Inception, branching timelines, magical rifts, demon cat guardians, and supernatural powers could be the highlight of any game, but in A Space for the Unbound, these elements are merely set dressing for a far more powerful headliner. Heart-twisting and compassionate, the game’s narrative consistently stands above all else, treating heavy themes with memorable grace. The visually distinct world is filled to the brim with flawed-but-relatable characters whose inner struggles boil over with world-ending consequences.
A Space for the Unbound’s riotous, emotionally-charged final chapter is fantastical — with a giant kaiju fight looming over a broken world of floating debris. However, it’s the small things that I can’t get out of my head. The way my character wrestles with his own existence, gives space to someone suffering with their mental health, and stands aside to let a friend have short, but therapeutic confrontations with inner demons. The last arc may be long, but the game earns every minute of it.
Guessing where the game would eventually end up would have been difficult in the opening hours. Playing as Atma — a high school-aged boy happy to collect bottle caps, pet stray cats, and visit the arcade — I wander a small town. There are hints that something weird is going on — I wake up from a dream in which I die, and odd things keep happening — but the sidescrolling slice-of-life gameplay lulls me into a false sense of security.
The first section is vital for establishing characters, relationships, and mechanics. The ending wouldn’t have hit nearly as hard without it, but I would have loved to see it streamlined. Using my ability to Spacedive, I jump into peoples’ brains and solve puzzles to fulfill my objectives, and, while fun, the nature of these quests run dangerously close to becoming formulaic.
In one part, I have to pick up a special cake from the cafe, but the chef just quit. The owner says they can make the needed dessert if I obtain three ingredients. Despite some introspective mind-hoping that pulls me deeper into the world and its inhabitants, I’m happy to be done with the fetch-quest-like mission when it’s over. But, of course, the owner can’t make the cake, and I have to convince the chef to come back, which demands more ingredient gathering.
I’m not a fan of the repetition, but I do appreciate how much thoughtful commentary the developer injects into everything. Gathering cherries, I help an old man remember a care-free time with his brother by catching mouth-watering fruit rather than snakes. Finding chocolate, I inspire a child to make healthier life choices by balancing now-literal scales with nutritious food options. Happily, this task is quickly followed by an unexpected gameplay shift.
To get the hard-won confection out of the neighborhood, I need to fight off a horde of bullies. And in one of my favorite moments of the early game, I learn to throw punches from a video game master in the arcade. Suddenly, the game transforms into an old-school fighting game, with combo prompts translating to punishing blows. It is just the right amount of ridiculous to sweep away my previous irritation.
I don’t want to give too much away, but this isn’t the only game-altering moment, either. This title throws constant surprises at me throughout my ten-hour playtime. A puzzle-filled, big-hearted adventure tinged with cosmic horror, A Space for the Unbound ushers players through a magnificent journey. It’s hitting every major console on release, so don’t miss out.