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Goodbye, Volcano High is an emotional trip through teenage nostalgia

Goodbye, Volcano High is an emotional trip through teenage nostalgia

Those were the days

When I finished Goodbye, Volcano High, I couldn’t tell if I was sad or happy. There’s an understandable melancholy in there. It’s about a city of anthropomorphic dinosaurs watching as the asteroid that wipes them out gets closer and closer to Earth, but it juxtaposes a story about finding your place in the world. One that’s about to end while dealing with all the emotions that come with your teenage years.

At the heart of the story you have Fang, a non-binary character who has chosen to express their new identity in a place that wrestles with acceptance; their parents struggle to adjust and a rift opens, while Fang’s friends accept the change with open arms, but daily teenage drama compounds everything.

Fang’s story, for the longest time, is a sad one. Not only do they feel displaced by confirming their gender identity but they’re facing a storm of change. Their bandmates - the band is called Worm Drama, which I love - are all drifting apart, wanting to invest their time in new areas of life, or their romances. With Fang, every player will find a piece of themselves in there.

Goodbye Volcano High
Goodbye Volcano High

Those players who have also struggled with getting others to accept them, no matter why, will rediscover those frustrations written into Fang’s life, and while I’d like to say it’s a cathartic experience, it can be, however, you’re witnessing what it’s like to be painted into a corner. The same goes with the distance that grows between friends, something that happens to us all, but when you’re a teenager it feels oh so painful.

Whether as an adult or a teenager, I always felt like I didn’t belong. In high school, I was too nerdy for the popular kids and ran with a rough crowd that eliminated me from bedding down in geek groups. I also wrestled with the idea of being bisexual, which made me feel like an outsider. In fact, as a teenager in the 1990s, bisexuality wasn’t even on my radar, so the idea that I could pine after Neve Campbell in Scream, but also feel something for Skeet Ulrich, her on-screen boyfriend in the same film left me feeling lost and isolated.

Playing through Goodbye, Volcano High left me with a dilemma. Could I ‘improve’ Fang’s life with my narrative choices? Should I make them act aloof and nonchalant, or lean into the anger you feel when people pull away from you? I so wanted to channel the opposite of what I felt in high school, but I ended up swallowed by the angst.

While I couldn’t directly relate to Fang’s experience, the writers did such a good job of creating dialogue that captures a young person’s mind that I couldn’t help but be drawn in, and rediscover all those feelings I once had. It perhaps helps that Fang disappears into music throughout, something I think most of us can recognise. While I disappeared into headphones containing angry Hip Hop, Fang writes songs about their feelings and revels in rock music’s rebellious side.

The game features many rhythm mini-games which are fine and passable, but they can feel unnecessary, despite the quality of the songwriting. There’s that feeling that if it wasn’t lyrics it would be poetry; anything to let out those emotions, you know? There’s also a satirical version of Twitter in this world, one that we see mostly through Gen Z eyes. It’s often memes and nonsense, but each post is worth reading, if not for the chuckles, then for the odd post that describes how someone believes their dad doesn’t love them, or how they’re terrified of death.

Goodbye Volcano High
Goodbye Volcano High

While a great deal of the story deals with awkward teenage attitudes, it also has plenty of genuinely sweet and endearing points where the cast come together in a myriad of ways. Each personality feels large, and every member of the friendship group gets a moment in the spotlight, dealing with one thing or another. If you like teen dramas, you’ll find a lot here to enjoy, and while I don’t want to spoil the ending, I will say that it leaves you feeling hopeful.

By the end, I think my Fang had felt a bit of everything and my choices were all over the place, one moment I was being friendly, and the next I was an asshole to my friends, a lot like my own teenage years. Oddly, I felt better about my own history after I’d given this young person a hand through their life. Sure, they might be a cartoon dinosaur, but I felt every pang of loneliness they felt; every ounce of heartbreak. And it helped me come to terms with my own views on friendship - who to hold dear, who to let drift away. There’s something very visceral about watching another person (dinosaur) go through those growing pains that, despite what your parents told you, never really end.

I think a big part of what makes Goodbye, Volcano High so special is that it isn’t afraid to paint life as being so fleeting. Sure, it’s often done in a comedic way, at least at the start - “Oh, we’re dinosaurs, what’s the growing light in the sky?” - but eventually it becomes about embracing life, and also change.

Featured Image Credit: KO_OP

Topics: PC, PlayStation, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Steam, Indie Games

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