High school is tough. Tougher still when the end of the world is looming overhead. I imagine a lot of high schoolers over the past several years have been feeling that added dread, the idea of an extinction event. I try to think about when I was in high school and how I would be dealing with this uncertainty and I realize I’d have compartmentalized and simply never dealt with it. But the kids at Volcano High are a little more emotionally intelligent and honest about their emotions than I was, and more than probably most high schoolers are. While the extinction events are different, it’s clear that one inspired the other and that helped me connect to a world inhabited by anthropomorphic dinosaurs.
Goodbye Volcano High takes us through the life of Fang, a non-binary, anthropomorphic pterodactyl as they navigate their final year of high school. With them are their two best friends and bandmates, Trish the triceratops on guitar and Reed the velociraptor on drums. Their band, Worm Drama, has managed to secure an audition for a battle of the bands that, if won, would get them a spot to play at a local festival. Fang wants nothing more but to become a touring musician but not everyone in the band is on board with this idea.
Through the year we learn of the extinction event that is potentially going to happen soon. An asteroid is headed to what we’ll assume is Earth. Conceptually, the idea of the world ending could elicit any number of reactions, especially from teenagers. Regardless of how you might react, it’s nice to see the ambiguousness and diversity of emotional reactions play out in Goodbye Volcano High. My favorite reaction to this news is Trish’s. Trish is currently struggling with the choice of prioritizing her own happiness or her best friend’s. Eventually she realizes this decision isn’t binary. It’s interesting to see her bounce between being excited about her future and being thrown off that other characters aren’t considering the ramifications of this world-ending event.
Goodbye Volcano High’s story progresses through themes of inclusivity, trauma, tunnel vision, and friendship. The inclusivity theme permeates throughout the entire game, with a non-binary protagonist and several trans characters, though we don’t see the concepts bandied about lightly nor are they ham-fisted. While the primary group has no issue with how each other is represented and is very consistent in how they refer to their friends and respect their decisions, there are hints throughout the game of this not being consistent amongst adults. Sage, one of the trans characters, laments that while his family was initially accepting, they haven’t necessarily taken the transition very seriously. Likewise, Fang’s parents still use she/her pronouns and even prefer to use her deadname. These issues aren’t the central conflict but help elevate the stories and conflicts that they surround. No one conflict is isolated, and Goodbye Volcano High does a nice job of keeping things related.
I will always love the look of this game. Timeless. Simply put, the character art is gorgeous. Each character’s actions show you who they are but the character art brings it all to life. Though we see Goodbye Volcano High through Fang’s eyes, each character leaves a strong impression, be it Rosa’s flower-embroidered dress or Fang’s black choker. The characters are defined through their design. The background art, while colorful and vibrant, remains very static throughout the game. This hurts some scenes, making some feel more like static art images than scenes in an animation. However, as a result, some scenes become stunning and because the focus is on the characters, the game really brings the character animations alive.
Goodbye Volcano High is animated beautifully, and its animated scenes are indeed visually stunning. My favorite scenes were Worm Drama’s performances, with Fang standing on stage playing her guitar. While Fang and the band are animated, the performances are interspersed with static images of the crowd or whatever is going on in the story at that time. This is done to great effect, and while most of my focus is on making sure I’m hitting the correct notes, the images remind me why the performance is important to these characters.
I appreciate how simple the rhythm game portion of Goodbye Volcano High is. During slower portions, I was able to focus on the backgrounds, and when the rhythm picked up, I was able to match the pace. Not that I don’t shred in rhythm games; I’m a big fan. But the pacing for Goodbye Volcano High was just right in this case. Primarily, Goodbye Volcano High is a narrative adventure game, the rhythm aspect existing because Fang is a musician. Still, the rhythm sections could’ve just been ripped from Guitar Hero. The decision to come up with their own system works very well and provides a memorable experience.
Maybe unsurprisingly, the music is pretty good. I’ve been loving video game artists for a while now thanks to games like We Are OFK and Night in the Woods, and I think Worm Drama’s performances firmly place them alongside video game band royalty. The soundtrack, composed by developer KO_OP’s composer Dabu with singing performances by Fang’s VA Lachlan Watson and fellow musician Brigitte Naggar, is pleasing to listen to on its own. My favorite tracks are Don’t Call and Pretty Heroes. Furthermore, the performances and song choices in the game not only fit perfectly with the story but add and elevate the story beats as they happen.
No game is perfect and I believe Goodbye Volcano High has some technical issues that saddle it a bit. Though KO_OP has been vigilant about bug squashing and performance optimization, at the time of writing there were some issues worth noting. Often there would be a pregnant pause after a dialogue choice, which made tense scenes or ones I was particularly invested in feel a little awkward. This would also happen at the end of scenes, long enough that I started wondering if my PlayStation had frozen, but not long enough to mess with it. Finally, there were a couple of scenes where character art would outright disappear mid-scene and return a few frames later. Not a huge issue, but worth reporting.
Dialogue and choices are the primary mechanics in Goodbye Volcano High. For some reason, most narrative adventure games provide you with either word-by-word options or surprisingly glib responses. Goodbye Volcano High makes it clear that what you’re choosing isn’t a direct dialogue option but rather the vibe by which Fang is responding to another character. This is done refreshingly well. I was never surprised by what the character said based on the choice I had made. Moreover, directly telling the player that the choices are more vibe-based is very cool and relieving while playing.
Goodbye Volcano High doesn’t feel like it’s treading on new territory, but rather refining a genre that already exists. With every song played, character met, and story beat processed, I felt Goodbye Volcano High managed to exceed my expectations. I laughed and I cried, and that makes it hard not to recommend the game. I’ll leave a quote from Reed to end off on: “Meh, dunno. Hard to think of a good ending right now.”