mojiken did an amazing job in driving their intended point home. I truly found myself contending with some dormant feelings as I experienced A Space for the Unbound, and while it does have some things that bog it down (mainly just the long and repetitive fetch quests), it is certainly much more than its flaws.
It trades off all the running around with a culturally rich environment/cast of characters, a realistic view into adult issues like depression, anxiety, loss, and loneliness, and for the price also provides pretty good replayability and entertainment value.
I especially recommend it if you’re a fan of adventure games with a lot of puzzles. You definitely won’t be disappointed given how plentiful and unique they are. Overall I am happy I got to play this gem of a game and am looking forward to more from Mojiken.
~ Final Score: 8/10 ~
Review copy provided by Mojiken for the Nintendo Switch. Screenshots taken by reviewer.
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