I Was A Teenage Exocolonist is a narrative triumph. It’s engrossing, tragic, gorgeous, horny, unexpected, and poignantly reflective of our own reality despite the fact it takes place amidst an infantile colony on the other side of the universe. Northway Games and Finji have crafted a tale of personal consequence, one where the biggest decisions our character can possibly make are insignificant to the wider picture of global colonisation and picking up the pieces of a human race that has long grown responsible for its own premature demise.

You might choose to become a rebel determined to poke holes in the sociopolitical structures that underpin your very existence, or instead be an apathetic citizen only interested in your own wellbeing. Establishing a career, finding love, and maintaining a circle of friends while knowingly oblivious to your own privilege amidst a homestead constantly on the brink of destruction. All these approaches are valid, and there’s a beauty in deciding to follow your heart and do the right thing, even if it dooms others to oblivion or plants a dark seed in your being that will soon blossom into resentment. There are so many moments of unparalleled joy and bitter heartbreak, making the journey feel ever so real despite its lofty premise.

Related: Saints Row's Biggest Failure Is How It Misunderstands Today's Youth

Even as I rolled credits for the first time and sat back in a state of unsure melancholy, I knew that my character could have become anyone or gone anywhere. So, I started the experience all over again, confident the mistakes I had made could be undone, or I could choose to build upon them in ways that are all but impossible to predict. Life is fleeting, so we best enjoy it.

As a child emerging onto a new planet for the first time, your mind is awash with curiosity. Having spent your entire life inside the confines of a colony ship, even the most mundane discoveries are ripe with fascination. Plants, animals, and the concept of fresh, breathable air are things you’ve never experienced before, and the early hours are spent learning about this new place and making friends as your guardians rush to establish order on the surface of an inherently hostile planet. Times are hard, and all we can do is take things as they come.

I found a charming innocence to it all that harkens back to our own childhoods when all we could do was roll with the punches and react to authority we were powerless to question. During the first few years, I often sought shelter in the arms of my doting father or learned lessons from my strict mother, oblivious that one day they might be stripped away from me. We celebrated birthdays in the comfort of our shared quarters, sneaking in early ration orders, and conjuring up presents from nothing, knowing that we could find love in the darkest places through sheer perseverance. I Was A Teenage Exocolonist might be a colourful and confident life sim on the wider reaches of space, but it’s also a tale lined with tragedy as we’re so often forced to make tough decisions and live with the consequences.

The narrative lasts for an in-game decade, concluding on your twentieth birthday as you go through puberty and establish the foundations of adulthood that you can either choose to embrace or turn away from. It’s nuanced in its writing, creating an immediate feeling of empathy for the entire cast regardless of their flaws. We grow up alongside said characters, watching them comprehend love and loss in similar ways to our own. Innocent sparring sessions and bouts of flirtation soon evolve into something far more substantial, often resulting in bittersweet ultimatums I never saw coming.

Seasons on this planet feature rain, sandstorms, and a hostile pollen that curses the land with an unexpected illness. The end of each year brings with it a prolonged darkness, giving ungodly monsters a chance to tear the colony to pieces and leave our loved ones with little means to defend themselves. It feels like each year is preparing for this eventuality, knowing that you can either choose to stand alongside the defenders or seek shelter in favour of your own salvation. I often didn’t have the skills required to hold a weapon, let alone use it without getting myself killed. So I hid away, occasionally finding the bravery to check on loved ones and save them from harm. Each decision came with relief or regret, and I’m not afraid to admit I reloaded my save on a number of occasions to chase after the desired outcome.

The characters you meet are all outstanding, but I’d be here for days describing each of them - so here are a few of my personal highlights. Anemone was born with a mutation that causes harsh scales to form in place of wounds, and thus is known to cause chaos and throw herself into scraps to subvert the identity placed upon her. She begins the game as a dear friend, but familial loss causes her to join the military, fighting for a morally grey cause that we can choose to embrace alongside her or leave behind. Tangent is an initially cold girl, her emotions held back by augments that prioritise raw knowledge over the capacity to comprehend human emotion. Yet we can peel away those layers and uncover something deeper. Cal loves animals and wants to understand the planet’s wildlife instead of choosing to fight it, while Marz is an egotistical bitch on the surface secretly harbouring a heart of gold.

Every person you meet is layered and prone to be misunderstood, outlooks often clouded by prejudices we form around how this colony should operate and who exactly we want to grow up to be. My first playthrough I was a reserved girl, often falling in line and supporting the colony leadership instead of questioning the mistakes being made that often forced us to starve due to lack of rations, or engage in battles we weren’t remotely ready for. I was a timid engineer repairing robots and teaching classes to a new generation, so who was I to take on the role of an authority figure when so many others were better placed to do so. Another playthrough saw me constantly fighting back against orders, pointing out inconsistencies in how this colony was being organised and how we were bound to repeat the very same mistakes that saw our home planet fall in the first place. All outlooks are valid, largely because I Was A Teenage Exocolonist provides so much versatility in its progression.

On the surface, it’s simple - and very similar to games like Stardew Valley. You explore the colony and engage in conversations, often choosing to give gifts to favoured characters and learn more about the colony with each passing day. This might also involve taking classes or helping out by delivering supplies, toiling away on the farm, or even venturing out to gather resources or become a seasoned hunter. Each individual path results in unfolding stories and character moments you wouldn’t engage with otherwise, making me both paranoid that I was always missing something yet also confident that, at least for this permutation of my character, that I was experiencing the right things and cementing my place in this world.

Each action feels minute, but you are always deepening relationships and building towards a climax that is entirely your own. Spoiling exactly where things go and how much of an impact you can have on the colony would be a dick move on my part, but the real brilliance comes from establishing a character who people come to care for, and how the people you meet and the things you do will leave behind a legacy on this new planet that won’t just fade into the fluorescent soil the moment your heart stops beating. It’s a simplistic game at its core, but one with myriad elements that are so masterfully executed that I couldn’t help but fall in love. There’s also a collectible card game underpinning much of your progress that I accidentally switched off in the menus and forgot about for my entire first playthrough.

It’s fine, yet acts as a barrier to storytelling as opposed to a meaningful mechanic. When attending classes, performing jobs, or overcoming obstacles, you will be thrown into a card game that asks you to achieve a specific number in order to emerge victorious. You do this by assembling a sequence of coloured cards - red, blue, and yellow - that each have their own distinct values and abilities. I often saw it as an obstacle to overcome, so I could delve back into the narrative, and am yet to purchase additional cards from a storefront in the colony when I can just brute force my way through the majority of challenges instead of sinking into the strategy of it all. I was enjoying the game more when I had accidentally turned the feature off altogether, convinced it just didn’t show up very much instead of realising I’d screwed myself over. I viewed it as an afterthought, and so should you.

Card game shenanigans are worth entertaining to witness this game at its best. There are so many moments that took my breath away. Whether it be the sudden loss of a loved one, my first kiss with a long unrequited crush, or a major step forward for the colony as a whole - I Was A Teenage Exocolonist is constantly surprising and unafraid to showcase a narrative ambition that so few games this year have been able to match. It’s effortless in its character writing, queer representation, and sense of place far beyond the stars. Yet even with all of these alien concepts and a tale woven far away from home, it still feels intrinsically human.

Northway Games has crafted one of my highlights of the year with this narrative adventure. It’s wonderfully engrossing and hiding so many worthwhile character moments and gorgeous secrets well worth uncovering. I’ve already spent so many hours with the game and feel like I have barely scratched the surface, prepared to dive back in and live out this life over and over again until I settle on an imperfect resolution that feels well and truly my own.

A review code was provided for the purposes of this review.

Next: The Last Of Us TV Show Teaser Shows That Faithfulness Might Hold It Back