Taking a moment to breathe seems like the simplest kind of self-care you can get. It is also usually the most overlooked. Between work, responsibilities, various expectations, and so many video games, it’s easy to forget to just… pause. To ponder. To try and get at what’s really on your mind. This simple act is one of the most difficult a person can do. Fortunately, there’s a really good space for that.
A Space for the Unbound is a side-scrolling, supernatural, slice-of-life narrative adventure. Stepping into the school shoes of protagonist Atma, players will embark on a journey through rural Indonesia, with friends Raya and Nirmala in tow. Simple as the premise may sound, there’s a lot on offer in this unique space. There’s self-discovery to be had, stories to write, and a great many cats to name. You’ll also be doing a bit of diving, but we’ll get there.
Most of the narrative takes place in Atma’s local town. Starting from his sleep-inducing classroom, players will venture to the nearby general store, cinema, bakery, and more. A Space for the Unbound creates an engrossing sense of space by offering a few consistent areas to explore, all interconnected by various bridges and back alleys. There’s a map to help make sense of it all, but I soon outgrew it. Loka City is large enough to wander around, yet small enough to quickly learn the layout of. The level design takes full advantage of the game’s simple scope, making the town a joy to explore.
And explore you will. Together with his girlfriend Raya, Atma meets all sorts of people across the landmarks of Loka City. From washed-up martial artists to mildly unhinged doomsayers, some of the characters here are most certainly unbound. Yet, even the most eccentric residents have something worthwhile to say. A Space for the Unbound boasts impressively written dialogue throughout its entire runtime. The people Atma talks to are funny, charming, tragic, conflicted—they truly feel like people. There’s even the extra effort of most NPCs having about two to three short sequences of unique dialogue, making repeat encounters a fun aside instead of a threat to immersion. Every character is testament to the strength of developer Mojiken’s writers.
Adding to the dialogue’s flair is the visual pop which accompanies it. A Space for the Unbound sports a gorgeous pixel art style, and leans into the unique charm that offers at every opportunity. The pop-up animation for text boxes is smooth. The typewriter-ish sounds of dialogue filling them up is immensely satisfying. Sound effects for reactions are timely and well designed. Every last bit of dialogue is a gratifying audiovisual ping that made me want to play further and further.
The little details aren’t the only thing that kept me going. In every aspect, this slice-of-life jaunt oozes style. The events of A Space for the Unbound unfold within a rounded, boxed aspect ratio, which provides a nice frame to the wild things that happen on this journey. The characters are brilliantly animated, with facial expressions standing out even on the smaller screen of the Switch. And, of course, there are the Spacedives.
Spacediving is one of the central mechanics in Mojiken’s sidescroller. Armed with his Red Book, Atma can dive into the subconscious minds of key people throughout the story. It’s a vaguely similar concept to Persona. Once inside a mind, Atma must navigate a puzzle that echoes the subject’s inner conflicts. One of my favourite puzzles takes place in the mind of a pastry chef, who is conflicted about trying other types of cuisine. This struggle manifests itself as a cooking competition in their head, with multiple versions of themself each representing one of the warring cuisines. To achieve the desired outcome, Atma must hop back and forth between the dreamscape and the real world, finding things to sabotage the other chefs’ dishes. It’s a clever depiction, and gives rise to some incredibly charming dialogue.
No two Spacedives are the same; some people are just a little lost, others are trapped by demons of their own creation and a few still have ended up demons themselves. There are fights, stealth sections, and clever puzzles galore. There’s even a grand court of ducks, in which Atma must present a case that the defendants are most definitely not who they say they are. You’re not quite hurling spells at shadow selves, but the central theme of accepting oneself is present throughout. Spacedives are as insightful and introspective as they are visually stylish, from dive animation to mindscape aesthetic.
The variety between both Spacedives and tasks in the overworld is great. The puzzles will have you doing all sorts, from figuring out codes hidden in a manga to sneaking around wolves for sugar. One chapter even had me flat out do school-level algebra, and it was… fun? Even objectives within a single mission will switch things up in interesting ways. You’ll finally find the oil you need, only to not have a container for it. You’ll find that, but need to clean it. This may sound laborious on paper. The result, however, is seemingly unrelated quests opening progression to one another in satisfying fashion. Every conclusion to a puzzle or part of the story feels earned, and brings the world together.
This cohesion is shown off right from the start. In A Space for the Unbound’s second chapter, your central mission is to bake Raya’s favourite cake, the Black Forest Gateau. To bake the cake, I had to go catch a rooster in a bag for a smitten hen and take a timid cherry tree through time, while also Spacediving into a random stranger’s mind to resolve their deep-rooted trauma with chocolate.
Read that last sentence again.
Embracing the wonder of childhood fairytales, A Space for the Unbound isn’t afraid to get a little crazy. Yet, there’s plenty of depth here as well. Spacedives aren’t all a bed of roses; helping people battle themselves is only part of the puzzle. Atma also faces a number of moral conundrums. Some people need a little prod in the right direction to allow him to progress, and both protagonist and player know that all of our actions are for the greater good. But when the line between influencing and manipulation begins to blur, interesting questions are raised about whether our high school hero is fit to wield the power of the Red Book—and whether it should be wielded at all.
Atma’s not the only one with a supernatural trick up his sleeve. Raya boasts the ability to manipulate reality itself, which is equal parts delightful and dangerous when paired with her tenacity. You’ll be chatting with cats in a fantasy land one moment, causing mild cracks in reality the next. It is with these cracks and Raya’s abilities that A Space for the Unbound truly shows the strength of its story. Atma and Raya’s tale introduces comfortable tropes, then throws you for a loop with the directions they’re taken. There are twists, turns, and a masterfully balanced back-and-forth between tension and ease.
Seriously—what starts as a cutesy high school love story turns into an epic, almost multiverse-spanning mystery with the fate of the world at stake. The mundane and the magnificent collide in increasingly creative ways, and by endgame no focused puzzle feels too small or irrelevant to the story at hand. Every major sidequest or plot point offers a scrap of A Space for the Unbound‘s central fairy tale. Each new chapter brings up as many questions as it answers. There is true craftsmanship here, and it is a joy to experience.
Above all else, there are brilliant moments of vulnerability. For all its fantastical flair, A Space for the Unbound is intrinsically human. People get hurt while simply trying their best to be good to one another. The biggest lies come from trying to be true to oneself. Even the collectibles made me sit back and think. Certain trinkets and items on Raya and Atma’s bucket list aren’t super clear on how to find or achieve them. There’s a subtle warning about the story’s point of no return, but that’s about it for help. If you miss anything, you’ll see something barred off in the lategame or epilogue. Seeing that in my playthrough stung. Yet, that sting only proves just how invested I was: I loved this journey, and I wanted to experience it to the fullest.
I didn’t quite manage to do so this time, but that’s okay. If there’s one thing I did learn here, it’s that failure is not the end. It never is. I can always return to this little slice of comfort: this darling space for the unbound.
Sarim played A Space for the Unbound on Nintendo Switch with a code provided by the publisher.