Set in the shadow of an impending apocalypse, Goodbye Volcano High is an emotional teen drama full of beautiful animation and superb performances. Here’s our review:
Video games do love a good apocalypse, an easy set-up for heroes to save the world or imagine a new world that comes after it. But what if there is no post-apocalypse and there’s nothing that can be done to prevent the end in sight? Such is the premise of Goodbye Volcano High, which is, as you might imagine, high on raw emotions, yet far from bleak.
With a meteor featured on the game’s logo, the first I think to have been used since the iconic Final Fantasy VII logo, it’s a threat that’s gradually teased out, first from disruptions to electronic devices then news reports that play around with the uncertainty of such a disaster striking. Of course, when the world of Goodbye Volcano High is populated by anthropomorphic cartoon dinosaurs, it’s probably not a spoiler to say that yes, you really are going through an extinction event.
Compared to doomsday films like Melancholia or Don’t Look Up, though, we never explicitly see the space rock itself, and the game isn’t set up as a satirical allegory of the climate crisis – arguably humanity’s own extinction event. Instead, Goodbye Volcano High focuses on the trials and tribulations of senior high school year, which for many people often does feel like its own end of the world.
For protagonist Fang, a non-binary pterodactyl (voiced by non-binary actor Lachlan Watson), their focus is on getting their group, Worm Drama, into a battle of the bands competition – all in the hopes of playing a big festival that will fulfill their dream to go on tour with their friends. Coming from a small artist-run indie studio, you sense that KO_OP understands all too well the opposition that comes when trying to follow your creative dreams. With an added layer of cultural pressure, as Fang’s off-screen parents, from a marginalised background, feign to understand their offspring’s passion and would rather they become a doctor or lawyer.
To an extent, an unabashedly queer narrative game presented like an animated series about a band trying to get their big music break makes Goodbye Volcano High feel like a companion piece to last year’s excellent We Are OFK. Both tap into zoomer lingo in both dialogue and interactions over texts and group chats, though there’s still a generational gap; We Are OFK was about twenty-somethings with actual careers whereas here we’re dealing with teens still figuring out what they want to be. One underlying tension is that Fang’s bandmates may not actually share the same dream as them.
As much as I loved We Are OFK, however, KO_OP’s game is much more successfully executed. For one, there’s the beautiful hand-drawn animated art style that really does feel like you’re watching a quality animated show on Netflix like Bojack Horseman or Tuca & Bertie – my one complaint is that there appears to be no option to select its eight episodes to replay, while the PS5 version seems to have a bug that prevented trophies from triggering when I did come to the end of an episode.
And whereas OFK was more of something you just watched, to the point where its developers referred to it as an ‘interactive series’ rather than a game, Volcano High provides more for you to do, peppering the narrative with different choices, from writing lyrics to a song, to designing your band’s logo. More meaningful are dialogue choices that affect how your relationship develops with both your bandmates and other friends in your circle, such as scatty best friend Trish, bookish but endearingly awkward Naomi, eager baker Sage, as well as a subplot involving a secret admirer.
As a game about music, there’s also a rhythm mini-game that plays regularly, whether it’s during band practice, an impromptu home performance, or the big make-or-break audition and live gigs. It’s a little more accessible as you need only hold the left stick up, left, or right to catch incoming note icons, whereas actual timed presses are less frequent QTEs that feel more impactful, such as bringing both sticks down together to mimic power chords. Despite the band name, I’m not sure I’d classify any of the songs as earworms – they have more of a melancholic indie folk vibe – but it’s hard not to get swayed in the moment, carried wonderfully by Brigitte Naggar, who provides Fang’s singing vocals.
The game also playfully handles dialogue choices, which sometimes require a moment to parse as they aren’t always literally the response Fang gives – instead they reflect their state of mind. A moment that leaves them flustered, for instance, has dialogue boxes switching positions erratically, while other times the boxes are shaped differently to hint at the tone of the response, such as sharp angular edges for something biting and snarky (tellingly, an interaction with their younger overachieving brother Naser has all four responses with these boxes) while flames are a sign they’re probably going to lose their temper.
Another central story component is told through the group having the equivalent of Dungeons & Dragons sessions, temporarily transforming the game into a sort of role-playing visual novel with a different character art style, though I did wish the cast continued voicing themselves instead of being replaced by gibberish voices. These sequences perhaps go on longer than necessary but, just as many people found solace and connection in D&D during the pandemic, it provides the group a sense of comfort and a way to save the world through fantasy, while still reflecting bandmate and DM Reed’s own preoccupation with impending doom.
As the reality of the situation starts hitting home in the second half, you might expect things to get more chaotic and break down, yet there’s also an undercurrent of kindness permeating Goodbye Volcano High. For a game set in high school, it’s bereft of the stock bullies or cliques, with a strange focus on the mundane, such as college applications and assemblies. There are moments of despair as the school and businesses close, and some characters start lashing out at one another, but if you’re after a drama where the worst of times inevitably have people giving into their worst impulses, then that’s not what KO_OP is going for here. I feel that’s largely a decision to ensure this cast of queer, marginalised dinosaurs still have a safe space, to envision a utopian society even if an asteroid’s going to end it all.
So despite the world-ending premise, Goodbye Volcano High lacks grand stakes or huge decisions that demand great sacrifice. But hey, when you’re powerless to do anything to stop the end of the world, all you can do to paraphrase a character’s dying words in Shenmue – is keep friends and those you love close to you.
Representations of social media tend to be for exposition or poor satire in games, but the timeline of posts found in Goodbye Volcano High’s pause menu really does feel like what you might read when scrolling through a real app. That includes the unfiltered nature of posts, be it oversharing, petty discourse, or the default of joking about serious events. It’s authentically cringe, you might say.
With beautiful animation, winning performances, and playful interactions, this is both a timely and emotional story that’s not about saving the world but trying to do your best with the people you care about.