It’s the best time of year for this cozy and slow game

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Screenshot: Mojiken

I’m sure independent study MojikenThe slice of supernatural life A space for the unleashed It’s the perfect game to play when it’s raining outside. It’s set in a pixelated 1990s Indonesia, where everything is dyed an evocative seafoam green, flanked by a low, warm sun and pink clouds. Gives you an attractive, dry place to escape. It’s a sweet and undemanding adventure game with a layered story to get lost in; it’s a slice of grapefruit to enjoy as more high-profile studios kick off the year with class clown problems Y performance issues.

But as dreamlike as A space for the unleashed You Can Get: Its central story follows teenagers Atma and his inscrutable girlfriend Raya, who can manipulate reality at the cost of her health; its release was also subject to real life.

In the summer of 2022, Mojiken and coffee talk developers Toge Productions accused publisher PQube of exploiting their “position and heritage as Indonesian developers to gain a diversity fund” that was withheld from developers. In response, the developers decided to delay the game indefinitely to “make sure it gets released.” […] in a way that is consistent with our values ​​and those of our community,” they said in a public relations statement. Ultimately, the game was frozen for another five months, and the end result feels unrepentantly Indonesian.

And that’s my favorite part. It’s set in a small, warm town, with not much going on on its surface other than the main characters’ school lives, a low-traffic internet cafe, and bunches of bitter melon growing on short white picket fences. Although apparently popular Indonesian beverage collectible bottle caps like rhino soda (“How can something locally produced be so expensive?” Atma asks) shine on the floor, and there are some instances of unusually didactic anti-smoking dialogue, supposedly to discuss the current situation in Indonesia. Addiction to tobacco (“Smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease, and can complicate pregnancy,” a shop owner dutifully informs Atma and us), the game never tries to explain its culture to you. It is not necessary. embodies it.

Atma is under the shade of a tree.

Screenshot: Mojiken

As Atma, you’ll find useful junk, which a merchant complains people are piling up, in an abandoned area of ​​a swamp to help you complete objectives like baking a black forest cake for Raya. Aside from finishing tasks, which require little more than navigating a compact map, picking things up, and taking them somewhere else, gameplay is all about beating up school bullies through arcade-inspired arrow key combat and game events. fast time, and perform “space dives”. a mystical method of plunging “into the hearts of people and [ridding] them from their inner confusion.” A small yellow flower appears above the heads of the characters when you can perform this function. When you do, their hearts can be anything, perhaps a galactic bedroom, a scale, or a cage, but they are always populated by a flowering tree, which has buds that unfold as you essentially heal their inner child to gain what you want to wish.

I don’t like that as much as I love the game’s cute pixels and fairytale magic (there’s a talking cat, a thug who transforms into a “dog-dog”, Raya cutely manifests the money in Atma’s pocket when you want to watch a movie, etc. .). I played a little more than half of it and never felt totally sure of his emotions or the message he was trying to send with them, even though the game is steam description calls it “a story about overcoming anxiety, depression.”

Like, at one point, Atma agonizes to dive into the heart of a pastry chef to convince her to stay in a job she hates. Your talking cat companion convinces you that it’s 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 asks for cake.

Screenshot: Mojiken

But it didn’t feel like a very empathetic task to me, and the game moves about as slowly as syrup is poured, so I couldn’t figure out how it fit into a plot that otherwise seemed to emphasize caring friendship. Confusingly, after you do, the pastry chef enthusiastically thanks you for taking her back to the kitchen.

Generally, A space for the unleashedThe plot of could benefit from some more clarity. When Atma falls asleep, she has visions that help make sense of Raya’s wild powers. But they are brief and are usually contradicted or brushed aside by Raya immediately when she wakes up. So as I continued to spend time playing the game, I was never rewarded with the knowledge of where, exactly, the story was going.

However, the ten hour long game beats previous Mojiken releases by about eight hours, so it makes sense to me that A space for the unleashed has some trouble plotting its mystery. The setting of him feels carefully planned and I admire his ambitions to tell a modern fable, so I can forgive an occasionally awkward execution. It still looks and feels like a relaxing sunset for our dark January. It’s like a song with cryptic lyrics: when you play it, there’s still something to be gained.

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