When is a video game over? Perhaps the most commonly accepted answer to this question for a single-player game is “when the credits roll.” At this point you are typically considered to have beaten the game, even if there is perhaps post-game content to finish or some collectibles or trophies you didn’t pick up. But in a game like ‘I Was a Teenage Exocolonist’ where the credits signify that you only got one of 29 possible conclusions to the game, seeing the credits just marks a new stage in your journey. One could say that getting all 29 endings – or at least getting the “best” ending – would be the true finale of the game. Here’s the thing: 29 is a lot of endings. At the time of writing, I’ve gotten four endings myself, and while I don’t really have a strong vision of what it would look like to get the “perfect” ending, I’ve seen some finales that feel good enough that striving for perfection feels less appealing as time goes on.
If you’re here and not familiar with ‘I Was a Teenage Exocolonist,’ here’s a brief overview. You play as a child born on the spaceship Stratospheric, a colony ship that’s bound for the planet Vertumna IV. You land there around your tenth birthday and live out your full teenage life in the new colony. Each month you choose how to spend your time: working the fields, exploring, studying and researching, manning the kitchens or caring for children, etc. Activities are represented as card challenges and victory in these challenges increases your stats and gives you currency. As time passes, you’ll have choices to make based on how you spent your time in the colony, and your decisions will shape the future of the colony in one of 29 different endings that come at the end of your teenage years, when your character turns 20.
Because of an event which occurred in the second ending that I found, your character has the ability to use information from other lives. As you play, you’ll encounter dialogue options with a wormhole which represent information from a past life. Using this information can change history, allowing you to know things you shouldn’t and circumvent problems that you predict in your dreams. This is where all the different endings come in – you want to live lives that are as distinct as possible in order to learn information you can use in other lives to make a difference and work towards the best possible outcome. This all sounds well and good on paper, but in my experience I am already starting to see where I am going to encounter pain points in terms of striving for the perfect ending.
The colony has six main locations where your character can find things to do: geoponics (farming, ranching), engineering (education, research), the lounge (cooking, childcare), the garrison (sports, military), command (administration, government), and expeditions (exploration, hunting). The most straightforward endings available to you involve devoting the majority of your life to working at a specific place and becoming an important person there. Two of my endings – both of the most recent ones I received – have been like that. However, some of these locations have enough overlap or teach skills essential to a different job that often you’ll be dealing with two at once. In my run where I became head of expeditions, I was also working full time in the garrison and could have made an effort to become chief of security instead. That means that in order to get one of the 29 other endings available to me, I need to do a playthrough that in most ways (other than perhaps my relationship choices) will be identical to one I have already done.
This is where the problem comes in for me. I am interested in replaying the game to the point that it has new and interesting things to offer me. My second playthrough felt fantastic. During my first run I had basically spent my entire teenage life inside the colony with my nose in a book – spending my second run doing the opposite and exploring outside the walls every day gave me so much new stuff to work with in terms of conversations and events. And when that exploration led to a unique ending that justified why my character had special powers, that felt great! But these named endings with more significant story implications are trickier to find as they require precise decision making, a combination of luck and (more likely) failing to get that ending on a previous run and using new information to make it happen the second go around.
Now I want to be clear that it isn’t as if there is no new content to be had when you do subsequent playthroughs of the game. In my most recent run I focused on working in command and becoming an administrator – specifically, I wanted to try to strive for a timeline where I managed to overthrow the colony’s governor. I did get an opportunity to try and make that happen, and that led to new dialogue and one or two new challenges that I had never seen before. Great! But in a game where you live 10 years of a character’s life, the majority of that new content happened during the final two years. I spent most of the run engaging primarily with scenes I had already witnessed in hopes of a good payoff very late in the game. For me personally, that isn’t a particularly fun way to spend my time.
One thing I tried to do in order to make the repeated run more compelling was playing the game in hard mode. This is something I do with other games as I play them over and over again – hard mode challenges you to truly master a game’s mechanics and implement new strategies that you’ve perhaps not tried before. At least, that’s how it works in other games. I’ve found that for ‘I Was a Teenage Exocolonist,’ hard mode doesn’t add much to the experience. The way the card challenges work in this game, you have a target number to reach with your cards and you earn extra rewards if you play the best possible version of your hand, regardless if you win or lose. All hard mode does is raise the target number on challenges, making it more likely that you will fail them. You can try to deal with this by focusing on abilities that give you card management such as empathy rank 1 (pay to remove cards instead of only removing them when you rest) or organizing rank 3 (choose not to take new cards you don’t want), but raising skills is essentially a side effect of making the decisions you need to get to a specific ending. So engaging hard mode doesn’t really do much for the game in terms of challenging you to try new strategies – you’re ultimately doing the same things and simply have a lower chance of winning.
Right now, I’m not entirely sure on whether or not I want to keep playing ‘I Was a Teenage Exocolonist.” My most recent two endings were both pretty solid in different ways; during my third ending, I saved all of the major characters who have achievements related to saving their lives in the first five or so years of the game. This resolved a lot of the mysteries that I was the most interested in. During the fourth ending, I accomplished something that felt major but ultimately still led to an ending that struck me as a bit generic. I have specific events that I know I kind of want to strive for, but by the same token I’m not sure if completing them will actually lead to an ending that feels meaningful to me. It seems like each time I play through the game, the payoff becomes lower and lower as opposed to building towards something that feels big and final, a true conclusion to my story. Do I stop now while I am relatively satisfied, or strive for that perfect payoff at the risk of burning out before I get there? I don’t know the answer right now, but if I keep playing I’ll try to follow this up with an article on whether or not the effort was worth it.
This all kind of reminds me of Monster Prom. The game has several endings, some generic and others specialized, but you have to trudge through so much repeated content to see them all. I ultimately concluded it wasn’t worth my time.
Perhaps following a guide could help? I dunno how feasible it would be to use a guide to find the best ending, and then do all the steps for it. Though, that’d take away a bit from actually completing it.
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I don’t think there are many solid guides out for this game yet. I tried looking up just how to meet one character and ended up on Reddit where people had conflicting advice on how to make it happen. And as you said, I would be hesitant to use a guide for endings since that would kind of take away from the experience.
I have played through one more ending since I wrote this article and that one may very well be where I stop – it brought together basically all my other playthroughs and had the most peaceful resolution of any of my attempts so far. It may not be the canonical “perfect ending” but I have a hard time imagining how things could work out much better for my character or the colony.
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