A Space for the Unbound Review - Perfection in the Imperfections
Updated: Jul 7
A Space for the Unbound
A Space for the Unbound is the latest game from Indonesian developers Mojiken, who previously made great games like She and the Light Bearer and When the Past was Around. ASFTU is another adventure-style game, but it breaks from most of their previous work in that it is unashamedly about a specific time and place that won't be familiar to the vast majority of players. Its small 1990s Indonesian town plays as central a role in the story as any of the characters, and it has been lovingly realized from the gorgeous pixel art to the detailed backstories of its inhabitants. It's wonderful that the team were able to make what was clearly a passion project about their home without having to make Phoenix Wright-style localization compromises.
Gameplay in ASFTU comes in roughly three forms. Most of the time, you're moving about the town, talking to people, and finding random items that are scattered around. This is not a point and click game, but it very much feels like one without all the moon logic that genre is famous for. Puzzles in the adventure mode typically consist of finding the right items and bringing them to the correct characters or places. The more detailed puzzles are reserved for the "Spacedive" mode, where you jump into surreal representations of other character's psyches and solve their problems with thematic puzzles. Most of these aren't terribly difficult, but they can be quite intricate and require several layers or even screens worth of tasks.
Outside of those two modes, there are the minigame-type breaks. These are easily the weakest part of the game. Although there are a couple of one-off events, most of the time this either means combat or something that is mechanically identical to combat. That in turn means you need to enter a sequence of button presses within the time limit, then stop a moving bar within the right zone in order to avoid damage. This system isn't really bad per se, but it gets a bit tiresome since it's used so often and is so simplistic. I would have preferred either less combat overall or a slightly deeper system. Although this is not and should not be an action game, it could have used more interesting fighting considering how much of it there is.
Next, the graphics and music. For graphics, I'll let the screenshots speak for themselves. ASFTU has some of the best pixel art I've ever seen, particularly when it comes to the special cutscenes and late-game backgrounds. The music is mostly not as impressive, but it'll probably be a unique experience unless you're already familiar with the Indonesian genres and instruments it's inspired by. Still, even though I probably won't remember most of the music in a year, there are a couple of special tracks in it that I loved, and at worst the music is still perfectly serviceable.
Finally, the story. This is what takes ASFTU from being a solid adventure game with great art to being an absolute masterpiece. It has an incredible ability to make you care (if not always in a positive way) about even characters who play only a minor role in the story. It goes to some dark places by the end and has a couple of truly terrible people, but the overall experience is still a thoroughly heartwarming one thanks to the personalities and relationships of its core cast. Even though I had a pretty good idea of where it was going long before the end, I was still blown away by just how well it ultimately sticks the landing. Even though very few players will have personal experience growing up in rural Indonesia, the plot is still intensely relatable and inspiring. It's a very local story with universal themes. I really can't praise the writing enough.
So let's get this out of the way immediately: A Space for the Unbound is my first perfect score on this site. Obviously, this is not a flawless game. Some of the puzzles go on for longer than they are interesting and the combat could use more refinement. Not all of the music is memorable, and I'm sure a determined downer on the game could find a dozen other negative points that I'd agree with. But, at the end of the day, did any of that truly detract from my experience? No. This game made me attached to its characters and world in a way that only a handful of games have ever managed before, and it did it in a fraction of the time. I don't know where exactly it will land on my favorite games list, but there's no question that it has earned this score.
Time to beat: 8-9 hours
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