A game where you pet and name cats. I guess other stuff happens, too.
A Space for the Unbound is one of those games that seems like it's been shown again and again at various indie presentations and even in at least one Indie World over the years. Every time it was, I found myself extremely interested in just about everything it seemed to be offering: its art style, its premise, its characters, and its promise of an emotional tale that would likely squeeze at least a few tears out of me. Unfortunately, a date never seemed to come alongside these showings, no matter how hard I wished, and this got even more unfortunate when a clash with their publisher seemed to delay the game indefinitely late last year. But now those storm clouds have at last passed, and A Space for the Unbound has finally seen a release, meaning we can finally talk about whether or not it delivers on the promise seen in its numerous past showings.
In A Space for the Unbound the player takes the helm of a teenage boy named Atma. Atma lives in a small Indonesian town, and begins the game hanging out with a younger girl named Nirmala. Nirmala is incredibly creative, writing stories full of fantasy and emotion, and Atma is more than happy to help spur that creativity along and help Nirmala find confidence in her work. However, after a tragic accident sweeps Atma away in a river current, he wakes up at his desk in a high school classroom as if it were all a dream. The girl sitting in front of him, Raya, claims to be his girlfriend, and the two decide to spend the day together outside of school. Eventually Atma becomes suspicious that things are not quite what they seem, and he must get to the bottom of the various mysteries cropping up around town using a newfound ability to enter the world of someone's heart using a "space dive." Was his experience with Nirmala all a dream? Is Raya really who she says she is? These questions and more manage to be intriguing, and the answers are not as predictable as one might think, making the narrative the main reason to trek through A Space for the Unbound as a whole.
In terms of gameplay, A Space for the Unbound is your fairly standard adventure game. You can walk around the world picking up objects that can then be used to solve puzzles and move the plot along, though one of the game's main flaws is that later on it begins to feel a bit too fetch-questy for its own good—at its worst feeling like unnecessary padding. This is largely a problem because the game is a little too long for its own good, clocking in at around 9-10 hours for a story that feels like it should last around 5-6. The added length isn't game ruining at all, but near the end it does make the whole experience kind of drag, especially as I had multiple moments where I was positive the credits were about to roll, not knowing that I still had roughly three hours of game remaining. Even so, the town the game is set in as well as the people that live in it are all a delight to explore and interact with, with many of them having their own full stories and character arcs even if they're not central to the plot. The writing in general is funny and well done, though there were a few typos within the script here and there.
Overall, A Space for the Unbound is a must play for those that enjoy getting an emotional experience from their games. The puzzles are generally easy to understand, and the game does a good job of making each space dive throughout the story feel different from the last in some meaningful way, helping gameplay not get stale as you go. It may take a tad longer than it should to get to the various emotional payoffs, but those moments are well done and generally worth it. The experience is bolstered by expressive and colorful pixel art that portrays a memorable cast of characters throughout the game's world, and a wonderful soundtrack accompanying the whole thing doesn't hurt either. The game deals with some very heavy subjects at times, but always does so respectfully and without making them seem like a crutch for the narrative to lean on. There are also a lot of cats that can not only be pet but can also be named, something some people may see as a very worthwhile bonus (I know I do). If you like your adventure games to try and yank some tears out of your poor, poor eyes, A Space for the Unbound is easily your first great choice of 2023.