GAME REVIEW | One Last Chance to Live in "Goodbye Volcano High"
“Live every day like it’s your last. Because of these days, you’re gonna be right!” - Benny Hill (1924-1992)
In many forms of entertainment, the last year of high school is presented as the time where you have to give it your all. Senior year is that moment where you find yourself, spread your wings, and decide what you’re going to do for the rest of your life. But as we all know, the last year of high school isn’t the last year we can live to our fullest. However, in the case of Goodbye Volcano High, it most certainly is.
Focused mostly on the character of Fang, Goodbye Volcano High is about their quest for rock ‘n’ roll stardom. Their band VVorm Drama has the chance to be in the battle of the bands, which could lead to their biggest break yet. But there’s a little tension in the group, as guitarist Trish has her eyes set on a different future path and drummer Reed, well, just goes with the flow. Also, there’s an asteroid that heading towards Earth that could wipe out all of…dino-manity?
Yes, this is the visual novel filled with anthropomorphic dinosaurs, living their lives like a certain classic 1990s sitcom mated with Beverly Hills, 90210. VVorm Drama isn’t the only drama happening throughout Goodbye Volcano High, with many students struggling to figure out what they want in life. There’s things about finding one’s self, gender identity issues, friendships falling apart, and even secret crushes. So there’s a lot looming in Fang’s world besides a band audition, but it’s the one thing they’re thinking most about.
From band practice to songwriting, music plays a big factor in the narrative as a whole. Fang’s lyrics — be them written by themselves or with the aid of their mystery crush — focus a lot on their struggles that they’re going through. From self-doubt and parental acceptance to pushing on through as the world is about to end, many of the songs showcased here act as the emotional output of everything that happens in the story. It also helps that all of the songs are fantastic, ranging from the piano-backed “Won’t Forget” to the dream pop/shoegaze-like “Going Away”.
When it comes time for either Fang or the entirety of VVorm Drama to start playing, that’s where Goodbye Volcano High turns into a rhythm game. Pointing the joysticks properly and hitting the right buttons will result in getting a better reaction from those listening, including club owner LJ. It at first looks easy enough, but as the lyrics get more complicated, so do the button maneuvers. While it isn’t as tough as any Hatsune Miku game, it can be very easy to mess up a combo or hit the wrong note, as one can find themselves lost in the song’s vibes rather quickly.
Then again, there were also times where I had no idea if I was hitting the note or key properly. Only if you see a red X or a Perfect did I know if I hit it right or wrong, with other instances leaving me shrugging. Where other rhythm games will have “good” or “okay” prompts if you did fine, this game doesn’t let you know if you did well until the end, whether it’s a trophy notification or however the story progressed. It would’ve been a lot less stressful if I knew I was doing all right, but then again — like one’s high school days — it’s not until you actually see your test score when you know how you did.
Where the heart of Goodbye Volcano High resides in is during the L&L sessions. A satire of D&D, the fantasy role playing game Reed acts as Dungeon Master for mirrors the real goings-on with Fang, Trish, Naomi, and everyone else in the friends’ group. At first, the story is silly and fun, but as time goes by, Reed’s narrative takes a dark turn. Be it how two friends are currently interacting or the impending doom that literally looms over everyone’s heads, the story acts as a strong metaphor for the current goings-on of every student at Volcano High.
But that’s not the only place the narrative shines. Throughout the majority of KO_OP’s game, there are plenty of life high notes and struggles that are on display. From the strained relationship between Fang and their brother Naser to Sage’s gender transitioning hardships, much of the story is told in a way that is both relatable and poignant to today’s current social climate. It doesn’t bash these ideologies into the player’s head; it showcases them in a calm and mature manner that makes it very easy to understand the circumstances at hand.
It also helps that Goodbye Volcano High sports some pretty strong visuals. Feeling more like an interactive cartoon than a video game, the story unfolds with some pretty good [adult swim]-quality animation. However, there were times where a character’s mouth didn’t move while they were talking, or the animation looked slightly choppy (especially when there was more than six characters on screen). Thankfully, these hiccups didn’t take away anything from the solid story it is telling.
Goodbye Volcano High can take about eight hours to beat on the first play-though. As you can build stronger friendships with whomever you interact with, replays can result in discovering new stories and new photos with other characters. The one downside is that there isn’t a chapter option to be found, which would make trying to 100% the game a little easier.
But this game feels like it’s meant to be played from start-to-finish multiple times. Like repeat binge-watching your favorite Netflix show, KO_OP’s game will have you discover new things every time you press the Play button. Whether it’s something right in front of you like a new character interaction or a cheeky little Easter egg in a rock club poster, you’ll find something you didn’t catch the first time around that’ll either make you think or — at the very least — crack a smile.
- Great story
- Memorable characters
- Beautiful music
- Rhythm games results can be confusing
- Animation can feel choppy at times
It may be about dinosaurs, but Goodbye Volcano High captures what the final year of high school is like in today’s era. With its relatable characters and beautiful soundtrack, KO_OP’s game is one of the strongest Western visual novels to come around in a long time. While it shouldn’t take the end of the world for others to realize it, Goodbye Volcano High demonstrates the power of friendship and music in a gorgeous and heartfelt story.
And who knows? Maybe there could be an encore coming from VVorm Drama in some form…
Promotional consideration provided by Arthur Collins of KO_OP. Reviewed on the PC via Steam.