Goodbye Volcano High: Teen Dinosaurs at the End of the World

· Updated on October 4, 2023

If you had told me four years ago that the end of the world would be more quiet than catastrophic, I would have said your phrasing is overly poetic. I also wouldn’t have believed you. But that’s exactly how the upcoming video game Goodbye Volcano High presents its doomsday scenario: through a group of teenagers doing their best to maintain a sense of normalcy during unavoidable change. Although the game’s development began before the COVID pandemic (its first reveal trailer came with the June 2020 Playstation 5 Showcase), it’s hard not to see the thematic parallels—the willful ignorance, the conspiracies, the memes. But even in a short preview, I could see the glimmer of optimism that keeps Goodbye Volcano High from simply revisiting global trauma.

Goodbye Volcano High is an episodic narrative game about teenage dinosaurs facing the end of an era. Players watch the story unfold, complete with voice acting and animated sequences, and make dialogue choices along the way. You play as Fang, a nonbinary high school senior juggling the usual adolescent crises—fretting over college, wondering why their friend is spending less time with them, desperately corralling their bandmates to keep up practice. All of these mundane worries become both more trivial and more important than ever when scientists discover that a meteor is going to crash by the end of the school year.

The preview provided to us by indie studio KO_OP spanned the end of the first episode and the start of the second, picking up just after the news breaks. But instead of panic in the streets, much of the reaction plays out online. Fang doomscrolls through ‘tweets’ that range from dismissive to argumentative to overly worried to irreverent and so on. Again, in a post-COVID world, my take on this reaction was….sounds about right. In the end, most people are clearly unsure of what to think about the news, so they fill the void with online chatter and gallows humor.

It isn’t until Fang meets with their brother Naser—the first face-to-face interaction in the demo—that they are confronted with genuine human (that is, dinosaur) fear. And Fang’s dialogue choices have players either soothing away that fear or being realistic about what could happen—not an easy choice to make.

Later, Fang receives an anonymous text from someone claiming to have always loved them. Once again, Fang is confronted by news they do not know how to process, and players have the option of delving seriously into the mystery or jokingly accusing one of their friends of playing a prank. Over the course of the demo, the text is not brought up much again, but the grounds for a mystery have been laid. “The end of an era, and the beginning of a love story,” the game’s tagline teases.

In addition to all the parallels to modern life, the doomsday scenario makes for an interesting twist on the branching-narrative genre. Many of the early dialogue choices put the player in the position of figuring out: how exactly do we talk about this? And like the anonymous texter, you have to wonder—if things really are coming to an end, why not take risks with your dialogue? Tell your crush that you like them, be direct with that friend who’s ignoring you, ditch your studies for what you’re really passionate about.

One of the striking aspects of Goodbye Volcano High is the way its characters carry on with life in spite of it all. The school day is still waiting for Fang in the morning. Naser still has to prepare his class president speech. And Fang’s band, VVorm Drama, still has to prove themselves at the one venue that has offered them a chance. (Incidentally, while the preview did not cover this, the game also features rhythm music sections and original songs by the studio’s in-house composer—three of which, “Reunion,” “Don’t Call,” and “Constellations,” are available on Spotify).

It might seem like everyday life would be the last thing on anyone’s mind, but Fang’s outlook is that now is when being there, in the moment, matters most of all. Beyond the humor that ran throughout the demo, it is this sentiment that makes the end of the world a little less scary. Short as the preview was, I found myself drawn easily into the lives of these dinosaurs and wanting to know where their last year would take them.♦

Goodbye Volcano High is coming to Playstation 4|5 and PC on August 29, with a demo currently available on Steam.

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