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

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

Screenshot: mojiken

I’m sure this independent studio mojikensupernatural slice of life A space for the unrelated is the perfect game to play when it’s raining outside. It’s set in pixel-y, 1990s Indonesia, where everything is tinged with an evocative scum green, flanked by a low, hot sun and pink clouds. It gives you an attractive, dry place to get away from it all. It’s a sweet, undemanding adventure game with a layered story to get lost in; it’s a slice of grapefruit to savor as higher-profile studios kick off the year with class clown problems and performance issues.

But as dreamlike as A space for the unrelated can get – its main story follows teenage Atma and his inscrutable girlfriend Raya, who can manipulate reality at the cost of her health – its exit was also subject to real life.

In the summer of 2022, Mojiken and Coffee talk developers Toge Productions publisher accused PQube to exploit their “position and heritage as Indonesian developers to obtain a diversity fund” which the developers were denied. In response, the developers decided to delay the game indefinitely to “ensure it gets released. […] in a manner consistent with our values ​​and those of our community,” they said in a public relations statement. In the end, the game was put on ice for another five months, and the end result looks remorselessly Indonesian.

And that’s my favorite part. It is set in a cozy small town, with little on its surface except for the protagonists’ school life, a low-traffic internet cafe, and clusters of bitter melon growing on short white picket fences. Although collectible bottle caps of apparently popular Indonesian drinks like Rhino Soda (“How can something locally produced be so expensive?” asks Atma). tobacco addiction (“Smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease, and can complicate pregnancy,” a general store owner as well as Atma dutifully informs us), the game never tries to explain its culture to you. It’s not necessary. He embodies it.

Atma stands under a shady tree.

Screenshot: mojiken

As Atma, you’ll find some useful junk, which a trader complains people are piling up, in an abandoned swamp to help you complete goals like baking a dark forest cake for Raya. Along with finishing tasks, which require little more than navigating a compact map, picking up items and taking them elsewhere, the gameplay consists of beating school bullies through arrow key battles inspired by the arcades and quick events, and perform “space dives”. a mystical method of delving “into the hearts of people and [ridding] of their inner turmoil. A small yellow flower appears above the characters head when you can perform this function. When you do, their heart can be anything – perhaps a galactic chamber, a balance scale, or a cage – but they’re always populated by a flowering tree, the buds of which unfurl when you heal essentially their inner child to get what you want.

I don’t like it as much as I like the pretty pixels of the game and the magic of fairy tales (there is a talking cat, a bully who turns into a “were-dog”, Raya gently manifests money in Atma’s pocket when she wants to see a movie, etc.). I played just over half of it and never felt entirely sure of his emotions or the message he was trying to send with them, although the game is Steam description calls it “a story about overcoming anxiety, depression.”

Like, at one point, Atma agonizes over digging into a pastry chef’s heart to convince her to stay at a job she hates. Your talking cat pal convinces you that it’s the right thing to do, and as a player you have no other choice: it’s the only way to get a dark forest cake for Raya and achieve your goal.

Atma orders a cake.

Screenshot: mojiken

But that didn’t feel like a very empathetic task to me, and the game progresses as slowly as syrup flows, so I couldn’t figure out how it fitted into a plot that otherwise seemed to emphasize friendship solidarity. Confusingly, after you do, the pastry chef enthusiastically thanks you for bringing her back to the kitchen.

In general, A space for the unrelatedThe plot of could benefit from a little more clarity. When Atma falls asleep, he has visions that help make sense of Raya’s savage powers. But they are brief and usually contradicted or dismissed by Raya as soon as she wakes up. So as I continued to put time into the game, I never felt rewarded knowing exactly where the story was going.

The roughly ten-hour game beats previous Mojiken releases by roughly eight hours, so it makes sense to me that A space for the unrelated struggles to grasp its mystery. Its setting feels carefully planned, and I admire its ambitions to tell a modern fable, so I can forgive the occasionally clumsy execution. It still feels like a soothing sunset for our gloomy January. It’s like a song with enigmatic lyrics – when you play it, there’s still something to be gained.

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