PS4, PC, PS5
August 29, 2023
The last year of high school is a weird time; you’re still treated like a kid yet you’re asked to make so many life altering and adult decisions. To paraphrase Britney Spears – you’re a teen, not yet a grown-up. The narrative rhythm game Goodbye Volcano High deals with the complexities that come with this time in someone’s life. Add into the mix the possibility of an asteroid colliding with Earth and the teens of Volcano High’s lives become shrouded in more uncertainty and intensity.
Fang, the 18 year old non-binary teen dinosaur protagonist of the game feels pretty intensely about what they want. And that is for their band, Worm Drama, to win the local Battle of the Bands. This will allow them and their best friends/band mates to be able to hit the road and tour around the country over summer. Along for the ride is drummer Reed and guitarist Trish, who Fang has been besties with since they started high school. Whilst Fang is all about the band and creating new music, Reed is just as passionate about being the DM for his L&L group (the game’s version of D&D) and Trish is obsessed with bugs, especially her own, the slime producing creepy-crawly Mango. However, Fang’s only real focus is to make Worm Drama a success, which causes them to question their bandmate’s dedication to the band and develops a rift between themselves and their family.
Family wise, Fang feels like an outcast next to their Student Body President brother Naser, who even though he is younger than Fang, is much more responsible and the favourite of their parents. Fang’s parents, like Naser, are more academically focused and regularly call Fang by their dead name. They are away through the game, putting further emphasis on the distance between Fang and their parents; though the video calls gives the player a good indication that their parents aren’t quite sure how to talk to their queer, creative child.
The main gameplay mechanic in Goodbye Volcano High are the dialogue choices that you make for Fang. Though your choices won’t have an impact on the game’s ending (there is only one way the game will end), it does let you choose the kind of person you want your Fang to be and who they decide to spend their time with throughout the game. These choices don’t only come in speech format, but also text, which mainly comes into play when you are chatting with Fang’s mates but also when they are conversing with their “secret admirer” who the player also can decide Fang’s feelings towards. Do they find it endearing or nerve-wracking that they don’t know who has a crush on them? Will they be nice or defensive in the messages they send their admirer? The game also makes it obvious when a dialogue option will cause a possible negative reaction by the person Fang is conversing with. In these situations, you have to press down and hold two buttons (the LT and RT if you’re playing with a controller) which really prompts you to think if you’re making the right decision for your Fang.
The secondary gameplay element is the rhythm game sections, where you are tasked with playing Fang’s guitar in two ways. One is via hitting the beat exactly when moving circles, which come from all angles, meet the centre circle. The other is by pressing certain keys when a bigger circle encloses in on the smaller one. I liked the challenge of multitasking the beats but a lot of the time when moving my joysticks, my movements were not reflected accurately which was obviously frustrating.
The music of Worm Drama make up for this, however. All songs are originals composed by Dabu who has also worked on games like Dwarf Fortress and Boyfriend Dungeon. Volcano High’s soundtrack falls into the genre of dreamy indie pop, which matches the cartoon art style that includes slight artistic anime tropes (such as sweat beads if a character is nervous about something and enlarged pupils when they are excited). Another cool mini game is picking lyrics for some of the song’s that Fang composes. This gives you the opportunity to make the themes of Fang’s songs be either romantic, philosophical or whimsical. Again, it’s about creating the kind of Fang that you want.
“My favourite elements of the game are the ones that lean in to the queer and nerdy vibes…”
There are a few other creative game mechanics mixed in, such as when Fang enters an assembly or crowded area at school. In these moments, you get to hover over select characters and see their latest social media post and Fang’s feelings about them. Including this gives you an insight into the characters outside of Fang’s clique and makes the setting of Volcano High feel more alive. It also parades the range of dinosaur types throughout the school, which is aesthetically pleasing to encounter with their different heights, shapes, snout sizes, wings, talons and colours. The inclusion of the characters as dinosaurs adds an extra layer of whimsy to the game. Volcano High doesn’t really discuss the fact that they are dinosaurs; they are very much humanized in the way they eat human snacks, speak, and play musical instruments. Fang does use their wings every now and again but it seems the devs chose their characters to be dinosaurs for purely cosmetic reasons.
My favourite elements of the game are the ones that lean in to the queer and nerdy vibes Volcano High wears very much on its sleeve. Take for instance the tarot mini-game; Fang is asked to choose from three tarot cards before they embark on an important moment or make an important decision. These cards are provided by the bubbly Stella, who gives Fang her interpretation of the card she chooses and relates it to the matter at hand. It adds a philosophical lens to the narrative and provides some mystical foreshadowing. The L&L inclusion is also super fun and lets you experience a different dynamic between the group of friends. You actually get to play two campaigns, with Fang rolling D20s and playing as a character that Reed has especially created for them – a Dark Mage – which very much reflects their goth punk vibes.
The game also offers players the ability to access Fang’s social newsfeed where you can see the town’s teens react about the impending asteroid, school drama and the Battle of the Bands. Just like the way the game lets you interact with others member’s of Fangs cohort, it adds an extra spark to the world and provides more context to the player of what others are experiencing and feeling. It’s a good opportunity to get out of Fang’s head and experience the chaos of a town that is in the middle of catastrophe.
However, an element that I thought kind of lacking in purpose was the way the game provides a photo of special moments throughout the game. Sweet, yes, but the way that you have to play the game “multiple times” in order to collect them all really isn’t much of an incentive. Though the narrative and gameplay are fun and engaging, the lack of branching paths doesn’t make me want to rush to re-play it.
- Characters are fun and lovable
- Game lets you choose the kind of Fang you want to create via dialogue choices
- The original soundtrack is catchy and works well with the game's indie vibes
- Inclusion of queer and nerdy characters and gameplay make for an inclusive narrative experience
- Some issues with joystick controls during rhythm gameplay
- Photo collection is a bit of a boring incentive to replay the game
Goodbye Volcano High is a fun, nerdy, queer narrative adventure that focuses on the last days of high school, and possibly, the last days on earth, for a group of quirky teenagers. Its narrative is full of heart and players will fall in love with its concept and characters. Some gameplay elements can be a bit hit and miss, though overall, you’ll likely fall in love with the snappy dialogue and beautiful, wholesome relationship between these dino teens.