A space for the unattached took me on an emotional, nostalgic Anime pilgrimage
Since late 2021, I’ve been scouring a small column here on IGN.com to highlight indie games that I think are great. It went away quietly on Saturday afternoons, drawing attention to small games and developers that didn’t get as much attention from mainstream gaming sites as ours.
I’m proud of that coverage to this day, but I’m even more proud today, because my over-a-year quiet efforts are about to get a whole lot bigger. My small column today joins a much larger IGN initiative to bring out editorial columns of all kinds. That means I have to take a moment to write poetry about what the corner of this initiative is really about.
The relevance of indie gaming is always a difficult question to answer, especially on sites like this. With a large audience expecting us to update all the biggest beats in gaming and entertainment every day, combined with the sheer size of both industries, it’s inevitable that most of their resources I’m devoted to writing about what people already know they’re doing. care about. I’m talking about Marvels, big PlayStation exclusions, prestige TV shows, Marios. Our audience loves to read about these things, we love to write about them and only have so many hours in the day to write, so let’s write about them.
And yet, the unfortunate inevitability of this is that it often overlooks the truly massive amount of work being done by smaller, lesser known or even anonymous creators, who don’t have the intellectual property, the budget, the thousand-person studios, or the names already known to the mainstream audience. Sure, sometimes a standalone surprise attracts a large enough community to go mainstream (see Stardew Valley or Vampire Survivors), but those occasions are very, very rare. And yet, every day, countless creative, beautiful, touching, weird, smart and fascinating games are being created that you will never hear of. Many of them are disrupting game design, art, music, and concept design that we’ve never seen at AAA due to fears of not meeting sales targets. Some are filling gaps in genres that mainstream games have completely forgotten. And others are created by developers who overcame enormous obstacles to pursue their video game dreams.
I firmly believe those games are also worth knowing about – not just skimmed as part of a showcase or a quick tweet, but with curious, interesting attention and depth. And I think IGN has an important role to play in highlighting them.
So this is hidden treasure. I will use this space to tell you about my first impressions of it (at least for the first few hours, if not more) and chat with its developers about who they are, what they do, why they make it, and why you should care. My goal isn’t to just show you the next 10/10 perfect indie gem or the next Stardew Valley. It’s to shed a little light on the great games that inhabit the space between Marios and Marvels, while also celebrating the dark corners of the creative industry that don’t always have time in the sun.
I hope you’ll eventually be inspired by this column to at least check out a few of them, or else go on a hunt for some hidden treasures of your own.
(And you can keep track of all previous Hidden Treasure columns, even from before this column has a name, right here.)
Also, I want to officially start things off by telling you that last night I spent at least an hour ugly crying all the way to the end of A Space for the Unbound – a beautiful piece of pixel art. – the game of life has taken up all of my evenings for the past few days.
A Space for the Unbound follows a young man named Atma who is coming of age in the late 90s in rural Indonesia. In a story structure that gives Your Name and Weathering With You big vibes, Atma and his girlfriend Raya are balancing big discussions about their future and completing a rewarding bucket list. with the discovery of strange magical powers together. Raya has some kind of material manipulation going on, and Atma is able to “get into” the hearts of those he meets and help them deal with their inner dilemmas.
Part of the way A Space for the Unbound lets its mystery simmer interestingly in the setting is through its cheerful portrayal of 90s Indonesia and Atma’s role in it as a young man. young. Between adventures with Raya, he explores the town: collecting bottle caps, naming and petting every cat he sees, playing games at the arcade, helping the townspeople local solve their problems or fight school bullies. The details diverging between the main beat of the story offer a loving look at 90s Indonesia and the relatively mundane problems of ordinary people. As someone with very little experience in this setting, I love the mix of unfamiliar cultures and familiar people.
A Space for the Unbound is clearly a very personal look at the setting and time period close to the heart of game director Dimas Novan D.. He told me in an email interview that the idea His for the game comes from the concept of Seichijunrei, or an “anime pilgrimage” where you compare real-life locations with an anime counterpart. Through this idea, Dimas began to discover much of the anime he was familiar with with real-life referenced locations, from iconic buildings or landmarks to rural neighborhoods. normally. He wanted to do the same, but for the places he lived during the period that he and the development team were personally touched by.
Screen – Space for unlimited things
Dimas started working on the game in 2015 with a team of just two to three people in Surabaya-based Mojiken Studio. During most of that time, Mojiken produced and published several other games, including She and the Light Bearer and When the Past Was Around. But around 2020, with When the Past Was Around being released, the studio was able to dedicate everyone on set (about 12-14 people) to Dimas’ project. But Dimas admits the first few years were “probably the hardest” for him personally.
“I [had] to balance work and trying to find the direction of the ASFTU game,” he recalls. “The most basic concept of the story has been completed since the ASFTU prototype in 2015, but making it a more realistic experience in a video game format has been a daunting task. As a relatively newbie in the field of game development, I’m having a hard time deciding what kind of mechanics are appropriate for the whole game. If we talk about the game, then it must have some entertainment and interactive aspect so that the players can have a great time with it and immerse themselves in the game.
“Plus, the core message of the game is something that can’t be said right after the first part of the game. We had to gradually make the overall experience interesting and engaging so that people were willing to understand the message we wanted to convey, especially the story. We’ve made some prototypes, some that work and some that don’t. But in 2019 we’re really excited that we’ve finally found the right formula for the game, and in 2020 the demo was released and has been very well received.”
Along with his desire to portray a place and time close to his heart, Dimas hopes those who play A Space for the Unbound will deeply feel the passage of time in Loka Town as they play. He told me that he was also inspired by another Japanese concept: Mono no sense, or “germs of things”. He describes it as an appreciation or awareness of impermanence and the passage of time.
“We chose that theme because we grew up and wanted to reminisce about the past, the happy times, the hard times, the mature times,” says Dimas. “Each generation has its own memories and ASFTU is our memory and we want to preserve that before we completely forget it. The most important thing for us is that it makes us feel at home as Indonesians, makes us feel like our own growing up time.”
While A Space for the Unbound is certainly about all of this – nostalgia, growing up, the perception of the passage of time as two young people enter a new chapter of their lives – there is something is different going on here that I don’t want to reveal, but I want to urge you to play and explore. The good news here is that you don’t have to play A Space for the Unbound for long to fall in love with that detective work. Very early on, A Space for the Unbound creates a strong sense of hidden mystery, even if you’re not sure exactly what the mystery is. Part of that comes from the opening sequence – a dreamlike scene about a young girl named Nirmala who is Atma’s friend but doesn’t seem to exist anywhere in his day-to-day life. Or maybe it’s the strange relationship Atma seems to have with everyone in town – he has memories of a favorite food stall, for example, but not of another young woman in his class. . Towards the end of chapter 2, I kept playing, only to find out what’s happening in this town, because no easy theory seems to make sense.
So no, I won’t spoil why I was perplexed by A Space for the Unbound’s beautiful (emotionally and aesthetically) beautiful ending, but I strongly recommend this game as one of the fastest transitions from the ‘Oh! , this looks neat” to “I HAVE TO KEEP THIS PLAY” I used to. If you absolutely love anime romances like Your Name, mundane stories that take you to new places, emotional explorations of trauma or identity, or pet cats, check it out. Let’s try.
Rebekah Valentine is a news reporter for IGN. You can find her on Twitter @duckvalentine.