Since time immemorial, the power of storytelling has proven to be one of the more exquisitely unique human characteristics. As children, it is through stories and fairytales that we learn and grow and come to appreciate others, learning empathy and how to handle our feelings. In Mojiken studio’s latest game, we do exactly that by traversing a thin line between fairytales and reality, past and present. Follow us as we embark on our A Space for the Unbound review.
Indonesian studio Mojiken first flexed their narrative skills in telling a sensitive and emotional story in When The Past Was Around, a quiet little introspective game about dealing with loss. They definitely set their sights much higher for A Space for the Unbound, a longer and more accomplished adventure, clocking at around 10/12 hours. It features several different styles of puzzles and a deep engrossing narrative which will link together the two main characters and the many inhabitants of the small town – and its cats as well, of course.
In ASFTU you control Atma, a young man who seems to have lost all recollection of his life, except his essential connection to his girlfriend Raya. She will soon become the main focus of the adventure, as her mysterious magical powers will start to bend the world around them, first for good but then in more twisted ways. Atma embarks on a strange and fascinating journey of discovery. What is the secret connecting his memories with the strange magical powers of his girlfriend?
As this is a 2D sidescrolling adventure game, Atma explores a small town, thus giving us a thorough exploration of several facets of true Indonesian culture, and Mojiken did not hold back: cuisine, books, and history of the country. Fascinating. Despite going from point A to point B, there are a few puzzles around, which are for the most part pretty straightforward. Some will tax your brain a little, like one towards the end involving letters and a bit of math, but generally, you probably won’t get stuck for more than a few minutes.
I will not provide any spoilers here, but it is fair to say there is a lot of story to get through in Mojiken’s latest game. At one point, the game even edges on being a horror, despite still keeping its foot firmly planted in the emotional adventure. And in trying to embrace so many different colors of narrative, the pacing does suffer a bit. My impression is that Space for the Unbound peaked around the first two chapters, and then it just seems to retread familiar ground while slowly approaching its conclusion. It felt like watching a 20-episode anime series for a story which could have been effectively condensed into 12. Not a huge issue if you like your narrative to be slow burners, though.
The small gameplay ideas popping up here and there are especially delightful, like a narrative sequence where Atma is watching a movie with Raya, sharing a bag of popcorn. Timing your corn-grabbing movements with her hand, you can touch her in a small and beautiful intimate moment. On the other hand, I was not a big fan of the fighting mechanics. While they are not bad, in their extreme simplicity (just repeat the button sequence or time your parry), they felt a bit too overutilized in the overall gameplay. I would have definitely liked to see more conversational puzzles and fewer fighting ones.
Graphically, the game is just plain gorgeous, alternating beautifully colorful 2D pixel art and quirky little animations that bring the small town to life. Plus, there are pixelized cutscenes for some of the narrative moments that definitely fit the theme. The studio also did not skimp on the soundtrack, which features several slow-burning ballads written specifically to follow the themes of the plot, again bringing back the “anime series” feeling. But, really, would you want anything else while the credits roll on a long and satisfying story which left you guessing right until the end?
The plot does touch upon many sensitive topics, such as child abuse and suicide, but it does so from a personal and emotional place. Mojiken have always been a studio that respects their audience, and they continue to do that here. Sometimes, the cost of keeping our creativity and childlike soul is so high that it is difficult to maintain balance. A Space for the Unbound wants us to care for our mental health; to believe in ourselves and choose forgiveness instead of shutting the world outside, even if it has a (sad and unavoidable) tendency to hurt us.
Despite some of its slight gameplay and pacing issues, A Space for the Unbound is a necessary reminder of how difficult it is to keep our inner child alive through the hardships of adult life and it is one of the most beautiful games I’ve played. Mojiken Studio is definitely taking the reign for one of the best storytelling studios out there. Their latest adventure might leave you in limbo, between happiness and sadness, but you will be still delighted to have gotten the chance to share this time with Atma, Raya and all of the others.
Our A Space for the Unbound Review was made possible with a review key given by the publisher, Toge Productions. A Space for the Unbound is available on Steam, Mac, PlayStation 4/5, Xbox and Nintendo Switch.
A Space for the Unbound: A heartwarming adventure, touching on sensible topics while being respectful for its audience with beautiful pixel art and a deep engrossing narrative. – Damiano Gerli