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Goodbye Volcano High Review

Love like the world is ending

We all know the story of the end of the dinosaurs. A giant space rock decided it was their time, colliding with our planet and putting an end to a species we continue to be enthralled by today. Going so far as to splice their DNA with frogs to bring them back to life, creating an entire theme park out of their re-existence. Shame they escaped, but what can you do. While we continue to discover new fossils that dig up our prior theories, I doubt anyone would consider our predecessors to have built cities, attend high schools or rock out to some mad jams.

Goodbye Volcano High wants us to ponder just such a scenario, introducing us to young Fang and her dreams of becoming a rockstar. Her senior year is about to begin, and with a fresh look and renewed focus on her musical goals, she begins a road that doesn’t go anywhere near what she expected. The world is about to come crashing down around her, literally, as a recently discovered asteroid hurtles towards the planet, and it’s down to your decisions as to how her and those she considers her best friends live out their final days. This humbling situation, that sense of the unknown, looms heavily over Fang’s story as she struggles with her own goals and the friendships she tries to maintain.

Gameplay splits itself between visual novel with branching dialogue options and interactive musical numbers, with a few variations on both that involve selecting the outcome you’d prefer to follow through. Each choice plays a role in everything Fang will do, whether that’s creating the logo for her band Worm Drama, choosing the lyrics of an opening song, or responding to her fellow dino-friends’ issues of love and confusion. How will you react to drummer Reed’s love of L&L (and in-game equivalent to Dungeons and Dragons), best friend Trish’s newfound interest in bug life as opposed to band life, or your brother Naser’s struggles with finding his own path? Every character has a part to play in Fang’s final moments, and every decision you make will determine how said characters will follow her through this journey.

Even dinosaurs can use social media, don’t you know

In-between, the rhythm mini-games will keep you focused, though they are far from complex. The on-screen prompts are simple enough to follow, whether hitting one of the face buttons at the right time or pointing the left stick in the correct direction. Mastering them might take a little, but they serve their purpose in providing pleasant, soft-rock melodies to jam to while breaking up the otherwise heavy dialogue focus. It’s one of Goodbye Volcano High’s biggest strengths, melancholy lyrics of love, loss, and self-discovery that I couldn’t help but be moved by. There’s a particular piano number part-way through that’s a clear standout to me, but every song has a lovely, bittersweet flash of inspiration amongst the chords.

Equally so is the story itself. I’ve completed it twice, each time taking roughly six hours, and though results across the final few scenes of hope in the face of fear remain similar, there’s plenty of unique sequences you wouldn’t otherwise witness without more than one playthrough. The cast of characters are a joy to watch, diverse in their ways and superbly animated, brought to life by a voicecast that should be commended. Fang may be the lead character, but everyone involved has a full arc and moments that make you fall in love with them or laugh at their antics. No one character stands above the rest, which is testament to a well-crafted tale knowing how important an ensemble can be.

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As the story shifts from living out the last year of high school to the last year of their lives, there’s a sudden time jump that feels like it could have been so easily filled out with more direct reactions to the end of the world. Or, perhaps, a few scenes sharing the reaction to the news that things are about to go from bad to worse. Instead, the primary focus remains the relationship between Fang, Reed and Trish and their continued butting of heads over where the band should go, if anywhere at all. It’s the primary mediation of Goodbye Volcano High, which feels more laidback and reflective of one’s meaning and purpose in the world than the broader strokes of a planet and her people on the verge of being wiped out. That’s perfectly serviceable here, as a visual novel that wants us not to be afraid of the inevitable, but to live the ups and downs of teenagers looking for adult answers before time runs out.

Each song is a clear standout across the story

It’s unfortunate, despite a tale otherwise enjoyably orchestrated, that many of Goodbye Volcano High’s technical weaknesses hold it back. I came across a handful of audio and visual bugs, be it backgrounds not loading in correctly as the camera switches between views, or certain voiceovers cutting out or not playing at all. That didn’t pull me out of the story per se but it’s rather obvious how much the engine used hasn’t quite been effectively streamlined. There are also some strange decisions at times as to how certain scenes progress, a lack of cohesive pacing or sudden lack of voiceovers that could have more better impacted said events on screen compared to how they are portrayed.

These shortcomings could reflect the challenges faced by KO_OP, having previously delayed the game multiple years thanks to a reboot of the narrative, wanting to avoid development crunch during COVID protocols, and facing heavy harassment against its characters and themes by those who wish to undermine the LGBTQIA+ community at every turn. Technical snafus aside, there’s an important tale here that many will (and should) gravitate towards. It cannot be said enough how powerful it continues to be to find representation, even in the form of human-like dinosaurs, within the video games industry. Even more so, to follow a story that doesn’t look down on the lifestyles of those that inhabit it, crafting an accepting society that’s rightfully concerned about the more important things than what someone personally feels or what makes them happy.

Final Thoughts

Fang finds comfort in what she cares about the most, both her talent in song and those that have her back. Considering the choices you may make, these two factors always remain at the forefront, and it’s a life lesson we can all take away from it as we look upon our own society as it stands. It could have been broader in its tale, perhaps even a little longer, but I enjoyed watching Fang’s story unfold. Despite Goodbye Volcano High’s technical limitations in places, I’m sure many others looking for a chill but reflective story of love (worm) drama will too.

Reviewed on PS5 // Review code supplied by publisher

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Goodbye Volcano High Review
Goodbye and good luck
As the lyrics from the song Reunion asks, was it worth it all? I can happily say, yes. Despite its problems, Goodbye Volcano High is every bit worth it, and I’d happily spend more time with Worm Drama if I could.
The Good
A simple but wholesome narrative of love and friendship
Good quality animation coupled with first-class acting
Satisfying musical score
Gameplay is easy but effective
The Bad
Technical issues hold it back
Story could have benefitted with more time in the middle stretch
A few pacing tweaks may have also helped
8
Get Around It
  • KO_OP
  • KO_OP
  • PS5 / PS4 / PC
  • August 29, 2023

Goodbye Volcano High Review
Goodbye and good luck
As the lyrics from the song Reunion asks, was it worth it all? I can happily say, yes. Despite its problems, Goodbye Volcano High is every bit worth it, and I’d happily spend more time with Worm Drama if I could.
The Good
A simple but wholesome narrative of love and friendship
Good quality animation coupled with first-class acting
Satisfying musical score
Gameplay is easy but effective
The Bad
Technical issues hold it back
Story could have benefitted with more time in the middle stretch
A few pacing tweaks may have also helped
8
Get Around It
Written By Mark Isaacson

Known on the internet as Kartanym, Mark has been in and out of the gaming scene since what feels like forever, growing up on Nintendo and evolving through the advent of PC first person shooters, PlayStation and virtual reality. He'll try anything at least once and considers himself the one true king of Tetris by politely ignoring the world records.

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