A Space for the Unbound features themes such as depression, anxiety, domestic abuse, suicidal ideation, and animal death.
I find an old man huddled under a now-barren cherry tree as he racks his mind for the reason he’s there. As Atma, I approach him to see if I can help, but his memory is betraying him and he can’t remember. So I use my power of Spacedive to delve into his heart for answers and, in that reality, I find him as a boy. Together, we collect cherries from the now-flourishing tree. When we have enough, we split them, and it’s then that his brother appears—also a child. I realise that this is what the old man was forgetting—a childhood with his brother climbing the cherry trees. This is one of many stories that you find in A Space for the Unbound.
A Space for the Unbound
Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4/5, Xbox One, Series X/S & PC
January 19, 2023
A Space for the Unbound is a narrative-driven coming-of-age adventure that tells the story of childhood sweethearts Atma and Raya as they approach graduation and wonder what comes next. Set in 90s Indonesia, the game follows them as they battle looming adulthood as well as discovering they both have supernatural powers. What originally appears to be a laid-back adventure gradually turns into a race to stop the apocalypse as Raya’s powers grow out of control. As Atma, we must use our abilities to put the pieces together to save Raya and, more importantly, the world.
Reviewing a game like this is no easy task, as I would recommend everybody go into A Space for the Unbound without foreknowledge. Although the game promises the end of the world in its synopsis, I did not expect as many twists and turns as we experienced. Split into five chapters and an epilogue, the game finally begins to weave its threads together around chapter four and things start to make sense. Until then, mystery follows you through this adventure as a looming threat hanging over you in the form of a crack-filled sky.
In addition to the main storyline—the easy task of saving the world—the setting is also rich with people. As well as the main characters in the story, you can pretty much talk to (and help) everybody. You can find a group of delinquent boys who offer you a quiz in exchange for something you need, help a violinist find inspiration again, and help a man catch his dog (who has caught sight of one of the game’s many cats, who you can pet AND name). Some of these are necessary to carry the story forward, but others are optional and make the world feel more realistic and full. As well as helping the villagers, you can also take on one of the game’s many achievements, including collecting bottle caps, finding every cat, and beating a Sensei’s highscore in a Street Fighter-esque mini game. A Space for the Unbound‘s main storyline takes around eight hours, but the time disappears thanks to the many sidequests.
As well as citizens in this Indonesian village, the game also includes an eclectic cast of main characters who all have input in the story. There’s Atma, who is our protagonist but is something of an unreliable narrator, and Raya, his troubled girlfriend, but there’s also the school bully, Erik, the helpful Marin, and the popular Lulu. Although they appear to represent the classic high school stereotypes, they are so much more and each chapter is dedicated to delving into their pasts and how their choices have affected the story’s current state. More specifically, they each represent a battle in Raya’s head, which brings me to the next part of this review.
The game starts with a content warning which includes themes of depression, anxiety, and suicide. As I battle with these mental illnesses myself, I wanted to see how it was portrayed in-game. It becomes clear that Raya is experiencing this turmoil as a result of an abusive father, bullying, and the overwhelming feeling of being useless in a world that should be straightforward, at least according to her father. Although Raya struggles with depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts, these words are never used to describe her experience in-game, instead represented through a series of metaphors. We see Raya as she confronts these issues, but we also see her escape the dark to see that ever-present light which is represented both literally and metaphorically. We see her face her demons, both literal and figurative, and we help her realise that she has the power within herself to conquer them. What starts as a story about supernatural powers and the apocalypse soon turns into the journey through mental illness—the good, the bad, and the ugly.
I also appreciated playing a game set in Indonesia, with cultural specifics being very much a running theme throughout it. I enjoyed learning about the cuisine and styles of music as well as seeing what a rural Indonesian village would have looked like in the 90s. There were nods to things from the now-distant past, such as having to visit an internet cafe to do some research, which made me feel both nostalgic and very old. You become familiar with the town as you navigate its streets, but if you get lost like I did a few times, Atma’s journal includes a handy map. You get to see the same shop-keepers, high school teachers and stall-owners as you progress through the game, making it really feel like a tight-knit community. It’s clear the developers had firsthand experience with a village such as this and did an excellent job at making it feel full of life.
My gripes are minor for a game that represents mental illness as respectfully and as well-done as this. The first three chapters, although aimed to set up the story, did feature some “quests” that seemed more like filler than offering anything of substance. However, the range of mini-games stopped play from feeling like a slog. As I’ve mentioned, A Space for the Unbound is something of a mystery until all is revealed at the end, which can sometimes feel frustrating when you have no idea what’s going on. My only advice here would be to wait it out if you are feeling like this. Overall, the game has enough features to stop certain areas feeling monotonous.
A Space for the Unbound is a powerhouse of a game that intertwines the looming fear of adulthood, the battles that come with mental illness, and most importantly, the reminder that we have what it takes to overcome it all.
Angharad Redden is a freelance games journalist from Wales who focuses on representation in video games. When she’s not gaming or writing about games, she can be found by the nearest dog.
You can find them Tweeting over at @reddens_ where she will probably be screaming over the latest Bioshock news.