STAFF REVIEW of A Space For The Unbound (Xbox One)

Wednesday, January 18, 2023.
by Kirsten Naughton

A Space For The Unbound Box art It’s not very often that I open up and let my walls down that surround me. It’s not very often that I relate with people my own age. It’s not very often that an experience touches me so deeply that I’m left sitting on my couch in tears feeling like for one of the very few times in my life that I’m not alone in my thoughts and my feelings. I can acknowledge that like the characters in this experience I’m about to tell you about, every one of us is not perfect. We have flaws and sometimes if we let it fester and build up, it becomes anxiety and depression, and if it festers too long, it becomes a monster within us all that if not dealt with, we can’t control and it could become quite serious, if not fatal.

I’m going to forewarn you, going forward within this review is going to hint at very sensitive topics such as anxiety, depression and suicide. Above, I talked about a piece of art and an experience touching me deeply. I’d like to introduce you all to ‘A Space for the Unbound’. Created by Mojiken Studio, Toge Productions & Worldwide Games, ‘A Space for the Unbound’ is a side scrolling pixel art masterpiece where you’re walking life with your best friend around town and wherever life takes you. To label it a video game, even though it is one, is a great insult to what it really is; a masterpiece. Like any masterpiece, the story within it is better experienced on your own. To spoil a story like the one in ‘A Space for the Unbound’ would ruin the beauty of experiencing it for yourself.

To give you a rough idea of what you’ll be encountering while playing ‘A Space for the Unbound’, think of struggles you’ve had in your life. Maybe it's bullies, breakups, domestic violence, divorce, grief, friendships ending, self worth issues, self esteem issues, etc. I could go on and on, right? Wrong. ‘A Space for the Unbound’ is a lot like life. Life is the unbound. It’s filled with uncertainties, curve balls, and things that break us down until we are left with a shell that we think is ourselves, but what’s happening on the inside is that we are hurting, we are suffering, and we feel like no one cares or that everyone will make fun of me and that life isn’t worth living. That’s the jist of the experience while playing ‘A Space for the Unbound’. We’ve all been there. I know I have felt like this more often than I’d like to admit.

Some of us are blessed with families that love us, our parents are still together, we have many family members to share memories with, and if we are lucky, we can build upon that and grow the family generation by generation. There are also some people that aren’t so blessed. They grow up in families with addiction, mental health issues and their own deep dark secrets. People that are fortunate to have the world at their feet with all the support in the world would have trouble understanding how other people growing up different from themselves cope and live.

‘A Space for the Unbound’ touches on domestic violence in a way that breaks my heart. I’ve never been a victim of domestic violence, but I’ve known a couple people that have been and some people I’ve known have passed on because of domestic violence. Watching particular scenes and playing through made me very emotional. It gave me reminders of my own life in such a way that made me remember the people in my life that have been affected by all sorts of traumas, issues and hardships.

Personally, I can tell you that I have scars, I have trauma, and I have had to cope and heal from many different kinds of issues that ‘A Space for the Unbound’ touches on. One of its most beautiful aspects is the idea that when we feel alone, unwanted and unloved, we can reach out our hand and if we’re lucky enough, our friend or family member can show us that no matter what, we aren’t alone. No matter how much we push them away, tell them we want to be alone. There’s always someone in our corner. We are loved. We are going to be okay. Most of your time in ‘A Space for the Unbound’ will be helping your friend who is struggling with self doubt, anxiety, depression and being there when the world comes crashing down at her feet. ‘A Space for the Unbound’ connected with me so deeply that it reminded me of the friend that I had when my world came crashing down at my feet. I remember how I felt and I also remember who was there when I stood back up decided to try again and not to give up on myself.

'A Space for the Unbound’ has several puzzles within it. Whether it be unlocking a padlock, walking into unknown doorways, fixing a picture on the wall or putting a light orb in a stand to light your way, there are plenty of puzzles to keep you engaged and wanting more. One of the puzzles that I enjoyed (and sometimes got extremely frustrated at) were Spacedives and Rifts. Without saying too much, think of a Spacedive as being in someone’s mind. It’s actually pretty cool, as I wish I had this in the real world. A rift can alter reality, which is a good thing, if you do it properly and with care. Do it recklessly and you can create one hell of a mess for not only yourself, but the ones around you. If I could create a rift, I might create a speed bump for myself that I can’t handle. The puzzles bring you into the world of whomever you’re trying to help and you often afterwards will find sympathy for them rather than anger. The Spacedives give a great opportunity to see the person you're trying to help in a different light, and if you're paying attention, you'll notice that you're not much different than them. They are just like you trying to survive and cope with the many, many curve balls life likes to throw from every corner of the field imaginable.

The one criticism I have for the puzzles, and really the entire experience, is that sometimes they don't give enough information for clues, and if you're not paying attention fully you will miss the hints and/or completely not know how to solve a puzzle. I found myself twice in this situation. It was very frustrating. Even a little nudge from a hint box or a suggestion from a nearby character would be enough to remind someone of 'hey I need to check this book' or 'hey, do you remember this place? Maybe we can go there again!". I found it often that a character would say a line and then never say it again, which I felt wasn't fair.

There may be some people that need reminders if they forget or if they get stuck, all it's going to take is a reminder of what someone said before or even something on the wall to jog your memory. A very tiny irritation, but it's worth mentioning because you are literally there to help people get through their struggle. It's not exactly fun if you're the one struggling. I’m guilty of thinking about the puzzles too hard, getting frustrated and just about giving up on the game all together. I was ready to hang up my hat and move on. But, I have a few tips that will help you get through the puzzles that will hopefully make the puzzle solving less of a struggle.

The key to ‘A Space for the Unbound’ is to take the advice of the characters. Don’t overthink it, stay calm and keep... moving... forward. The puzzles will get frustrating if you overthink it. Much like life, overthinking creates more stress than you already have on your plate. Take the puzzles one step at a time and observe what’s around you. Read what the character’s are saying. What they say is important. Sometimes, I’ll admit, ‘A Space for the Unbound’ can give you some ‘hints’ without it being actually helpful to you. Everything you read, take it in but don’t read too much into it. You’ll psych yourself out and you may miss key important details that will make you successful in progressing to the next objective.

But, just like the characters in ‘A Space for the Unbound’, I kept moving on. I got through the hurdles and I moved toward what I wasn’t prepared for. The writers of ‘A Space for the Unbound’ need to know that I’ve never in my life read something so deeply. Every cutscene, every second of gameplay, you’re indulged in what seems harsh and cruel dialogue at the beginning, but you soon understand the reasons for why it’s written the way it is. The writing is very common dialogue used in society today. Anxiety, depression and considering suicide are serious things that as of recent years, we’ve hid as a stigma, and in some countries chose to ignore as if it didn’t matter and didn’t exist. As we’ve grown as a society, we are learning that anxiety, depression and suicide are indeed valid mental health issues. Thus, giving those who really need it, the support they need to cope and heal.

Did you know? In 2013, an estimated 3 million Canadians (11.6%) aged 18 years or older reported that they had a mood and/or anxiety disorder. More than a quarter of a million Canadian youth—6.5% of people between 15 and 24—experience major depression each year. Every year, approximately 4,500 people in Canada die by suicide, which is equivalent to 12 people dying by suicide every day. These are scary statistics. ‘A Space for the Unbound’ touches on critical subjects that have recently taken the spotlight. I don’t normally put statistics in my reviews, but ‘A Space for the Unbound’ talks about these subjects that doesn’t dishonour those who have lost their lives to mental health issues or are still struggling to this day with them. If ‘A Space for the Unbound’ can reach someone who is struggling, someone who is having mental health issues and gives them even an ounce of hope that life is worth living, then I’d say that’s an amazing achievement.

For a video game to touch someone who is at their darkest hour and to bring to light the struggles those folks who are struggling, wanting help and are too afraid to ask for help. At the very least, ‘A Space for the Unbound’ gives even those who don’t have mental health issues an opportunity to learn about something that affects someone in our communities, families or even ourselves so deeply.

Before I forget, I must talk about the pixel art. It fits 'A Space for the Unbound' perfectly. The colours used to signify happiness and a normal environment are bright, sunny and full of life with the blues, yellows, reds, and vibrant colours giving off the spirit of life. When there is a mood shift, you notice it right away with the purples, blacks, greys and darkness. When you're in a Spacedive, 99% of the time, they are dark because it's dark in your head. In a rift, it gives off an orange-yellow tone giving you the indication you're in a different time. These colour changes are critical in 'A Space for the Unbound' because it gives you the tone of where you are and what you are mentally about to get ready for.

I know that based on playing ‘A Space for the Unbound’ I feel like a internal weight has been lifted off my shoulders, and although this experience can’t take away our struggles and our fears, at the very least, it does an excellent job at encouraging us to keep moving forward no matter how dark the cloud you’re walking through is. That dark cloud is temporary. The storm will pass and it’ll be okay. It’s games like ‘A Space for the Unbound’ that make reviewing video games worth every second I spend doing it worthwhile. It’s not very often that I’m rendered speechless at the end of a playthrough, but this time I am.

**A Space For The Unbound was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series S**

Overall: 9.0 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 10.0 / 10
Sound: 10.0 / 10


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