Memories and realities twist and blur together for the main character Atma in the adventure game A Space for the Unbound in increasingly distressing ways, causing him to question everything he thought he knew about the sleepy, nineties Indonesian town he calls home. What initially appears to be a romantic slice-of-life drama revolving around him and his supernaturally gifted girlfriend Raya becomes anything but, morphing into a harrowing and haunting tale rife with truly upsetting examples of abuse, bullying, harassment, and the negative repercussions these things can have in one’s life. Heed the developer’s warning and counsel before playing the game: this is a story centering around depression, anxiety, and suicidal reflection. Those are weighty matters one should seek help for if experiencing them. Ultimately, however, A Space for the Unbound succeeds in its storytelling because it is finally about moving forward even while still dealing with such traumas. There’s despair here, yes, but there’s also patience, understanding, love, hope, and healing. It’s a comforting feeling that finally drapes over you if you can swim to the deepest parts of the turbulent ocean the story presents.
Atma is an Indonesian teen waking up from a vivid dream to find himself in his classroom with his cheerfully sweet girlfriend, Raya. Together, the two come up with a bucket list of things they want to accomplish, and Raya quickly decides they will attempt to knock items off of it. As she and Atma wander around town, they encounter a colorful cast of supporting characters, though Atma soon starts to notice that something isn’t quite right. That suspicion only grows with every subsequent “chapter” players find themselves in until Atma ultimately chooses to act to save what he holds dear.
I’m trying to be as vague as possible on story points here because the plot for A Space for the Unbound is its greatest strength. The game is a title that makes you feel things deeply, and I don’t want to spoil it too much. Suffice it to say I had initially gone into A Space for the Unbound expecting a particular type of story, and it pulled the rug right out from under me, but the result stayed with me all the more. It’s powerful and moving.
You-as-Atma maneuver through the areas of town readily available, talking to people and interacting with objects of interest as you go. The game helpfully provides a map, should you need it, and a trusty objectives list to keep you moving on the right track. You’ll sometimes have to solve puzzles to advance, and there’s even a well-rounded “combat mode” comprised of button combinations at specific points, including multi-staged boss battles. At certain points, you’ll also have to rely on a stealth mechanic to progress. There’s a lot to do in the game, even with the often limited inventory you’re given to cycle through.
One of the items that eventually is always in Atma’s inventory is a specific red book of great importance. This magical tome grants Atma the ability to “Spacedive,” a unique magical ability to delve into someone’s innermost mind when conditions are right. In the mindscape, Atma must help solve a puzzle that reveals some major clue about the character in question or perhaps changes things in the real world. These more psychically intense gameplay moments are where A Space for the Unbound’s gameplay truly shines in a creative, insightful way. You also gain the ability to time travel later in the story in much the same vein, with your actions in one timeframe affecting another.
Aside from the list of actions you can take and decisions you can make to advance the main plot, A Space for the Unbound also has several side quests in which you can partake. These quests include trying to beat the high score of Atma’s favorite arcade game, petting and naming every cat you come across, answering quiz questions from a trio of quizzing delinquents, and collecting bottle caps around town. I was impressed by just how much content there is to see and do, and I had to avoid becoming addicted to the high-score side quest.
That isn’t to say A Space for the Unbound is a flawless game. For starters, it isn’t necessarily for everyone, given the heavy subject material it touches upon, which is why the developers include a warning before the game. However, its most significant weakness is that specific points feel as if they drag on a bit more than necessary. It makes sense from an artistic stance towards the end of the game, but there were some midgame segments where I thought a particular scene or puzzle could’ve been shorter.
Visually, A Space for the Unbound is a stunningly gorgeous game if you enjoy pixel art. There are some actual jaw-dropping images and vistas to be seen here, especially when the story starts going in very different directions than you initially thought it would. The character designs are all lovely and highly detailed, and I loved the added expressiveness at times with emoji comic bubbles. The script is localized wonderfully and helps bring the characters and the emotions of a given scene to life. Finally, I can’t praise the soundtrack enough for the powerful emotion it conveys. It communicates the emotion behind the game’s setting and twists just as much as the story itself does.
A Space for the Unbound is a pleasant surprise to me in many ways. I started out with a preconceived notion of what it would be about, only to have that turned on its head in a rather alarming way. The tale it tells instead is genuinely haunting and upsetting, but one with a powerful and altogether touching ending. I felt so many things by the time I saw the end credits, and I came out thinking about what an ultimately beautiful and moving adventure this title ends up being. If it strikes a chord with you, it may even help you see things from a different perspective; A Space for the Unbound is a truly memorable gaming experience.