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Grim Fandango

Developer / Publisher: LucasArts Entertainment Company
30 October 1998
Grim Fandango - cover art
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3.98 / 5.0
0.5
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814 Ratings / 6 Reviews
#194 All-time
#11 for 1998
Undead travel agent Manny Calavera, whilst struggling in his dead-end job, stumbles upon a corruption ring and attempts to expose them.
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1998 LucasArts  
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Title
Putting the things you loved when you were younger on a pedestal is as unavoidable a side effect of growing old as nose hair and weak joints. Will I ever taste breakfast cereal sweeter than the 2003 run of Ang Lee's Hulk marshmallow cereal? Will I ever own a pug as lovable and derpy as Ralph, my 9th grade buddy? Will there ever be another adventure game as good as Grim Fandango?

This line of thinking is unhealthy, I'm afraid. To believe the best days of our beloved hobby are behind us is a level of cynicism I can't accept. All good things come from good ideas, and good ideas can always be applied to create even better things. Instead of celebrating the best of the best, I'd like to use my reviews to analyze what made them work so well. If developers and publishers take note of past games' successes, we could build something great and new out of the bones of classics.

Before Tim Schafer departed from LucasArts Entertainment Company, he left behind one last classic adventure unlike anything else he's done before or since. Released in 1998, Grim Fandango was one of the first 3D adventure games where you controlled the protagonist through keyboard or gamepad instead of mouse (think Resident Evil [バイオハザード]).

Set in the Land of the Dead, the game tracks one undead travel agent's sprawling journey across an Aztec-inspired afterlife. Owing much to film noir classics like Chinatown and past LucasArts adventures, Grim Fandango was a mix of something old and new -- a singular vision that stands the test of time.

I like stories about good people trying to live good lives, but I rarely turn to videogames to find one. By and large, videogame characters are voiceless, often literally, and morally ambiguous. In recent years, it has become a trend for videogames to incorporate morally bankrupt protagonists (Call of Duty series, Kane & Lynch) into their plots, posturing as mature storytelling. It leaves me detached from the story and characters, because I just can't care about an asshole with a gun.

Grim Fandango
's Manuel "Manny" Calavera is a hero in the truest sense. He's sympathetic, funny, and bold but has a hidden past of wrongdoings that we know as much about at the beginning as we do by the game's end, which is to say very little. It's his character that we get to know throughout this adventure. Like Rick Blaine in Casablanca, we love Manny for his mannerisms and biting quips, forgiving whatever unethical life he left behind before coming to this place.

In the Land of the Dead, the good go to the afterlife in four minutes, the bad go in four years, and the terrible have to work a dead-end job in order to pay off their debts so they can join the other two groups in time. Manny belongs to the later. He works as a grim reaper ("travel agent" to clients), tasked with guiding departed souls into the Land of the Dead and giving them their deserved travel plan. Sometimes they get pushed into a coffin with nothing but a congratulatory coffee mug and packing foam, and sometimes they get sent on a bullet train across the afterlife, though Manny doesn't ever get these more fortunate clients.

Grim Fandango has two major influences: Aztec culture and film noir. Like all great noir heroes, Manny must make a decision in his journey to save the ones he loves, even though his survival no longer depends on their well being. There comes a pivotal moment when he decides to do good voluntarily. The result is a multifaceted character in an inspiring story about getting your dues in time by being an honorable man, while those paying their way to heaven face their own cruel fate in time.

The world of today's videogames seem to have grown up solely on yesterday's videogames. Like many of us who play them, it results in a woefully uncultured, monotonous entity. After all, there is so much in the world of literature and other arts to experience and be inspired by. Yet, our industry is still one filled with retro graphics from indies who refuse to grow up and dark bulky worlds from studios trying to replicate the ominous, masculine worlds they fondly remember from the days of Nintendo and Genesis.

When you enter the world of Grim Fandango, you realize what can be done once one walks away from this limited perspective. This lush, varied world merges early 20th century art deco, film noir, and Mexican folk art. It all seamlessly fits together and immerses you in a fantasy that you haven't before seen in games -- or film or books, for that matter. The game constantly surprises you with its art direction, character design, and remarkable architecture.

Despite its low polygon models, it holds up very well over a decade later. Since Grim Fandango's inhabitants are modeled after Mexican calaca figures, they are brought to life through simple geometry that doesn't feel dated in the way many other 3D games of the late '90s do. By culling from various influences outside gaming and bringing them together in a playful way, Grim Fandango made a world of its own that lingers in the player's mind long after their journey is complete.

It's easy to get lost within the wild plains of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim or Xenoblade Chronicles [ゼノブレイド], but it's rare that we feel bewildered in a town hub these days. Rubacava, a massive port town within which most of Grim Fandango takes place, is one of gaming's most memorable cities for this reason. While Manny arrives at a diner at the outskirts of the city at the end of the game's first act, we aren't given a fair introduction until the subsequent chapter.

The first time I explored Rubacava, I was dumbfounded by its scope. One path leads to an abandoned lighthouse, another to a pier with its own secrets, and another to a massive casino which leads to a whole new level of the city that has its own smaller casino. At the start of the chapter, the city seems endless. By the end, you feel you have outsmarted every alley and shortcut the city has to offer. In an adventure game, it can be very frustrating to have to deal with such a large possibility of space. With so many areas, characters, and items, problem solving can become a difficult task. Yet, it's worth the troubles for the sheer spectacle of Rubacava.

What Rubacava and other massive city hubs (Midgar and the Citadel spring to mind) give to the player is a sense of immersion on a grand scale. From the creative architecture to the detailed backgrounds, Rubacava feels alive and bigger than the player. You feel like a small speck in the world that surrounds you -- a feeling I rarely get in games these days, despite how far technology has come. I'd much rather have a world as detailed and believable as this, instead of 5,000 extra virtual acres of trees and more of nothing.

For a long, long while, I didn't think I enjoyed adventure games. I played them because I liked the story and worlds contained within, but I often felt fatigued by the time I reached their conclusion. Grim Fandango changed that for me.

A major factor of this is the dialog -- there isn't a lot of it. Now, I'm not afraid of reading, but I do believe in something best described as "story flow." The goal in storytelling isn't to immerse the player through realistic conversations -- which are long and boring to an outsider, more often than not -- it's to immerse through concise, stylized dialog that sounds good and conveys ideas and emotions succinctly. There is a place for Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers' 15-minute conversations on Voodoo mythology, but I value Grim Fandango's lively and brief conversations much more. Every line is building the plot or leading to a brilliant punchline, if not both.

The same is true of the game's puzzles. I recently tried playing Yesterday and was horrified by what I was seeing. Not even five minutes into the game, I had an inventory of nearly 10 items. Even worse, the puzzles required me to combine items without a good sense of understanding. I imagine it was saying, "This is an adventure game. You do this dumb stuff, you know?"

Grim Fandango minimized inventory management and world interaction without forgoing interesting and challenging puzzles. On the contrary, I felt closer to the world and my actions because it seemed far more sensible and focused. Modern adventure games rely too heavily on hint systems when they really should be focusing on maintaining the simplicity and logic that Grim Fandango embodied so well.

We often measure our lives not in the distance traveled but in the faces we see along the way. Grim Fandango understands this and builds a memorable adventure around this observation.

There was once a time when "quest" was not a synonym for "task," but few young gamers today would believe such a claim. In Grim Fandango, you are always progressing towards a goal that isn't exclusive to reaching a location, and along the way, you meet new friends and enemies. Okay, so many other games aren't so different in this respect, but Grim Fandango stands out by giving these characters recurring roles in the narrative's four-year journey.

I'd hate to spoil the game, so I'll just focus on one example early on in the story. In the game's opening cinematic, Manny sends a poor soul on a four-year journey across the Land of the Dead with only a walking stick. By the end of the first act, as you arrive in Rubacava, you bump into this old client. Now he is a janitor at a small diner near the docks, spending his days cleaning the floor as he waits for his old flame from the "fat days" to pass through town.

Grim Fandango is full of moments like this that serve as milestones in Manny's journey. You find old faces in new states, while new problems infest old places. The afterlife is constantly changing, and its inhabitants have their own journeys that operate outside Manny's adventure. It can be incredibly jarring to immersion when you find the same people saying the same thing in the same town throughout an entire game, not to mention 40+ hour RPGs! Grim Fandango shows just how effective and immersive doing the opposite can be.

There is a tendency for games to answer so many questions within the narrative that you can often get lost in the answers. I can't tell you the intricacies of the plots of many games, but it's not for a lack of effort. Games often have a defense mechanism to fill their simple plot full of asinine details in a vain attempt at complexity. It not only confuses the player, it also takes away much of the mystery that can help build a game's world.

As an ode to film noir, Grim Fandango capitalizes on mystery. We come to know the characters through their actions in the afterlife, but their days spent in the Land of the Living remain unknown. It is left to our imagination to fill in the gaps. Was Manny a terrible person or just a poor guy who found himself on a slippery slope? Like many great films and novels, Grim Fandango gives us just enough info to understand these characters while interpreting the details through our own judgement.

I especially love how the game leaves four years of the story untold. The focus of Grim Fandango is Manny's journey to find and save Meche, a client given a rotten deal due to mysterious reasons, so we don't need to know about his year as a janitor in Rubacava or his year aboard the SS Lambada. Yet, our mind can wander and imagine what could have taken place during these enormous gaps in the story. It works so well because we are never told we missed something major. Going from janitor to casino owner in a year is quite a career trajectory, but do we really need to know how that transition happened? Not really. That's what our minds and fan fiction are for.

By respecting the player and keeping the integrity of the story, Grim Fandango sustains the aura of mystery and romance that all classic noirs seek to obtain.

Like many games of its time, such as Final Fantasy VII [ファイナルファンタジーVII] and Metal Gear Solid, Grim Fandango marketed itself as a cinematic experience. Its ads in magazines were long, foldout posters with credits scribed on them, mimicking those that aligned cinemas of the time. However, Tim Schafer and the development team at LucasArts had a strong understanding of the limits and strengths of the medium -- films, novels, and folk art served as the inspiration, not the blueprint for this project.

So many games today fail at building or don't even attempt to build a world. After all, it's a time-consuming process that doesn't always translate to sales in the marketplace. But art is hard! Great art shouldn't have obvious precedents; it should come from a place so personal that few can understand the vision until it is fully manifested. The most beneficial inspiration from classics of film and literature has little to do with the world of Grim Fandango, however. It is found in the game's perfect pacing, smart dialog, and brief, self-contained puzzles.

Telling an epic in video games often feels like listening to a drunk at a bar who can no longer hear himself speak, imagining he will hit on genius and closure eventually. By focusing on the human ... err, skeletal ... struggles of Manny and compatriots, Grim Fandango gives both the player and story a constant goal and focus. The end result is one of the most bizarre and captivating noir stories ever told.
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SUPER_Lonely_Panda 2016-04-06T01:58:45Z
2016-04-06T01:58:45Z
5.0
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Absolutely stellar characters, setting, humor, and everything. The puzzles will drive you mad, but they're so rewarding to complete if you don't throw your PC out the window. Ingenious and surrealist piece of art honestly. plus there are bees in a union
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rebelscone 2022-10-15T20:11:59Z
2022-10-15T20:11:59Z
5.0
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The vibes are immaculate, I have to give it that. The narrative and aesthetic are pretty enjoyable despite the rushed ending. But the main problem I have with this is just the meander feeling that this game has. While I love how expressive the character's dialogue can be, it tends to mask a lot of hints or just takes its place entirely, making me just be completely lost super easily and a lot of puzzles involving a lot of running around get confusing really quick because of this. A lot of the puzzles make sense on paper, which is rare for an adventure game like this, but the way it's executed just kinda leaves a lot of matches really hazy. This game needed a bit more for me, but I'm sure it's clear by now that I'm a dumbass and most people have a lot more fun with this game, so definitely take it on if you're up for it, you'll at least enjoy the visuals and the fun story, guaranteed.
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MtBedhead 2022-02-17T00:54:22Z
2022-02-17T00:54:22Z
2.5
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Ok, this one is actually really difficult to rate. Because from what I saw, I really liked the visuals, the writing, the ideas this game had.

But I pretty much hated the actual game part. It's one of those "try everything with everything" point-and-clicks where no solution really makes sense or rarely can be figured out without sheer grinding, and doing the grinding involves walking around the same areas back and forth, back and forth (the thrill they must have had back in the day, to have 3D characters move in 3D environment...the thrill that is non-existent nowadays).

I played a bit, but soon enough doing anything required looking at the walkthrough what to do because the puzzles really don't make sense, and that robs all possible pleasure from, you know, actually playing a game: it's a badly executed movie where you have a loose script and a bunch of footage that hasn't been edited.

The script might be great, the imagery in the footage pretty, but I just couldn't care.
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kyvetti 2021-11-24T17:28:31Z
2021-11-24T17:28:31Z
1.5
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Great story, dialogue, music and atmosphere. It just really gets bogged down by obtuse puzzles that slow the pacing of the game to a complete stop at times.

I'm not the biggest fan of adventure games and I didn't grow up with them so comparing this to modern games the gameplay just doesn't hold up unfortunately. It desperately needs a hint system of some kind, and looking at hints online was how I managed to finish it. I know without them I just would have been to frustrated to continue.

With that caveat, I did enjoy my time playing it and exploring the land of the dead. It's a fantastic noir story with mystery, conspiracy and betrayal. It has a well deserved reputation as an amazing story, and it's great to see the remastered version making it accessible once again.
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When people die, they go to The Land of the Dead, then begin their passage to the Temple of the Ninth Overworld. Their options of travel very much depends on how good of a life they've led, and how much financial capability they have. Living a sinful life means they have to work in the Land of the Dead for their debt to be repaid. Doing okay means they have to take the long four year walk, whereas a good person will be able to book a place on the Number Nine Train, which is the ultimate form of travel.

You play as Manuel "Manny" Calavera who works as a Grim Reaper for the Department of Death in order to pay his debts. His role means he collects the dead, then sells them transportation much like a Travel Agent. Manny used to be a good salesman, but has had a long period of poor clientèle. A rival salesman called Domino seems to get all the good clients. Realising that he soon may lose his job, Manny sets out to steal one of Domino's clients. However, although it seems like Mercedes "Meche" Colomar deserves to book a spot on the train, Manny's computer suggests she has to take the long walk.

There's obviously something sinister going on, and Manny's interference ends up meaning he has to run, and take the four-year journey himself in order to find Meche who he has become obsessed with.

Each year unfolds in a distinct location. It begins in the town of El Marrow where the Department of Death's office is located. You meet the oversized daemon mechanic known as Glottis who becomes Manny's side-kick and joins him on his quest.

I felt the characters were okay; Manny is quite likeable but isn't as great as the characters in other point-and-click adventures (Sam & Max, Broken Sword, Monkey Island etc.). The supporting characters were pretty forgettable, and I often was confused when they re-appeared later in the story.

Although there's the option of mouse and keyboard controls, the game was originally designed to move Manny directly, so the default controls are to use a controller. Instead of 'pixel hunting' with a mouse, you can approach objects and press the button to inspect them (which is the controller's equivalent), but you can also take visual cues when Manny turns his head to look at important objects. This works fairly well, but I never quite trusted it because there can be a few objects in close proximity and it's quite hard to know if you are facing the correct object. When I played with an Xbox 360 controller, the button prompts were shown as Playstation buttons, which was bizarre.

The biggest problem in the game is the navigation. Areas are overly large and there's not much to interact with; which means you do a lot of running. Running around isn't very fun, but it's made harder by the fixed camera angles that are constantly changing - which is very disorienting. This means once the angle changes, you need to let go of the analogue stick; otherwise you could end up running back to where you came from or running at an awkward angle. There's plenty of areas where you will expect to be able to go but are prevented because you hit hidden walls, or hit objects you aren't touching. Conversely, you may not find areas where you can go because it looks like you have reached a dead end. Everything about it is extremely clunky. In some other point-and-click adventures, when you leave an area, a map appears which gives you the option of instant travel to the next location. This game really needs this feature!

There's a mix of fairly obvious puzzles and some fairly obscure ones. I often felt there could have been more clues to guide you. Even if it was like this in the original game, with this remaster; they could have fixed this. The only things they seem to have done in this version is replace the music, change the lighting model, and improve the character models, but the backgrounds are left in their original art.

With a touch of a button, you can toggle between the original version and the remastered version. When I tried this - it crashed, so I didn't bother trying again. It's worth noting that when the game begins, a message appears telling you to save on a regular basis because there is no autosave. In my opinion, this shows a lack of confidence in the stability of the product, and shows laziness of the developers to not add an autosave feature. From what I've read, the game suffered from many crashes when this remastered version came out, although the majority of problems have been fixed. There was a couple of instances where the game stuttered as if it was going to crash, and there was one instance where a character got stuck in a loop and I had to force-quit.

In conclusion, I would say I was very disappointed with Grim Fandango. Seeing all the perfect scores from other gamers and reviewers created a huge hype that I expected to match adventure classics like the early Monkey Island and Broken Sword games. What I played instead was a clunky mess. It may have laid down an interesting story within the opening moments, but I felt it didn't really go anywhere with it.
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CaptainClam 2019-11-05T09:25:02Z
2019-11-05T09:25:02Z
2.5
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
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Catalog

Discokid91 Grim Fandango 2022-12-03T07:50:26Z
2022-12-03T07:50:26Z
4.5
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
meadowforever Grim Fandango 2022-11-30T19:18:55Z
Windows / Mac / Linux/Unix
2022-11-30T19:18:55Z
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
dAlexx Grim Fandango 2022-11-29T14:30:19Z
2022-11-29T14:30:19Z
6
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
meanswithoutends Grim Fandango 2022-11-29T14:27:24Z
2022-11-29T14:27:24Z
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
pivip Grim Fandango 2022-11-27T13:47:50Z
Windows / Mac / Linux/Unix
2022-11-27T13:47:50Z
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
VaporwaveQueen Grim Fandango 2022-11-27T05:54:59Z
2022-11-27T05:54:59Z
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
DirectorBlack Grim Fandango 2022-11-25T20:45:18Z
2022-11-25T20:45:18Z
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Ravaro Grim Fandango 2022-11-22T08:17:18Z
2022-11-22T08:17:18Z
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
timeoutofmind Grim Fandango 2022-11-21T22:41:28Z
Windows / Mac / Linux/Unix
2022-11-21T22:41:28Z
3.5
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
knivesandnoises Grim Fandango 2022-11-20T15:09:18Z
2022-11-20T15:09:18Z
5.0
1
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Weezy_fish56 Grim Fandango 2022-11-19T15:07:37Z
2022-11-19T15:07:37Z
4.5
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
nibs_7 Grim Fandango 2022-11-19T07:32:41Z
PS4 / PS Vita
2022-11-19T07:32:41Z
4.5
1
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Player modes
Single-player
Media
2x CD-ROM

Comments

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  • Previous comments (20) Loading...
  • lowplacelikehome 2021-07-13 16:32:04.559594+00
    Lucas Arts magnum opus
    reply
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  • alliterativeAlpinist 2021-10-11 21:29:26.346483+00
    Would it have KILLED them to put in autosaves in the remaster? Because it fucking crashes!
    reply
    • Previous replies (3) Loading...
    • alliterativeAlpinist 2021-10-12 18:00:51.304381+00
      I suppose some people's idea of fun is getting stuck on point-n-clicks for hours, trying every single thing until they figure out the solutions to asinine puzzles, like edging but for the brain. For me that's just a waste of time, and I waste none more after opening a walkthrough.

      Shame, because everything here that's non-game related is top notch. The puzzles in Year 2 weren't all that bad either.
    • Frull 2022-09-03 21:05:44.650831+00
      personally I've never experienced anything remotely akin to a glitch nevermind a crash whilst playing the remaster
    • More replies New replies ) Loading...
  • eletricity 2021-11-30 21:04:09.007404+00
    at 3am i woke up with my brain trying to piece down every information about manny's fate and his past now im thinking about every thing for absolutely no reason, wonderful game. also anyone else think this influenced disco elysium as fuck, like.... a big portion
    reply
    • Frull 2022-09-03 21:08:29.914058+00
      well of course it did, LucasArts were the graphic adventure dev in general
    • More replies New replies ) Loading...
  • menges 2021-12-17 11:48:24.20518+00
    adoro a dublagem do jogo
    reply
    • amberly 2022-06-03 08:07:24.273283+00
      acho doidera que ele é dublado em português e que a dublagem é boa
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  • M1N4fknRVVM3Z 2022-06-07 17:54:26.408897+00
    masterpiece
    reply
    • M1N4fknRVVM3Z 2022-06-07 17:54:37.084271+00
      also jank as fuck
    • M1N4fknRVVM3Z 2022-06-07 17:54:56.233677+00
      statements that can coexist
    • More replies New replies ) Loading...
  • kringelorde 2022-08-22 13:55:51.234788+00
    great game, absolutely amazing - pretty jank ass port
    reply
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  • bonadea 2022-09-27 21:14:34.273385+00
    one of my favorite video game title for some reason
    reply
    • ruth1120 2022-10-01 12:01:57.732871+00
      not just some reason, a great reason i say, best title drop in any game i've ever played forsure
    • More replies New replies ) Loading...
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