A Space for the Unbound review – Indonesian school adventure has a fantastical twist

PC, Mac, PlayStation 4/5, Xbox, Nintendo Switch (version played); Mojiken Studio/Toge Productions
The story of Atma and his reality-warping girlfriend Raya demonstrates a flair for the dramatic and will keep you guessing right up to the end

The video game charts tend to be dominated by titles from US, European and Japanese studios, and as such the games we play are awash with those cultural influences. So it’s a welcome treat to play something from an Indonesian developer, infused with less familiar references. For example, I now know that keroncong is a genre of music based around a ukulele-like instrument.

A Space for the Unbound tells the tale of Atma and Raya, two high-school students growing up in late-90s Indonesia. In many ways it’s similar to Attack of the Friday Monsters!, a much-loved, nostalgia-heavy 2013 Nintendo DS title about children exploring their Japanese home town in the 1970s. Like that game, A Space for the Unbound’s beautiful anime art style captures the spirit of idyllic childhood memories, where it’s always summer and the sky is forever cerulean blue. It also shares a penchant for the fantastical, blurring the line between the imaginary and real.

The flights of fancy come in the form of “space diving”, where Atma uses a magical book to dive inside people’s hearts and fix their problems, exploring the inside of people’s minds as we do in Psychonauts, where each person’s inner realm reflects their deepest fears and passions. The bulk of the game takes the form of a narrative puzzle adventure; you talk to characters, pick things up and use them to progress the story. Yet A Space for the Unbound is packed with delightful surprises, occasionally dropping in sections based on Street Fighter II or Ace Attorney. It even dallies with dimension-hopping later on.

The story begins with Atma co-writing a fairytale with a young girl, who gives him a magic red book. Then Atma seemingly drowns in an accident, only to wake up in a classroom, unsure whether what he experienced was a dream. He skips school to go to the movies with his girlfriend, Raya, who then reveals she has reality-bending special powers. From there, each chapter is packed with exciting twists and turns, imbued with ever-growing intrigue and the dawning realisation that Raya’s supernatural gift might well lead to catastrophe.

Characters are memorable and well drawn, literally and figuratively, and the game ably tackles thorny issues such as the consequences of school bullying, and the terrible toll taken by anxiety, depression and domestic abuse. For the most part, the 12-hour runtime flies by as you get to know every delightful nook and cranny of the cosy neighbourhood; only the final third drags a little. It feels worthwhile after the superb ending, though, which ensures that this game will live on in your memory for a long, long time after the credits roll.

• A Space for the Unbound is out on 19 January; £17.99.

Lewis Packwood

The GuardianTramp

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