Mojiken’s A Space for the Unbound is hard to describe adequately. It’s harrowing, touching, and beautiful, and all wrapped up in a deceptively simple package. From the start, its most striking quality is the visual design – tight pixel art with vivid colors and a dreamy, pastoral feeling from the fully-realized and incredibly charming small town scenes to the vast backdrops. Sometimes, I come across pictures and videos that are described as how life “used to feel” in that way the world seems so much bigger and brighter when you’re a kid in the 90s, or whatever, edited to look like old Polaroids mostly. A Space for the Unbound resonates with me like that, evoking the same kind of preoccupied nostalgia that evokes something different in everyone and drives the narrative to its natural conclusion: moving on.

Following a somewhat abstract and upsetting opening, the game begins with a look at our protagonists: Atma and Raya, high school sweethearts, making a list of all the things they want to do, mostly together, before the end of the school year. You play as Atma, and the two of you explore the fictional town of Loka – inspired by late 90s rural Indonesia – crossing a few things off of the list, meeting the wandering townspeople and getting a glimpse into their lives, maybe helping them out with an errand or two. There are little cultural touchstones woven in everywhere, both in terms of the specifically Indonesian music, food, festivals, etc. and in the more universal qualities of adolescence; a lot of mundanity yet to be unraveled. 

After some time, Raya reveals her secret powers to you: a surprisingly powerful ability to alter reality, which she’s been using to try and make your day out go as smoothly as possible, which has not totally worked as intended. Helping Raya set the world back to order and taking everything in relative stride – that’s what Atma is about, it seems. A mysterious book gives him his own powers soon after: the ability to “Spacedive” into people’s psyches and banish from them anguish, obsessions, fear, indecisiveness, whatever’s tormenting them. Usually this is done with puzzles and stealth, or a trial-style evidence game, but sometimes you do literally fight what’s raging around in their head with a rhythm-based combat minigame.

At its core, A Space for the Unbound is more or less a point-and-click adventure, which sometimes works to its detriment. There’s an ease and an awkwardness to the way that everything lines up. Few key items are found before the exact perfect time they’re needed, and some obstacles seemingly only exist to waste your time. In a game that’s narratively excellent, with even some of the smallest details accounted for, it’s kind of frustrating to have moments of tasks with no purpose or flavor, other than allowing you to move forward in the story. 

A truck blocks your way, you jump through time and space to move it, over and over, until that plotline has finished. Something else blocks the way, you run across the map to grab something else, you come back, and you banish the thing. You might tell me “that’s how a point-and-click works,” but the flow is a little interrupted here. There’s some padding that could have been made muscle, or excised entirely. The classic loop of finding the right item, talking to the right person, unlocking the right path feels good here, for the most part, if occasionally a bit hand-holdy at times, so ultimately these stumbles in momentum can be forgiven. 

My only other gripe is that the rhythm-based combat can become tedious at times. It doesn’t come up consistently enough to feel like a fundamental feature, but it’s used heavily in the final confrontation. That fight feels like a slog, more of an endurance test than something narratively cohesive, but it too can be forgiven. The enjoyment and value of everything that comes before and after it is worth suffering a little tedium.  

I don’t want to say too much about the story of A Space for the Unbound. The way the more painful themes blend with and contrast against the quaint everyday slice-of-life is well-written and candid, with plenty of world building and tone-setting minutiae, funny character quirks, supernatural happenings, and many other endearing supplements to a setting and story that’s already captivating from the very beginning. Along the way you do normal teenager stuff: collect bottle caps and other collectibles, find the missing pages of a child’s fantasy story, try to finish everything on your bucket list before the world ends, and pet every cat in sight. There are times when the story and your progression in it feels directionless, but all the beats come together quickly, and everything is reconciled by the ending in a fulfilling way.

Ultimately, A Space for the Unbound is a game that trusts you. Themes like death, grief, abuse, escapism, and trauma are not uncommon in video games – it’s actually a great medium to explore those feelings – and this one lays it all out before you. Everything comes together in the end, in cascading events that are all at once grounded, unreal, and deeply emotional. Nothing is explained more than it needs to be, striking a satisfying balance between uncertainty and catharsis.

The ending I won’t spoil here, because it does deserve to be seen as raw as possible. It’s not an unfamiliar set of themes: death and denial, power and emotion strong enough to raise the dead, but it’s written with a fresh sense of open vulnerability. It’s grief mixed with magical realism in such a way as to seem all the more surreal and heartbreaking—misery meandering in the way that misery does—before turning into strength. That’s what I’ll tell you about the ending, but you should see it play out for yourself. 

4 stars

Gorgeous and heartbreaking, just how I like it.

A Space for the Unbound has that indie magic -- the love and effort put into it is both seen and felt from start to finish.

About Franny

Hey there, I’m Franny!

She/they, from Seattle, been playing games and writing since I could hold things. I love games that give me the option to be mean, even though I always end up choosing to be nice.

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