This year has been fantastic for story-driven video games. A few months after the release of NORCO, an exhilarating but unsettling point-and-click adventure, came Citizen Sleeper, a cerebral science fiction story with several narrative strands. But I Was a Teenage Exocolonist has suddenly emerged as my favorite of the bunch. It follows the first human space colonists as they establish themselves on a distant planet (apparently) devoid of complex life.
The time loop mechanism adds a lot of replay value to this narrative role-playing game’s deck-building, card-based combat, and skill-based checking gameplay.
Your spacecraft lands on the alien planet Vertumna when your character is 10 years old, and the game spans that ten years as the colony struggles to thrive. After that, you’ll be immersed in an emotional role-playing story about growing up, making difficult decisions, protecting the environment, and, ultimately, human nature. The way it dealt with the theme of colonization really intrigued me.
The colonists, disillusioned with Earth’s culture and feeling oppressed by the ruling government, flee in a spacecraft to start a new society someplace else. However, the colonists do not share a uniform set of beliefs or practices. They behave in a manner consistent with their nature as disorderly, hypocritical humans. If the decisions you make in life conflict with those of your parents and other adults in your life, you may find yourself more isolated.
Colorful graphics and friendly-looking characters could lead you to believe that this game is all smiles and friendship-making on the farm. Ten years is a long time to explore serious topics like mortality, poverty, and hunger with a single character. It’s never too much, in my view, but if you’re worried about spoilers, you can always check through the menu’s extensive list of “content warnings” before digging in.
There are 13 months in a year, and you need to come up with something to do every single one of them. Depending on your age and level of development, this may be anything from learning a skill to assisting grownups with housework to adventuring in the foreign wilderness. This is the primary loop of gameplay, and it’s a lot of fun once you get the hang of it.
Doing a little of everything is recommended so that you don’t miss any major story developments that may occur during any of these pursuits. You’ll feel more connected to the other people in the game, the colony, and the planet as a whole if you take the time to look for the hundreds of tiny scenes hidden within these pursuits. Each scene flows naturally into the next and is performed with great sincerity.
However, unlike the other tasks that need to be completed each month, surveying can’t be done with a simple card combat. These segments allow you to travel to different parts of the earth and experience both scripted and procedurally generated events.
It’s a pity that this is the last time you’ll get a decent look at Vertumna since so much work went into making it appear gorgeous and feel plausible as a true ecosystem.
I can honestly say that, of all the role-playing games I’ve played, Teenage Exocolonist offers the most inclusive cast and character creation choices. The children and adults of the colony represent a wide range of racial, ethnic, and sexual orientations and expressions.
The appearance of your character is not affected by the pronouns you choose for them, which includes non-binary pronouns. You get to decide for yourself whether your character will age with a masculine, androgynous, or feminine appearance.
Even this does not decide your ‘bits’; rather, the game asks you, in a respectful manner, what features of puberty will be significant to you when you reach the age of 13, and then modifies a few flavor lines. In fact, you may decide to completely sidestep the issue.
Additional choices will appear after you choose non-binary pronouns. They/Them (single and plural) is acceptable, as is the usage of other pronouns of your choosing. Playing as a character that uses more than one pronoun, such as She/They or He/Xe, is as easy as selecting the situations in which you want those pronouns to appear.
Gender-specific terms, such as “auntie” or “uncle” or “boyfriend” or “girlfriend,” may be replaced with their gender-neutral counterparts. For non-binary players, who don’t always see their chosen pronouns in games, this is a fantastic addition.
If you’re looking for a romantic partner, it doesn’t matter what gender you are. Your swoon-worthy contemporaries all mature into strikingly gorgeous adults, but not all of them follow the same beauty standards. And I like the period of time between ages 14 and 16 when they go through the uncomfortable pimply stage. And certainly, you shouldn’t fret. A kiss with an extraterrestrial is possible.
Your card battles will occur throughout your monthly activity and whenever the plot requires them. Having a solid hand of “Memory Cards” is crucial to winning. At certain points in the tale, your character will be given new cards to add to his or her collection, representing fresh memories and experiences.
The suits (bodily, intellectual, and interpersonal) and values (1–10) are indicated by the cards’ respective colors. In this game, you compete against the dealer to build the best possible hand, with bonus points provided for straights, flushes, and full houses. Your hand is a winner if its value equals or exceeds the criterion set for victory.
The contents of your deck of Memory cards, including the suits and relative strengths of the cards, are determined by the activities and story paths you’ve prioritized over the course of each month.
What a fantastic concept for a coming-of-age tale! Each card is carefully drawn, and its corresponding memory label always refers to an event that really occurred during that run. The card fights seem more immersive since it feels like your character is relying on their own experiences to conquer each new difficulty.
As you go through the game, you’ll be gradually introduced to the system, making it simple to pick up. Extra effects on late-game cards allow for the formation of powerful combinations and are a common feature of many decks at that point.
If the in-game gallery is to be believed, I still haven’t found half of the available cards in the game after two complete playthroughs, and that’s despite the fact that I’ve looked at every single one of them. If you’re having trouble winning a hand, you may resort to a number of strategies, such as using objects that increase card values. After a time, it may seem too simple, but there is always the option to switch to “hard mode.”
There are too many secrets in the game to find them all in a single gameplay. Teenage Exocolonist’s subsequent playthroughs are a lot of fun thanks to the character strangely remembering chunks of their ‘previous life,’ which will please fans of branching narratives like myself.
You may prevent catastrophes from happening and complete tasks that would have taken months or years earlier using the information you get from seeing into the future. The flashes of other histories seen by your protagonist are seamlessly integrated into the story.
People who don’t want to or can’t play a game more than once won’t experience its full potential. The game is designed such that you will want to play it more than once, thus the ending of your first playtime will likely leave you wanting more (unless you’ve been really fortunate).
I was reminded of another game that depends on you replaying it for a better conclusion, Undertale. This improves the game for those who take use of it, but it disadvantages others who would rather not. This is a subjective comparison, however it must be mentioned that this game offers many more endings than Undertale.
If it seems interesting to you, then I think you’ll like Teenage Exocolonist a lot. Though I still suggest it, it may not have the same impact on you if you find that thinking about it merely tires you out.
Overall, I rate I Was a Teenage Exocolonist 9 out of 10
Highly affecting story with a dash of intrigue
Skirmishes on cards that are simple to pick up and don’t take away from the narrative
Gorgeous character and setting art
Individually editable pronouns!
To really appreciate this game, numerous plays are required.
In a nutshell: It’s rare to find a story-driven role-playing game that packs so much content into such a compact form. You will ponder, laugh, weep, and maybe even blush while reading I Was a Teenage Exocolonist. Anyone who appreciates narrative games should give this a try, as it has gorgeous character graphics and a scenario that feels authentic throughout. Even if a single game may take you 5-10 hours, there will always be something you missed and want to see again.
Starting as a freelancer in 2017 while speed running Demon Souls, Greg eventually took a full-time position at Good2Game in 2021, where he serves as Associate Editor. He got his start in the industry making games, and he’s always been interested in the inner workings of games through the modding and speedrunning communities. He enjoys lengthy JRPGs, action survival games, and cooperative sandbox games.