Goodbye volcano high is a game with an intriguing premise. In this teen drama, dinosaurs try to figure out their future while a visitor from outer space threatens to destroy them prematurely. If you don’t know how the Cretaceous period ended, there are spoilers, but things don’t look good for our protagonists.
Goodbye volcano high is what happens when someone plays Life is strange and believes there needs to be more dinosaurs and a much greater environmental threat. You play the role of Fang, a young musician entering his senior year of high school with a big dream of going on tour and singing for millions of adoring fans. However, over the course of the year, they must deal with friendship drama, a mysterious secret admirer, and self-esteem issues. This is all happening while the news is talking about an asteroid heading straight for the planet.
Goodbye volcano high is a visual novel in which much of the interactivity comes in the form of choices. As the story progresses you are offered various answers for Fang, as you would expect from games of this type. However, the game loves to play around with these options, often presenting them in different text box styles depending on the emotion being expressed. Some choices even require you to hold down both shoulder buttons, with the PS5’s haptic feedback providing resistance to represent how difficult it is for Fang to pronounce that option. It’s a nice gesture.
Likewise, there are moments when choices are moved or locked when you try to select them. There was a moment where I tried to make a snarky remark to Fang’s brother and was immediately told that it was “too mean” and that I had to choose something else.
However, this is not the only game mechanic. After all, Fang is a musician and much of the game’s story revolves around preparing for the local Battle of the Bands competition. That means songs, and lots of them. Even better, these musical moments are interactive, as a whole rhythm game kicks off using the stick and face buttons in various combinations to play along.
These sections were a delight as the mechanics here presented a surprising number of challenges. It also helped that the songs themselves were extremely good. They have a dreamy indie pop feel that I really appreciate. My only criticism of these rhythm sections is that there is no unlockable song playback mode that you can jump into and try out your favorites again. Maybe my brain was confused because I came up with this after Samba de Amigo, but I was incredibly disappointed that this mode didn’t unlock after the credits rolled. Please patch this, KO_OP. I’m begging you.
The real appeal here is of course the story. The character writing is excellent. Fang is a likeable character full of big dreams and little self-confidence. Her struggle is one that many players have likely experienced, especially for the creatives in the audience. Her bandmates Trish and Reed are both likeable in their stupidity. I rooted for Fang and Trish to be able to address the issues in their friendship because they were both good kids who deserved each other’s support. I didn’t necessarily like some of the amazing performances, but there weren’t many moments where I felt like the less interesting characters got in the way of the overarching story.
The story is also really warm, asks a lot of difficult questions and still conveys a cozy atmosphere for long stretches. It’s a game that tries to find answers and meaning in situations where you know your time is running out. It explores the idea of how to live your best life right now because you never know what the future might bring. And while it feels a little cheesy, its earnest tribute to the power of friendship is uplifting. The ending even brought me to tears. The cast was so likeable and the finale was so defiant and powerful that it captured my feelings and skilfully summarized them.
That’s why it’s so sad for me to have to point out the many obvious shortcomings Goodbye volcano high suffers from. You see, while the game is at times a heartfelt, life-affirming work of art, it also spends a lot of time just meandering around. While there is certainly some significant drama in the story, it also tries too hard to be nice. Conflicts are often quickly resolved, a lot of time is spent staring at group chats, and far too much time is devoted to the more boring aspects of high school, like yearbook photos and assemblies. The result is an experience that can sometimes feel disjointed, full of emotion one moment and dull the next.
I also found the in-universe Dungeons and dragons Pastiche to be a little tiring. The storytelling shifts to a style closer to standard visual novels, with everyone’s (except the game master’s) voice lines now replaced with Animal Crossing Style gobbledygook. At best, these outings offered a fantasy counterpart to the characters dealing with their real-world problems. In the worst case, however, it was a long journey through an interactive story with no context and with which you have nothing to do.
I couldn’t help but compare it to a similar sequence in Life is Strange: True Colors. Both games belong to a similar genre, with a section where the characters take part in a real-life role-playing scenario. However, the LARP section was probably my favorite part Real colorsI was often willing to do this D&D meetings in Goodbye volcano high finish. Sometimes it felt like the authors were including their own D&D Play into the story because they thought it was cool, as opposed to something that served the story as a whole.
The decisions also seem inconsequential. Even right now it feels like it doesn’t matter what you say because the result is the same. In some cases the choices are all variations on the same idea, leaving me wondering why there was a choice at all. The most glaring example of this apparent illusion of choice was an important decision made in the opening scene. This scene resurfaces later in the game, when my previous choice was summarily discarded without any input from me.
The visual design of Goodbye volcano high is also a problem. The character designs are good, with the faces being particularly expressive. It’s only when you start going beyond the faces that the cracks start to appear. Full-body shots show character models with rigid postures, while stiff animations overwhelm anything more strenuous than simple hand gestures. While I respect the game’s aim for a very distinct visual style, it’s unfortunate that the end result often feels uncomfortably like the early entries of a mid-2000s webcomic.
It doesn’t help that the game is riddled with technical issues. It often happened that the voice lines took forever to load or sometimes stopped halfway through. The lip sync often stopped. Sometimes scenes would go black, then flicker in and out a bit before cutting back to what they were supposed to. This happened so often during my playthrough that I wondered how any of it passed the playtest.
Making all these problems Goodbye volcano high frustrating to judge. The problems were so glaring that I could hardly ignore them. However, the emotional response the ending evoked in me was a testament to how close it was to greatness.
Goodbye volcano high will be an acquired taste. When it really gets going, it’s a meaningful exploration of finding meaning in friendship and the present moment, set to a killer soundtrack. You just have to fight through a lot of technical and pacing issues to get to the core.
Goodbye volcano high is available now for PS5, PS4 and PC.