Today’s guest review was contributed by Darren Barker
Welcome back to Backlog Busters, a column dedicated to clearing our never-ending video game backlog. We finally crossed off A Space for the Unbound, a beautiful narrative indie hit hailing from Indonesia from the same makers of “When The Past Was Around”.
Here’s what you need to know: You play as Atma, a high schooler in Loka High, on his journey of self-discovery at the end of their high school years with his high school sweetheart, Raya. Explore and investigate the town as supernatural powers are suddenly unleashed, threatening their existence. Uncover hidden secrets and face the end of the world together with the friends you meet through your journey.
Developed by: Mojiken Studios
Played on: Steam
Length: 12 hours
A gorgeous pixel style sidescroller
The game features an aesthetically pleasing pixel art style, which provides a refreshing contrast to the current selection of games available. The pixel sidescroller has usually been reserved for roguelikes, action-adventures or platforming games, so for A Space for the Unbound to be a narrative-focused, pixel style side scroller game felt like a nice change of pace.
A lore-rich world that feels close to home
The game is set in 90s rural Indonesia, with many cultural references and well fleshed out characters and stories built within the game — from the main characters such as Atma and Raya, to their group of high school mates such as Marin, Lulu and Erik; and even the NPCs you meet while you explore the town. For a side-scrolling game, the town feels lived in with its charming personalities and many local references such as the wedding ceremony blocking the streets, the stray cats that you can pat in the game, and even food stalls by the road. As a Malaysian, many of the food and lifestyle representations feel quite close to home, showcasing how similar South East Asian culture can be.
A heavy yet beautiful story, but with a sprinkle of magic
The game’s main story does cover heavy topics such as depression, loss and bullying. That said, the story does have a slice-of-life feeling with supernatural aspects to it that makes it unique and intriguing. The in-universe magic doesn’t take away from the seriousness of the heavier topics. It enhances the emotions the players will go through during the different story beats. Even with all the magic, the story still felt grounded and real, like the story of Atma could have happened to me back in my secondary school days. Without giving away too many spoilers, all I can say is, it felt like I was truly there throughout Atma’s journey as a partner instead of a player.
Simple yet purposeful gameplay mechanic
The game’s main mechanic is the “Space Dive”, allowing you to dive into their hearts and minds to unravel their deepest issues and help them to overcome them. The game does introduce a couple of fighting scenes, where you have to tap according to the button prompts to attack and time your action button to defend. There are other minigames present in the game such as sneaking and puzzles that never felt overused. Each game mechanic was introduced purposefully throughout the game to emphasize the game’s main plot points, striking a balance between gameplay and exploration.
Verdict: A truly beautiful game from start to finish
A Space for the Unbound is a great game from start to finish. The music, the action, the story, the visuals, the music (did I mention the music?), and everything in between. The game overall was a delight to play with a compelling and deliberate story, awe-inspiring pixel art, and lovely music.
With the game being developed over 9 years starting in 2015, you can tell the amount of love and dedication that went through those 9 years to create it. It is definitely selfish to say that I wished the game came out sooner — as you do with experiences that change your life — but as the saying goes, “great things take time”.