What’s the point of dreams when the world is ending?
Goodbye Volcano High
Release Date: 8/29/2023
While at times Goodbye Volcano High gets lost in the weeds, its heartfelt story and kickass music kept me engaged till the end.
Goodbye Volcano High is available on PS4, PS5, and PC.
A Steam PC key was provided for this review by the developer.
Goodbye Volcano High may be about anthropomorphic teenage dinosaurs, but the question at its heart couldn’t be more relevant today. The latest from experimental studio KO_OP, Goodbye Volcano High is a visual novel/rhythm game that follows a teen dino named Fang as they prepare for the most important show of their life.
They join bandmates Trish and Reed, all while finishing high school and trying not to worry about that asteroid passing perilously close to Earth. While Goodbye Volcano High sometimes gets lost in the weeds, its heartfelt story and kickass music kept me engaged till the end.
The first, most obvious, point to make about Goodbye Volcano High is that it looks and sounds phenomenal. If you’ve played a lot of visual novels, you’re probably used to a standard format for dialogue, where still images of characters take up most of the screen perched on top of a text box.
Goodbye Volcano High chucks that convention out entirely, instead turning every interaction into a fully animated, fully voiced scene. You could easily mistake it for an animated film if it weren’t for the frequent dialogue choices.
Music to my ears
Goodbye Volcano High puts a few novel spins on dialogue. For one, there’s a timer on most choices, so you’ll need to quickly decide what to say (or not to say). Fang isn’t exactly the chillest protagonist, either, which leads to some interesting quirks when you’re choosing your lines.
Sometimes they’ll get flustered and dialogue choices will switch positions while you try to select one. Things that are harder for them to say might make you hold down multiple buttons or tap rapidly to select them.
Fang will often say more than your dialogue choice indicates as well, which at first felt frustrating when their tone was different from what I expected, but all these effects end up as the perfect way to embody a moody teen who’s not entirely in control of their own big mouth.
Goodbye Volcano High’s voice acting is just as good as its art — not a single performance falls flat — though some audio problems do spoil things a bit. The quality of its sound recording varies wildly, with some lines coming out sounding like they were recorded in less-than-ideal environments or with lower-quality equipment.
Not a single performance falls flat — though some audio problems do spoil things a bit.
This is likely due to how much the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted in-person recording sessions in film and games. Clipped lines and audio cutting out early are also fairly common occurrences.
Despite the uneven voice quality, the same problems don’t seem to have plagued Goodbye Volcano High’s music. That’s fortunate because music plays a major role, as you’d expect from a story about a band.
Fang’s band, Worm Drama, is headed for the local Battle of the Bands, where the best act will get to play at the upcoming CalderaFest in front of an audience of thousands. As the deadline looms closer, Fang struggles to write an entirely new set for the concert and convince their bandmates to show up to practice.
Throughout the game, as Fang practices their new songs and finally plays them at the Battle of the Bands, Goodbye Volcano High becomes a rhythm game with a few different mechanics. You’ll need to match notes coming from the sides of the screen with one joystick, pull down on both sticks when two arrows drop down on either side in tandem, and hit face buttons in time as they appear onscreen.
It can be overwhelming to play so many different kinds of notes at once, which, just like the quirks of some dialogue choices, made me feel like a teenager struggling to learn something new.
Goodbye Volcano High’s musical sequences usually come at emotional high points, and they contain most of the game’s best moments. As you perform, you’ll sometimes just watch scenes of the band playing.
But, in the most effective of them, you’ll instead see a collage of moments that are on Fang’s mind as they play. They tell the story of why they wrote this song and what’s on their mind as they sing. It’s an extremely effective way to bring Fang’s emotions to the forefront and I only wish there were more of them in the game.
Growing pains of Goodbye Volcano High
Unfortunately, Goodbye Volcano High’s story is a little more uneven when it’s being told in a more traditional way. Writing believable dialogue for teenagers is a task I don’t envy.
However, for the most part, Goodbye Volcano High does it well, only occasionally veering into “How do you do fellow kids” territory. But while the writing stays sharp, the story being told loses its edge near the middle of its roughly five-hour runtime.
Even as Goodbye Volcano High’s story stumbles, it soars emotionally.
Goodbye Volcano High centers on teenagers coming to important crossroads in their lives while they can’t even be certain they’ll be around after high school. They all have different ways of dealing with stress, from ignoring it to sinking into depression.
I can’t imagine a more potent or timely story to tell right now, but instead of honing in on that powerful hook, Goodbye Volcano High meanders. In a couple of extended sequences, the gang plays a Dungeons & Dragons homage that’s not nearly interesting enough to sustain its length. It ends up feeling like a half-hearted metaphor that just takes time away from the real story.
When the focus comes back to the core story, Goodbye Volcano High runs out of steam. The game ends with a few cathartic conversations and a final performance, but nothing feels resolved as the credits roll.
Everyone essentially just decides to stick with their friends and do the things that they would have done anyway if the world weren’t ending. That’s not a bad idea. But, the path they take to acceptance doesn’t have nearly enough drama for its impossible high stakes.
Goodbye Volcano High is rough and uneven, but it still contains some of the best individual moments I’ve had with a game all year.
Even as Goodbye Volcano High’s story stumbles, it soars emotionally. By the game’s finale, its band drama and apocalypse plotlines alike were running out of steam, but I still felt every bit of Fang’s anger and hope and joy as they played their final song.
Of everything it gets right about teenagers, Goodbye Volcano High most seems to understand the turmoil. Friends fight and make up, confess their crushes then push each other away, sink to their depths but still show up when they need to.
Likewise, Goodbye Volcano High is rough and uneven, but it still contains some of the best individual moments I’ve had with a game all year.