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Gaming

It’s the best time of year for this cozy, slow-burning game

Ray turns around.

Screenshot: Mojiken

I’m sure that indie studio Mojiken‘s supernatural part of life A space for the unlimited is the perfect game to play when it’s raining outside. It’s set in a pixelated 1990s Indonesia, where everything is tinted an evocative seafoam green, flanked by a low, hot sun and pink clouds. It gives you an attractive, dry place to escape to. It’s a sweet, undemanding adventure game with a layered story to get lost in; it’s a slice of grapefruit to savor as more high-profile studios kick off the year class clown issues and performance issues.

But as dreamy as A space for the unlimited can get – the core story follows teenagers Atma and his inscrutable girlfriend Raya, who can manipulate reality to the detriment of her health – its release was also subject to real life.

In the summer of 2022, Mojiken and Talk coffee developers Toge Productions accused publisher PQube of exploiting their “position and heritage as developers from Indonesia to obtain a diversity fund” that was withheld from developers. In response, the developers decided to postpone the game indefinitely to “ensure it gets published […] in a way that is consistent with our values ​​and those of our community,” they said in a PR statement. In the end, the game was on ice for another five months, and the end result feels incorrigibly Indonesian.

And that’s my favorite part. It is set in a small, warm town, with little on the surface other than the school life of the protagonists, a low-traffic internet café and clusters of bitter melon growing on short white fences. Collectable crown caps of apparently popular Indonesian drinks like Rhino Soda (“How can something locally produced be so expensive?” asks Atma) glint on the floor, and there are a few examples of unusually didactic anti-smoking dialogue, ostensibly to speak to the ongoing tobacco addiction (“Smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease and can make pregnancy difficult,” a shop owner dutifully informs us and Atma), the game never tries to explain its culture to you. You don’t have to. It embodies it.

Atma stands under a shady tree.

Screenshot: Mojiken

As Atma, you’ll find useful junk, which a shopkeeper complains about people piling up on, in a desolate swampland to help you achieve goals, such as baking a Black Forest cake for Raya. Aside from completing tasks, which require little more than navigating a compact map, picking things up and taking them elsewhere, the game consists of beating up school bullies through arcade-inspired arrow keys and quick events, and performing “space dives”. a mystical method to “dive into people’s hearts and [ridding] them of their inner turmoil.” A small yellow flower will appear above characters’ heads when you can perform this feature. If you do, their heart can be anything – maybe a galactic bedroom, a scale, or a cage – but they are always populated by one flowering tree, which has buds that unfurl as you essentially heal their inner child to get whatever you want. want.

I don’t love that as much as the game’s pretty pixels and fairytale magic (there’s a talking cat, a bully who turns into a “weather dog”, Raya manifests cute money in Atma’s pocket when she wants to see a movie, etc. .). I’ve played a little over half of it and never quite been sure of the emotions or the message it was trying to send with it, though the game Steam description calls it “a story about overcoming anxiety, depression.”

Like, at one point, Atma harasses about space diving into a pastry chef’s heart to convince her to stay at a job she hates. Your talking cat buddy convinces you that this is the right thing to do, and as a player you have no choice: it’s the only way to get a black forest cake for Raya and complete your goal.

Atma orders cake.

Screenshot: Mojiken

But it didn’t seem like a very empathetic task to me, and the game progresses as slow as treacle, so I didn’t understand how it fit into a plot that otherwise seemed to emphasize supportive friendship. Confusingly, after you do it, the pastry chef enthusiastically thanks you for directing her back to the kitchen.

Generally, A space for the unlimitedThe plot would benefit from a little more clarity. When Atma falls asleep, he has visions that help understand Raya’s wild powers. But they are short, and usually Raya is contradicted or pushed aside as soon as he wakes up. So while I kept putting time into the game, I never felt rewarded with knowledge of exactly where the story was going.

However, the ten-hour game beats Mojiken’s previous releases by about eight hours, so it makes sense to me that A space for the unlimited has some difficulty mapping out his mystery. The setting feels carefully planned and I admire its aspirations to tell a modern day fable, so I can forgive a sometimes awkward performance. It still looks and feels like a calming sunset for our dark January. It’s like a song with a cryptic text: if you play it, there’s still something to win.

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