A Space for the Unbound is the perfect homage to its place and time, 1990’s Indonesia, from its nostalgic streets to the coarse ways bullying and mental health issues are handled. But A Space for the Unbound’s sincere, frequently heartbreaking narrative is something anyone who had to endure the thorns of adolescence can relate to.
2D Characters With More Dimension
It’s easy to see yourself in Atma and Raya. These dual protagonists draw you in with their charm and darkness, but you spend much of your time playing as Atma, a carefree and kind senior in high school. The first hour of the game is spent in a prologue that ends in a terrible accident. But just when you’re about to learn whether Atma lives or dies, he wakes up at a desk in high school, next to a girl named Raya who claims to be his girlfriend. It’s in this second chapter that the story truly begins.
Atma happily accepts his disconcerting situation, even though he doesn’t seem to remember Raya, this school, or the life he lived before he woke up at his desk. Our protagonist carries this easygoing vibe with him wherever he goes, acting as an endearing foil to the narrative as it develops from idyllic tasks like “pet the fluffiest cat known to man” to “stop the catastrophe that’s threatening to rip apart our very reality.”
“Our protagonist carries this easygoing vibe with him wherever he goes, acting as an endearing foil to the narrative as it develops from idyllic tasks like “pet the fluffiest cat known to man” to “stop the catastrophe that’s threatening to rip apart our very reality”.”
It’s a huge jump, but A Space for the Unbound is built around twists and escalations. Unfortunately, the weakest part of the game is the moments we’re asked to suspend our disbelief. For example, when Raya shows her reality-bending abilities by transporting Atma to “Cat Wonderland.” Cat Wonderland is a pocket dimension in which cats talk, and all days are tranquil. Atma takes this teleportation in stride, dutifully feeding the cat denizens. But it’s a jarring transition that left me blinking at the screen. If you can make that leap and still be invested, it’s likely you’ll enjoy where the game goes from here, as it only gets stranger and lovelier in equal measures.
Related: Metroid Prime Remastered Review | Nothing But Respect for MY Samus Aran
And while Atma may seem superficial at first, as the game continues, we delve into his layers. He’s dedicated to his friends and is full of love, compassion, and patience. He’s precisely the type of guy you want to have in your corner, and it’s obvious why Raya is fixated on him.
Similarly, Raya first appears to be full of confidence and charm, but as the game continues, we see that there’s much more beneath that cool veneer. She’s a girl who’s afraid of disappointing others, who is tortured by her feelings of inadequacy and loneliness. It’s something that many of us , myself included, can relate to. But seeing how Raya and Atma intertwine together, with a lush backdrop of a city’s worth of other characters, gives A Space for the Unbound true depth.
Early Gaming Nostalgia Meets Clever World Building
The characters are the true heart and soul of A Space for the Unbound, and this comes through in the game’s mechanics. By and large, this is a point-and-click adventure game, which rewards you for speaking to every person and exploring every corner. A task that can be made frustrating by how hard navigating Loka City can be, but that vexation is tempered by how vibrant the streets and its people are.
Exploration and discussion are necessary, because Atma has a unique ability. He can “space dive” into people’s heads, which allows him to see what anxieties and fears are troubling them. Some of these troubles can be innocuous, like a bad bout of insomnia or someone who misses the taste of their mother’s home-cooked meals. But other anxieties can be heart wrenching, like a man who carries a deep-seated desire to make his father proud and has to come to terms with the fact that he probably never will. If Atma can heal these people, he’s able to gain access to important information or key items which will remove obstacles.
“But other anxieties can be heart wrenching, like a man who carries a deep-seated desire to make his father proud and has to come to terms with the fact that he probably never will.”
Space diving has certain points where it grows into a surreal courtroom encounter. In these encounters, Atma must provide evidence to a room full of geese and “Her Highness,” which takes everything about space diving to the next level. These puzzles were easily my favorite in the game and those who love Ace Attorney will probably enjoy these moments, too.
In stark contrast to these more cerebral puzzles is the combat. When Atma encounters a bully who refuses to take no for an answer, he can unleash a series of fighting game combos, which perfectly suits the 90’s retro aesthetic A Space for the Unbound emulates. But this new mechanic has a significant narrative implication that’s easy to overlook. It’s a holdover from Atma’s past reality that’s bled into this new one, like Atma’s ability to space dive.
Related: Fire Emblem Engage Review | Complex Combat, Familiar Tropes, Fun Fantasy
While the combat isn’t my cup of tea, it’s hard not to be impressed by how thoughtfully gameplay and narrative were woven together. And while there are a lot of puzzles, many of which can drag or even feel redundant, most are well-crafted and fun to unravel. And what more can you ask from a game than for it to be fun?
A Little Existential Crisis With Your Fun and Games?
If there’s one thing a story needs, it’s well-defined character arcs and a satisfying end. So much of A Space Unbound feels contained and insular, cozy and low stakes. But if there’s one thing the writers have done, it’s penned a fantastic, sweeping ending that left me with goosebumps and a sad, happy ache in my chest. Even if you’ve predicted the end, you likely haven’t predicted how it’s executed. And I was thrilled to see this take on it. Not only does this finale incorporate the skills you’ve learned while playing, but it also gives each of the primary characters the satisfying conclusions they deserved.
Overall, A Space for the Unbound does everything it seeks to accomplish. It creates a beautiful world full of vibrant characters, and it shares a story of love, friendship, loss, and growth. It does this with delicacy in a world that feels familiar, even if you’ve never walked down a dusty city road in Indonesia. And while its gameplay meandered at moments, it’s still a game worth dedicating 9 to 12 hours of your life to.
- A poignant, memorable story that’s beautifully written
- Vibrant world building with characters that feel relatable
- Interesting puzzles that rewards exploration
- Puzzles sometimes feel like they’re there to pad the timer
- It can be difficult to navigate Loka City
- Combat can feel clunky
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review. Reviewed on PC.