From The Archive is a series that takes articles written by Jennifer McMurray in the past and presents them here on MIC News for a new audience.
Grim Fandango was released 20 years ago today, so this review has been pulled from the archives and presented here. The Grim Fandango Mega Review was previously published on The Adventuress on May 23, 2015.
An updated version of the game is available on modern systems as Grim Fandango Remastered.
Grim Fandango was the first adventure game created by LucasArts that was presented with three-dimensional graphics. Over fifteen years later, it became the first LucasArts adventure game to be remastered by Tim Schafer’s studio, Double Fine. The game is considered a classic of the genre, and rightfully so. Like the other mega reviews on this site, this review will look at both versions of the game and then recommend a version to play. However, no matter which version you choose to play, Grim Fandango is a must play for adventure game fans.
The story is based on the Mexican Day of the Dead and Aztec mythology. Souls come to the afterlife and must travel through eight underworlds to get to the ninth and final underworld, the land of eternal rest. Most souls traverse the land of the dead on a perilous four-year journey, however, those who were particularly virtuous while they were alive can board the number nine train to go straight to the ninth underworld, skipping the perilous journey altogether. Furthermore, some souls have to pay for their misdeeds while they were alive, and are sentenced to an afterlife of public service, until the time that they have paid off their debt and can begin their own journey toward eternal rest. This form of public service takes the form of reapers, travel agents for the recently deceased, and Grim Fandango follows one of them, Manny Calavera.
When he finds a client who should have a ticket on the number nine train, but he is unable to secure one for her, he soon finds himself on his own four-year journey, and in the middle of a conspiracy that runs right through the very foundation of the land of the dead itself. The game takes place over four chapters, each representing one year of Manny’s four-year journey, with each chapter taking place on the Day of the Dead. The art style is modeled after the papier mache skeletons that are made to commemorate the day and went a long way to make the game look good with the technical limitations of the 3D technology of 1998. Because of the unique art style, the graphics have managed to withstand the test of time quite well, and the remastered version needed only to smooth out the pixellated edges of the textures to make the game look fantastic. The 3D models are displayed against pre-rendered backgrounds, which worked quite well in the original release but have shown their age a bit in the remastered version, as the four-year haven’t been touched. It’s not too bad, though, as the prerendered material was always higher quality than the models that ran in the engine. The cutscenes were also prerendered, which are among the most noticeable update in the remastered version, as they are much less compressed than the original. There are a few instances of pixellated models in the cutscenes, but they certainly don’t detract from the experience too much.
The original game mostly had puzzles that had logic that fit the game world well, however, there were a few puzzles that were a bit obtuse. The remastered version keeps all of the puzzles intact and doesn’t include any modern features such as a hint system. Grim Fandango was very much designed in the 1990’s style of adventure game design, and it has remained that way. The old style of design also shows in the engine itself, as there is no autosave feature in the remastered version. It’s still mandatory to manually save your progress.
The music and the voice acting has always been a high point of the game, as all of the characters of Grim Fandango are multifaceted, with multiple levels of grey to their character, befitting a land where everyone is struggling to fight their way through perils to try to find eternal rest. Each of the actors brought life to these characters wonderfully, and the remastered version has kept these performances int
Grim Fandango is a fantastic adventure that every adventure game fan should play at least once. It has a fantastic story, mostly well designed puzzles, well written characters with dialog delivered fantastically by the voice actors, and fantastic music. The remastered version adds the ability to play the game completely with a mouse (and retains the keyboard and joystick control options), adds improved lighting, removes most of the pixelation from character and inventory item models, and has much of the midi music of the original played with live instruments. It also has the original voice acting from multiple localizations included, and has optional commentary and a concept art viewer. The remastered version is highly recommended, but either version is well worth playing. The few obtuse puzzles in the game don’t detract from its status as one of the best adventure games of all time.
5 out of 5