A Space for the Unbound – Game Review


A Space for the Unbound

(available on Playstation 4 & 5, Xbox Series X, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch and PC. Nintendo Switch version used for this review)

A Space for the Unbound is a game developed by the Indonesian studio Mojiken; this is their latest of four games. I first became aware of it in a Nintendo Direct and picked it up as one of my first purchases of the year, seeing the potential it had. It’s basically a 2D narrative game set in the 90s in a small Indonesian town and is the story of a young high school couple, Atma and Raya. The goal is initially to fulfil their bucket list, it’s basically a way to facilitate some of the mission structures and collectables. For example, some of the collectables include getting all of the bottle caps and petting and naming every cat in town. You’re going to need to fulfil all of the items on the bucket list to unlock the true ending, though it doesn’t add too much, so I would say there’s no shame in looking it up on Youtube as it only adds a minute or so onto the ending.

The game really revolves around puzzle solving as well as narrative structure. If there’s one game it really reminded me of, it’s the Life is Strange game, particularly because of the fact that it is revealed early on that Raya and Atma have powers. Raya’s powers are a little less defined and I won’t go into too much detail on them since it’s crucial to the plot, but Atma is able to delve into people’s minds, which is used to help solve people’s problems throughout the town.

The other portions of the game are a lot of fetch quests and puzzle solving.

The game’s map is relatively small, so the fetch quests don’t take too long. The game isn’t too long at all, it has seven chapters in total, but really it’s more like 5 since the prologue and epilogue are quite short. You can get the game done in around 12 hours. I would say those 12 hours are worth it considering how well the game does its narrative structure. The gameplay shifts every so often, usually as homages to games that the developers clearly grew up loving- while Life is Strange is definitely there, there are also homages to Street Fighter 2 with the quick-time event button pushing game, and there’s even a chapter that replicates Phoenix Wright in many ways.

But overall, how does the game pan out?

PROS

  • Story

I won’t go into too much detail since I think that A Space for the Unbound is something that you should experience for yourself, but the game does a very good job of giving you a cosy environment only to then provide a threat to that environment and making you want to return it to normal. It does a really good job of making you fall in love with all of the characters and the setting, and I really enjoyed my time with the narrative.

It introduces quite a few characters but it felt like each chapter of the game is where we get more time for individual characters, so it doesn’t feel like they’re all competing for screen time.

What’s more, the conclusion is fantastic. The content warning you get at the beginning does kind of give away what some of the plot elements are going to be, so you’ll probably see some elements of the story coming. But it still managed to surprise me in a lot of ways. Though, I did see the major plot twist coming.

That being said, even with a good idea of what the plot twist was going to be, it didn’t spoil my enjoyment! The game does an excellent job of building up to what is an excellent climax.

  • Puzzles

The puzzles in this game actually don’t suck. I’m not a fan of forced puzzle elements in games, but this time the game is actually built around them. They’re really not difficult until towards the end of the game, and I only had to look up what I was doing wrong twice in my 12-hour playthrough, and they were both towards the end of the game- and even then, I felt a bit foolish since the answers were obvious.

They also do a good job of weaving these puzzles into the plotline itself. None of them are too cryptic for the most part. I do think a couple of them at the end spoilt that, but I didn’t put this in the mixed section because I think that they are a minor blemish on what are really good and well-thought-out puzzles.

  • Graphics and Art style

Because it’s set in the 90s, the team has gone for a 16-bit look to match the time period, and it actually works really well. The team managed to get an excellent and rather unique pixel art style that suits the setting well, and one of the things I found amazing was that they used this to give the characters very expressive movements and facial expressions.

What’s more, the character design is really good and manages to make the characters look really distinctive.

The weirdest factor for me was that it was able to do this in such a short period of time. The fact that most of the characters are only on screen for their respective chapters where they get most of their character development means that the team had to do a very good job of making them stand out. I can only think of one character that gets multiple arcs and it was actually one of my favourite parts of the game since it ties into how helping someone out in a previous chapter actually causes more problems than it solves. It really did help you think about your actions.

MIXED

  • Collectables

I liked most of the collectables in the game considering that they’re not too hard to spot, bottle caps are easy to get since you can see them glowing on the ground, and you can actually keep track of them in your journal so you can see which ones are missing. I get the feeling that some of them are tied to certain chapters since I didn’t end up getting all of them in my playthrough and I went through most of the map in every chapter, so clearly, there are a few hidden ones.

The biggest issue I had was with the cats. Not because it’s a bad collectable, I’m pretty sure I got most of them and I did enjoy naming each one, but despite my efforts, I don’t think the game makes it clear how many cats you have to find, and I think that actually is annoying.

I did enjoy most of the collectables in the game but some of them were a little too hidden for my liking and I don’t think that the game did a good job implementing a tracking system for one of the collectables.

CONS

  • Kind of drags towards the end

The plotline never really dies down, it kept me intrigued for most of the runtime- but I felt around Chapter Four that there was a lot more of ‘do this to get this which will then lead to this’, which I felt was just there to pad out the runtime. It certainly didn’t help that some of the puzzles that I had to solve in one of the later chapters involved a second element of Atma’s powers that don’t get introduced until that chapter which makes some puzzles take a lot longer than they probably need to.

The quick time events that they use for the fights and another gameplay element that I won’t spoil aren’t too difficult, and you’ll get the hang of them quite quickly since they’re meant to be implemented like a slowed-down of Street Fighter 2 combos. But there were points towards the end of the game where I was thinking ‘can we just move on because I’ve been here for quite a while’.

  • Tying the True Ending to Collectables

I could be wrong, but I believe that getting the true ending was down to filling out the bucket list- most of the guides that I found did say that filling out the bucket list is required to get the true ending. Considering how cryptic the locations are of some of the collectables, it feels to me like an ending that critical should not be tied to it.

You don’t really need to unlock the true ending to get the full story, but it does lead to a really excellent moment that you would miss out on without completing that bucket list. It’s a minor point but I felt it was worth mentioning.

FINAL THOUGHTS

A Space for the Unbound is an excellent narrative adventure, and I really enjoyed my time with it, and I think that in spite of some of the game dragging a little bit and I didn’t like the fact that the true ending was tied so heavily to the collectables- but I think that the ending that you get without even completing the bucket list is still excellent and obviously you can look up a guide on how to do it, so if you just want to get that, just play the game as you normally would and then look it up later.

I would really recommend playing this one, especially if you like Life is Strange since this game has some similarities. I would say that if you don’t like Life is Strange but you like the concept of those games, this is one to give a go since it does cut out some of the weaker elements of those games, particularly the cringy dialogue which has a very ‘How do you do, fellow kids?’ vibe to it.

If you didn’t like narrative-driven games before, this one probably won’t change your mind, but I would urge you to give it a go since this is a very heartfelt passion project from a small studio. This one is definitely worth a shot though I would say be aware that you can’t affect the plot too much so there’s not much replay value (though the price does reflect that).

FINAL SCORE: 9.1/10

Calvin
Director of Axia ASD Ltd.
Self-proclaimed Nerd Consultant
and Head of Axia’s Film Society.

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The Next Axia6th March 2024
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