Goodbye Volcano High is Shaping Up to be One of the Most Important Stories of the Year
If life were a book, it'd have chapters. Some chapters are long, and others are short. When a story is read, we are ready to turn the page to be next chapter. Sometimes, a reader is afraid of what might happen next. With a book, there is an idea of when that chapter ends, but in the real world, one never knows when that chapter is closing. Rarely does life let you know a chapter is ending. When that time comes, what choices are made are very significant.
A chapter is coming to an end. A meteor is slated to hit the Earth to wipe out the dinosaur. For Fang, their existence may very well be coming to a close, along with the future they planned. When a chapter comes to an end, what choices they make will still have significance. This is the tale of Goodbye Volcano High, a story not of the end of the world but of facing the end of chapters.
A Familiar Story
Pax East was buzzing again and alight with various indies. Goodbye Volcano High caught my eye immediately with its unique characters and setting. Originally announced in 2020, the team was making steady progress, then made a reset on development. It is now slated for launch this year. Elisabeth of KO_OP Studio joined me to play a demo of the game.
"The game was partially inspired by The Pandemic and what we do when such an instance happens," Liz explained. Goodbye Volcano High isn't a game about the end of the world but closing a chapter in one's life when you see it but least expect it. It's a game that measures a character and the dimensions of a relationship made in such a circumstance. Something like that affects us in many ways, and this game explores that through the characters.
The Modern World of Dinosaurs
The demo took me through a quick moment in Fang's life. Like all the other characters, Fang is an anthropomorphic dinosaur. Fang identifies as non-binary and uses They/Them pronouns. The game begins with a difficult choice and alludes to the game's potential ending. The team gathers around a fire. Their memories are all stored in a book. Does Fang let it go to be destroyed or hold on to it as the end draws near? Cut to eight months prior.
Fang begins their morning playing with their guitar. Music is everything to them. It soothes and heals but provides a vivid emotion to the moment. Fang has a penchant for music and rebelliousness but is ambitious to go across the world and tour with their band, Worm Drama. There is still the fact that they are a senior at Volcano High and have to get through the school year to see those ambitions through.
Rock On, Fang
Goodbye Volcano High does have a striking appearance that feels like it came from a heartfelt anime. "The team has a passion for anime, and members of our crew worked on the movie "Your Name," Liz tells me. There was an element that felt heartwarming and personal. Fang interacting with their friends felt like something you'd come to see in the real world. Fang has that one weird friend that likes weird things and the other that is into games.
Later in the demo, Fang goes to class. Naomi is introduced as the science know-it-all. The teacher is introduced as a firm and stern teacher that wants order, even though she's in a room full of seniors. There's a quick confrontation between the teacher and Fang as they refuse to give up their phone. The teacher gives up, being that it's the first day of school.
The Pick of Destiny
Fang gives notice that their phone isn't working, and Naomi concurs that other services seem to be non-functional, too, such as the internet. Naomi overexplains what has been happening since before school began. Something seems to be amiss regarding basic services that may have wider implications. However, the class dismisses it as just first-day troubles.
The final part of the demo has Fang celebrating the news that they have named the gang Worm Drama. Players have an opportunity to name the band themselves, but for me, Worm Drama worked. Fang is also thrilled about an upcoming concert that could set their name up for the future. Fang and the band discuss future songs, and Fang performs a song they have been writing.
Ebb and Flow
The demo has players perform a rhythm game to the catchy track. The gameplay can be described as the right balance of challenge but doable. The rhythm uses a combination of button presses and joystick rotations. Worth noting as I was playing the PlayStation 5 version of the game, Goodbye Volcano High does have haptic feedback. Certain buttons and movements will become affected depending on the gravity of the choices being made.
The demo concludes with a significant turning point in history. Fang wants to practice music for an upcoming battle of the bands, while Reed wishes to pursue his gaming ambitions on the weekend.
Some things you can't forget
When the demo ended, I felt pained; I couldn't see more. I was ready to buy the game right there if it was available. I had a great time with the demo. The short time with the crews as they began their senior year brought all the emotions I'd come to expect. There was a foreshadowing of something horrible to come but a sense of peace and togetherness that I have sparsely seen in games. The animation was sharp, and the music was excellent.
There's no doubt Goodbye Volcano High will be an incredible sorry, but I came with it something most profound. Video games can share experiences and emotions that can neither be felt nor told in any other medium. A painting can evoke sensations, and a movie can be a roller coaster of feelings, but video games have players participate, and that is a level of interaction that is unlike any other.
I don't identify as trans or gender non-conforming, and my high school days are well past me, but I could feel the themes that Goodbye Volcano High wants to tell me. The themes of choices and where our hearts and feelings go felt genuine through this brief moment in Fang's life. Furthering that is sharing this experience with an audience regardless of identity.
At the heart of every story is a distinct collection of thoughts and experiences coalesced into a message we can understand. Fang's story is unique in many ways, but it is profoundly felt through this video game story and accompanied by music that is an insightful and unique colorful world. What Fang wants to tell players remains a mystery as the game is still being made. What relations Fang's tale (pun intended) will have in relation to our experiences with the pandemic and life-changing events remains under wraps. However, it's a story that I am determined to see through, and I hope others open the first pages.
Goodbye Volcano High launches on PlayStation and Steam on August 29th, 2023.