Title: A Space for the Unbound
Release Date: January 19, 2023
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: Toge Productions
The sky’s the limit when there are no preconceptions or guidelines for creativity. Yet developer Mojiken felt the sky was an unworthy opponent and pushed into optimality with A Space for the Unbound. You play as Atma, a boy on the path of discovery, not just for himself, but for many others in a small, rural town set in 90s-era Indonesia. The road to finding answers brings upon even more mysteries as it all coalesces in due time. Though the story may not provide a novel web of complexity, the simple yet imaginative plot unfolds beautifully with strong dialogue, relatable characters, and a gorgeous atmosphere.
For the entirety of the experience, I was entranced by the aesthetics, both visually and sonically. The art style presents some of the most stunning sprite art I’ve ever witnessed, with an immense level of detail for characters, their expressions, and the environments. Each scene was full of life and color, immersing me in the Indonesian landscape. Despite the town’s small size, there’s plenty to look at as many areas expand as you head inside, such as the school and arcade. There is a run option, but I often just walked through the town while gazing at the scenery in the backdrop.
The intricacy and luster carry through with the soundtrack and sound design. Most, if not all, areas of the town have background music to complement the atmosphere. But it’s not just a serene soundtrack to please the ears; it’s a dynamic one to capture your attention. You’ll hear shifts in a melody to match the emotion of what’s taking place.
You could be casually strolling through the school when the track changes in tempo as you have to sneak by the teachers. The noises that pop up during specific interactions, like entering someone’s mind, are satisfying to the ear. As you progress through the story’s pacing, the soundtrack evolves alongside the narrative’s intensity. Once you reach the more dramatic points in the story, the music unfolds and reaches a magical crescendo. This is to essentially say I was a sucker for the soundtrack.
Like the music, the story and characters invoke a wide array of emotions. You begin your narrative as Atma, playing with a young girl named Nirmala. It doesn’t take long for you two to separate, and you awake to find yourself in completely different circumstances with your new girlfriend, Raya. As the player in front of the screen, you become curious to figure out how you ended up in what seems like a different world. But as Atma, you’re unaware of these circumstances and seem at peace. Things may start at a slower pace, but it’s the perfect amount of time to become engulfed in the setting and understand the context.
Over time, the mysteries begin to provide hints and clues into even bigger puzzles. To get a bigger picture of the townspeople, you go around talking to them and helping them with their needs. These interactions and glimpses into their lives engross you in their society. It felt satisfying to help them out and become a member of this community. Even when faced with certain high-tension situations, there’s almost a relaxing feeling present as you overcome the circumstances since you have the safety net of comfort that a small, close-knit community would bring.
To help the community, you have a magical red book that allows you to delve into people’s minds and hearts as you seek the answers from within their psyche. Each time you “spacedive” into their mind, you get a puzzle to help them with their emotional turmoil. A plethora of internal conflicts are presented to you, ranging from simple and silly to heavy and deep. This range is well-paced throughout the narrative, ensuring that they don’t pile on one side of the spectrum or the other. As you progress through these stories and bring the community together, you eventually begin tackling the larger mystery. What events led to the present? Does your girlfriend have a more significant role than they let on? Who are these characters that keep popping up at suspicious times?
While exploring the town, you come upon various influences and references. The Indonesian setting makes an exceptional backdrop for all the events taking place. The cultural imprint is impressive, as you get to learn a fair amount about the region without it being overwhelming. There are also references to various other games and media, such as Street Fighter, Ace Attorney, and other games published by Toge Productions. You come upon many of these easter eggs and treats as you complete your list of objectives. Your red book contains a bucket list you created at the beginning of the game. This list has additional tasks for you, such as gathering collectibles, incentivizing you to explore every area you can.
If I had one gripe to share, some of the back-and-forth required as you explore can be excessive. Despite that, I never felt like I was taken out of the experience. A Space for the Unbound is incredibly narrative-heavy so that gameplay won’t feel so active. Outside of your typical movement and interaction functions, there are some mechanics to keep you engaged, mainly taking the form of QTEs.
These are timed prompts, but they’re not complicated or that intense to make you feel incredibly rushed. Interactions are highly worth your time as you’ll be pleased to see some fun details within character dialogue or environmental objects. While I wish for a bit more variety, I felt the experience was meant to stimulate the mind more than your hands. Through the visuals, the music, and the creativity of the tale, I always felt engaged and fascinated.
The creativity in the story’s structure is precise and effective. The central theme you encounter is growth, which shows in all facets of the plot. As Atma, you’re helping others in the town grow alongside yourself. But the theme of discovery and growth persists within the underlying framework guiding your chronicle.
In your magical red book, you get snippets of a child-like fantasy as you progress with the main plot points. This story becomes the key metaphor to represent the ongoings of the current world. As the characters grow, so does the world. As the fantasy develops, you see the fantasy include more realistic motifs. Finally, as reality kicks in, you start to see the world mature around you.
When confronting such harsh truths, you can see the anguish and conflict lingering in the air. There’s no easy way for many of these people to make that step forward. But you’re becoming the catalyst for this transformation, especially as you’re delving inside their minds. Some topics can become quite heavy, as the introduction screen kindly mentions before you even begin. But they’re handled in a very realistic and relatable manner.
I wasn’t just reading the words of text; I started to feel them. I had smiles and tears as I put myself in their shoes. Not every situation may seem that relatable, but the humanity behind it all is understandable. The emotion conveyed was excellent, not just via words but with expressions. The presentation within the vivid minds of the characters is immaculate.
Playing through A Space for the Unbound felt like I was a character within an immersive manga or anime. I was hooked from the start and retained my curiosity to see what route the narrative could take. Then, of course, there are your cliche moments, but they are welcome as they are human.
Through the lens of magical realism, A Space for the Unbound takes a whimsical yet mature look at what happens when a community is under unexplainable distress. It shows you the effect one small action or one person can have. Factor in a beautiful art style, excellent storytelling, and a gorgeous soundtrack, and there’s no denying the superb quality of the content. You spend the entirety of the game making an impact on others, and I can easily say A Space for the Unbound has left a memorable and profound effect on me for years to come.
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