PAX East 2023: Goodbye Volcano High, Hello Narrative Gem

The COVID-19 pandemic impacted the gaming world in numerous ways, from having to find different ways to showcase games to the delays of several prominent titles, to the birth of smaller titles like Overboard! that came about during lockdown. We haven’t really had any games whose premises were directly inspired by the pandemic, though, but that changes this year with KO_OP’S upcoming cinematic narrative title, Goodbye Volcano High. According to the developers, while the game was already in the works before the pandemic, the resulting chaos got the team thinking about their high school coming-of-age tale, and how several actual seniors had to experience one of the most significant turning points of their lives during such a destructive event. And from that, we have what could stand a chance at being of of this year’s best tales.

The game sees you playing as Fang, a student beginning their senior year at Volcano High. Although during the demo, which seemed to cover the start of the game, we actually began near the end, with Fang and their friends voting on whether or not to burn their yearbook at a beachside bonfire, indicating that some serious stuff has gone down over the past year. Now snap back to the present, where we see Fang getting ready for their first day of the new year, and where we get our first rhythm game.

The rhythm games in Goodbye Volcano High are simple to learn and fun to play along with, boasting the perfect level of challenge so far for such a game. It also helps that the music is ear-pleasing indie rock that perfectly fits the atmosphere, not to mention how it ties into Fang’s ultimate dream of being a successful musician in their own band, Worm Drama, right beside their friends. Throughout the game, you even get to do things related to the band like design their logo in Fang’s notebook, as seen in the demo.

Bits like those are fun, but the focus is still on the high school drama, as Fang returns from a summer to find out that their friends have changed. One of them got invested in the insect camp they went to, another is beginning to make new friends and inviting them to their tabletop gaming sessions, and everyone’s starting to plan out what career they’ll be pursuing after high school.

Fang, meanwhile, has mainly focused on getting an important audition for a Battle of the Bands competition, with the top prize being a gig at a prominent music festival, exactly the break they need. But now they need to successfully gather their friends/bandmates to practice, all while worrying that they might be getting left behind, a fear that can manifest in the dialogue choices for Fang, which can impact how things play out. And on top of all that, a mysterious phenomenon is causing thing like cell phones and school bells to malfunction, and while the students may not now it at the start, the potential explosion of the world means they’re in for drastic changes, to say the least.

Oh, did I forgot to mention that this all takes place in a world inhabited by anthropomorphic dinosaurs? That sort of ties in to the whole “world go boom” plot, in case you couldn’t tell.

This twist means that Goodbye Volcano High gets to boast striking character designs, ones that stand out in a nice contrast with the regular high school setting. The characters in general are an obvious highlight as well, with Fang alone already being a terrific and likeable protagonist, helped out by great voice acting. The writing is also nice and sharp with well-crafted humor, and while the demo only showcased the beginning, it’s enough to keep me hooked and see all the ways Fang and their classmates deal with their high school swan song in a world that’s about to die.

Goodbye Volcano High may be centered around an extinction-level event, but it looks like it’s still going to be a deep and unique tale with a lot of heart, humor and humanity (even if, again, dinosaurs). It’s an inspired look at pandemic-era high school and we can’t wait to see it in full went it comes out on June 15 for PC and PS5.

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