Goodbye Volcano High is a game with an intriguing premise. This teen drama game stars dinosaurs figuring out their futures while a visitor from space threatens to end them prematurely. If you don’t know how the Cretaceous period ended, then spoilers lie ahead, but things don’t look good for our protagonists.

Goodbye Volcano High is what happens when someone plays Life is Strange and thinks it needs more dinosaurs and a much larger environmental threat. You play as Fang, a young musician entering their senior year of high school with big dreams of going on tour and singing for millions of adoring fans. However, as the year progresses, they have to deal with friendship drama, a mysterious secret admirer, and self-esteem issues. This all happens while the news talks about an asteroid hurtling straight towards the planet.

Goodbye Volcano High Rhythm Game

Screenshot by Siliconera

Goodbye Volcano High is a visual novel, one where much of the interactivity comes in the form of choices. As the story progresses, you are offered different responses for Fang, as you’d expect from games of this type. However, the game loves to play around with these options, often presenting them in different styles of text box depending on the emotion expressed. Some choices even require you to hold down both shoulder buttons, with resistance from the PS5’s haptic feedback, to represent how difficult this option is for Fang to say. It’s a nice touch.

Similarly, there are moments where choices will move around or lock out as you try to select them. There was one moment where I attempted to make a snarky remark to Fang’s brother and was instantly told this was “too mean” and had to select something else.

That said, this isn’t the only gameplay mechanic. Fang is a musician, after all, and much of the game’s story involves preparing for the local Battle of the Bands competition. This means songs, and lots of them. Even better, these musical moments are interactive, as a whole rhythm game crashes in, using the stick and face buttons in different combinations to play along.

These sections were a treat, as there was a surprising amount of challenge to the mechanics here. It also helped that the songs themselves were extremely good. There’s a dreamy indie pop feel to them, which I greatly appreciate. My sole criticism of these rhythm sections is that there’s no unlockable song replay mode where you can jump in and try out your favourites again. Maybe my brain’s been addled by coming into this off the back of Samba de Amigo, but I was incredibly disappointed to not have this mode unlock after the credits rolled. Please patch this in, KO_OP. I beg of you.

Goodbye Volcano High Fang Trish

Screenshot by Siliconera

Of course, the real draw here is the story. The character writing is superb. Fang is a relatable character, full of big dreams and small confidence. Their struggle is one that many players are likely to have experienced, especially for the creatives in the audience. Their fellow bandmembers, Trish and Reed, are both likable in their dorkiness. I was rooting for Fang and Trish to be able to address the problems in their friendship, because they were both good kids who deserved each other’s support. I didn’t necessarily like some of the orbiting cast, but there weren’t many moments where I felt the less interesting characters got in the way of the overarching story.

The story is also genuinely heartfelt, asking a lot of heavy questions while still maintaining a cozy feeling for much of its runtime. It’s a game that seeks 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 for now because you never know what the future might hold. And even if it does feel a little cheesy, its earnest celebration of the power of friendship is uplifting. The ending even managed to leave me in tears. The cast were so likeable, and the finale so defiant and powerful that it took over my emotions and expertly short circuited them.

Goodbye Volcano High Fang Texting

Screenshot by Siliconera

Which is why it’s so sad for me to have to point out the many glaring flaws that Goodbye Volcano High suffers from. You see, while there are times the game is a heartfelt, life-affirming work of art, it equally spends a lot of time meandering around. While there are certainly some significant dramas spread throughout the story, it also tries too hard to be nice. Conflicts are often resolved quickly, there’s a lot of time spent staring at group chats and far too much time dedicated to the more boring aspects of high school, such as yearbook photos and assemblies. It results in an experience that can sometimes feel disjointed, with high emotion one moment, and tedium in the next.

I also found the in-universe Dungeons and Dragons pastiche to be a little tiresome. The mode of storytelling shifts to a style closer to standard visual novels, where everyone’s voice lines (except the GM) now being replaced by Animal Crossing style gibberish. These outings at their best offered a fantasy counterpart to the characters dealing with their real-world problems. However, at their worst, they were long trudges through an unrelated interactive story you have no interaction with.

I couldn’t help but compare it to a similar sequence in Life is Strange: True Colors. Both games are in a similar genre, with a section where the characters take part in a real-world roleplay scenario. However, while the LARP section was arguably my favorite part of True Colors, I often found myself willing the D&D sessions in Goodbye Volcano High to end. It sometimes felt like the writers including their own D&D game in the story because they thought it was cool, as opposed to something that served the story at large.

The choices also tend to feel inconsequential. Even in the moment, it feels like it doesn’t matter what you say as the outcome is the same. In some cases, the choices are all variations on the same thought, making me question why a choice even existed in the first place. The most egregious example of this obvious illusion of choice was a significant decision made in the opening scene. This scene reappears later in the game, where my earlier choice was unceremoniously discarded without any input from me.

Goodbye Volcano High Band

Screenshot by Siliconera

The visual design of Goodbye Volcano High is also a problem. The character designs are fine, with faces being especially expressive. It’s when you start to go beyond the faces that the cracks begin to appear. Full body shots reveal character models with rigid posture, while stiff animation plagues anything more strenuous than basic hand gestures. While I respect the game aiming 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. There were many times where voice lines took an age to load in or would sometimes cut halfway through. Lip syncing would frequently break. Sometimes scenes would cut to black, then flicker back in and out a little before cutting to what it was supposed to. This sort of thing happened during my playthrough with such frequency that I wondered how any of it passed playtesting.

All these issues make Goodbye Volcano High frustrating to judge. The issues were glaring enough that I find them hard to overlook. However, the visceral emotional reaction it dragged out of me with its ending was a testament to how close it got to greatness.

Goodbye Volcano High is going to be an acquired taste. When it really gets going, it’s a meaningful exploration of finding meaning in friendship and the present moment, backed with a killer soundtrack. You just need to wade through a lot of technical problems and pacing issues to get to that heart.

Goodbye Volcano High is out now for PS5, PS4 and PC.

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By mrtrv

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